welcoming summer

This year is moving at blazing speeds and I have felt myself running, hustling, jumping – simply to catch up. Somehow, when I awoke the other morning it was June and the sun was shining through at a cool 84 degrees. Summer has arrived.

Summer is my favorite time of year: shorts, sunglasses, and ubiquitous green oak trees, along with an ease to the air that has been absent all year long. And it’s easily the best time of year to snap on rollerblades and roll along with views of the city.

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Mostly, summer reminds me to breathe, relax, and just enjoy the existence of, well, life.

Summer is also easily planned; booked with trips and adventures and any other outdoor activity you could think of. This summer is a bit different, too. Fresh off a week-long jaunt to Mexico, I’m squeezing in extra classes at school while also dreaming and planning a wedding with Chelsea for next summer (in 2019). Summer, then, feels like a bridge over water, a transition that we have all been anxiously awaiting (at least I have).

Summer is usually when I am most happy. Life feels a little more open, a little more spontaneous, like a meandering walk with no agenda, or a flower blooming without a care in the world.

When this year started, I choose the word “breathe” to be my mantra. My hope was that I could remind me to stop and simply be in the crevices of moments when things got crazy.

Easier said than done, right?

Yet, when I have honored those short, still moments it feels like I can tap into something deeper, as if for an instant I can absorb all that is sweet about life. Awareness does this: it opens our eyes, minds, and hearts – suddenly we can observe and bear witness to occurrences that we wouldn’t otherwise see.

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Case and point. I paused to breathe the other day while walking from the bus. I sat at a bench and looked around. It was as though everything and nothing was miraculous at once. I saw people hurrying to work. I saw, in the same blocks, people begging for money. Students were in the thick of exams, double-fisting with coffee and study guides. And, I saw a sweet old woman mightily propelling her walker up the hill, presumably to enjoy a mid-morning stroll. She was tenacious; never once stopping in her aims to proceed with her journey. It was surprisingly beautiful to see – all of us, simply living our lives on another day, at the edge of a new season.

Breathing lends itself to seeing and seeing keeps the wonder alive. Even in the craze of summer, that is my goal – to stay wonderous, adventurous, and of course, to breathe deeply every chance I get. It’s easier for those moment to slip by as life changes course and more adulting and responsibility comes our way. However, they do not have to.

When we breathe and find awareness to our world, we are present to life. And, I do believe our presence is the greatest gift we can bring, not only to others, but also to ourselves. Happy summer, friends.

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just like people, places change.

Just like people, places change.

Flying into Kigali, Rwanda last week by way of Denver, Detroit, and Amsterdam (read: crazy amounts of jet lag), I was unable to ignore the expansive landscape of bright, yellow lights over the rolling hills that I have seen many times before.

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The Convention Center is open and the Marriott is now operating. Plentiful (perhaps unnecessary) roundabouts have been added to the city roads as more and more cars seem to fill them. There is a new dance club, a handful of new restaurants, and newly launched start-up companies. Whether in the IT sector, drones consulting, or in business incubation, Kigali has transformed into a flashy choice for investment. I saw this happening years ago and yet it still it surprises me. This city isn’t the way I left it.

My work has changed immensely too.

With The Women’s Bakery, I was most recently in Rwanda at the end of 2015 when we were at the tail-end of our first cohort, before the launch of our first Kigali-based bakery. We had a group of women, start-up capital, and big dreams. We were fine-tuning our business model, trying to refine how we could best educate and empower women for economic opportunity throughout Rwanda (and East Africa).

This week, I had the incredible honor and experience of baking, observing, and tasting our nutritious (and delicious) bread from these same women, in our 6 days-a- week bakery. Beet, banana, carrot, and honey bread galore, the intricate process of making this bread proves, once again, that the application of education is potent leverage for opportunity. Our bakery, lined with green metal, sits amidst a bustling part of the city as proof that commitment, belief, and grit can make dreams a reality.

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My eyes filled with unexpected tears when I was shown how to properly knead and shape some of our new products, like our tresse bread, for example. Patient with me, our ladies demonstrated the varying preparation techniques for ideal fermentation and shaping. I loved being taught. I loved baking with women who were now our teachers. The moment was small, but it left a deep impact.

Our work as a service-provider in Rwanda continually changes too. We’re training more women’s groups this year AND for the businesses we’ve co-launched, we are seeking and exploring avenues for profitability.

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To see tangible change like this is evocative and meaningful because you are reminded (humbly) that the things we work, sweat, yearn, and long for can actually happen.

Though incremental at times, change does deliver.

In the year since I’ve last been on this side of the world, my work, the landscape, culture, and atmosphere of Rwanda aren’t the only pieces of life that have changed here.

The girls I have supported in school since 2012 are all nearly graduated and exploring post-graduate options. The teachers, like the students have moved on too. My Peace Corps site in the Eastern Province has since seen 3 additional volunteers and educators. The sports materials our soccer team acquired through a grant were stolen. The care-taker of the cows at my old school passed away. My host father has a booming milk business. My Kinyarwanda teacher got married and a baby. The woman who helped take care of my house (and me) has made enough of an income to buy goats, pigs, and a cow. One of my students now posts regularly on Instagram.

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Rwanda has provided me a unique lens by which I can measure the change around me – and within me. I’m realizing, each time I come back, that I come back a different person. Like the changing architecture, views, and life circumstances of my friends in Rwanda, I too have pivoted, made mistakes, adopted new ideas, achieved new successes, and continue to grow into just being me.

Sometimes, these changes are visible. It’s easy to see when I’ve grown my hair long or have opted for a different style of clothing. It’s also relatively straight-forward to speak about updates on my family – their work, homes, and families.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder, how to express the internal change that has molded, shaped, and impacted our development as people.

How do I contextualize the joy of a new relationship?

How do I give words to the changes I’ve experienced in how I view gender, faith, politics, and policy?

These are just some of the questions.

Change happens over time – with small (and big) experiences – and we are challenged each day to enter conversations, relationships, and life with what has already happened to us.

Perhaps the struggle is not choosing how we express our change, but instead, we can choose to faithfully move forward into it. We don’t have to be afraid of change. It’s going to happen. The weighty, more implicative question remains what we will do.

I sat in our Kigali bakery this week, chatting with a Rwandan male that explicitly (and genuinely) expressed concern over what the implications would be with the plethora of executive orders released throughout the week in the United States. Like many, he was apprehensive about the onslaught of change happening so quickly.

Today, on a much-needed slow Saturday morning, I took the time to catch-up and read all that was taking place in public policy from the White House. I was appalled, shocked, and in disbelief.

I considered the changes I have noticed so intensely within our bakeries, within Rwanda, and within myself and wondered, how much change can America take?

I don’t know. I’m tired of not knowing, but honestly, nobody does.

What I do know, for certain, is that change does not have the final say. We do.

Like these hills that remind me all that I have been through for the past 5 years, we will overcome.

And whether it’s about your country, your work, or yourself, we have the communal responsibility to join each other. We can’t give up – not now. Not ever.

Because places, like people change, I think they can serve as mirrors for the way in which we see our own progression through life. Perhaps places can serve as powerful mechanisms in this way, addressing change without agenda, without reservation.

I’m grateful for Rwanda because of this. I’m grateful I have a place that helps me benchmark my life, propelling me forward with new dreams, goals, and hopes, mindful of how far I have come.

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adulting.

Reflecting on the last year, and in preparation for 2017, I’ve noticed the development of a strange phenomenon that has taken hold in my life: adulting.

Adulting: a lovely millennial-driven term that alludes to the process of transformation from the formative years of youth to being somehow “grown.”

Just a year ago, while visiting a museum in Montgomery, Alabama in early January, a curious, spirited, middle-aged woman pulled me aside gently to ask about my age.

“I don’t mean to be nosy, but my dear, are you grown?”

I hesitated for a moment. Grown? What the heck was she talking about?

“Ma’am, I just turned 27…”

“No! Oh my. I thought you weren’t anywhere over the age of 20! It’s those clothes, your spirit, you seem young!”

I’m sure this can (and should) be taken as a compliment. But, coming from a refined Southern woman, I’m not so sure that it was. Alas, this was a year ago, and because 2016 was you know, 2016, I grew up a lot. I came into my own and so yeah, if I saw that woman again I would proclaim boldly and without reservation: I am grown, honey!

To be sure, I’ve engaged in adult-like tendencies for a few years now: I pay my bills on time, I plan and cook meals, I know the ins-and-outs of my health insurance policy, I budget when possible, and I understand weird concepts like 401k, HOA, quarterly taxes, and swaddling.

Yet, the actual experience of maturity and “growing up” are felt more starkly in paradigm shifts and “long-view” perspectives than it does through the day-t0-day responsibilities of being a grown woman. This growing sense of becoming an adult is less about the things I do and more attune to the ideas, knowledge, and experience I gain.

We commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day this week and so I set aside 20 minutes at the start of my morning to reflect on one of my favorite quotes from the famed Civil Rights Leader:

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For years, I have read quotations like these and appreciated the timeless sentiment they hold for each generation. After all, I’ve owned Martin Luther King Jr. books on his best speeches, messages of reconciliation, and case for justice since I was a young teenager. These idioms and words of wisdom have shaped the woman I am – the woman I want to be – and so it’s not as if the power of them has left me untainted.

Yet, I don’t think until recently that I could tangibly understand them.

The arc of history meant little to me back when I was a 21-year old. I was too young to notice patterns, to observe implications, or note the impact of things that were happening to me. Simply because of the lack of perspective, I couldn’t have known the influence my brother would have on my life, or the direction I would take because of a trip to the continent of Africa, or really, who I would become as I entered a journey of faith: full of bible studies, spiritual questions, small groups, church visits, and real-life, existential experiences.

In my early twenties, I couldn’t yet see the evolution of my past. I couldn’t appreciate the movement of time and what happens over the course of days, and months, and years. I didn’t yet know how we can and often change – sometimes, in unexpected ways.

Now, near the end of my twenties, it’s as though my past has come into a sharper view with stronger lenses; I see how my travels and relationships across the United States and the world affected my political, religious, and personal attitudes; I know how my educational background shifted my perception of others; and perhaps most importantly, I have experienced how commitment to justice, fairness, and love plants seeds of change with time.

The world does not become better overnight. But with the passing of days, people and circumstances do change.

I have.

Later this week, I saw another quote worthy of note, from Civil Rights Leader Angela Davis, that said,

I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

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I immediately loved the sentiment, namely because it began to capture the feelings and change that I have experienced within my adult life – a subtle shift from only observing, to believing, and eventually, doing.

It’s more than understanding inspiring quotes too – it’s also knowing how to comfort my friends in times of grief; it’s discerning the right moment to share truth; and it involves valuing yourself enough to take care of yourself as you would any other person.

Being an adult is hard work.

As an adult-in-progress, I hold both perspective and a future together.

There are days when I would rather play in the mountains, roller-blade around the park, and eat three (or four) scoops of ice cream. Sometimes, I do those things, and it’s awesome.

But on a lot of days, I recognize that I have a responsibility to both the life I have lived and the life I will continue to live. There is no such thing as a compartmentalized person, and so I know that I can be all parts of me fully, all at once. Knowing the kind of perspective that comes with age, I am anxious about the people, places, and circumstances of my life now and how it will affect my life in five, ten, or fifteen years.

So, when does this adult-sort-of-thing happen? 25? 27? 30? 35?

Perhaps, and what I tend to believe, is that you don’t wake up one morning and voila! You are an adult. Instead, it happens with time. With people. With life experience.

At some point, you begin to hold all your life together, in one basket, and appreciate it. Honor it. Protect it. I like this part of being an adult. I’m willing to take on that kind of maturity, because it means that I don’t have to isolate one part of me.

As an adult, I know who I am.

And, I can be her. I like her.

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.
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