womanhood.

“I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.” – Maya Angelou

                               

“You can’t play with us. You’re a girl.”

Girl. It spits harshly off his tongue as though my gender is a direct, detestable offense to his playground territory. Tears brimmed my delicate eyelids and I walked away, sensitive to the idea that inherently, I was an outcast. Undeterred, I secretly brought my Aurora soccer club jersey to school the following day. I slipped the mesh green “28” jersey with “Heather” on my back with pride during our lunch break. Come hell or high water, I was going to play – with the boys.

When recess commenced, like a first class ticket, the jersey bought me leverage and I was suddenly allowed to join the match. Insecure, it was the first time I ever muttered the word, “shit” – largely to fit in with the other 3rd grade posse kicking the ball around with me. Girl, or not, I just wanted to play.

                               

The complexity of humanness strikes me when I watch a homeless man hold a cardboard box sign that reads “needing food.” I’m in the back-seat of my dad’s car, as he drives us home after a long day of school and sports practice. We’re eating the snacks he’s allowed us to purchase at 7-Eleven. Lance even has a freshly-printed pack of Pokémon cards, so you can be sure he was some kind of happy camper. I glance at this man, outside my window, probably even a few years older than my dad, and I ask myself, “who is he?” He’s not just a man. He’s a person, who happens to be hungry.

Yet, for some reason, I, a young girl, got to be in a warm car, with food, on the way home. I realize then that whatever – or whomever – I was wasn’t the full story. We aren’t the sum of our gender, of our incomes, of our jobs, of our status, of our families, of anything. We move between boundaries, definitions, and experiences, recognizing that our lives give expression to whom we become. I think about these things as a young girl because it seems to be the only way I can make sense of the world. What else am I supposed to think, when I see a hungry person on the side of the road?

                               

I hid boxes of Kleenex under my bed. My best friend since the 4th grade was developing fast, already adorning large bras at the age of 12. To keep pace, I stuffed tissue into the small trainer bras that I was able to wear. I was preoccupied with my body and fixated on the fact that I didn’t have the slim, full-breasted look like my friends. Or in the magazines I saw at the grocery store. I was a flat-chested girl, with glasses, and face sprinkled with acne. I thought I was an ugly girl.

                               

Sometime around the age of 16, I heard a sermon about submission. Not through the lens of Christ, but to men, specifically and most emphatically, men. My obedience, to a man, was equated to my reputability as a woman. It didn’t make sense to me. But, the Bible said something like it – so it had to be right, right? The legalistic nature of this, and many other morality clauses of the sacred texts would haunt me for years.

Eventually, the gospel broke through. Eventually, I saw the beauty, strength, and possibility of womanhood because of the message Jesus came to share. Before this, though, I experienced the real dangers that moral extremes bring to the expression of womanhood. Women are not meant to be controlled – but we are. Women are not meant to be sidelined – but we are.

A mentor of mine recently told me that at 83, and over 60 years of marriage, “there is no way in hell that I could have sacrificed my own inner strength for the sake of my husband.” She went on to say, “Our submission and partnership is built on a mutually exclusive commitment. I follow God – not my husband. I honor him. I listen to him. But, our relationship is give-and-take. God did not make me to be quiet. He gave me things to say. And dammit, I’m going to say them.” Her words brought healing. Her words brought permission to give life to the voice inside.

                               

My life changed when I went to Mississippi and Alabama for the first time as a freshman in college. On our trip, to learn about the Civil Rights Movement, I spoke with two women that deeply informed my understanding of growing up and becoming. The first woman provided her testimony of survival at a rural church in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Her church had been burnt by the KKK in the 1960’s and she had then spent her life building reconciliation and forgiveness throughout the community – for people of all colors. The second woman was named Roslyn. I met her in Birmingham. I don’t remember much about the conversation other than that she appreciated a warm sandwich more than anyone I had met in a long time. She was in between jobs, trying to make ends meet, and she wasn’t going to give up.

One night, I stayed up late at the church that was hosting our stay. The sanctuary lights remained lit and I entered the sacred space. I stared at a portrait of Jesus for 30 minutes. I questioned everything I had ever been told. Womanhood, I realized, was much like the way God has formed our lives. With clay, He works like a potter, molding us, forming us, building us up. My life was also shaped by my own fingerprints. What did I want my life to say? Who would I become?

I didn’t become a Christian that night – I already was one. I became an independent thinker.

                               

New Orleans, Louisiana is crowded, noisy, and bursting at the seams with fruity hurricanes, mojitos, and Jack Daniels, most noticeably during the long, lazy week of Spring Break. With two car-loads of my college girlfriends, we had made the trip down to the Bayou from Arkansas so I could work on my senior thesis. And, you know, do everything else that comes with Spring Break shenanigans. One night, we enjoyed a drink or two (and perhaps more) and were singing “Tik Tok” by KeSha on a random karaoke stage. I was energized and happy. With some of my favorite people, we were soaking up the last few months of our college experience.

Our show-stopping tune of karaoke finished just after 1:00am and so as I exited the stage, I noticed the drunken stupor of the crowd had risen. A particularly inebriated man, probably in his mid-40’s approached me hastily. He squeezed my butt and smiled. I didn’t say anything. He slurred ,”hi” and then wasted no time to proposition me – not before acknowledging that he had a wife and young baby at home.

I flipped out. Crying, distressed, and visibly upset, I walked back to the open air of Bourbon Street. I was mad he grabbed me. I was disrespected, as was his family, and it left an incredibly foul taste in my mouth. I was infuriated that he presumed he could do whatever he wanted.

                               

I was new to the village, only having had moved to Ruramira the day before as my community’s first ever Peace Corps Volunteer. Successfully, I made it through my first night, and decided to introduce myself to the local government authorities. The office was a mile walk from my blue-green home. Putting one foot in front of the other, I absorbed the rolling mountains, the ubiquity of bananas, trees, and the songs of chirping birds. I lived in a beautiful, breath-taking community in the Eastern Province.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a man, Mugabire, joined me abrasively on the side of the road. I would learn later that Mugabire was Ugandan (and thus the reason behind his perfect English) and was often in trouble for causing issues with other individuals, especially women. I was new then, though, and I didn’t know this. Aggressively, he spoke and followed me on the long stretch of rural road.

“Hello, which country are you coming from?”

“Hi – I’m from America. The United States of America.”

“You’re in Rwanda. Why?”

“I’ve come here to learn about Rwanda, to make friends, to support this community, and to teach English at the local secondary school.”

It of course, all sounded quite rehearsed, but like I mentioned, I was a newcomer.

“Are you married?”

“No.”

“Please. I want to sleep with you. I will marry you.”

Slightly alarmed, I pause, don’t say anything, and begin to look upon the horizon for people who might be nearby. I curse myself; it’s 11:00am and nearly everyone is working their fields, away from their homes. He presses further.

“Give me sex. I want your pussy – “

I interrupt this time and speak with every drop of boldness I have in my voice, “Please. Go. Leave me alone.”

It’s escalating and he calls me a bitch.

I start to run.

When I reach the local officials’ office, I’m crying hysterically. When I tell them this man was Mugabire, the shake their heads. “Oh Mugabire…Oh Mugabire…”

                               

With 30 bright, young women singing self-made songs of hope and autonomy, my body feels out of balance, like I am flying. I’ve taught this girls’ group (GLOW – Girls Leading Our World) about periods, sex, confidence, relationships, public speaking, domestic violence, and identity. I’ve been teaching them for months, and I realize that in the process, I’ve been just as much of a student of them as they have been students for me. As they have worked to establish their voices at home and at school, they have released me of my own assumptions about men, about women, and about the unity of people together.

This group of women has brought together unique forces in our ecosystem of our community (the headmaster, local authorities, fathers, mothers, and brothers) to celebrate their successes as a recognized organization at our school. Their mission is to show that shared leadership is the only way forward in a society.

I close my eyes as the traditional Rwandan beat catches my ears. My soul dances, and I thank God that I was born who I was.

                               

On a date arranged through online networking, I’m propositioned for sex in less than 10 minutes. I’m also asked when I last “put out” for someone else. This excuse of a person asks me three times to sleep with him as I sit across the table. Casually, he admits that he lied about certain parts of his online profile, and quickly, my instincts tell me that I could be sitting adjacent to a rapist.

I firmly respond with a hard “no.” In a flurry of goodbyes he attempts to punch my face. He calls me a “f****** bitch c***.” I run. Around the parking lot, I hide behind several cars that glisten under the night lamps. When I reach my car, I lock the door, and I shake without any possibility of stopping. The harassment continues via text message and I cannot feel safe. I am exposed, as if my dignity is torn apart. I am a woman. A mighty, gritty woman. Yet still, in a matter of minutes, someone else has been given license to threaten every piece that is holding me together.

                               

Recently released from rehabilitation, I’m tasked with spending time with my brother for three days straight. He is getting clean, and to do so, he needs extra support to make sure he gets there. I’m recently returned from Rwanda (read: jobless) and my parents are all responding to their own working commitments and so, voila! Lance and I spend extra time together –more than we had spent together in the previous five years.

We start by doing what we do best: eating. Slowly though, like strangers getting to know each other for the first time, we go on long walks and dig through old notebooks and journals we wrote when we were younger. We laugh hysterically. We also cry together. We discuss hard things. Emotional things.

In the middle of a green belt, on the edge of Denver, I share parts of myself that at the time, I hadn’t yet revealed to other people in my family. My brother asks questions, gently, ever so kindly and hugs me after we finish our walk.

I won’t soon forget the way he looked at me. With the corners of his own pain so fresh on his heart, I could have understood if my own pain would be too much of a burden. But for him, it wasn’t. He listened, acknowledged it, and assured me that I was going to be okay.

Womanhood, in its optimal place, is a kind of freedom to be liberated; to be honest; to be open. My brother taught me that. A man. A gentle, kind, brilliant, passionate, man. That’s the beauty of this earth you know, that we all get to learn together like that. Everyone is a teacher.

                               

It’s 2016, and I’m learning each and every day about what womanhood is all about.

For me, it’s never been dainty or distant. It’s not a journey of perfection or working far too much. Womanhood is releasing the notion that we have to save the world all by ourselves. Becoming a woman calls for incredible grace, a damn good sense of humor, and an ability to listen, see, and celebrate people. Tolerance – of anyone, male or female – is a sad expectation. Celebrate. Exploring my own feminism builds a trust in the communities we become a part of. It empowers men, recognizing that men are equally wonderful, interesting, and capable. Men do not hate women – and vice versa. And so, we must work together, to remove seeds of misunderstanding, hatred, and contempt. We have to call out discrimination, inequality, maltreatment, and hatred when we see it – male or female. And in a world, where women (and men) are harassed, we must do everything we can to stop it. We must be willing to acknowledge the dignity and value of others, even if that scares the hell out of you.

Being a woman propels me forward in this pursuit. For myself, for my future children – for all of us. It’s a worthy, worthy fight, my friends.

                               

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” – Maya Angelou

Like Swirling Dandelions

How do you explain a mass shooting to a survivor of a genocide 22 years prior? 

Moreover, how does the description of hate translate through linguistic nuances; the conception of struggle expressed through words; the acknowledgement of pain vocalized with storytelling? Like an assembly line issuing product after product, I can’t help but wonder if the hate I meet in the world and the hate you meet in the world might actually be different manifestations of the same damn thing. 

As the fuzzy line of long-distance calling creeps in and out, I realize that you don’t even know where Florida is – much less the magical city of Orlando – and yet, I explain, with as much gentleness as I can, what has happened. My voice cracks in the middle –

Tears fall – and I say nothing. 

And though you are seemingly millions of miles away, I know you feel what I feel. Tragedy like this – loss of life – is not a stranger in your life. You comfort me, even in our distance, and it makes me feel less alone. 

There are no words for this. Loss aches in the soul and the utterances of our spirit are the only fragments of sentences we can muster. 

Tonight, I’m glad we have Skype. I’m glad we can talk. I’m glad it isn’t too late. 

*

I am done standing on the fence.

For me – and for so many of us – we can’t stand idly when acts of evil like an Orlando shooting, a Stanford rape, a Syrian war, or a San Bernandino attack happen and fill the wavelengths of mainstream consciousness. It’s been there for so long, hasn’t it?

Guns, bombs, human rights abuses, and sloppy, venomous words of judgement are killing us.

I know the second amendment, but I also know the first. Freedom. Just two weeks ago, I pressed my hands upon the finger-tip stained glass case protecting the Constitution, The Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence in Washington D.C. I was emotional; I saw the worn wrinkles of time and prayed: I hope it’s not too late. For us. For Americans. For the world.

I am a child of Columbine, of September 11th, of Sandy Hook, and of Charleston and yet I choose to be a woman riding Cat Steven’s “Peace Train” – cause out on the edge of darkness/there rides a peace train/oh, peace train take this country/come take me home again/oh, I’ve been smiling lately/dreaming about the world as one/and I believe it could be /someday it’s going to come.

I don’t know answers to some of the hard questions. But. I know God. I know hope. I know solidarity. Our world, is defined too much by what is wrong, and deeply, I want to echo and establish what is right. And what is right is that LIFE MATTERS. No labels, identifiers, or markers change that.

If we seek righteousness on this earth, please, stop looking for a code of law to be your rigid guide. Look. Open your heart.

Righteousness is before you;

it’s in beating hearts, celebrations of a new life, of love between soulmates, in inspiring teachers, in the care of a child, and within the tender touch of a grandmother. As humans, we all live part of this.

Like swirling dandelions, turning over in summer breezes, life moves all around us.

blowing-a-dandelion

Righteousness is not building walls, subjugating people groups, or creating “the other.”

Unity is not a call for perfect agreement on issues, ideas, or preferences. Unity rises higher – higher than political stakes, higher than our own edifices of morality. Unity asks us to see the humanity in another human. Not a naive utopian desire – it’s a call to action.

A beloved community for all. Loving the people around you. It’s not perfect; love is complicated, messy, frustrating, and confusing. But my, it’s the most worthy cause we have.

No more fence standing for me. Nope, not anymore. If it looks like hate, I am running as fast as I can, like Usain Bolt propelling his muscular legs towards victory. Paul envisions a community filled with fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23); Martin Luther King Jr. called this “his dream”; and the power of the South African philosophy known as “ubuntu” is derived from such understanding.

Ubuntu means simply: I am because you are. 

I can’t stop weeping because friends, sisters, and brothers died this week. And today. And tomorrow. Orlando, perhaps, is challenging us to look in the mirror and ask if we like what we see. Orlando has victims. Families. Hurt. Pain. Loss. Life has been taken – in an egregious manner. I read the stories of each victim last night and couldn’t help but think what their last moments on earth were like. In stains of sadness, I could only pray, pray, and pray again that redemption would be made possible.

This must stop. Legislation is necessitated. Attitudes are called for change. Our hearts cry out and we must, must pray. God, please. Will you come and comfort our friends and family in Orlando? And beyond, God, will you heal our broken, broken world?

*

legendary yeti hunters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

Disconcerted, anxious, and often, impatient.

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

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

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

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

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

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

download

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

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

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

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

Um. Awkward.

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

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

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

Life is weird.

*

I don’t believe in Yetis.

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

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

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

Our beliefs are just the beginning, however.

Your actions tell the story of your beliefs.

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

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

*

 

 

burning out in a crying world.

Folk-tunes blared from my silver computer mid-morning last week as I sipped my third, lukewarm cup of coffee. These days, my Spotify playlists have been inundated with artists like the Dirty Guv’nahs, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, or The Civil Wars. There’s something spectacularly calming about strumming banjos, melodies that sound like campfires in the back-country, and lyrics that speak on the potency of truth, the allure of a sweet, sweet crush, and the hopes for unfulfilled dreams.

I smiled as I heard the lyrics from Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors’ song, “I Like To Be Me When I’m With You.” It’s just too adorable. Perhaps, should I get married someday, this would be a lovely choice for “our song.”

You never know.

If I owned the finest vineyard, I’d rather sit and drink cheap wine with you.
If I could live on the moon, I would rather stay in Tennessee with you.
If I could sail across the ocean, the ocean would just be blue without you.
And if I climbed up Mount Everest, I would turn around and climb in bed with you.
With you I can be myself, with you I don’t have to be somebody else.
It’s like puttin’ on my favorite pair of shoes. I like to be with me when I’m with you. 

 

The song finishes, but my mind does not.

Grant applications await. Upcoming events, needed content for website, the meeting at noon, and a review of our bank statements for the previous month’s transactions flood my brief moment of peace. Soon, I’m reminded of my own, personal finances and the things I have left un-done within the realm of my own life. I think of budgets, bills, and responsibilities; my goodness the glamour of adult life has run dry, it seems.

Yes. It took all of 10 seconds to transform from a calm, gentle morning to the chaos of spinning thoughts, worries, and pieces of the day to pull together.Unfortunately, living life in a myriad of rush in the gross glorification of productivity is considered the norm in our world. Just because I don’t agree with it, doesn’t mean I haven’t become victim. I know I’m not alone in this. But goodness, it can create a weary soul in no time.

In the midst of these distractions, I got a call from a Rwandan friend in Denver.

Recently, we have become fast friends. He’s a father of two, with a wife that works downtown at a large hotel in the housekeeping department. He works as a care-taker in a nursing facility. He – and his family – don’t speak much English. It continue to astounds me how they get by. Last week, I helped them mail their rent check to their landlord in Denver. The address had changed and when they received the notice in the mail, they couldn’t decipher what exactly the change meant.

It’s the little things, you see, that make living in an outside culture overbearing and overwhelming.

This particular call was different, too. He was frantic.

A car accident had occurred the day prior and his Subaru was getting fixed at a local shop. His insurance company had issued him a rental car in the meantime. He needed someone to take him to Enterprise to pick it up for the three-day allotment.He would need an advocate; someone who could explain the insurance policies and provide a thorough process for how renting a car in the United States works.

You know what I told him when I asked if I would come?

“No. I can’t. I am working, I am sorry. I’m just too busy today.”

He was surprised as I was. The air hung in a thick silence until he resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to come. We hung up the phone and I sat back down at my dining room table.

With folk music still playing, I quietly contemplated what had just happened. A friend of mine – a friend who can’t speak English! – needed help. I said no. Did I really just turn him down? Who else would help him out? How is it possible that I just reacted like this? Worse of all, I could have taken the break! Most of my work wasn’t time sensitive and I would need a lunch break anyway!

I was quickly upset with myself. Certainly, you can’t say “yes” every single time a need arises, but if you are able to lend a hand, my goodness, lend a hand! Hadn’t I learned anything from all of the countless times that I have been helped in life? Gratitude, like dust swept from the concrete floors of our home, had been swept away for a portion of time. I was embarrassed.

I called him back immediately. I apologized, and grabbed the keys to my car so I could journey to Aurora to help him. “I’m coming,” I told him. For that, I was glad.

A situation was salvaged – but we don’t always have those kinds of chances to make things right again. I was lucky. I had placed my needs first, above a friends’. Even in my best of intentions, I had missed (almost) a potential opportunity to serve.

We get so focused thinking our job or occupation has to be “of service” and yet so often, God gives us the opportunity in so many other ways. Would we actually take it?

In a spirit of honesty, I think my initial harshness was a deeper reaction to day-to-day, on-going stress that inevitably has created tangible, real burn-out. I felt trapped by the confines of my day, by my own lack of energy, and frankly, from exhaustion. I felt beaten down and so helping someone else – even for just a moment – felt impossible. For me, when I start feeling this way, that’s when I know I am in need of a strong dose of re-calibration.

It might be folk music. It might be roller-blading. It might be long talks with friends. It might be night walks. It might be a bath and a book. It might be a glass of red wine. It might be all of the above. What’s important, is to know when this is happening, and upon recognizing, developing a way to work through it.

Ignoring it doesn’t work. Becoming enveloped by it creates discouragement.

The only way is forward. Take that path. It’s the harder one, but it’s the better one. Plan to get more sleep. Eat healthy. Take a break. Find perspective. Be active.

I’m trying this and it’s hard. These seasons can be tumultuous; but in faith, and with prayer, there will be solace. You have to believe that. Because when you do, you can live – truly live- and know the bigger picture of what’s important – and what you have to hold onto. Our brothers and sister are all around us. Sometimes they need us, sometimes we need them. We mustn’t be afraid to ask. And, we mustn’t be afraid to answer.

Live Forever

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.

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Skies

pretty spring skies on morning commutes to Denver. 

as it should be.

My car broke at the intersection of University & Belleview yesterday. Ugh.

My mind went through three distinct phases as a I smelt burning fumes and the horrid noise of the engine turning over, over, and  over again:

  1. Shame. Driving through the ritzy neighborhoods of Cherry Creek with a 20-year old car that suddenly fails to work felt…well, to be honest, it felt odd. I don’t usually feel embarrassed about these kinds of things, but I’m also human and no more immune to shame than anyone else.
  2. Panic.  Who would I call? Of course, my Iphone batter read “5%” and so I knew I was in a time crunch. What would I do? Logic seems to go out the window in times of uncertainty and so as I began to ask all of these questions, I took a moment to just sit and take a deep breathe. It would be okay.
  3. Laughter. As I did so, I couldn’t help but think the whole situation as rather hilarious. I was dressed in effervescent colors as I had just finished a spin class downtown. I had been listening to Taylor Swift along the road, jamming out like nobody’s business. And in reality, my car (aptly named “Rhonda the Honda”) has over 220,000 miles on it. I had expected this moment. Just not now. We never are ready for these moments. I laughed and then quickly said a quick prayer for safety and protection in getting home.

My prayers were answered. A lovely lady and her daughter pulled over. They helped me call the police and get a tow truck to move the car. Their kindness resonated with me; when I thanked them, they simply said,

“we never want to be those people that just drive by. People need help sometimes.”

My car was moved to a nearby mechanic. Closed for the weekend, I had no choice but to gather my belongings and walk the 1.5 mile distance to my home. That too was a strange experience. I grabbed my bag of workout clothes, my bag of rollerblades, my purse, and my backpack of hiking gear to keep these things at home safely. I received strange looks as I walked along the pedestrian-friendly sidewalk. Yeah, yeah, I thought. It’s a long story.

In these moments of forced humility, it becomes more possible to think freely and with a deeper movement of gratitude. I happened to be thinking about what had happened in my life the past week – before my car had broken down.

I thought about my sweet, new niece born on Thursday (AnaLynah Genevera June Newell). I thought about peace-filled road trips with Michelle (to Arkansas and Tennessee) as we navigated the very strange system of rental car bureaucracy. I smiled when I remembered all of the photographs I took with my friends as we reconvened at Hendrix for our 5-year reunion. You see, it had actually been a very, very good week. I reminded myself that it was going to be okay. It always, always is – even when we don’t see it.

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In this way, I believe in God as the ultimate restorer. It’s in the lives of His people that I see restoration at work all the time. Sometimes it’s slow; other times it comes swiftly. But, more and more I believe these are the victories in our stories. We can’t explain why people continue to go hungry; why people die suddenly; or why we are born in a particular time or place. But, when you begin to talk to people, you realize that God IS at work. He is restoring pieces and small fabrics of people’s lives.

In my brother, I see restoration in his purpose. He is a father. He has a baby girl. New life. How profound, for someone who many times has come so close to death.

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In my father, I see restoration in fatherhood.His father left him while he was a young teen, and I can certainly say that not once have I ever doubted that my dad would help me or support me or cheer me on when I needed it.

In my mother, I see restoration in marriage. Perhaps we undergo great pains of conflict or betrayal or sadness in our life – but it doesn’t mean that’s the end. My mom found another chance for marriage, and I believe that was a restorative work of God.

On a larger level, I see restoration in relationships, hope, solutions to big problems, and truth. In times of world violence, disasters, political rhetoric of hate, racial divides, and more, you continue to find people who actively work for peace, for love, and yes, for restoration. These are people, I think, who just get it. They realize that in serving a God who loves us and is bringing back the value of things as they should be, we can play a part in that. This is kingdom work. That’s what it’s all about, really. Jesus tells us the greatest commandment,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:38-39

As for me, I think my restorative experience is largely in line with acceptance. God makes all of His people unique, beautiful, and wonderful individuals.

The restoration process happens when we acknowledge the ways He has crafted our hearts, lives, and souls, and embrace this. It’s a process – but it’s happening.

skies & stories

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

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

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

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

“God will show me, I’m sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woah. What. Of all times…!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow….you have quite a story here…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But see! How is that possible?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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