hope.

“Nothing can stop me.” – Yvette*

Kayonza is a sleepy town in Eastern Rwanda, though it maintains a solid supply of milk and bananas, so long as the harvest is good and the cows are healthy.

IMG_1582Last week, I zipped on a motorcycle across the small town, towards the bus station.I passed the internet café that I spent hours at for correspondence when I lived without electricity. The old coffee shop I frequented is now re-constructed into a larger hotel development. It seems the only thing that has remained the same is the dinky ATM I withdrew cash from (when it worked) and the large cow statue in the middle of the town’s roundabout. This part of the Eastern Province is nothing special to most, but for me, every time I pass through, there is something that buzzes inside of me.

Last Friday, I meandered through the Kayonza bus park to find a ride to my nearby Peace Corps community. This is my fourth, possibly fifth, visit to my village since I completed my service at the end of 2013. I’m fortunate, blessed, and simultaneously, recognize the unique opportunity I have been given.  With each time that I do return, my neighbors exclaim proudly, “wibuka ni wacu” (you remembered us). I nod with gratitude, humbly agreeing that returning means a hell of a lot to people, no matter the background, culture, or geographic location.

I hop on a bruised, dented bus that is, quite literally, falling apart. The motor, it appears, will die at any moment, and there are at least three extra people stuffed inside. The man in front of me is holding two chickens. The driver is desperately smoking a cigarette. There are numerous older women grasping their walking sticks as we roll along the hills of our town.

Standard situation.

I shift my backpack so it does not hit against the person next to me. As I re-organize, I hear a meek, but enthusiastic call for “Heather!” I turn around and behind me, waving joyfully, is a student that I taught English during both years of my service. We shake hands, laughing, and I tell her that I’m on my way back – but first have plans to stop and pick up Yvette. I’m staying the weekend at her house and I can hardly wait to see her again. This student smiles and shouts, “Yego! Karibu teacher!” (Yes, welcome, teacher).

I take a deep breath as I call for the driver to pull off at my stop. He looks at me quizzically. I smile, and assure him, that yes, this is where I want to be. I am meeting Yvette at our main junction before we continue to her home where I will be spending the weekend.

The first thing I notice is her hair. My sweet Yvette, who I began teaching when she was 16, now has a thick, long, black weave in a multitude of braids. This is an outward sign of mobility; paying to have your hair done  is not a frequent occurrence where we lived. I let the braids fall through my fingers as I shout loudly, and with so much happiness, “Yesu we! My dear you have become mature. You are looking so smart.”

I shouldn’t be surprised. Yvette is 20 now, and she’s completing her student teaching at a school adjacent to the start of our long, dirt village road. She’s teaching nursery school students while taking courses on educational psychology and teaching methods. I literally could not be prouder.

I am visiting my community again, but things are different than visits in the past. My students are beyond their coming-of-age; they have either dropped out of school or graduated. Most, I learn, have not finished their secondary education, however. For the few that have, the reality of finding a job feels ominous in a rural community sustained through subsistence farming. Harnessing an income feels overwhelming without existing purchasing power or economic capacity. Now, instead of questions about how to finish school, the girls are asking questions about budgeting, planning, and thinking through exactly what they want as young women – not as students. This “new life” as one of my girls calls it, “is not easy.”

Yvette and I ride in unison on separate motorcycles to her family home. I pass through the banana trees, knowing that once again, I am home. I soar on my moto, it seems, hearing mixed shouts of “Julia” (the newest Peace Corps Volunteer in our village), “umuzungu” (white person), and “Impano” (my Kinyarwanda name). The older kids tend to know who I am; the younger ones are now using umuzungu. So goes the passing of time. I notice that the bananas, beans, and cassava have all died. It’s a stark sight to see; a plethora of plots, yet all with an empty harvest. I would find out later that it didn’t rain in this village from April to December last year. Hunger, scarcity of resources, and food security are now even larger, more pressing issues.

IMG_1555Yvette’s mother holds her hands high with kwishimira (praise to God) for my arrival. She hugs me tight and she smells of sweat, firewood, and soil. Her day has alternated between the land, the kitchen, and the road. Yvette’s  grandmother does the same. I smile because I realize that after all these years, I don’t even know Yvette’s grandmother’s name. Rather, I call her mukekuru (grandmother). That’s it. We share a moment and there is a glimmer of joy and appreciation that strikes me; I’m so happy to be back. Mukekeru jokes that she is still alive for my current visit. We giggle because the woman is now 85 years old. I jokingly tell her that she has at least six or seven years left, and snarkily, she tells me that she’ll stay alive until I come back with children. We laugh some more. Touché, mukekuru, touché.

It must be said: life in Rwanda is not easy. Perhaps for some, but not everyone. Life in Kigali can mask the deep divisiveness of inequity that persist in this country. I am unsure if I became numb to the hardness of this life over the years in which I stayed insulated inside the community. Perhaps my time living back in the United States tainted the hardness of what poverty in Rwanda is like. Either way, what I saw in just the first few hours of my return was intense. It shocked me. It awoke me, once again, to the raw realities of deep, deep poverty. It was painful, but also necessary.

Yvette and I left her cemented house before dusk to go and search for a couple of beers for her family. My return, they said, warranted a celebration. As we roamed the village terrain, we stopped by her aunt’s house to say “hello.” As we did, she confronted Yvette with news of an intense infection growing on her foot. Her leg was swelling, she couldn’t walk, and I could hardly believe what I saw was real. It was night by then, and so Yvette used her phone light to examine the injury further. My stomach dropped; I knew immediately that this woman urgently needed to go and get medication and treatment. Otherwise, she would lose her leg.

We left, and instantly, I felt sick. As we entered a small center of shops and bars, I began to see old friends, old neighbors, and old church members. They greeted me, smiled, and continued to proclaim, “uri inkumi” (“you have become a woman”). Considering that just a couple of months ago I had my age checked while seeing an R-rated movie in Denver, this strikes me as wonderfully reassuring.Yvette briefed me on more news from the community.

She pointed to house after house, noting that various young girls that I used to teach have gotten pregnant and are now mothers. The climate has also been harsh and food has been inadequate. Theft has increased, and a feeling of distrust has grown. She reports that her mother, aunt, and uncle have all had thieves steal crops, food, and pots from their homes.

When we arrived back at her house, I stopped and gazed at the sky. My overwhelming feelings of melancholy seem to subside for a moment. The stars are ominous, beautiful, and vast. I said a quick prayer, asking that God would reveal Himself in this place. And that for myself, and for this family, we would remember that God is  still so present through all of this.

We ate dinner together in the dark. Yvette and I talked for three hours about what she has learnt at school and why she believes so passionately in education. As she spoke, with sauce dripping from her mouth in extraordinary excitement, I became suddenly, swiftly, and deeply moved at how much investing in one life can make a difference. I can’t always answer big questions of poverty, inaccessibility, or oppression, but I can be assured that there are bright spots everywhere. Yvette is one of them. She passionately remarks, “the two things I must always remember: a good future and self-confidence.”

Late into the night, she openly shared about other things too; things like politics, social movements, and her past. I was amazed at how well-informed she was – especially about the growing activism in the United States. She admitted that she cried when Donald Trump won the election. When I asked why, she said simply, “I can’t imagine a leader acting or talking like that. It made me sad for America.”

Enough said.

I woke up to a rooster crowing. Already, at 6:00am, Yvette’s mother was cooking tea. I stretched my legs and visited the latrine for a bathroom visit. I used to be an expert at using these things, but with passing time, my squatting abilities have faltered. Let’s just say it was a bit messy. As we say in Rwanda, bibaho (it happens).

As we waited for the sun to climb in the sky, we sipped tea and looked at photos of my niece, AnaLynah. Mukekuru is obsessed, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the lovely photographs. She was quick to remind me, again, that I must come back with children.

When we share a mid-morning snack of ubugali (cassava bread) and potatoes with sauce,Yvette’s mom prayed over the food. She commented sheepishly that she had “nothing to give me.” This broke every piece of my heart. I assure her – I don’t need or want anything. Just love, and only love. As we ate,Yvette asks, “Heather, when we tell you that you are a blessing to us, you keep telling us that we have been a blessing to you. How?”

I blinked slowly and scrambled to find the right, adequate words.

You’ve given me friendship. Community. A place to come back to. Purpose. All of you girls have motivated me to know what is important in life. If God gives me the opportunity to support others, I must take it. And, with all of you, you have demonstrated what it looks like to be welcoming and loving to anyone.”

We walked dusty trails in the western part of the sector, towards Liza’s* house. When I saw her, I gasped, amazed at how “grown” she has become. Liza detailed what it felt like to finish her schooling. She talked at length about representing her school at a national debate, and how she overcame her fear of pursuing her coursework in the sciences. She wants to go to university, but she doesn’t know how to proceed. The national government will announce scholarships in the coming months, and if she doesn’t receive one, she can’t continue. We prayed about this together, in her small, musty living room.

We also visited Yvette’s uncle, all with more food and more questions. Families often ask. “where is your husband?” and now, being in a very happy relationship with my girlfriend, I feel stuck in knowing what to answer. I can’t tell them the truth, and I also hate to lie. I feel in a different kind of a “closet” than I did before, and this is stressful. I get flustered and simply reply with a coyness, “God will give His answer.” This seems to be enough, at least for now.

The hard part of coming back, I realize, is that my new life doesn’t easily integrate with the old. I must grieve this and be patient with this, too.

One of the hardest part moments of my trip was seeing a baby with a disability going untreated. One of Yvette’s family members brought this baby to the house. I assumed the child was only two or three weeks from its birth. When I realized it’s actual age (9 months!) Yvette’s mom unwrapped the child from a small, blue blanket. As I tenderly held the small, floppy limbs in my hands, I fully grasped the limitations in each part of its body for this little one.

The child went to a hospital, but was referred to a specialty clinic. Because of transport fees, the family hasn’t yet gone. With urgency, I insisted that they must go soon. If the baby can access some physical therapy, the body can still develop some muscle strength. I excuse myself to the latrine, again, but not because I need to relieve myself.

I stand on the wooden logs, with tears in my eyes, unsure of what to do. Why God, why God, does this happen?

On the final day of my visit, I met the current Peace Corps Volunteer, Julia, who is simply, a gem. She’s connected strongly with Yvette, and her family too, and we share stories about teaching and what it’s like to live inside of this part of Rwanda. We walk to her home together, and I squeal in delight when I see my timeworn painted walls of turquoise. My old home looks largely the same, and with all the other stressors I experienced, this was comforting.

IMG_1586Yvette and I walked the five kilometers out of the village so I could soak the place up as much as possible. I was sad to go our separate ways, but we quickly made plans for her to visit the bakery in Kigali the following weekend. I thank her for all that she has given and shared with me. I thank her for being her. She shyly thanks me too, and she goes.

Then, like magic, I’m back on a bus, surrounded by colorful fabrics, women with babies, and bible-carrying men, to return to my current life. It feels like I took a step out of time and went somewhere else. I’m processing these experiences, people, and stories still, and it’s challenging.

It’s hard to reconcile our lives with one another sometimes. However, even in the difficulty, it’s a worthy process. I’m learning a lot from this visit, feeling affirmed in my work, and considering what it means to resist, persist, and keep going no matter what. I am thinking about those kinds of things, mostly, because more than anything, that’s what I want for my girls, my loved ones, myself, and my children one day: that is, to hold both the joyous and heart-breaking pieces of life together, knowing that life is neither one or the other. It is both. Always, both.

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My community, my village, my home always serves as a benchmark for a part of my life that allowed me to understand and know a bigger picture in this world. Life can be immensely difficult for all of us, as we each face unique challenges. I can’t move forward and forget these things. Instead, we are called to hone what we can and advocate for each other, wherever our gaps may be. We all have them. But, we can all help one another, too.

I don’t know what to do about what I saw: the paucity of food; the lack of education; the scarceness of jobs; the propensity of medical issues; there is just so much. Too much.

But, I am assured, knowing that I can continue to stand with my girls, with Yvette, believing that opportunity does provide the most valuable kind of a return on investment: HOPE.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of these stories and the individuals involved. 

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.”

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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.

*

 

 

time travel, airports & coffee.

Dreary rains pour over me in a sea cluster of grey, black, and colorless shirts. Clicks of business shoe heels touch well-traveled floor granite and briefcases are flung around like global economic bibles near security checkpoints. 8 hours and 34 minutes after dipping deep into Kigali’s night sky, we have arrived in Belgium.

Exiting my sparsely populated plane (I was blessed to have a solo row for the long journey), I see a family of 6 – presumably refugees. I have an eye for that kind of thing; it touches a deep corner of my heart, like a tiny pinch on your rib cage from your brother unexpectedly. In this colorless plot of the world, I sense their wonder. Bewilderment. The grandmother, in blue sneakers and a beige scarf, limps along with an untied shoe. She doesn’t speak Kinyarwanda as I had thought; a thick French utterance leaves her lips; she is likely from Congo. Her fabric tells enough of her story to assume as much. I watch and pray as they receive a special UN Belgium escort. Bye. I think about the kind of transition they are going through – from Africa, to who knows where, and I wonder what lies ahead for them. I sigh, and continue my walk through Belgium’s airport at the ungodly hour of 5:34 am.

This is a weird world you enter – airports.

A bit dazed myself, I carry my orange African fabric bag and slowly look around. Belgium Indie tunes resonate the stale hallways – I have over 6 hours to kill while in the density of my travels home. Coffee. It seems like a logical place to start.

As it always does in a multitude of the world’s travel caves, corners, and transit areas, I see a Starbucks. As I meander closer, I have a moment of Aha; when I left Rwanda two years ago, upon completing my Peace Corps service, I had visited this very Starbucks. I imagine, though I am a completely different woman these days, I ordered my usual drink: a grande Americano. Hold the sugar. Hold the milk. I like it black.

When I passed through here in that season, I was resigned to the fact that I didn’t think I would see Rwanda again. That’s funny. And a good reminder – we think we know what we are doing. God always has these incredible plans stored up. We have no clue. Live into life. I am consistently reminded of this, it seems.

The sun has yet to rise and so I am aim for an onset of energy with a simultaneous burst of European sunshine. Two Pellegrino’s later, still no sun. That early equatorial razor-beam of a sun that I am used to may be a distant memory in this overwhelming dreariness. It certainly doesn’t get any more illusionary when I dig into the most recent reports of Belgium craziness; the entire city, shut down! Searching for terrorists! My, oh my.

I shake my head as a young Belgian fellow fills in the gaps; a man-hunt is on, and so the city is up in a tizzy. I’m grateful to be inside, I suppose, but flabbergasted that frankly, this crap, keeps happening. Such is the world.

I watch travelers rush by to drain my blankness and speechlessness; some are still and recluse in the morning’s quietness, while others are already off and blazing. We glide through these intermediary spaces so easily that it feels oh so defiant to time itself. An illusion. Or something.

Time moves exactly the same – whether we pretend to exist outside of it here in places like planes, airports, and waiting rooms. You could be chasing time zones as a persistent globetrotter – or, alternatively, you could be a time-grinder on the daily.

In the tensions of two worlds – none of which I can assure you are European, I feel lost for a bit; as if a giant pause button has been pressed and I am wading through a series of strange commercials. In these transient hours, I am full of memories of what is behind and before me. I am just a random girl, at a random café, in a random city, on this random day.

Or am I?

Nothing is really that arbitrary, I have learned. That’s what traveling, culture, and people have taught me. That’s what God has shown me. So, even in strange existences of time, I will keep the coffee flowing, my eyes peeled, pushing through tensions of time, past, present, and future. Our feet travel exactly to where we need to go. Let them.

Plus, let’s be real. Airports are great for people-watching.

Just hours later, as I prepared for boarding, it would be me that was questioned for suspicious behavior – namely about my bag. In my 6 hour lay-over, I occupied part of that time by emptying, reorganizing, and repacking my large duffle. Oops. Probably not the best idea. I think that I’m the observant one, when really, as it turns out, there are those watching me. What, what, is this place that we live in? One can never be sure.
*

breathless with bare feet.

Psalm 118:1: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

My bare, musty feet are warmed by the smoky flames just a few inches away. I hardly notice; I’m focused on the expansive sky above me, glittered with stars, heaven, and just enough glimmer from the moon. I’m in the village, and as usual, my breath is taken away. I know there is no camera that could capture this moment; no words that could suffice; simply one of those moments in life between you, God, and the people there with you. I love that feeling, it’s one of my favorites. For the first time in a few weeks, I feel like I can breathe. No distractions. I’m on the precipice of an exciting transition back home and so I’m perfectly content just you know, taking it all in.

Eugenie is in the outdoor kitchen adjacent to the traditional Rwandan mat preparing rice and a tomato sauce for dinner. Her mother, seated next to me, is telling me about her own parents, and what their life was like in the Northern Province when she was growing up. I love tales from times before now; they feel authentic, genuine, and wisdom-ridden. That’s why I love hanging out with older people, I think. 

When the meal is ready, we go inside. I follow the blinking torch Eugenie holds; I’m village deep, meaning I sure ain’t going to be charging my phone anytime soon. It’s freedom, in a way, because I’m fully present, fully aware. Dinner is uneventful, and soon we are laying our heads to sleep to prepare for the next day. We are meeting the other girls from Ruramira in the morning – a reunion of sorts (the first time in 2 years where the GLOW girls are all together!) – and so rest is not optional. We’ll need it.

The next day is Saturday and it’s beyond full. I wake up to just-enough-sugar tea and warm water to bathe (from a bucket, obviously). When I am perfectly presentable (Eugenie is sure I didn’t miss a spot) we walk 40 minutes to a home not far where I used to take residence, and share fanta, laughs, and stories about school with the other girls. All of them have one or two years remaining in their secondary education and so it seems crazy that I started teaching them when they were just in Senior 1 or 2! …Perhaps I am that old?, I wonder. 

I’ve been back to my village numerous times since finishing the Peace Corps 2 years ago, but this time is special. The girls are all together and so it just proves, once again, that a place is about the heart of those that you love – not even the beauty that surrounds the mountains, trees, and hills. God’s spirit is what makes a place full. The girls cherish this time, but because it’s rainy season we eventually move quickly back to our respective homes; some back to the north part of the village, some far out in the Eastern part of Rwanda; and for me, I’m headed to Maisara & Zahara’s home for the evening. 

We travel there and my! It’s cumbersome. Mud trickles in our toes from heavy rains and once again, I’m barefoot. When we do finally reach their humble abode, Zahara does something intensely intimate and beautiful. 

She washes my feet. As the mud trickles away, I find myself in tears. There is something so personal about this – and I remind Zahara of the way Jesus washes the disciples feet in the Bible. She smiles and remembers too. “No problem, my dear…I’m happy to do it!” Of course she is. We share traditional Rwandan food shortly thereafter (cassava bread, obviously) and we fall asleep under a mosquito net to the noises of frogs, fireflies, and a crying cat. I love it out here. In the morning, it’s time to go. We say goodbye and though it hurts my heart, I feel so fresh, clean, and abundantly joyful. It’s sad to leave; but what a mighty blessing to have come back in the first place. My, my. Once again, Rwanda has reminded me of the deepest provisions He has given me – new life. With beautiful people. With beautiful experiences. I can see Him in everything…and so yes, I’m left breathless. Breathless with bare feet.

In addition to all the fun I have had in this season in Rwanda, God has also provided experiences of deep reconciliation, opportunity, and faithfulness. I can’t possibly recount or describe it all in just a few words. But there are many, many stories. I suppose that’s why I write at all. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead and sharing some of what has happened here. About doors that have opened. About doors that have closed. I have a job that I love and I can’t wait to see the roads and opportunity it brings. I have the world littered with people that I love deeply – and that in itself is such a blessing in these uncertain and scary times in our world. I have a family that is scattered – and that too, is a reminder that as God’s people we are far more united than we think. God is doing something, and that something is very special. And it’s not just me – it’s all of us. It’s these deep corners of joy that God desires for us. Not because life is perfect, but because it’s perfect in its’ imperfections. He is the one constant; He is the great provider and His love truly does endure forever. Shoes or no shoes.

A new season is upon me, and the only way I can describe it as I gear up for a long flight home is simply, breathless with bare feet. I’m renewed, excited, grateful, and just….content. All glory to God.

the beautiful Eastern Province. A home, of sorts.

the beautiful Eastern Province. A home, of sorts.

Where peace transcends all.

Where peace transcends all.

simplicity.

simplicity.

convergent friendship.

With slushy snow lining the soles of my beige flats, I trudge on. I am walking 10 blocks on 17th to reach The Tavern, a cozy uptown restaurant and bar east of Capitol Hill.

Denver's historic "Tavern"

Denver’s historic “Tavern”

I am meeting (ahem, “networking”) a Young Professionals group a part of World Denver – an organization with a mission to “strengthen and expand the community of engaged global citizens and organizations in Colorado provide them with opportunities to activate their interest in citizen diplomacy through education, cross-cultural exchange, and personal interaction with international dignitaries and professionals.”

Phew. It’s a mouthful and yet it is exactly the kind of groups I have been seeking here in Denver.

My dad’s aunt’s friend (yes, that’s how you hear about most things, isn’t it?) connected me to the group and so I figured “why not?” Why not join the group as an annual member and why not start out by going to their first networking event of the year. Joining has seemingly proved to be a brilliant idea when a nice gentleman shared his nachos and I met a funny, open, and intelligent group of young people. A less brilliant idea, however, was me having to walk the 10 blocks; to a city dweller this may seem like nothing – and it is- but the truth is that I took the light rail train all the way downtown without verifying where we were meeting first. And then, of course, my data plan fails for the month and so I became relegated to asking fellow street walkers and train riders where to go. Yes, sometimes I can be a stranger to my own city. Or just that person. You know what I am talking about.

As I walked and found a somewhat clear sense of direction, I thought about what it’s like to walk big city streets alone.

I kept my green bag near the top of my right leg and I walked swiftly as the lights and snow glistened amidst the cars, bikes, and busy streets. It was a city to be sure, but nothing like New York City.

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When we perused Bryant Park and made our way to the New York Public Library, I noticed people are everywhere. In every corner, in every square foot of the sidewalk, and in every car moving every which way. The magnitude of structures, taxis, humans, black leggings, and big purses alarmed me. This was America – her shining city – and yet I felt like I was in a foreign place. Even in Times Square, right before seeing Chicago, when we came up from the underground Subway, I couldn’t even breathe. LIGHTS! … I was pushed out of the way, certainly more mindful of the absolute crowd in this particular neck of the woods.

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The word that kept ringing through my head during my trip out East was convergence.

Lives intersecting from every which way.

It was very much the ideas behind the reason for my trip in the first place: we girls have a reunion once a year where we can take a “time out” from our lives to be together. So we boarded trains, planes, and automobiles and came from Colorado, Texas, Alabama, Connecticut, and of course New York itself to celebrate the little time we do have to share together. It was a precious times to hear about love interests, seminary tales, new jobs, old ones, moves and transitions, and what life has been full of, especially within the past year.

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These are the same girls I met and became friends with back in 2007 when the idea of convergence was very much the same, if not stronger.

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The states have been slightly altered, wedding bands added, with adulthood thrown into the mix (bills included, unfortunately) and it’s not hard to have the same feeling of awe like it was flying over the city and seeing the size of it all. It’s amazing and incredible to see where the past few years have taken all of us, and where life continually moves us toward.

During our time, we walked many city blocks. Not alone, but together. And ultimately, that has been the case ever since we were little freshman at Hendrix. We have seen each other through political enlightenments, religious transformation, holidays, illness, death of family members, cafeteria specials, graduation, travel in and out of the states, weddings, and what I really would call “the roaring twenties”. You see, these girls are my best friends and so distance or time does not really mark the comradery established so long ago. Our lives no longer converge regularly, but the beautiful part is that they don’t need to.

We walked the Chelsea Highline at night, on my birthday, and I kept feeling just so special that my birthday got to be celebrated with some of the people I love the most. I felt this immense gratitude as we ate one, two, and countless amounts of bagels, sang songs on the way to Connecticut, meandered cute little cafes, sipped coffee, and had meals together. One night, we ate through at least three blocks of cheese with some wine. Yeah, some things really never change.

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These girls – Ali, Lauren, Rachel, Jordana, and Michelle – they are friends for life and that is the one of the gems in my life that I am continually reminded to be thankful for. God, thank you. Girls, thank you too.

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Here’s to 8 years of friendship, craziness, and far too many “hey girl hey”s. I love y’all.

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