the welcoming tradition.

Men hate each other because they fear each other,
and they fear each other because they don’t know each other,
and they don’t know each other
because they are often separated from each other.

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In times of grief, I often pray with my hands cupped together, as if I’m holding all the pain in my tired fingers and asking for God to see it, hold it, and carry it with (or for) me.

I began praying like that on a trip that culminated with time at a progressive Methodist church in Birmingham, Alabama (Highlands United Methodist Church). I was with a group of Hendrix students, learning about the Civil Rights movement while also taking part in service work. This experiential learning program was designed to explore on-going, systemic issues of poverty, race, and historical segregation – especially in the South. On one of the final evenings, I stayed alone in a small, chapel-like room and lifted my hands like in the cup-like stance, praying that God would teach me how to have an open heart. My soul was tired from the stories we had heard. I was at a loss for words – in disbelief of how our country had so violently and rigorously held onto exclusionary policies and attitudes because of a person’s race.

What disturbed me then, as it continues to do so now, (today, in 2017 when we legislate the rejection of people not quite like “us”) is that exclusion was not the kind of tradition I was taught. I, in the tapestry of experiences across state lines, groups, ethnicities, countries, genders, and families have been shown and empowered with a welcoming tradition. I refuse, resolutely, to disembark from this way of loving and honoring the humanity around us.

I took time this week to jot down specific moments or circumstances by which was modeled for me as a way of inclusion.

Inclusion, inherently, comes with risks.

If we embrace “otherness” in our communities (whether that includes a different religion, ethnicity, sexuality, socio-economic background, gender, etc.) we can’t guarantee consensus. If we celebrate diversity, we might have to live in the tension of misalignment. Most profoundly, if we welcome people that are not like the community we live within then we might lose the power we have systemically maintained.

Imagine!

What if the opportunity for inclusion presented a pathway to disassemble privilege so that we could access a more equitable, shared, opportunity-rooted society?

I’ve suggested something like this with close family members before and have been called a “socialist.” In a better light, I’ve been characterized as simply “too idealistic.”

But in fact, welcoming others is a tradition found within the framework of the beginning Christian community, not merely something I only formulated myself.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15: 5-7; 13

My push, desire, and passion for inclusion stems first from my faith, and then from my upbringing and experiences. Truthfully, it also comes from a deep-seeded belief that each and every human has value. All of us. We’re messy, incomplete, wrong, misguided, mean, selfish, corrupt, and imperfect people. But, that doesn’t change the fact that we are alive and to be image-bearers of Christ. We are not Christ. Rather, we are made in His image, carrying some piece of that reflection with us.

I’m blessed because I’ve seen enough inclusion in my life to know that it is the worthy way. I will commit my life to it. And for that, I have the people in my life to thank for showcasing what it means to see, love, and accept people and to courageously choose the path of integration, not separation. It’s harder, but the right thing usually is.

Inclusion: noun

the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

Divorce

Appropriately, my first molding to what relational inclusion can be, came from my parents. I’m forever grateful for that.

My parents divorced in the fall of 2003. I was 14. It was the dismantling of my family as I knew it, though frankly, I had expected it to occur many years prior. I was sad, of course, but I was also hopeful that both of my parents could heal and find the happiness they so deeply longed for, needed, and deserved.

Initially, to cope, I threw myself (literally) into sports. Field hockey became the outlet by which I could channel my spectrum of emotions (despair, gratitude, doubt, expectation, concern, and uncertainty) and still process what was happening. My parents were available to ask questions, and most conspicuously, did their damndest to uphold consistency to our life. I still took the bus to school, I maintained delicious dinners of macaroni and cheese, and for a while, we stayed in the same house, with our parents rotating each week.

Eventually, as the dust began to settle, even over the course of months, years, and other marriages, I witnessed something quite miraculous. My mother and father kept an amiable relationship, and because of that, kept an inclusionary approach to each other in our lives. It would have been easy for my mom or my dad to silo their experiences with us – away from one another. Instead, together, they attended sports’ games and activities and together, built the role of both “mother” and “father” equally, without marginalization or omission. This can be unique in the status-quo for divorced families.

What I learned – from both mom and dad– is that even in time of division, a cohesive community still can be cultivated. Our family could remain intact, just different than before.  Yet, even in our pain, our growth as a family that included myself, my brother, my mom, and my dad remained.

Menifee

I graduated from a public-school system with resources. Lots of them. Cherry Creek Schools are well-known (locally and nationally) for excellent teachers, technologies, and innovative classroom methods. To be honest, I didn’t know how lucky I was until I left.

I’ve always loved volunteerism and as a student just outside of Little Rock, I made it a priority to find the perfect club, activity, or organization where I could get involved. When I joined the team of Menifee, a tutoring and education program for rural Arkansasan youth, I fully, and finally realized how advantaged I had been to receive the kind of education I did.

Menifee, a small, rural town near my school (we’re talking population 311), is a community that has over 10% of people living below the poverty line. It also has a sizeable population that attend school districts lacking in quality teachers, experiential learning, and enough resources (say, textbooks) to provide high-level classroom engagement.

Once a week, a well-known (and well-liked) Hendrix professor would bring a handful of tutors to practice spelling, mapping, or time tables with Menifee youth. Her compassion for this community was compelling and deep; she worked for years to elevate the educational opportunities for these children, and truthfully, it was inspiring to even just be around. Unrelentingly, she believed that these children had every right to access a fair, equitable education.

Tutoring was just one facet of her efforts; she also advocated for parental engagement, believing that strong families can encourage student proficiency. I learned from her that inclusion of all students is essential to our future. If we neglect students from rural, minority, or poor communities, we inherently advocate for a society that doesn’t push forth opportunities for knowledge – for all.

GLOW & BE

While in the Peace Corps, I wrote extensively about the experience of educating young women, particularly in the realm of personal growth, leadership, relationship-building, and women’s issues. After school, once a week, I would meet with our “GLOW” (Girls Leading Our World) Club (usually with around 20 students) to discuss issues relevant to their lives (sex education, menstruation, studying habits, and boys). It was a powerful experience, one that still informs the work and passions I have for encouraging safe spaces for women.

Over time, the club became, truly, theirs. I sat on the side, allowing their own leadership to thrive and for them to establish the kind of conversation they desired.

After about a year of meeting regularly, the president of the group approached me with an idea: let’s include the boys. I was confused at first. Boys? We want to empower boys? Wasn’t our club designed to empower our female populations?

Her idea took root. By including males in the conversation of empowerment, we empower both genders – together. If women are to rise in confidence, efficacy, and choice, inherently, men would need to join us. They would need to advocate for us, and us for them. We started a “BE” (Boys Empowered) club the following term – designed to educate boys on how they can be a part of the process to empower themselves – and women.

Even years later, I’m still amazed at this kind of foresight and progressive thinking. Inclusion, is necessary for all genders, across all spaces.

Denver Community Church

Most recently, my church, Denver Community Church (DCC), has publicly announced its decision to be a fully inclusive church – largely in reference to inclusion of the LGBT community.

The 2-year discernment process involved elders of the church praying, analyzing scripture, discussing, and meeting with members of the LGBT community. They have most recently launched a 5-week learning group to explore these issues publicly, and declare, without reservation that LGBT members are welcome to attend, serve, and have as meaningful of a place in the church as anyone else.

I’m gay, and I’ve known that a long time but have not lived outwardly and authentically until more recently.

I never thought I would be brave enough to share this.

I never thought I would live the life I dreamed of.

I never thought I would find a church that would celebrate this.

I never. I began so many sentences with that word. I was ashamed, scared, sad, and resigned to the fact that I would have to hide this for the rest of my life.

Yet, something happened within the last year. I entered a time of deep prayer. I was provided the opportunity to do counseling. I began realizing (and fully accepting) how much God loved me. I began saying my truth aloud (again and again again) – without fear, without shame, and certainly, without going back. I had told family members before about this deep-knowing of who I was, but previously, had been too scared to live out the life I knew I was supposed to lead.

This year, I moved forward more boldly, sharing with my best friend that I knew I was meant to be with a woman. On a crazy (and wonderfully surprising) set of circumstances, I met a woman. We started dating. She became my girlfriend.

fullsizerender-2And then, this church came along, also.

You see, it all happened so fast, like a beautiful unfolding of a story that is meant to be. Even for myself, I can barely keep up.

Freedom does that – it happens fast and you can’t help but just succumb to the reality of real, gritty, kick-your-ass kind of faith.

Freedom for myself, and for others, to love God is the most beautiful kind of inclusion. We can have a place with Jesus. We can bring our most true versions of ourselves and continue to Love God, and Love others. We can live out the gospel actively and fully.

DCC isn’t asking everyone to agree with their stance on LGBT issues. What they are suggesting, instead, is a move towards love. A move towards, “unity not uniformity.” I would hope for the same thing. Because, as I witness this inclusion occur from afar, now in Rwanda for the next few weeks, I am learning how transformative inclusion can be – for anyone. I’m honored to be in a church that models this and lives this out.

Inclusion. Love. Community.

The pursuit of these ideal may be arduous, but I want in. I’m all in. No matter what.

stones of help.

The intensity, growth, and pervasiveness of Denver traffic is becoming more and more noticeable these days. Ask anyone. Commuter or not, the thickness of cars – sitting idly, bumper to bumper – is a vision you will find more frequently along the two-lane routes of Downing into RiNo; from the re-gentrified enclaves of LoHi into 16th Street; or even from the curvy highways connecting Aurora to the rest of the metro area.

The recent buzz within the last year of Denver as the fastest growing city in the United States is palpable. From packed restaurants, saturated realty markets, and jammed high-ways, you can sense the growth within each segment of life here.

We – Ebenezer and I – were sitting in his car on the way to work earlier last week fighting this very traffic. Bless his heart, particularly being a new friend of mine, he had offered to help get me to the office in Denver while I waited for news on what exactly went wrong with my broken-down Honda the week prior.

As we sat in between stop-lights and construction stops, “small talk” quickly became irrelevant; for whatever reason, the breaking-down of barriers in communication is eased with open (or closed) roads and a window with a view. As we mingled in conversations ranging from cross-cultural mishaps (he’s from Liberia and now lives in Aurora), faith ideologies, and intrinsic motivations for why people do what they do, he asked me some very important questions –

“But, Heather, why do you believe what you believe? Where do you think that has come from?

I smiled and smirked my lips nearly simultaneously, recognizing immediately the wisdom from which he asked those questions. It was clear to me that through his own life story and experiences, he’d realized an important, central truth: our lives, perspectives, values, passions, and beliefs are deeply engrained from the environments we grow up in.

He then said, “What if we did know everything…could you, or anyone, really handle that?”

I took a moment of pause. These were important questions. Big questions. Necessary questions.

“No, I really don’t think we could. I think the power of our worldview rests when we recognize how wide, how deep, and how limited our experiences actually are in the context of the world and in the context of something larger than humanity itself. This is powerful, actually, because our humility enables constant learning, constant growth, and a constant desire for truth. Our humility leaves room for God.”

In that moment, I actually admitted it – it was better to trust God with life, purpose, and our stories, than it was to pretend as if we knew it all.

By “all” I mean a perfected doctrine; I mean practiced explanations for all the of pain, suffering, grief, war, hurt, and hell that we see on the earth; and I mean also how God has managed to be a creator, a father, the great “I Am”, and the redeemer. Just to name a few.

You see, the beauty of Christianity is that at its best, it doesn’t have to be a “religion”. It doesn’t have to a perfect order of things to do to please God. Christianity is about liberation – it’s about a God who loves and saves. We don’t find God. He finds us. That’s why we don’t have to have it all together. Or have all the answers. Or live life as religious zealots.

We’re free by grace – and that’s what we can “hang our hat on.”

This is a tall-order, however. If I believe this, than I must be willing to let God direct my life. If I stand by this, I must be willing to be vulnerable enough to accept how God has created me – and others. If I submit to the reality and truth of God’s sovereignty, than I can trust that my life is so infused with grace and love that I can do the impossible. We all have “impossible” things in our life; but what if we could actually do them?

I think, well, I know, this is what Ebenezer was getting at. He told me later that his car (the one we were conversing in) is named “Anaya,” meaning admire God. As for his name, Ebenezer is a Hebrew name that is directly from the Bible. Samuel, in preparation for battle against the Philistines, sets up a rock that is referred to as “Ebenezer.”

Thus, the name means “rock” or “stone of help.”

I’ll need every “stone of help” I can get in order to continue recognizing the power of humility in our day-to-day lives. I sense it in my work; I sense it in my relationships; I sense it in where my life is headed. I don’t know a lot of things. I do know, however, the bedrock of my faith – that is, God loves me. And there’s really nothing I can do about that.

That’s a pretty cool conclusion to reach at merely 7:35am on a Tuesday morning – traffic or not. Good thing there would be more coffee. Always, more coffee.

*

Skies

pretty spring skies on morning commutes to Denver. 

zahara’s song.

*

November – 2012.

Grainy, thick air flies into the tin roof of heavens far beyond us. Our tin roof is holey, old, and rusted over; once destroyed by the intensity of a late fall storm, the school failed to have the sector fill the gaps, openings, and cuts. The melodic pounding of sole-shoed feet along with the beating of the faded drum commands the cracked cemented, gray floors of my classroom. These strong feet – belonging to my students – direct the air in a circulatory motion, the dust too, and it blends together as one.

IMG_6048

My own hands are a mix of cheap white chalk and sandy residue from desks left unclean and untouched since the coming of heavy rains. I clap anyway, acutely aware that I can wash later when I get back home. Eventually – at some point – I’ll be clean. That has become my mantra, it seems.

I grin as Zahara sings her song. It is the one she always leads her class in; the one she is often singing underneath her breath when I visit her at home. Sometimes she is cooking over the fire and humming. Other times, it’s less noticeable, like when she sweeps away trash towards the banana plantations. I can’t make out her wording entirely, but I know she is singing that particular song. I only know some meanings of words. Much later, when I would know the translation, when I would know her, and when I would know her story, I would also realize with great depth the meaning of these precious moments.

IMG_6063

My students are gathered in a circle. Zahara has her eyes closed and yet is leading the spontaneous creation of a student-filled choir. Everyone knows this song, it seems. When she opens her eyes to everyone singing along with equal enthusiasm, her grin overwhelms her face and I see untainted joy written all over her heart. The girl loves to sing.

From then on, that song would carry special meaning in my heart. It was one of those songs that just take you back to somewhere else (somewhere special) no matter where you may be.

Muririmbire Uwiteka (Prayer Song for Rwanda; We Sing of the Lord)

Muririmbir’ Uwiteka indirimbo nshya kuk’aje gukora ibitangaza mu gihugu cyacu (we sing of the Lord a new song because He has come to give miracles in our country)

Ikiganza cye cy’iburyo n’ukuboko kwe kwera (at the right and holy hand)

Abizanishije agakiza k’u Rwanda (salvation has come to Rwanda)

Yibutse imbabazi ze (we remember your forgiveness & mercy)

Yibuts’umurava we (we remember your determination)

Abigirira igihugu cyacu cy’u Rwanda (these things you have for our country, Rwanda)

Abo kumpera z’isi bose (It will exist in all the world)

Babonye agakiza kacu (our salvation has been found)

Bati koko u Rwanda rufite Imana (they can say that Rwanda really has God)

Banya Rwanda mwe mwese muhaguruke turirimbe (all Rwandans will stand up to sing)

Dore Uwiteka aje atugana (Look! The Lord has gone before us)

Aje kutumara agahinda (He has taken out our sorrow & grief)

Adukuyeho ibyaha (He has removed sin)

Muze tumusange araturuhura

Muze tumusanganire n’ijwi ri’impundi (We go to meet the sounds & shouts of joy)

Yemwe misozi mwese (we join like mountains together)

Namwe bibaye ni muze (And you, you have done all of these things)

*

September – 2015.

I glided into Christian Life Assembly this Sunday in a navy blue dress and a sweaty head of hair. My house was only 20 minutes way, but a Sunday walk around Kigali isn’t like a short jaunt around the block. The sun is scorching across the sky, and the hills are unafraid to make you work for every step. I was about 5 minutes late and so worship had already started. I could hear Muririmbe Uwiteka as I was approaching the church from the parking lot, and I could hardly contain my pace. Zahara’s song!

I thought of those sweet memories in my class, when the students would sing that song and press their hands and feet in a collided motion to fill the room with praise for God.

I thought of Zahara’s voice – always recognizable, always beautiful.

As the song continued, and I realized I had actually begun to understand the full meaning of the song, I thought of the good works God has done (and is doing) in Rwanda specifically, and truly, honestly, I feel an overwhelming blessing in my heart to get to be a part of it. I think of Zahara’s changing life, the other girls, the other stories I have woven and out of, the women I am meeting now, and I can’t help but say thank you. I don’t why me or how or how my life has continually led me to stories in this place, but I’m glad it has.

As for me, I can’t recall any epic singing events. Zahara’s voice far outshines anything I have ever put to tune. I’ve had my share of karaoke glory moments (Sweet Home Alabama in Ghana; Heartbreaker at Hendrix; and It’s Raining Men in high school) and of course, who wouldn’t agree – singing is fun! Even though the Lord didn’t gift my vocal chords with a sound of harmony, we still sing.

We can sing for the things He has done – sometimes, most especially, the things we thought could never change. This morning, as this song swelled in my heart, I sang for the ways God has changed my heart most recently and most dramatically.

Marriage.

*

Last fall, a close family member probed and asked, “So, do you want to get married…ever?”

I pursed my lips and scoffed, “We’ll see, maybe, I mean…I’ve got so many other things going on…

It’s far easier to play it off, to act like you don’t care, to play “the strong card” as you will.

Yeah. That was always the excuse. Busyness, independence, strength. These things aren’t bad. Especially when the right one truly, genuinely hasn’t been presented in your life. There is truly nothing wrong with singleness or waiting to be married, or perhaps, never getting married should that be the plan for your life.

But, that’s not really what I am talking about. I had a bad attitude, y’all.

I will completely admit that I didn’t even think of marriage as a good thing. I simply used these other excuses to mask my own fears, hesitancies, and skepticisms. My hard-lined approach left me bitter, doubtful, and in preference to do things on my own. At least if I got hurt, I could handle it. I could stay “in control”.

It would be easy to blame my family history. It’s tempting, isn’t it? Let me just look at the long listing of divorce in my family and say, nah, I don’t think so. But how fair, really, is that? Can I really stay bound to the historical, problematic chronic divorce problem?

It would also be equally easy to turn to the shifting of our society’s expectations of the modern day woman. Only problem there? Well, eventually, the age will come. You will grow up. And husband or not, it’s probably important at some point to examine what you think and why. Just because marriage isn’t working on large-scale levels in the United States, for example, doesn’t mean I have to completely check out of the idea myself. Salvaging potential hurt or pain, I promise, is no way to live.

Layer by layer, piece by piece, my heart changed. God did this.

Nobody else.

It took time, it took a lot of hurt, a lot of confession, a lot of forgiveness, and whole load of grace.

In summation: not only did He free me from my family’s past – He promised me – I’m not kidding here – that one of the purposes I have in my life is to restore family brokenness. It’s hard to explain how this was revealed (my goodness it was so intimate), but as my own burdens, sins, and lies of the world were let go, I was free to understand that my life would be and could be something different. We aren’t only products of our environments, my friends. We are products of hope, too. Of Him, if you surrender. And woo, that is so sweet.

First, He had to show me the depth of my weakness. Oh, it’s far down. Independence is one thing; assuming you can do ALL things without God – that’s another. I had been operating on Heather-control for so long that it felt weird to hand over the reins. It was like when you give the keys of your car to the rightful owner. You hold onto them just long enough…and finally, you let go. Then, you get in the passenger side, and soon enough, you are just enjoying the ride, waving your hands on the side, wishing it had been this way the entire time.

He taught me about partnership, submission and the true beauty of being a woman. Submission wasn’t what I presumed it to be; it’s more about honor, respect, and genuine love. I was intimidated to let go of control – especially to a man! – and really, that was rooted in a great need to control. He called me to places as an “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” and was challenged in acts of selflessness in doing so. I could give the control over. Over and over again, I would. I will.

I started seeking positive marital examples and asking many, many questions to women (from all over!). These discussions are my souls’ sweet spot, as I love and thrive in sharing cross-cultural relationship experiences with women. Led to conversations with Mexican, American, and Rwandan women, I learned that marriage is about God, shared life, and healthy sacrifice. It’s hard. But it’s life.

One Mexican women said it so simply, “just talk.”

Late this last summer, a wise woman spoke boldly and surprisingly into my life: “…don’t worry about that husband of yours. He’s there.” She hardly knew me, and she definitely didn’t know the way God had changed me in those months. She couldn’t have known. Yet, I remember hearing that, and the way it felt. For the first time, in my entire 26-ish years, I believed it. I believed it.

That’s the miracle of my perspective on marriage – and it’s the miracle of my faith too. It just clicked, and you begin to have a different kind of heart that is full of different kinds of things from before.

When asked about a marriage a year ago, I had resigned myself to isolation, identity confusion, and loneliness.

The issue was far beyond even the understanding of marriage – it was my understanding of God. I didn’t believe Him. I didn’t believe who He was. And I’m telling you, when you begin to believe and trust in His power, His great (and good) love, and honestly, His graciousness, your heart will be compelled to change.

He has spared me from so much. There are many, many moments – especially with men – that things could have gone so differently. He saved me then, and He is saving me now. In a fully committed relationship to Him it’s kind of amazing how a fully committed relationship to a husband now seems completely, totally, and actually possible. Dare I say, exciting?

I’m grinning as I write that. That’s kind of perfect.

*

So, about that song.

Zahara still sings it. She sang it just a couple of weeks ago when I saw her.

I sing it too.

I sing it, I think about the way God has come in Rwanda and changed this country – a true bringing of freedom and hope – and I remember what He has so recently done in my heart.

We sing a new song, we sing of praises, because we have new life, new hearts, and things have changed.

This is just one way, of so many, that He keeps pressing into my heart and challenging me to think something different. It’s weird. But, it’s fun too. I’m not sure what’s next, but I’m keeping my eyes open because truthfully, you never ever know.

*

 

you were found living in the wild sun

*

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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