God just is.

I have often found that the presence of the Divine is surprisingly subtle.

Experiencing, feeling, noticing, observing, communing (or really, whatever you want to call it) with God, for me, is typically an occurrence in the quieter, more reflective spaces of my life.

This is counterintuitive to many of the religious spaces I have found myself in over the years. Places where God is equal to loud praises, loud shouts, and loud songs. And sure, God can be found here too, in fact, I think that God is accessible anywhere and everywhere.

Yet, for me I feel God when my environment errs on the side of discreet and still.

So, it was completely “on brand” that when riding my bicycle this afternoon I felt the noticeable, pressing experience of God. Gliding along the paths near Crestmoor Park I was sorting through what felt like a million feelings. I had just returned from Rwanda. Even after two weeks, I was literally gleeful to be with Chelsea again. I was considering upcoming transitions. I was thinking about weddings, fall plans, and the end of summer. I was also recalling conversations with my parents, wanting to make sure that they were both doing well after not speaking with them during my travels.

A lot was on my mind. At one point during these thoughts, I turned the corner, touching on my brakes ever so slightly when –

Silence.

I felt a need for all things to be quiet – mostly the noise in my head. And so, with resistance, I silenced my questions, to-do lists, and contemplations. I existed in the moment, amidst the vibrant, green trees and slightly rocky bike paths. Suddenly, a mantra –

You are loved. You are enough. You do not have to explain yourself.

These phrases came to mind – on repeat – like a song that you just cannot get enough of. I wondered to myself: how do you know when you are skimming the line of God versus when you’re giving yourself positive self-talk?

Real question.

And, the real answer is that I don’t know. I literally have no idea. However, I do have a hunch.

When I am with God, everything is in balance. Everything is with perspective. And, any thoughts I have (positive or otherwise) feel exquisitely simple and yet equally profound. It is as though my spirituality is full of reminders of love, yearnings for compassion, and fierce dedication to hope. All of this, without any of my own internal baggage. It is quite nice.

Prayers, revelations, and messages come together – time with God is never so clearly sparred out and divided like we do with our church programming. God just is.

I kept riding my bike, sifting through this nugget of faith that I was greatly welcoming. You see, connecting with God in this way has been more difficult lately. There has been so much moving around, so much change, so much distraction, to be frank. Because of that, I have missed these still moments that allow me to push further, beyond myself, so that I can access God, the Divine, and explore life from a fresher perspective – even if it is just for a moment.

Connection with God, I am learning requires connection to self. One must take the space. One must understand their identity. One must be willing to find what is available to them in any moment. God does not require a church, God does not require a certain verse or saying, God does not require a performance.

God just desires you – me – us.

Realizing this is changing my prayers, too. Today, I prayed a simple set of questions, a kind of prayer of humility:

God.

Thank you for today.

Thank you for bringing me home.

Thank you for the love I have in my life.

My hope is to steward this love well.

Where can I grow?

Where can I learn?

Where can I forgive?

Where can I hope?

Where can I give?

Where can I receive?

Where can I support?

Teach me how to explore these spaces – whatever my resistance, whatever my disposition. May I live well. May I love well.

God, help me to not forget the richness of this life. God, be with the hungry. God, be with the lonely. Be with all of us – regardless of belief, regardless of circumstance, regardless of anything. May your presence and experience be known. May your love reign.

I love you.

 Faith is both incredibly simple and extraordinarily complex.

I will forever fall short of describing my faith. I mean, how does one describe that which can only be felt?

Here’s to finding God in all kinds of places, in the most unexpected of ways.

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“Imagine…”

I’m writing this from my small mobile device while on the bike at the gym. I feel that compelled and urged to share.

I just got off the phone with Divine (yes, I am also that annoying girl who talks on the phone while exercising. Yes, I know it’s annoying. Add it to my list of “things to work on“.

Our morning conversation went something like this:

Divine: “ehhhhhbabaweeeeeee! You saw Susanna in that city, New York?! Wow! How is your family now Christmas has finished?”

Me: (after musing on NYC’s massive amounts of people), “Divine, they are great. Brother is doing well. But we have finished eating so much food that somehow we can become fat!”

Divine: “Imagine! That’s so wonderful!”

Because really, this is the best kind of news you can give when it comes to families.

This led to a conversation about school and family. First, one of the children Divine’s mother has taken in as her own temporarily (the father is Divine’s half-brother who has been busy searching for work in a bigger Eastern city) has lost it’s birth mother to illness. This means another mouth to feed on a more permanent basis. Which also means Divine’s priority on school holiday has not been gathering information on transferring to another school with a more stable environment (even at her boarding school this year they would sometimes be out of water). Luckily, we may have found one, but more funds will be needed over time.

Sometimes I IMAGINE if things were different. And it breaks my heart. But, it also encourages me too.

If you are at all able, please consider donating even just $5. That pays for a part of a uniform. Seriously. Eventually I hope to achieve an ability to provide tax receipts. Wihangane as they say in Rwanda: sorry, but please take patience.

The link below does not only serve to support Divine’s school. It’s for Yazina, Eugenie, Zahara, and Maisara. My girls. Our girls. With all my heart, thank you.

CLICK HERE – DONATE TODAY!

 

eyes to see

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If you catch a girl walking to the bus-stop with perfectly ironed black dress pants, 3-inch heels, and beautifully placed hair, you can be sure of one thing:

it isn’t me.

Look further. Yeah, you will have to peruse further than the nearby bus stop.

Most days, at least as of last week, I have taken to “going on walks” before I head into work. For some wild reason it helps me start the day right. Feel relaxed. Get some fresh air. Really, it’s probably a need to move since I’m currently on a running hiatus. And I sit at a desk a large portion of my day.

Yep. I’m the sweaty girl with a heavy, unnecessarily large backpack walking in converse (officially my new favorite pair of shoes) on the Kigali pedestrian sidewalks. Don’t worry, I bring my dress shoes into work (sometimes).

On one of my walks last week, I decided it would be cool to walk all the way from my house to work. No big deal…right? Well. According to google maps, I did this:

walk

It was about an 8 km walk (or around 5 miles). To be honest, it felt like a lot more, but let’s be real. It’s probably those Kigali hills. If you have been here, you know what I am talking about. The steep inclines are no joke.

Here’s another reason I’m enjoying these little adventures, y’all. Well, first of all, when I was living in the village, it was a social necessity. It was how you met people. So, perhaps it’s a bit of a habit. But also, I want to see Kigali.

Behind those towering Beverly-Hill like monsters of homes (one of which I happen to rent a room from) there are significantly poorer residences tucked away – they are actually in the same neighborhood. Though, rumor has it that eventually the city organizers are looking to move these residents out and convert this particular area into an “upper income area only.” Who knows.

As you walk along Kigali sidewalks you realize just how clean everything is, for the most part. I see parents holding the hands of their uniformed children as they take them to school. They are sure are a hell of a lot better groomed than I am at this point. If you see litter, which I doubt you will, it’s very little. I will never forget the smells and sights of roads back in Ghana when I was studying abroad; people drink water from small baggies, called sachets, and they are absolutely everywhere. Mountains of them, even. In Kigali, you will instead see hired women dressed in blue or green uniforms that are either sweeping dust or picking up even the smallest pieces of left behind paper. Knowing Rwanda how I do, this doesn’t really surprise me, though. Most Rwandans highly value cleanliness.

I pass incredibly manicured lawns of colleges and vocational schools. KIM, the Kigali Insititute of Management, for example, has red brick reminiscent of my own Hendrix College and an assortment of flowers that nearly every color can be found. These are the institutions and students that I will be interacting with for a large chunk of my time as a fellow with Urwego Opportunity Bank – once I pump out the manual, anyway. Entering my third week, I have been quite swamped putting together the PPM (Procedures and Policy Manual) for the Education Finance Program. Trust me when I tell you that it is significantly more fascinating than it sounds. For the past couple of weeks, I have used my work day to extensively research Education in Rwanda, the history of education financing in this country, and what this means for Urwego’s social approach. What can work here? What can’t? Why?

I have learned a lot. In between my research, I have developed surveys for staff in the Education program, re-constructed and tailored a financial literacy curriculum for children to air on the radio, and completed some site visits. I’ve been busy. It’s made me think a lot. And so, it’s become these morning walks that really gear me up for the day ahead and give me the time and space I need to consider the things I have learned, what I have experienced before, and what I am experiencing now. And also, where I want to go with all of this.

*

See that tree over to the left?

note papaya tree. a great place for a great conversation.

note the papaya tree. a great place for a great conversation.

It’s adjacent to the clothes drying in the sun and behind Divine’s neighbor waiting for her close-up.

That tree.

It’s a papaya tree. Last Sunday, I sat on a tattered mat for two hours, under its thin branches, and really talked with Divine. I firmly believe that in the end, no amount of Skype credit, WhatsApp messages, or video calls can replace the feeling of being able to discuss things without any time limit. It’s a rare gem in our world.

We talked about a lot of stuff.

In the past, so much of my writing has been triggered by things or nuggets of wisdom that Divine has shared with me. Apparently that continues.

We were talking about some of the work I was doing in Kigali, with the bank, and soon the conversation shifted to some broader experiences I was seeing in the city. Namely, the blatant concentration of wealth. As I tried to explain some of these observations carefully and delicately, Divine continued to scrub dust-ridden clothes between the crevices of her hands. She remarked,

“…poverty is not only about money.”

I looked up. She wasn’t looking at me. Instead, she was intensely focused on my blue jeans she had been soaking in suds to remove the stains from beans the previous day. Yeah, okay, I’m a messy eater. She went on,

“Heather, poverty is a lack of something. In the heart….in the mind….you can find the poor everywhere.”

Of course she was telling me this, of course. She has always been one of the more practically insightful people I have known; she’ll just start spewing out really interesting observations about how the world works as if she’s just having a regular conversation about tea or something.

I told her that ironically, the bank I am working for takes the very same approach to constructing their idea of poverty and what they are fighting against. Taking directly from Urwego Opportunity Bank’s official beliefs:

UOB views poverty as a multifaceted, interconnected, and dis-empowering system that is the result of the fall of the four foundational relationships that God established for each person (i.e. relationships with God, self, others, and creation).  When defined in this way, all people are fundamentally poor in the sense of not experiencing the fullness that God intended for each of these relationships.  For the economically poor, these broken relationships often include shame, a marred identity, and social isolation.  For the economically rich, these broken relationships manifest themselves into pride, selfishness, workaholic tendencies, materialism, etc., which result into a variety of individual and social ills.

*

I didn’t tell Divine this, but it was hard for me to sit there, considering how I have been moving in between two worlds that are quite different yet very much in the same country.

Imagine.

By Monday morning I am working alongside educated, university-attended Rwandans. I have sat at roundtables and lectures and presentations that highlight researchers’ and experts’ newest ideas about how to decrease poverty in this country. It might be from the financial world, from a context of charity, or from the basis of education. In the city there’s a lot of ideas. Some are really good. And for others, I feel like the roots of poverty itself are hidden deep behind the rhetoric. Buzz words appear often when you speak with people in development: the rural poor, girls, access, indicators, outcomes, projects, impact analysis….I could go on.

These things aren’t bad, they really aren’t. And you know what? I like talking about this kind of stuff more than anyone. And to be quite frank, Rwanda is an exemplary example of development. It really, really is. There are goals here (the health care scheme, universal primary education, ICT, and increased agricultural productivity) that have become realities. A simple ‘google’ search of Rwandan development will provide plenty of reading material to prove it so. Perhaps that’s why so many people come to work here; something is going right.

However, I suppose as I was laying under that papaya tree discussing poverty with someone right there, experiencing extraordinary financial limitations right in front of me, I felt a disconnect between those words and the lives being lived.

So much of the need is decided by people who have risen above. Is it good? Is it bad? I don’t know. I’ll tell you this much. Living in Rwanda in a different context certainly makes you consider these sort of dynamics.

*

And later that evening, when the sun had set and the stars came alive (along with a fresh brew of that old-time banana beer – some things really never change) I had a conversation that rocked me a bit.

I don’t feel comfortable posting exact details but I will say that it highlighted poverty – and the major wealth gap that exists in this country. This person commented on some obvious dissension with “power structures” in Kigali and it took me by surprise. They expressed a dissatisfaction that I haven’t seen so obviously from most Rwandans I have met; most of the time, Rwandans are pretty guarded about personal opinions or ideas. So when I heard what I did, my eyes widened a bit. Woah. There’s something going on here.

I had been sharing some of my stories of what some people had to say about “the village” while living in Kigali. A few people I have talked to seem to lump “the village” together as one entity. It’s as if Rwanda is two things: Kigali and the village. And in terms of a rural and urban breakdown, that can be true, but don’t be mistaken to think that “the village” is the same in the East as it is in the North as it is in the South. Even in a country quite homogenous like Rwanda, at least with some traditional values, language, and religion, places are different. And like Divine pointed out, poverty is different too. Whether you’re in Kigali, near Tanzania, or living volcano-side in the North.

*

Going back to those walks I love taking, I went on another long one yesterday on my way to work. I was thinking about all of this. I was praying one thing over and over again,

“Lord, let me see what you want me to see here.”

I think it’s begun.

I don’t think it’s going to be easy at times. In fact, I think as the next couple of month’s progress, I will be challenged to reconcile differences and disparities. I’m working, sure. I’m having fun in the city. I’m enjoying weekend visits to old friends. But, I’m also being directed, educated, and presented with things I have yet to ever consider.

That’s a summer worth having.

*

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what will you do to remember?

About 6 months ago, a short time before I was set to leave Rwanda, Divine and I spent a couple of hours at the Kigali Memorial Center. This is a memorial in Gisozi, a short ride away from the heart of the city, where over 200,00 Rwandans have been laid to rest as a result of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.

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stained glass art in the memorial representing life and death.

I had been to this memorial three times prior – within my first month of arriving in the country, on a visit with my mother, and on a visit with my father. This fourth time was slightly different – it was just Divine and I. I had never been with only a Rwandan.

I gave her a lot of space to try and process what she was seeing, feeling, and experiencing. We said very little as we trudged through the historical explanations, the rows of old, crushed skulls from machetes, and the blood-stained clothes kept safe within glass boxes. They showed a picture of an old Catholic church, not far from where Divine lives, where a major massacre had taken place. This place is called Nyarabuye.

I could see her eyes get heavy and her body get tired. This was a lot to handle. She’s 20 and was a young child in 1994, but like anyone in Rwanda, she was affected in some kind of way. She spent the first part of her young life in a forest, weaving in and out of Tanzania – she was even born there. She knows survivors, perpetrators, and people in between. And when she tried telling me some of these things, it was clear that I could never understand. Most of all, especially after we saw the memorial, Divine was concerned that if I knew some her story – and the stories of others – I would tell people back in America and it could bring back “trouble”. I reassured her; her story is sacred with me and ultimately, I can never have any claim to even the smallest experience that so many Rwandans went through – on both sides.

So, when it comes to reflecting during April, as it always is at this time of the year, it’s hard to know what to think or what to say. This year, I’m not in Rwanda. But, I  am speaking with my friends back in the country and asking about Kwibuka – literally translated as “to remember” – and what they are doing to reflect on the 20 year anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide.

You know, they ask me too.

They say, “teacher. What will you do on Monday to remember?”

I pause.

And I sigh deeply and tell them,

“I’m going to tell people about Rwanda. About what I know. About what I learned. And about the time to remember for everyone in Rwanda. It is important to share.”

They tell me, “Super. You must tell them. You must also tell them that Rwanda is a strong country.”

“I will.”

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*

Below are some links that I have enjoyed reading. Additionally, I have added 3 videos that are important rememberance songs for a lot of people in the country. Right now, for the month of April, the only music that is supposed to be played is rememberance music and so this is the kind of stuff you would be hearing on the radios currently. The first song I will post, “Ijoro Ribara Uwariraye” is one of the most beautiful songs I heard in April and it’s particularly stirring and moving. I hope this helps you learn a little more and reflect on how precious humanity really is.

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Six Lessons To Remember

Rwanda Genocide Anniversary

 

educate divine & yazina

Hi y’all,

As many of you know, I am currently fundraising to help support my dear friends, Divine and Yazina, with their school fees for them to finish their secondary education over the next three years.

I’m passing along the link which provides full explanation and a break-down of the current budget.

Please pass along to anyone who may be interested and I thank you so much for considering this cause for two incredible girls. See the link below for more information.

http://www.gofundme.com/5vfcbo

Peace and love,

Heather

Mom and Yazina, July 2013

Mom and Yazina, July 2013

From left to right: Mom, Divine, and Yazina, walking in my village after visiting Yazina's family.

From left to right: Mom, Divine, and Yazina, walking in my village after visiting Yazina’s family.

Sharing a meal with Divine and her family. Her mother and sister are to Divine's left side.

Sharing a meal with Divine and her family. Her mother and sister are to Divine’s left side.