Remember: A Prayer

Remember: A Prayer

[6:37 AM, 10/2/2017]

Hey ladies! I woke up and heard the horrible news in Vegas and I’m so so depressed and heartbroken about it. I just want to spread some love and let you know I love you ladies very much and value our friendship greatly ❤❤❤❤❤

I woke up last week, on Monday morning, to this message from one of my dearest friends. My heart broke in a million pieces. My mind raced back through the many other events like it, Columbine, Aurora, San Bernardino – the list goes on. I assumed that what had happened in Vegas was a shooting. Unfortunately, I tend to think this way because our particular generation has been conditioned to this: gun violence has become normalized. It’s messed up. It’s sad. And, it’s also true.

I hesitantly checked the news and I was right. At that point, over 50 had been reported killed and hundreds were injured. I prayed before I even got out of bed. 

Lord, have mercy.

The rest of the day felt foggy and as I sat at work, rhythmically typing and listening to some tunes on Spotify, the ever-present question of, “what do I do? kept ruminating in my mind and heart.

At lunch, I took a walk to get some fresh air. I brainstormed ideas or thoughts that might help. Maybe I should give blood?  Maybe I should give to a fund to support the victims’ families? Indeed, there were several action-oriented things I could (and can) do.

When I came home later that night, I tried to absorb everything that has transpired in the last couple of months: Chelsea’s losses in her families, the hurricanes, the Vegas shooting, Charlottesville….

I mean, is it just me or has it felt like these months have been really hard?

It is overwhelming to sit with all that has transpired. As I did, a pronounced call to prayer came to me. Gratitude. Though much has happened in my own life and the world throughout this summer (and now fall), there is a steadiness of God that I have been unable to ignore.

In the midst of crisis, pain, loss, violence, and death, in me there remains a steely and steady trust that God is in this with us. I don’t mean to say that God is a bystander. And, I don’t mean to say that God allows these things to happen. If that was the case, what kind of God would that be? No, I mean that God that exists through and in us. I think God grieves with us. I think God celebrates with us, too. And so, I as I entered this call to prayer, I made a list of remembrances. It is my hope that by remembering, we can acknowledge that we will get through this.

We know this because we always have.

Remember: A Prayer

I remember when my brother was born.

I remember when I learned to ride a bike.

I remember making new friends.

I remember starting my first job.

I remember my parents divorce.

I remember changing schools.

I remember my parents remarriages.

I remember starting and loving field hockey.

I remember moving South.

I remember wondering if I was gay.

I remember changing my mind about my beliefs.

I remember seeing and witnessing real poverty.

I remember when grandma died.

I remember when one of my students was raped.

I remember living in Papas house.

I remember bucket baths.

I remember failing and then succeeding as a teacher.

I remember leaving.

I remember coming home.

I remember coming out.

I remember depression.

I remember renewal.

I remember taking the job I really wanted.

I remember the Pulse shooting.

I remember Pride.

I remember when the Broncos won the Super bowl.

I remember moving near Washington Park.

I remember being brave.

I remember meeting Chelsea (again).

I remember falling in love (again).

I remember being bold.

I remember God, in everything.

God has never left me.

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Eat Together Anyway

Anxiously awaiting four (yes, you read that correctly) different thanksgiving gatherings over the holiday, I wrote a simple prayer in my journal.

Writing my prayers with paper and ink, for me, gives them fullness because in writing, there is an ease in both articulation and authenticity. With little effort, my hopes, fears, anxieties, desires, concerns, and thoughts rise from my soul and I know what it is I want to speak to God.

Plus, being a vegetarian on a holiday with excessive amounts of turkey calls for extra kinds of prayers (kidding, kind of).

I want to share this prayer with you.

Lord, thank you for this day.

I give thanks for a time we can remember, reflect, and cultivate gratitude.

I recognize that this space is holy. Humble me Lord, and let me honor that today.

I thank you for the humans I will sit with today. Cousins, aunts, step-uncles, family friends, grandparents, dogs, and mom, and dad, too.

We sit and eat with our people whom have both celebrated and hurt us; With our people whom have inspired and disappointed us; With our people whom have defended and accused us; With our people whom have loved and left us.

We are sinners and we are saints. And so am I.

I ask, Jesus, that this day of gratitude looms larger than philosophical, political, and worldview differences.

We eat together anyway and God, that’s the real gift.

Jesus, bring your mercy and bring your peace. Extend it where I may fall short. Thank you, Jesus, for this life.

I love you, this day, and I love this life, too. Amen.

This might be shocking (insert sarcasm here), but I’m actually not an expert on prayer. I don’t know for certain how it works. I think that’s what makes the whole faith process miraculous; we don’t know precisely when, or how, God enters these conversations, but without a doubt, He is there.

I think prayer is a revealing of self before God. Which, seems funny, because God already knows us. Still, like the exchanged vulnerabilities in any relationship we have in our life, it’s our responsibility to reveal the cracks in our perfectly manicured presentation of self and share who we are. Like, for real.

That’s why I think prayer is powerful and, I think it’s why prayer works, too.

As we toss away the layers before God, we also do so with other people. We become ourselves. And with time, we become more comfortable with that, inviting and allowing God’s grace to change us. We’re imperfect (and so are other people), and my goodness, that’s literally okay.

The table of Thanksgiving offers us this opportunity to not only empathize with the imperfection of ourselves and others, but to celebrate the goodness, beauty, and loveliness of ourselves and others, too. No matter the brokenness, the victory, the celebration, or the heartache, we’ll eat together anyway.  

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We’ll eat together even as we talk about religion, politics, money, sex, or the 2016 election. 

We’ll eat together even if not everyone in our family can be there.

We’ll eat together even when someone drinks too much and says something insensitive.

We’ll eat together even if a loved one refuses to accept another for who they are.

We’ll eat together even if forgiveness has yet to be offered, received, or accepted.

We’ll eat together even as family members begin counseling to save their marriage.

We’ll eat together even if someone continues to work far too much.

We will eat together anyway because we are family and these are our people.

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I’m grateful to have this – knowing full well that there are many individuals roaming streets, dumpsters, and shelters, with no place to go.

I’m thankful to have a home and these traditions that have come long before me.

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I’m thankful for this year, because without it, I don’ think I would be able to celebrate love, community, Jesus, perseverance, hope, freedom, and maturity the way that I can now.

I am thankful because it is the love of Christ that allows me to see this world bent towards justice and light and courage.

2016 was not good – for many (think: Syria, the death of Muhammad Ali, the Zika outbreak, racial tensions in the U.S., Brexit, etc.). John Oliver even talked about it being the worst year ever. Historians don’t necessarily agree, but we can all recognize: this year wasn’t the best.

Yet, I’m propelled, encouraged, and inspired to continue to seek all that we give thanks for: community, hope, love.

Our job is to seek, promote, and allow these things to come before the standing world order of power, greed, money, self-focus, and all of the sin that runs rampant to de-throne a different kind of kingdom that Jesus speaks so heavily about.

Until then, as we strive towards this, we give thanks and work that much harder – together.

We can give thanks because we are not alone in these pursuits.

As an addendum to my prayer, I wrote the following words in my journal from a book by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, of House for All Sinner & Saints,

“It is next to impossible in isolation to manufacture the beautiful, radical grace that flows from the heart of God to God’s broken and blessed humanity.

As human beings, there are many things we can create for ourselves: entertainment, stories, pain, toothpaste, maybe even positive self-talk. But it is difficult to create things thing that frees us from the bondage of self. We cannot create for ourselves God’s word of grace. We must tell it to each other. It’s a terribly inconvenient and oftentimes uncomfortable way for things to happen. Were we able to receive the word of God through pious, private devotion – through quiet personal time with God – the Christian life would be far less messy.

But, as Paul tells us, faith comes through hearing, and hearing implies having someone right there doing the telling…Sometimes, I believe that God’s word of grace can also come through simple, imperfect everyday human love.”

Accidental Saints, Nadia Bolz-Weber

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.

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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?

*

“we also ought to love one another”

Read here: New York Daily News – Racism at Trump Rally

This story – and many others from Shaun King – have left me sick with heartbreak, tears, and speechlessness. This particular one, however, has also brought me to my knees tonight. In prayer.

This story (videos & pictures, too) showcase the penetrating, undeniable evil of HATE.

I am posting something of a “political” nature because I want to encourage ALL OF YOU to pray. Pray for reconciliation, unity, hope, and love. These are tall-orders, but NOT impossible. God is with us, and the madness of supremacy, bigotry, racism, violence, and hatred CAN be overcome – through the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).

Even in tears, I refuse to lose hope.

Our political opinions, thoughts, and parties matter. Certainly. Experience life, proclaim your right to think for yourself, and because of the FREEDOM America offers (a blessing itself!), express it. We WILL be different – that is how God made us. Unique.

However, our humanity is infinitely MORE important than our ideologies. And frankly, when ideology begins to spew a spirit of hatred, THAT is when the right to free speech becomes a weapon. This spirit is often what creates terrorism.

I have so many words, so many thoughts. But, I think Scripture says it best.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through hum. This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us…

GOD IS LOVE.

WHOEVER LIVES IN LOVE LIVES IN GOD,

AND GOD IN HIM. (1 John 9-12; 17).

Amen.

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and yet.

I see the work of your hands, galaxies spinning a heavenly dance

God, all that you are is so overwhelming…

I delight myself in You, captivated by your beauty

I’m overwhelmed by You.

God, I run into your arms, unashamed because of mercy

 There is no one more beautiful.

–Big Daddy Weave, Overwhelmed

*

I never run at night.

Yet, for whatever reason on this particular muggy Monday evening, I was running. At just around 8:30pm. I was supposed to meet JP at 8:15, but alas, Africa time got the best of me (again).

JP and I ran on the straight pathway bound for the Embassy of the United States. An ominous building, it raises the American flag high, with large black gates, protecting a pearly white structure (the pool is visible from the sides!) and is a good marker to indicate distance for long runs. Exactly 3.5 miles from the brick-walled home I have been living in; a round-trip will cost you 7. Hope your legs are ready.

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ahem. yeah. that’s the US Embassy. Kigali, Rwanda. photo from a great blog, mountains & miles

I am often lost in my thoughts and music when I climb these Rwandan streets with my pair of feet, but this evening was different, as JP and I conversed on our top three favorite & least favorite things about Rwanda & America. For reference, it’s a great topic to kill time while running. We knocked out a least 25 minutes while on the subject.

When we finished – perspiring, worn, and ready for bed – I turned on my street corner near the bus stop to head home. At this point, it’s just around 9:35pm.

Rwanda just received a top 5 ranking of countries in the world safest to walk around at night, so believe me, my worries were few.

I had wanted to put my musical jams in my ear to listen to – for whatever reason, I didn’t.

I thought about running the rest of the way to my house – again, I didn’t.

I had to be in the perfect moment, in the perfect place, at just the right time for what was about to happen.

Haven’t you heard? That’s how God works. A master orchestrator, conductor like no one has ever seen, we too often take miracles as coincidences, or divine intervention as mere circumstance. I know, I trust, I believe that our lives are so intricately designed that in moments God plans (and is planning).

You think you have total control of your day with your planner, as I am so often inclined to believe? Hmm.

I don’t think God needs a day timer, that’s for sure.

*

A short, unassuming woman side-steps me on the cobblestone path.

‘Mwiriwe,’ she states, ‘Amakuru?’ (In English: Hello, how are you?)

‘Ni meza…nawe?’ (I am well, how are you?)

‘Wapi…minsi wapi…’ (Bad, today has been bad…)

She started to explain her circumstances – her problem in that moment – and instead, I rudely interrupted. I kid you not, in this woman’s moment of despair, I chose instead to be defensive and spit words like this,

‘I am not an ATM machine! Just because I am a foreigner doesn’t mean I can just give money…honestly, what can I do…?

In a moment where I can only describe as ‘being slapped’, my voice stopped mid-sentence. I couldn’t speak. Instead, I gestured my right-hand to bring her closer. In a miraculous instant, I realized that whatever I was saying, frankly, was stupid. I needed to listen. So, I beckoned her over, and she came.

Stopped like that in my tracks, I opened my ears. My heart began to flood with sympathy. My eyes saw the need for a deeper kind of empathy. Her pain, her circumstance was causing great hurt in her. As I listened, I prayed for forgiveness in my initial harshness. Eugenie was headed to a hospital about 5 miles away. Everything she had was in a small, worn duffle on her left side. Her baby was already there – but with no health insurance. The cost for the government subsidy – which she would qualify for – per year is approximately seven (7) US dollars. With no other family, her sick baby had created unbelievable stress for her; she was afraid the illness would result in something more serious.

My blinders removed by the grace of God, I invited her to come down the road with me. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew it would be okay. Turns out, during our walk close to my home, she ministered to me. She had been praying for an answer to this problem. Yes, she knew and strongly believed that God would come through. She proclaimed further, in an enthusiastic, deeply assured voice,

I have been saved by the blood of Jesus. It’s what keeps my hope alive. I have nothing in this world. But I have everything.

She said this verbatim and went on – the entire walk – about how Jesus changed her entire life. No family (her mother passing away from cancer years prior) to speak of, she is here, in the city, with her only child. Her husband left her last year. So, she searches for work. Seemingly hopeless. But, she assured me, she is living for something greater.

I couldn’t believe this conversation was even happening.

I sent her on her way with the equivalent of $10 USD, two bananas, and an extra pair of shoes. For some reason, it seemed like she might need them. We prayed together before she left and as I watched her walk away, I was overwhelmed.

What was that? What just happened?

*

My soul rose the next morning quite weepy. Yet, without a trace of sorrow, my entire body was instead filled with inexplicable awe.

My week had been full of revelations of weaknesses and sin I have maintained in my relationship with God.

Just to name a few:

acceptance by others & the world (the fear of not being liked); perfectionism; reliance on doubt; selfishness; & pride. And yet. And yet.

And yet.

It doesn’t end there. The story isn’t over in our brokenness, humanness, or weaknesses.

GOD STILL USED ME IN THAT MOMENT. ON THAT MONDAY. ON THAT RUN.

HE STILL USED EUGENIE TOO; I NEEDED HER AS MUCH AS SHE NEEDED ME.

*

I was blessed enough to be a blessing. Despite every imperfection I carry, He is still faithful.

He is not a God of sacrifice. He’s one of mercy (Matthew 9:13).

We don’t have to fear our short-comings. We don’t have to define our relationship with GOD because we’re having a bad day and messed up. Or, we said something mean to our friend. Or, maybe you think you’re worse. You think you have done something that is unforgivable. Maybe you cheated on somebody, maybe you stole, maybe you physically harmed somebody…it doesn’t really matter. The Gospel isn’t about what you did. It’s about God, about Jesus, and about the bigger picture.

I was overwhelmed by this, reminded of this story, and encouraged that nothing I do separates me from Him. It might be a simple thing to say, but it’s an overwhelming standard by which to understand the world. But hey, I’ll take that worldview, each and every time. Humbled, grateful, and renewed, I’m thankful for Eugenie and her message. I’m thankful for God using me, but also using her. She proclaimed His name – even in times of deep trouble – knowing she was secure in the identity she had.

Speaking of identity, one more thing.

I forgot to mention the Kinyarwanda translation of her name. Yes, her first name was Eugenie. However, her second name? Ukuri.

It means truth.

*

 

10,000 steps, 10,000 promises

My feet are small (perhaps cute when they are well taken care of) but they are mighty. I used to kick around soccer balls with these size 5 pudgy things; I’ve trekked a mountain or two; and they have carried me to places I never thought I would go. More recently, they have been my tickets to intimacy with the Lord.

With a disinterest in motorcycle taxis and a preference for active sightseeing around Kigali, I began walking in order to get things done. A few weeks ago, God pushed me further: “blessed are the feet that bring good news!” (Romans 10:15) and so I intentionally prayed for people to greet, talk to, and occasionally pray with on these busy tarred and rocky roads.

Drawn often towards older women street cleaners, amazing, almost miraculous things have taken place. Not because of anything I am doing – but because He is in the thick of these moments and conversations. In praying with one woman, Marita, once, a passerby, Grace, joined. We held hands together and continued in prayer. People, wide-mouthed, walked by in disbelief. I smiled when we finished.

Why not? If we can pray in churches together, then surely we can pray on the streets together.

Once, when my sandal broken on the outskirts of a sleepy Eastern town, Nyagatare, God placed a woman shoemaker right next to me – tools and all. Last week, a Muslim man asked me about Jesus. Mind you, this was in Kinyarwanda. God gave me the words. I didn’t speak with force, superiority, or intimidation. I was honest. I told him that no, Jesus wasn’t just a prophet – He came to save the world. He was sent by God. This man, Yohani, didn’t walk away totally convinced. But her shook my hand, hugged me, and said I was different – I wasn’t just a well-read Christian; I spoke from the heart. It was the nicest thing anyone had said to me in quite some time.

*

God’s revealed a lot to me as I have put one foot in front of another. With 10,000 steps, my daily goal, a lot of forward progress is required.

Our walks are not simply efforts in active ministry; it’s a way for me to hear His voice, too.

He’s reminded me of the root of abundant life: Him, not me.

He’s gently rebuked my controlling ways that always seem to surface back.

He has spoken and shown a deep love for grace and joy – for all.

He’s maintained promise after promise after promise.

He’s asked me to just wait. Wait and see.

To put on paper what He is worked in these daily 10,000 steps is nearly impossible, but I do love to try. This is why and where I find contentment in writing: it can show what He has done. Our stories of faith, revelations, and relationship with God become the life story.

And so, I try writing, perhaps not doing it justice, but it never did hurt to try. Here’s one of His most recent great works.

*

On yet another walk, Jean Pierre, an old Hendrix friend of mine, and I trudged up the brown-green hill in Gatsibo District to visit the local teacher training school. Zahara now attends this location – only 1 of 4 teacher training schools in the Eastern Province – and will continue to be trained in nursery school teaching for the next 2 ½ years. I was Zahara’s English teacher way back when it seems (when she was only in Senior 1 & 2!) and so I couldn’t wait to see what this new school had held for her and the way it would mold her future, her methodology, and her very natural gift of teaching.

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I was stinky in sweat while the sun was seriously scavenging our skin, but I still smirked with restrained excitement as we entered the school metal gates. Even from the path below, her school looked stunning. For an hour, I met with administrators and toured the campus.

A new school, the bricks are molded together with white cement and the dormitories are full of beautifully built wooden bunks – the first of wooden beds that I have seen at a boarding school in Rwanda! An early childhood education student, Zahara is already observing nursery classrooms to ultimately educate Rwanda’s very young youth. Zahara is fed three full meals a day and is Vice-President of English while also serving as prefect for the girls’ dormitory.

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I saw her sitting in her Foundations of Education class and waved timidly. She blushed back and I couldn’t wait for the bell to ring so we could chat. Finally. It’s been a year; but for someone your heart loves so preciously, that’s a very long time.

We sat in the main school office, tear-ridden and amazed we had gotten here. Literally. All of it – the student body, the school building, the environment, the programs – it made me incredibly grateful and joyful. I know a bit of where she has come from, and so this, yes this, is a promise of hope being fulfilled.

IMG_20150917_101358She’s doing it! She’s working towards her dream of teaching. I closed my eyes and I audibly praised Jesus. It wasn’t the education alone changing Zahara’s life – it was Him. She knows it too. As her eyes watered with genuine gratitude, I attempted to mutter a few words, like I had finally pieced together a long-awaited puzzle, “God brought out lives together for a reason…”

I started but choked up. Left speechless. Always left speechless.

But because we are in the world, nothing is so beautifully or perfectly wrapped or completed like this all the time. Our stories our laced with promise and struggle.

Her family called about an hour later, reeling off intense issues that were taking place at home while she was away at school. I watched helplessly as she quickly fell into the trappings of guilt, darkness, fear, and misery.

Traumatized, she was unreachable for 30 minutes. Crying, sobbing, and in a pit of pain, I prayed for her. You have to understand the depth of her family brokenness. Her past trauma is true and real. She, like all of us in some way, has been shattered.

I thought back to the previous week and deeply sympathized with her. I had visited her family, right in their home (back in our village), and I too, could sense a bit of this kind of penetrating, overwhelming wreckage.

*

It was as if I had re-entered a room and though nothing had changed, everything had changed. All the problems. All. the. problems. Sickness, famine, dry fields, absent teachers, failed projects – God placed this place on my heart – so why did it feel so bad?

While on my visit, I excuse myself from the family table and go on one of these “10,000 step walks” to gain clarity and grounding. With the skirmishes and on-going issues of her family resurfacing, I began to ask questions out of hopelessness.

Is this school-sponsorship thing even worth it? Am I still being called to help facilitate this? Does this – will this – ever change? What might actually work here?

I had let hopelessness – damn you, hopelessness – trickle in.

The thick evils of our world would much prefer we stay in this place of distraught discontentment. If we do, we don’t remember the purpose of our lives and what we ultimately seek and strive for. Namely, there is nothing we can do in ourselves to end these challenges, disparities, needs, and pains. Strife will be with us as long as sin has a stake – and until otherwise notified – sin is a tragic part of our existence. And so, because of that, we don’t give up. We press on, asking God, what would you like me to do? How can I serve YOUR plan – even in these situations that I don’t think I can really handle? We surrender ourselves (feelings included) trusting that He will show a way.

I finished the weekend in more bountiful, joyful spirits (after all, my village is, and always will be, a sweet spot of home for me) but the power of hopelessness did not go unnoticed. That’s why Jesus and grace and love can be so difficult to comprehend; the further lost we become in our hopelessness, the harder it can be to come out of it.

I knew it would be something I would need to remember.

*

Zahara left for the dormitory to have the space to let her emotions free.

The school disciplinarian and dorm mama sat alongside her too, patiently scratching her back, waiting for her emotional return. It was here, on this auburn-wood stained bunk, that a newly resurgent wave of conviction, passion, and belief came upon me.

Where God opens doors, the evil forces of our world will try to desperately distract us so we close them and miss our path to grace.

I’ve closed enough doors in my life to know this.

I didn’t want to see Zahara trek down this same kind of road.

“You are meant for this Zah….believe me. We don’t know why opportunity or struggle or our situations are placed in our lives and then come and go…but you are here. Keep pushing forward. This is your future. You must believe in what is being laid before you.”

Blotchy redness slowly faded and we hugged. I think she believed me.

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I will keep praying, I told myself.

I was quiet for some of our bus-ride back to Kigali.

What was God doing? What was He revealing – to both me, and Zahara?

*

Morning comes too early.

My mind has determined to run, my body however, has not. I choose coffee and oatmeal knowing that I will be walking later anyway. Maybe I will do an extra 2,000 steps here or there for measure. I spill hot grounds on my Bible and oats fall between my shirts. Once a master of morning hours, I am now a mess. I dress and the walk begins. If only I knew what was ahead.

I would pray with Sifa, a woman searching for something. We chatted briefly, and I prayed that peace would transcend all areas of her life. Minutes later, I arrive at Canaberra, for another morning coffee with Nadine, a speaker and recruiter for Rwanda’s only all-women higher level institute, Akilah. With a mutual writing interest, we got connected and were discussing how she could elevate her work for communication and professional purposes. Our discussion shifted instinctively to the realm of faith.

Minutes later, as we sipped from our mugs, Nadine was telling me her own story. Raised within deep poverty in Rwanda, she used to walk 2 hours to school a day. There wasn’t always food. Her mother was sometimes sick. She knew God, however, and didn’t stop believing things could be different. Someone, along the way, believed in her too. The right person at the right time.

Then, her life changed forever. She enrolled in Akilah’s hospitality program and following completion of her degree, became a development and recruitment associate – on one occasion, working in their New York City office for 6 months.

“God’s hands were all over it. It’s only for His glory.”

She was emotional as she shared – almost in disbelief about what God had done. On a prompting from the Holy Spirit, I shared Zahara’s story with her. It had just happened days before and was still fresh in my mind. Then something amazing happened.

“I would love to talk with her…to reach out to her…whatever she needs…”

What….?

Just 24 hours earlier, I had prayed God would show an answer to Zahara’s needs of assurance and comfort in her freshly-sought faith. A mentor. A mentor who knows much more than I ever could. I exhaled with so much thankfulness and relief.

2 Peter 3: 8-9

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

He’s got a plan for Zahara. I’m just one small part. He is true to His people. He is faithful. That’s the God we live for, the God of creation. When we walk discerningly, it is amazing what we find. Whatever blisters may come, I will do my 10,000 steps faithfully too, and seeking and trusting in his unyielding sovereignty. It may be easy to forget, but that’s why God is a God of relationship. We walk with Him, sometimes taking wrong corners, but realizing He can (and will) get us back on track when we let Him. And more importantly, just because we follow Him doesn’t mean our walks are full of momentous, jump-on-the-couch-happy dances. Life is hard. Really, really, really hard. Zahara, her family, my village, and things in between reminded me of that this week. Prayer is a serious thing then, because it allows us to voice those concerns. God knows, but our voices bring the reality to life. Talk with Him. He’s listening.

It’s worth it. He is. You are. Life. Let’s try and hold firm to His promises. That’s my prayer for Zahara, for me, for all of us.

Enjoy your walk. With each step, we have a new promise. Promise.

*

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washed feet, refreshed minds

*

Eastern Rwanda bakes in unrelenting sunshine sprouting red dust that seeps into ears, hands, hair, and most profoundly feet. Dirt roads meander together among banana tree plantations and even a quick 5-minute jaunt to fill your jerry can of water will bring you to face the impermeable red dust. Once, I found myself on the Tanzanian border carrying a yellow basin of water on my head. Neighbors pointed and laughed – the umuzungu had stooped to a chore relegated typically for villagers.

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We’re the same, I was determined to prove, and so I trudged on up the hill.

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Upon return to a friends’ home, I set the water down, breathed heavily, and sat on a broken tree stump to rest. Glancing at the rural mountains ahead of me, I hardly noticed little Donatha bringing over a blue basin of clean water to my feet. I smiled, acknowledging that yes, my feet were filthy and in need of cleansing.

Divine came alongside with a royal blue bar of soap. I reached for it, assuming I’d clean my own feet, but she refused and pulled back.

“Divine!” I protested.

She shook her head as she started making suds below with her hands in the water.

“I will wash your feet.”

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I think I rolled my eyes and demonstrated that look of sassy-ness that I give when I’m feeling stubborn. She lifted my foot and I was ashamed. Chipped nail polish, mud, and cracks of dryness abounded. She would see it all.

She started scrubbing and singing a hymn from church. In a matter of minutes, I felt my heart soften.

She was not doing this because she thought I was incapable. She was not doing this from a place of subservience. She was doing this because she was my friend. Love initiated this action – nothing else.

Exposed and humbled, I drifted back to how Jesus cleansed the feet of his disciples and how after he, as our Lord and Teacher, commands us to do this for our brothers and sisters. Not from a place of being the master, but instead service to the master.

In this spirit of humility and honesty, we cleanse each other because each of us needs it to. That’s a little something called discipleship.

Perhaps this is a sliver of what real community looks like.

*

I recalled this memory as I found myself crunching through 3-feet deep snow deep in the mountains this weekend. I was alone, it was silent, and I could actually think. I had successfully escaped the hum-drum of noise and I tried remembering the last time I had felt that way. Outside of weekend mountain trips, it really hasn’t been like that since lugging water up that mountain, in the rural of rural villages, when even the goats are few and far between. For the first time in weeks in these cold winter mountains, my mind was mostly free from the clutter of the day-to-day obligations, responsibilities, joys, fears, and questions.

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I was alone, but not really.

Community still exists between the trees and between the silences because we aren’t ever alone.

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Whether it involves the washing of your feet – literally – or cleansing your mind to be free of the chains we bind ourselves to – take it. Both are learning opportunities in how to embrace the process of acceptance, and let’s be real, we could all use a little of that.

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