Experiencing Jesus

How would you live if you knew you were going to rise?

One of our pastors posed this question in his sermon this past Palm Sunday.

Before asking, he talked about how Jesus lived his last week. Even though Jesus knew what would be happening to Him, He lived courageously, served others (even washing his disciples’ feet), and prayed for others as God’s plan was actively fulfilled.

He knew prayer was a non-negotiable; the suffering He began – and continued to endure – was ghastly.

So, that begs the question, why did he live like that – even when death was upon him?

It was because the story was not done; the story had not been left unwritten.

Though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will his offspring and prolong his days,

And the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand, After the suffering of his soul,

He will see the light of life and be satisfied;

By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong,

Because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors, For he bore the sin of many,

And made intercession for his transgressors.

Isaiah 53 10-12

What if we lived out lives like this? Knowing completely, resolutely, absolutely that our lives our not our own. That we have been graciously given life; yet the brokenness we feel, live, and experience every single day is not the end.

When our pastor first asked that question, of course you think of distant images of far-off places for travel, extreme sports you might dive into, delicious food you might gourge, or that thing you have always wanted to do. I thought of those things; I decided quickly that if I had one week to live, I would eat as many burritos and enchiladas as any human ever could, jump from an airplane – just for fun, and travel as much of the world as I could in a short amount of time. Wine in Italy, mountains in New Zealand, beaches in South Africa.

But all of that aside – the question quickly becomes less rhetorical, and a lot more real. Our lives are written just as so; Jesus calls us to a community of righteousness (not self-righteousness) that allows love, mercy, and truth to overcome the evils we co-exist with.

It could change everything. Perhaps, this is a sliver of what Jesus was showing us; our short time on Earth has meaning. Even in the process of redemption, it doesn’t mean we can “cop out” and wait around for the end days to come. Let’s rise up; let’s live this life!

I want to live like that. I want to live from a place where I can say, “not me, but Him.”

He must become more, I must become less. “The Experience” is just the beginning. This life, I commit to, give it up. It’s not for me anymore.

http://kbm.donorpages.com/TheExperience/HeatherNewell/

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Over 6 years ago, I participated in my first march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. If you have ever met me, this might surprise you; one of my favorite reading topics has been the Civil Rights Movement and so it seems strange that to that point, I had never taken part in one.

Well, that year, a student at Hendrix College, a young sophomore, I decided it was time.

By myself, I met a community of people at the local library. Carrying signs, banners, and proclamations for love, we walked all over the Conway city limits, turning back to the library after an hour or two. As we descended upon the library for the final part of the march, the crowds became thick, heavy, and unrelenting. The walls of the library became full enough that not everyone could enter. People were flocking to see a local pastor preach about the kind of community that King dreamed of – the kind that was first of all inspired by God himself.

As we waited, people sang, prayed, and cheered.

It was a moment in my life where I thought to myself, “yes. This is living. This matters.” It was important to recognize that; to see that what we marched for, what we remembered – it wasn’t just a man. It was a way of life, a way to embrace faith, and it’s remarkable that despite the kind of world we live in these days, these joys and celebrations of unity are possible. His kingdom can – and will – come.

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room for stories

Hark the herald angels sing

Glory to the newborn King

Peace on earth and mercy mild…

The song was brought to a close with a pause for prayer. It’s Christmas Eve and we are crammed in the back of the church. Grandma is by my side, in her Christmas sweater, decorative pin, and holiday earrings. Always the fashionista. Dimmed lights adorn the walls and we are surrounded. People are entering every corner, it seems, and soon Pastor is having us greet our congregants. To the left, to the right. I turn around. Two young children are staring at me with a girl, around my age, by their side.

“Hi! Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas.”

“What’s your name?”

inaudible response.

“What is it?”

“Umutesi.”

Umutesi?!?!? A Rwandan name, if I ever knew one. I pressed further.

“Um….wow. Are you…Rwandan?”

“Yes.”

Muraho!”

The young girls’ eyes became wide-eyed and jolted like an alarm ringing on an early Monday morning.

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The woman with them pulled me out of the service later and explained everything. She works with Lutheran Family Services and had been assigned as a mentor to this particular family that had moved to the United States about 3 months prior.

Vitals?

Well, the family had been living in a refugee camp for many years in Rwanda. The family is Congolese in blood, but identifies also as a Rwandan – as is the case with many people on the border. The mother finally received the “lottery” – the ability to gain asylum in the US and was placed in Denver – as many refugees are. Outside of New York and Washington D.C., Denver is becoming a major immigration hub because of location, climate, and resources. Two of the three children are in school (one child is just around the age of two) and the mother is looking for work. It’s difficult, however, as she doesn’t speak English, read, and can only write very little. The job she has been offered is a night-only job; from about 8pm to 4am. This presents a major issue: who would watch the little one?

As I was briefed on their situation, the agency worker invited me to come to her next home visit. I enthusiastically came aboard.

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I have entered many Rwandan homes in my life. Hundreds, probably. But this was only the second time doing so stateside. I was full of adrenaline and excitement. This is fun to me. We herded into the doorway and greeted the mother. When she heard me actually speak a Kinyarwanda word she looked at me in a state of confusion and uncertainty. Could this be?

I glanced around. TV, couches, chairs. By the looks of things, American. Yet, I smelt Rwandan food. I saw Rwandan flip-flops. I touched Rwandan igitenge (fabric). This was a Rwandan family, indeed.

I continued to greet her, digging up all of those Rwandan phrases I have buried somewhere in my brain, heart, and memories. She was taken aback and didn’t know what to say initially.

I showed her a couple of photographs of my home in Eastern Rwanda on my phone and she grinned.

“Eh babe we!” (Oh my goodness).

A proverbial door or gateway to make some headway in her case, I broached her for information.

How were things going? Were the kids getting to school? What did she do all do? What were some feasible job options the agency could help her find? Did she have enough medication available?

Another one of the agency volunteers brought a calendar and stickers to help her identify certain dates with certain colors. Doctor appointments? Use yellow. Agency meeting? Use green. Church? Use blue.

As I was explaining this in Kinyarwanda, I couldn’t help but flash back to my own moments of fear, uncertainty, and confusion.

I’m lying in my mosquito net with no electricity and no clue where in the world I am. The radio hums and I don’t know what it is saying. My family speaks to me but I don’t understand what they are showing me. They provide food, but I don’t know what I am eating. I have clothes but I don’t really know what is appropriate to wear. Mud cakes my legs, urine stenches in my room from having to use a bucket, and I wonder when my water purifier will start working so I have clean water to drink. What the hell am I doing? Why did I come here?

You see, Rwanda wasn’t all sunshine and sunflowers for me at times. At many points, I was stuck with this grappling sense of ISOLATION.

I come back to the present moment and am more determined to help. Countless friends, colleagues, and villages welcomed me into their lives and so certainly, I can pay it forward and do the same. In many ways, that’s what we are called to do.

I went back two weeks later.

Fear swept aside, the mother not only successfully wrote her name, but we discussed the process in how to call in her child “sick” for school should that be an issue. The school hotline was expectedly annoying, “please press 1 if you would like English, 2 if you would like Spanish,” – it’s like. Um. Do you have Kinyarwanda?…Please?

All of this requires patience, cultural understanding, and linguistic ability. There isn’t a Rwandan context for about 90% of things that this family is currently encountering. Yes, yes, as they get more settled I think the family will find a lot more similarities, but in the beginning it will feel so starkly different.

Life as an American Immigrant is hard. Intensely difficult. Truth be told, it is probably better than the life they have come from. But, because we are so engrained with our own cultures, stories, and histories, it’s hard to not have those carry through wherever we go.

One dream I have is to help people carry this through. I think that’s why I like writing so much. Like with this Rwandan woman, yes, she’s moved to America. But can she still be Rwandan? Yes. And she should be. I was still American when I moved to Rwanda and a bit Rwandan when I moved back to America, so there is always room for our stories. Always.

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Here are some great stories & resources regarding African immigration and new life in the United States.

New York Times Article on Immigration Influx: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/02/nyregion/influx-of-african-immigrants-shifting-national-and-new-york-demographics.html?_r=0

Lutheran Family Services – Refugees: http://www.lfsrm.org/refugee-asylee

NPR: Becoming Americans: http://www.npr.org/2015/02/23/387536454/becoming-american-immigrants-tweet-their-stories

Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition: http://www.coloradoimmigrant.org/

fellowship, reconsidered.

I was a young child with an auspicious beginning.

Mom tells this story with a smirk on her petite face; we were in the waiting room at the pediatricians office when I was still a very young girl, perhaps no older than two years of age. Glancing around the room, Mom says I looked back at her, squeezed her knees, and squealed with delight, “Mommy look! A chocolate baby!” This wasn’t said with a drop of malice but instead out of excitement, I noticed something different and this delighted me, evidently.

Yep. Kids say the darndest things.

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By the time I was entering adulthood, this anecdote seemed all the more amusing. Not only had I attended a school in a racially diverse state (at least more so than where I had originated from) – Arkansas – and also had a father as a long time educator for one of Colorado’s most diverse schools, but my college senior thesis (a year of work, mind you) centered on race relations and urban development for youth in New Orleans.

The moment that was the biggest “game changer”, you might say, was when I sojourned down to a small town in Mississippi early in 2008. We had started what had been dubbed “The Journey of Reconciliation”; a college trip aimed to immerse students in the history and realities of the Civil Rights Movement, the legacy of its people, and places, and the value of service. Truth be told, I went along with one of my best friends Michelle – long before our abiding friendship had been cemented – and it wasn’t upon some dignified invitation that we went. No, we heard students discussing the itinerary in the wooden hallways of our old chapel following a service one evening and decided to invite ourselves to an informational meeting. We went, and I’m pretty sure we paid all of $70 for the entire trip. Yes, the glory of Hendrix College.

We rode in these hilarious white vans with other college students through Memphis, Mississippi, Alabama, onwards to Atlanta and back again. A Colorado girl, this was my first time in the Deep South and it left a lasting impression.

Little Rock Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas

Lorraine Motel, where MLK was assassinated. Memphis, Tennessee.

Lorraine Motel, where MLK was assassinated. Memphis, Tennessee.

Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama. Site of where many activists were brutally attacked, notably with intense water hoses.

Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama. Site of where many activists were brutally attacked, notably with intense water hoses.

I have this orange folder that has a piece of purple duct tape on the front. On it, I wrote,

Movements begin with individuals.

When I open the folder, it explodes with ticket stubs from the National Civil Rights Museum, a copy of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, a city map of Atlanta, and a wrinkled paper of writing prompts that our leaders directed us to reflect on. A couple of the questions listed are,

“Compassion literally means ‘to suffer with.’ Did you see evidence of compassion offered to the victims and their families? When have you offered compassion in your own life and where has compassion been offered to you?”

In one of the moments that stands as a marker in my own faith, we stopped at small, little Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Located in Neshoba county – where the first land owned by former slaves occurred in 1879 – the church stands as a major historical landmark as it played a role in “Freedom Summer”. The plaque outside the church summarizes the events briefly and succinctly,

“On June 21,1964 voting rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerener, who had come here to investigate the burning of Mt. Zion church, were murdered. Victims of a Klan conspiracy, their deaths provoked national outrage and led to the first successful federal prosecution of a civil rights case in Mississippi.”

Mt. Zion Church.

Mt. Zion Church.

Before attending a service, we had the incredible opportunity to hear an elderly woman speak with us about her experiences as a young girl when history was playing itself out. She spoke at length about the church being burnt by members of the KKK. Her descriptions of the smell, of the magnitude of the flames, and the hatred resonated deeply. I don’t remember every detail she spoke of, but I do remember how it made me feel. Her testimony was as powerful as I ever heard. I knew that day that God had worked something miraculous in that woman’s heart – perhaps in this community too – and that never has left me. When it comes to what abiding faith looks like, that is what it means. To praise God in times of discrimination, murder, and fire

As we continued our travels South, I felt certain that what Dr. King and many of our citizens accomplished back in this struggle couldn’t be confined to any legislative or power controls. Yes, that was the end goal – the big idea – but before any of those larger changes could take place, it was about taking claim of lives and livelihood. It was about blood and death – literally. It was love transforming hate.

Life's Most Urgent Question.

Life’s Most Urgent Question.

I didn’t know how important it was that I bear some understanding of racial inequality and struggle at the time, but it has followed me everywhere I have gone. The South, perhaps more than many other places in our country, holds our deepest and darkest history and secrets. America, claiming to be a land for the free, hasn’t always been. What scares me, is that even now, can we really stake that claim?

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Selma is a powerfully intense film because it bears witness not only to the history of the movement, the people, and the ideas, but the pressing, undergirding need that still exists.

I liked it to, because I walked out of the theatre (blubbery and tired from all the tears I shed), not in a spirit of anger or disbelief, but in a deeper understanding that God has called us to be people that are different. We have reacted to this shamefully, consistently throughout human history trying to mold others to what we think is “right”.

Our reflection of who Christ is should be, is, and will always be different.

It’s far more than just color. It’s more than race. It’s even more than our personalities, our choices, or our fundamental beliefs. It’s our character. It’s our heart. It’s how God wants to use us.

I attend a church that I think gets this. It’s not all about free love and it certainly isn’t a “soft” church, if you know what I mean. But difference is valued. Our pastor recently shared with us that in a massive church survey, most of the congregants loved the diversity of the church more than anything else. There is something special about worshipping The Lord alongside people who come from different places, who might have a different amount of money in their pockets, and have been through a depth of experiences that you could never understand. It’s special because the foundational conversations can take place; understanding can be more facilitated, and I think this was what Dr. King was talking about. I think that’s what Selma was about too.

It was about equal rights, the struggle, and the deep pain that some people have had to walk through. And still, it represented the need for unity and sharing the struggle together. When the second march to Selma happens, it’s bigger, stronger, and it’s diverse. In this moment in the film, you can’t help but feel that yes! That’s what reconciliation looks like.

In Philippians 3:10, Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

When my Sunday community group has discussed this verse, and since referenced it time and time again, it’s been about a larger understanding of what Jesus had to go through in order for us to be made new. We can never replicate what he has done, and yet, we can engage and accept the sufferings of others so that we can better envision and experience the kind of community I think Jesus longs for us to have.

I’m not saying leave your job today and go out and protest and march in the streets.

Honestly, if you turn on the news these days it might compel you to want to shut out, disengage, and ignore the chaos that seems to be happening. We are living in weird times.

But I’m not even saying watch the news, either.

Maybe it could start with watching a film like Selma or maybe it means seeking community a bit more intentionally than you have before. Maybe it’s having a conversation with somebody that not only looks different and is different from you, but may even THINK different than you. I struggle here the most. It’s easy to talk about community and all of this “kumbaya” sort of feelings, but on a practical level it can be hard, especially when you want to respond before even listening to what another person is saying.

Ignorance might drive me crazy, but wouldn’t I be the ignorant one when I refuse to listen to another person’s thoughts and ideas?

Yes, building community and understanding is quite difficult.

However, Dr. King, the Civil Rights Movement, and Selma remind me – and all of us- that it has been done before. And absolutely, it can be done again.

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Aurora: the natural light

An aurora is a natural light display in the sky (from the Latin word aurora, “sunrise” or the Roman goddess of dawn), predominantly seen in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions.

Aurora, Colorado, 2009

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I have been reading through my old angsty college-aged journal entries and I have found frequent musings regarding the concept of place.

It was an important topic to me at the time. Especially as I was traveling, engaging with other places in the country and the world, I couldn’t help but consider the place I had come from.

I loaded up in buses with my hockey teammates all over the South and Midwest; took mission trips to the Delta; traveled globally; and even wrote my senior thesis about the idea of “place” in urban areas (focusing in New Orleans) and how poverty affected geographic boundaries and youth development.

It was fascinating to me.

However, I can’t help but think, girl. How little you actually knew.

While I appreciated my place of origin – beautiful Colorado – I wrote about how my neighborhoods, high school, and community as if it lacked any form of diversity or difference. I acted as if I had grown up in a suburban-snooze, with no sense of culture.

Aurora, I would write, as if I was lamenting about some pre-described, orderly white-picketed fence safe haven.

In a way, I might have been right. Yet, mostly, I just didn’t know. I didn’t have the eyes to see. I didn’t have the experience or the tools or even the resources to know where I could find the very thing I yearned for: difference.

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John Lewis writes,

We must not turn away from one another. We must not retreat into separate tribes of like-minded, like-looking people who worship the same God, wear the same clothes, read the same books and eat the same food as one another. This is the way of exclusion, not inclusion. We cannot afford going this way. If we are to survive as a society, as a nation, we must turn toward one another and reach out in every way we can. It is not a choice; it is a necessity. We need to listen to one another, to look, to open our minds as well as our hearts.  (Walking with the Wind, 1998)

John Lewis is a Congressman in Georgia and a major leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. His call for unity – especially as I heard him speak at a conference in North Carolina my sophomore year of college – pushed me to think, what can I do to SEEK and ENGAGE that which is different?

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This planted a seed that grew into a journey that has become a passion. And now, it’s brought me back home.

So, when I read those old journal entries, frustrated that I couldn’t find what was “different” in Aurora, I literally LAUGH.

On paper, Aurora has demographics that are sometimes surprising for typical suburban areas. The latest census reports that over 61% of the population is white, 15.7% is African-American, nearly 5% is Asian, almost 29% of any listed race is Hispanic or Latino, and a great deal of other racial categories are listed as well. It’s quite diverse.

My dad moved to a neighborhood on the border between North Aurora and Denver that has Russians, Burmese, Somali, and Mexicans in a variety of neighborhoods. Immigrants and refugees don’t only exist within his community lines, he teaches these very students at the academically successful Overland High School. He’s been doing this for nearly 27 years.

More than just race, Aurora was actually the first city in the United States to have a female mayor when Norma Walker took over in 1965.

Someone reminded me that it was Cherry Creek Park, back in the early 90’s that World Youth Day was hosted. I was too young to remember, but apparently hundreds of thousands of people went, including Pope John Paul II.

The Broncos Practice Facility is arguably located in Aurora too. Well, okay, it’s not. It’s technically located in Englewood, but I would like to note that it’s only a hop-skip away from the Aurora border-line.

Since I’ve come back to the Aurora area it’s been freakishly easy to appreciate.

I have started attending church at Colorado Community Church in the heart of Aurora; this is a place of worship and friendship and fellowship that’s allowed me to make friends 10, 20, or 30 years older than me. I have discovered kinship in a Ugandan friend here, I have been honored to take part in a community group every Sunday that has people from all walks of life. My Sunday family breaks bread together just as we are; whether we have Cerebral Palsy, struggle with finances, or have started a new family.

Along Colfax Avenue, I have visited Rwandans, eaten at legitimate Moroccan eateries, and have seen construction of the planned unveiling of “the African Mall” – an urban development for a one-stop shop for African food, markets, shopping, and culture. NPR ran an interesting story about these cultural developments that can be read and listened to by clicking the link below:

Aurora’s Ethnic Richess

I have ran on the nature trails out by my mom’s new home in South Aurora, near “Southlands”. Even in the midst of suburban sprawl, it’s immensely beautiful. There’s a bit of country left out by their home – adjacent to a super-mall, believe it or not – and I remember thinking, what a wonderful place to live.

There’s all kinds of food, frozen yogurt shops, malls, and coffee shops. A new one that I tried last week – where I happened to meet a new Cameroonian friend for coffee – was established by an Israeli.

It’s not like diversity can only be fueled by color, race, or place of origin. I’m seeing diversity in other things too. There’s a lot to do; you can run, swim, climb mountains, join a fitness club, start cross-fit, go to museums, peruse libraries, shop in local boutiques or massive chain stores, and learn how to paint, or attend your choice of wine tastings & bars. People got stories here. It’s just about finding them.

Aurora has both Democrats & Republicans.

Aurora has a mix of schools, churches, and organizations to boot. On the way to my high school alma mater I can pass the booming cross of the Catholic house of worship and a few miles North would see several buildings for the Korean Christian Church. The Adventists once built a church in just under a week right by Parker & Arapahoe. Impressive.

Aurora is very, very different. When I thought otherwise, I had the classic case of “blinders”. More than that, I simply did not know how to look for that kind of thing.

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Apparently, I needed to leave, see the world, and come back to see all that’s happening in my little hometown.

And “little” ain’t the case; the town is its own rightful entity outside of Denver – having nearly half the number of the major city’s residents (over 300,000).

Besides the “All-America City” signs I see around town, my grandma – who has worked for the city for over 10 years in the municipal court – tells me that Aurora is also considered the “gateway to the Rockies” or the “sunshine of Colorado”.

What a completely appropriate name for what Aurora means anyway.

It’s been the light showing me the right direction all of these years and I just couldn’t see it most of the time. Aurora is a great city. Never more have I appreciated this place. It’s ironic now that I’m a Centennial resident, but let’s be real, a large chunk of my time is back in what is lovingly called “A-Town.”

As the world is in up in arms over cyber war-fare, and our country is exposing areas of existing racial tension, it’s more and more clear to me that we must heed to what John Lewis advises in his wisdom above. Inclusion.

If Aurora can do this, it will continue to be that light that it has its namesake from. I encourage you, whether you live in Aurora, in Denver, in Texas, in New York, or somewhere entirely outside the country, to purposefully seek what you do no know. Find what is unfamiliar. When you do, you’ll be surprised at the things you will learn. The process has proved true for me – and it’s been about the very place I was raised and grew up as a young girl. The world really can surprise us.

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relinquishing rights

But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

IMG_7161

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Okay.

Here it goes.

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Have you ever deliberately, intentionally, and self-righteously disobeyed God?

I’m not talking about a blip of gossip, a white lie, or a mistake you made when you were 14. I’m boldly, without reservation, referring to those times when you find enough audacity to stand up to God and shout

 “NO!”

I have.

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There is something I have been holding onto for nearly a year and a half now. If there is anything I’ve learned – especially in my twenties – it’s that we all have something. We put these shameful secrets deep in our hearts, we carry burdens we refuse to let go, and we wage fear in our mind as excuses for self-doubt. That’s right, we might try and paint a pretty picture on the outside, but let’s be real. We all got somethin’.

Like a sinner with a stone, it conceitedly led me back to work in Rwanda and it almost kept me there.

I don’t think God wasn’t leading me back to Rwanda; in fact, I think God wanted me serving that country. However, I had an inch and took a mile, so to speak. I omnisciently took control and established my own way of going back, for my own purposes, without being led there in God’s time.

Then, to the surprise of many, I came home.

I disguised my reasons like a magician hiding his own tricks; oh, my duty is done; I’ve given all the service I could and it just wasn’t for me anymore. I want to establish myself with my family; my brother is suffering and I need to help him and my parents….

These are all lies that turn into self-deception as a way to conceal something significantly deeper. Yes, I did need to come home after my work this summer in Kigali, but truth be told, it had a lot more to do with God’s wrath and disappointment in my refusal to follow His way.

God spoke to me today. I’m being serious. I spent hours in my room, on my knees, crying, feeling a sense of Jesus saying, listen! Follow this command and I will lead you. You will work here, live here, serve me.

But you must do this one thing.

I thought I could obey. I intended to obey. But a month went by, and I went in reverse and I told Jesus, “nah, I got this, I think I’m right.”

I can see Him shaking His head now.

My rejection of God’s will created a dark corner of shame in my heart. For turning away, yes, but also for the very iniquities that had plagued much of my soul. Few knew about what had happened, and outside of God himself, nobody knew the extent. Though God had created a perfectly wonderful path for me to follow my heart’s deepest dream, I knew I couldn’t go. Not because it wasn’t right, but because I had earlier said “no” to God and what resulted was spiritual havoc.

Let me be clear, God IS love and God will always welcome us back with grace and mercy. But should we carry ourselves higher, serving our self-seeking desires and thinking we know best, WE WILL FALL. We will suffer. Because His glory must trump the glory we often build from the very lies we create.

I said no and soon, a pervasive, scary, and gut-attacking demon came into my life. Flushed in my anxiety, nightmares, and soul, I had to run back to Colorado.

Yes, Rwanda could be hard to live in at times, and it isn’t often a dreamed about paradise for most, but I want to proclaim now that my return home had very little to do with career goals, service dreams, vocation, or desire. I was spiritually malnourished and broken and Rwanda requires the spiritually strong. When I was a volunteer back in 2011-2013 in Ruramira, God soaked my life. Drenched in the Holy Spirit, I found a treasure I had not ever known. That’s what I initially wanted to seek in my return. God. Yet, my own manipulations took over and God realized that if I stayed yet again, I would be doing it for my own will, not His. I wasn’t quite ready. This, you see, was heart-breaking.

God sets His ways and we waltz on in, thinking we can handle it. Disaster ensues. We use words of faith but follow suit in actions of disbelief. We refuse to relinquish the rights to our life, and until we make that move, what is it that God can do? The author of the universe He can have his way; but the difference of Christianity from other religions is that He wants us to want it. What good would his Son’s death be if we had no choice but to come to Him?

Our pastor said it perfectly today at church: God gives us enough to believe but never enough to make us believe.

I said “no” to God, turned away, and I absolutely paid a price.

*

In the two months that I have been back, I’ve moved into my own little place with a kind roommate and dirt trails that lead to more hilly trails for running. We have a patio that I often use for writing and reading on quiet mornings. More than this, I have found God again, and yet even more than this, I am being made new in Jesus, Himself.

Previously, I returned from Africa wide-eyed and unsure. Shocked by the stark cultural, economic, and social conditions, I was paralyzed, grabbing for anything that I could. With no direction, I didn’t turn to God, I turned inward and focused on each and every opportunity that I would do or the school I would study at or the populations I would serve. And you guessed it, because the Lord saw it too. Come down from there, child, get off your pedestal. I may be called into service but if I pursue it, it must be because of God’s grace and love, not my own. A self-serving job of service is just what it looks like: hypocritical.

This time around, it’s different. My spiritual upheaval this last go-around in Rwanda encouraged me to move outwardly for Him. To trust.

Orchestrating a peculiarly wonderful circumstance, I am engaged in a community group with 12 other 20 & 30 year olds seeking to serve Christ. My co-leader is Rwandan and another woman who is informally acting as a self-appointed mentor for me, has parents who lived in Siberia as missionaries for years.

My new church home has representation from multitudes of countries and cultures. The worship feels gospel-influenced with no one afraid of praising with raised hands and grateful, beautiful voices. The sermons are loving but not soft. They challenge me. Enlighten me. The Word of God has come alive and I see now how all of this – the roads that brought me here – are to equip. Like God’s people in the early church until now, we are called for a purpose. God will use us to glorify Him.

*

Divine often told me “buretse sha” in nearly all we did. In cooking, walking, praying, and in sipping chai tea. “Wait, my dear,” wait and find rest. Lately, when I have found myself on my knees, yet again, God has reminded me of the very same things, “be quiet, be still, make no plans. I have something for you.”

I encourage you to stop and listen if you are reading this. When you are commanded, GO.  Do not refuse.

I am blessed to have stability both in job and home as I am rocked to the core as a Christian. Something is coming and God is preparing me. You can’t serve if you don’t submit. So here I am, waiting. I’ve ripped up all the plans I have had, had plan to make, and wanted to make for the near future. Everything – poof! I’m giving and deferring this all to God. The dreams I have and the goals I’ve built; should I put these hopes into my love for Jesus, I have faith they will come when the time is right. And if they don’t it’s because it wasn’t His ultimate plan for my life. I’ve been burnt, bruised, and a bit frayed on the edges, but Jesus will make all things renewed and ready – even you and me. We are called. Will you come?

*

I am the vine and My father is the gardener.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while ever branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you.

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…

This is my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

(John 15: 1-4; 8)

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