What is true about me?

There are spectacular rabbit-holes that propel you deeper, lower, and yet still further into the bottomless content of the internet. Be careful out there in cyberspace.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. That time that you glance at your watch and oh hey, it’s 9:05pm. Next thing you know, it’s nearly midnight and you have long since forgotten the thing you were looking into in the first place. Oops.

Following an impressive Netflix binge on ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder (I finished the first two seasons in just over a week!), I was curious to know more about Viola Davis – more specifically, her story, what motivates her, and the influences she’s had as she has entered adulthood and acting. Particularly, in lght of being a middle-aged black woman on a popular prime-time show lead. I wanted to dig further.

If you haven’t seen the show – you need to. Immediately. I’m not always a huge fan of television-watching (The Bachelor withstanding) and yet this series has been my favorite in years. Davis plays the powerfully interesting, messy, real, strong, vulnerable, and unboxable (my word for those who ardently and enthusiastically work outside the boundaries society tries to contain them in) defense lawyer Annalise Keating. Annalise is complex, but in being so, invites audience members into that experience. Everything that she displays is incredibly…raw and so very human.

Upon watching Davis’ interviews, speeches, and conversations on her life’s journey, she said one thing in particular that caught my eye:

“I believe that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, truly being who you are, and I’ve spent too long apologizing for that.”

It got me thinking.

Have you ever taken the time to sit down, with yourself, and articulate who you are?

It’s uncomfortable at first. Sitting there, with pen and paper, how can you possibly capture the essence that makes you, well, you.

It’s a unique, lovely, and still undefinable area of grey that we skip over too often.

As a child of God, we are free. That’s essential when considering identity because that means that God allows opportunity to live outside the pre-existing boxes we, others, and the world place upon us. However, because we are inescapably human, we still must understand ourselves well enough to stand firm in the identity we have been given. We are in need of the power of words to express our hearts, experiences, and beliefs. We need some kind of awareness. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be written in Old English – but we must have it.

If you are unable to capture the essence of who you are then you run the risk of someone else telling YOU who you must be. I think that’s what Viola Davis is getting at – being, recognizing, celebrating yourself is an important part of living purposefully and in communion with God.

In the spirit of grey-ness though, you don’t have some kind of arrival point with your identity. Your life unfolded is an experience with who you are, and so a chunk of that is left to be discovered.

While it’s fun to consider the smaller-day-to-day actions of our personhood (“I prefer long, hot baths” or, “I enjoy walks in the park with the sun shining bright”), it’s also important to move through this process on a deeper level.

Ask yourself, what are my truths? Said another way, What is true about me?

Using written statements, I came up with a few things that I hope will help you to get started. I have done this exercise before, identifying various “values” I hold to be true (one-word answers) but I think allowing complete sentences to form brings a fullness to whatever truths you could unearth.

My truths. 

Diversity – in anything – is a major value in my life. In the absence of passion, I feel lost. I will talk to anyone. But, laughing with anyone is even sweeter. Conflict makes me extremely uncomfortable. I love God because God loves me. God brings purpose, hope, and the ability to be known in my life. I’m a minimalist – I don’t really care that much about material objects. I’m attracted most to resiliency. And authenticity. I sometimes desire to be in two places at once, as if my heart was in two different places. I have been in love once. It’s been the hardest thing to let go of.  I choose to believe that things can get better. Always. My greatest fear is that I will lose the wonder of living. I don’t ever want to stop dreaming. I’m really, really glad I get to be a woman in the world. I am inspired most by the commitment to vulnerability, strength, and value as a woman. I’m down-to-earth and incredibly curious about people, the world, and why things are the way they are. I am a child of God – above anything else.

Phew.

I don’t necessarily think I am now perfectly captured on paper – oh no. No, no, no. But as a writer, I often believe that declaring our truths – with our pens and pencils – reminds us of what we are here for. Of what’s important. That’s a deeply significant process – one that we can’t ignore. Truth statements may not reveal the starker complexities we carry, the burdens we have faced, or the moments we have shared with others, but it’s a fine place to start.

*

Perhaps that’s why I often turn to poetry to bring an elevated sentiment to the words I fumble around with.That long rabbit-hole of watching various Viola Davis videos led me to “circle back around” with perhaps one of my favorite poems ever, Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou.I listened to her recite her words and I just knew – this woman, this is her string of truths.

Man or woman – this is a beautiful piece that shows the power of truths in declaration.

May you breathe easier, rest, and enjoy the beautiful person you were created to be.

*

Phenomenal Woman

BY MAYA ANGELOU

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.

 

king’s kitchen talk

My dad dropped an important truth on me a couple of weeks ago: he had met and shaken hands with Rosa Parks back in the 80’s when she visited Denver.

Being a lover of all things Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Jr., and racial equality, I couldn’t help but bathe in the shock that my dad had actually had this experience. Part of being an adult, I think, is realizing, recognizing, and valuing the fact that our parents were once – and still are – humans all their own. Yes, they had lives before the little ones came along.

As we sat squished together in the car to find Christmas lights scattered across Denver, at the very place he had met Rosa, I asked, “how in the world have you never told me this before…?”

Just a week after learning that my dad escorted a group of distracted, unknowing high school kids to meet “the mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” I found myself amidst sparkling sunshine, old pavement, and historic buildings in Montgomery, Alabama. My feet had landed in a place where much of the movement had started and catalyzed; I was on the soil of history.

Montgomery, before anything else, is historic. The monuments, buildings, people, parks, and places are laden with history. Amazingly, this is a place that was “the cradle of the Confederacy” and also the site of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, the origins of the Montgomery Improvement Association and freedom rides, the hot-bed for Martin Luther King’s speeches on non-violence, and the destination of the Selma-Montgomery march.

IMG_0978

The capital of Alabama, Montgomery has around 200,000 something people, but it also has my best friend, Rachel. Brilliant, determined, patient, and fiercely loyal, this girl and I have been having adventures since 2007. She’s that person you can call to talk about nothing in particular, or to explore some of life’s most pressing questions. We’ve been known to have 2,3, or 4 hour Skype sessions. Hello. She’s the kind of friend that you share your ice cream with, because let’s be real, you can’t do that with everyone. We’ve been friends long enough that she has managed to put up with all my craziness – and loves me not in spite of it, but because of it. She doesn’t expect me to be anything but myself. That’s real, authentic friendship.

So, why not visit “The Capital of Dreams” and see her work in the Alabama Archives, all of the beautiful oak trees, and of course, these pinnacle places and stories of some of the most important parts of our country’s history? Working remotely, though quite challenging at times, also has amazing perks. Travel is one of them. I can literally work from anywhere.

*

So, I came. From cheering on the Crimson Tide for the national championship to exploring Selma on my birthday to watching far-too-long episodes of The Bachelor, these two weeks in Alabama were precious to me. There really wasn’t a dull moment. And, honestly, it reminded me that our feeling and ever-seeking desire for “home” is less about place – more about people.

One afternoon, as I stood beneath a large painting of Rosa Parks at the appropriately named Rosa Parks Library & Museum, I was overcome with emotion. A large quotation above the painting with a multitude of colors read,

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear. – Rosa Parks

How desperately I want to live a life without fear, I thought.

I moved to my left, stumbling (literally – I am kind of a klutz) into a sculpture of Dr. Martin Luther King, to signify a defining moment at 309 Jackson Street at Dexter Avenue Church’s Parsonage, where he was staying while preaching and working in Montgomery.

The sculpture captured King in his kitchen. His forehead was crumpled. His fingers lifted high, with an expression of release, surrender, and honesty. It was 1956 and he was 27 (weird to think that I am too!) and had been helping to lead the bus boycotts for the African American community – in efforts to debunk the societal norm of white supremacy. He was leading a community onward to equality.

But, the fight wasn’t easy. He sat in his kitchen with a small cup of brown coffee, late into the night, because someone had called and said simply, “get out…or we will blow your brains out.”

The moment captured – with his hands held open – was the moment he began to pray. He wrote about this in his book, Stride Toward Freedom.

I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”

All of this didn’t hit me until later in the week.

As I always do, wherever I am, I went on a walk.

On this day, the walk led around the curves of tall red-bricked warehouses and rusty white columns of Grecian-inspired architecture. I was listening to a podcast – Rachel introduced me to these gems of knowledge – and I was watching my feet glide over cracked pavement when I looked up. Before me was the small, simple parsonage of Dr. Martin Luther King – the place that he had this beautiful experience of prayer. A bit weepy, I put my sunglasses on. I thanked God, because I think He knew I needed to see this – in person.

IMG_0786

But as it is with God, that wasn’t the end of this story.

Just days before I was set to come back to Colorado, I headed to pick up Rachel from work. I had walked in and out of historic Old Alabama Town, thinking about what it really means to own what we believe.

How do we transform from awareness to action; from truth to love?

I decided to turn on yet another podcast – this one from Colorado Community Church.

Speaking about the power of Jesus as a discipler – demystifying the often-accepted idea that we have to do the work – Pastor Robert proclaimed that it is JESUS that even discipled a man like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was GOD, through the divine nature of the Holy Spirit, speaking to him in his kitchen.

It was the third time in a week that this particular story had come up – first at the museum, then at the parsonage, and finally in a sweet, unexpected moment walking through green-lined urban parks.

When something like this comes up one, two, and three times, I know there is something I need to learn. Something I need to reconsider.

*

We are celebrating Dr. King this coming Monday and as we do, I know that I’ll be thinking about the power of the truth he stood for. The gospel meant so much to him that it informed and transformed an entire movement of people.

IMG_0580

I’m scared to acknowledge what I believe to be true sometimes. This could be about my faith – but also about issues in politics, identity, and what it means to be a woman. Frankly, I’m usually too concerned with what other people will think about what I believe.

I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I don’t think it’s what God wants us to do – and moreover, it keeps up from recognizing and seeing the truth that is there for the taking.

Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.

*

IMG_0948

“I’ll be 100”

I had two important conversations last week.

One was like a perfect glass of orange juice on a Saturday morning, glazed with pulp and fine laughter too. My Sunday small group sat comfortably in a circle, grazing on hummus-infused sandwiches and crunchy tortilla chips when one of my newer friends remarked, “I’ll be 100,” before sharing an innate part of her life. She meant that she would be transparent, honest, with a bit of “you get what you get.” Grinning all around, our discussion was real, or “100” and it always is there in our little church family. It has been the expectation set and the expectation that has continued; we share life.

Days prior, I had the other talk, only this one was a far cry from OJ; instead it was more like a sloshy, artificial, lukewarm 7-Eleven slushie; a hot mess.

We, this person I trusted and myself, sat at the coffee brown high stools of a local Starbucks nervously grasping our warm cups of Americano. Pursing my lips, I waited. He told me of his appreciation of my “courage” to share my story with him but that ultimately, the revelation was not enough for us to, well, frankly, stay together.

A melting slushie is even worse as the flavor dissipates and becomes diluted with water, and this exchange was not different.

I’m going to be “100” here and write this because it needs to be written.

The details do not matter but it was painful; it was rejection.

If you have shared your story; your truth; your experiences; your heart; your struggles; your secrets and you have been rejected, I am sorry.

I am sorry because that is the last thing we should be doing. As neighbors or family, or friends, or within any kind of community, acceptance, mercy, and love no matter what is both the pinnacle and foundation of relationship.

Personally, I have seen enough of the opposite of these kinds of reactions and it is time we move intentionally in a different direction.

I shared my past. My past is full – isn’t that typically the case for any human, for all of us?

Try this. Go walking down your street, turn the corner, look around. The people you skim over? They have been through something. That’s the truth and there isn’t any other way around it. The life we build, the things we go through – it makes us who we are.

If you have struggled with healthy eating, sexuality, broken families, people-pleasing; stand up because I have been there too. Life is messy and it is no use pretending otherwise. My hope is that by sharing, others feel inclined – free – to do so too. Presenting a past relationship on a silver platter in this conversation was risky. It holds stories, feelings, and memories that are some of the most important in my heart and in my life. But I did it. I pressed the imposition of vulnerability because much like facing an overbearing monster in life, you just have to set your own fears aside.

I told him of a woman that I did love and what it was like to go through a relationship like that. The good, the bad, the surprising, the difficulty, and mostly, the isolation of a mostly joyful experience in my life.

Grace, depth, and kindness exited the front door and fear and misunderstanding, with a basket of judgment, sat down and made themselves at home.

Worst of all, he admitted his own lack of knowledge on that part of my life and when pressed, I don’t think he even wanted to know more. Rejection and self-righteousness. Ugh. What’s uglier than that?

How do we bring our stories to the table, connect and dig deeper to find how God has uniquely created us and uses everything in our life for an ultimate good? How do our relationships and experiences serve in a larger picture of refinement and growth?

That question probes me, guides me, and has fueled me whether I have been in Colorado or far outside these boundaries. It’s also a major reason I write; it’s in books, pens, and ideas that we see patterns and experiences that prove there is something more to all of this.

It’s here where I feel called most into ministry – particularly in cross-cultural contexts.

The church needs to be safe.

I hope – I feel called – to be a part of that.

I want to enter ministry and discipleship training to develop further my relationship with God so that I, along with my friends, family, strangers, whomever, can feel safe with whatever their life has looked like.

Shame is not from God; it should not have a place in our church. It’s existed too much in my own relationship and understanding of God, and I am anxiously excited to give that away and replace it with something far more meaningful, truthful, and long-lasting. The ministry training will positively impact, I hope, the way I may work within and outside the church walls down the road.

But, honestly, it will also deepen, change, and challenge the way I understand God. As the training is only one month away, my prayer is that my heart is ready to leave the guilt, shame, secrets, and lies behind. It’s time to embrace truth. It’s time to seek how God sees me. Not how the world defines me, the way I envision my life, or the way the people I love most see me. Those things pale in comparison to being a daughter of God himself. When I left Rwanda in December 2013, I jumped right back into this American life. I took a job. I went back to Rwanda. I came back. I took the same job again. Not once did I really process in a healthy way, and before I get back to my roots in working with an organization that promotes women’s business and empowerment in East Africa, I really do need time to invest in God and my spiritual development.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. –Micah 6:6

If you are interested in learning more about what I will be doing this summer, please feel free to comment or contact me via email or phone. I would be happy to share.

If you are also interested in contributing to my fundraising efforts, you can visit this link here:

http://kbm.donorpages.com/TheExperience/HeatherNewell/

love will change everything.

Last week, I entered what has been deemed sacred by defenders of gym life, the locker room, gabbing abruptly on my phone. Dirty looks were cast my way but I allowed them to bounce off the ever-present mirrors around us.

I chuckled loudly and in the midst of tennis shoes, spandex, and work clothes, I realized these people are also perhaps heavy onlookers because not only am I shouting vigorously, but I am speaking Kinyarwanda. Another language, girl. Oh.

I gazed at one of those omnipresent mirrors and gave myself a funny look. How is it 2015 and you are standing half-dressed at one hell of a gym (10,000 square feet!) in South Denver, simultaneously laughing with Rwandans thousands of miles, hours, and lifetimes away? Technology, the world, and communications never cease to amaze me – even after all this time of adjusting to long-distance, cross-cultural relationships.

*

That afternoon – and in culmination of a few days of conversations – I spoke with all of “the girls” via Skype. Some of the contact is regular; Divine and I chat weekly, but because Maisara, Zahara, Yazina, and Eugenie don’t keep their phones charged while at school, the conversations occur a bit more sparingly.

Epic, are they, when we finally have our chats again.

Hence the hootin’ and hollerin’ in the locker room in good ole’ suburban America.

It doesn’t seem long ago – and yet it was – when I first met these young women who had only motivation, persistence, and ethic to fuel their commitment to learning. In a span of 4 years – because of their own opportunities and awareness of themselves – they have developed an underlying belief in what they are doing. They have seen it works.

Maisara was a shy, timid, and tired young lady when we first met. I’ll never forget that first home visit – her body was physically present, but her mind was far, far away. She pursed her lips in hesitation and fear as I got to know her. As she opened up though, she blossomed. She’s a natural leader, with intellect and charisma, doing everything with intention. I love that about her, and I have heard it in her voice, and seen it displayed in her actions. She scores goals, aces exams, and studies every free moment she has. No longer timid, she can brighten any room she enters.

Zahara has always been more gregarious, rambunctious, and let’s be real, crazy, but she’s oozing this quality of balance now. She is maturing and honing her strengths beautifully as she becomes soccer captain and head girl at her new (brand new  – just built last year!) school. She’d drive me nuts when I would teach her class lessons – she was so dang talkative – but as she’s grown up a bit, she understands better how to utilize her sociability. People can’t help but want to be around her.

Divine is more thrust into her life as a Catholic woman than ever. On campus, she tells me that she is a “prayer warrior” and leader for student religious events. She’s always been faithful, but now, I sense it’s seeping into everything; namely her education. Success, she says, is not the pinnacle. Trusting in the process is. Take that for a chunk of wisdom. Her education is fueled and funneled as a top priority along with her identities as a Christian and daughter. She is starting to fully grasp what it is to be well-rounded; understanding that her best qualities are available to her in anything she might do.

Yazina’s grades are improving – promising, considering the poor girl is loaded with Chemistry, Math & Physics courses. Bleh. When I was in Kigali last summer and I visited her school, she was intensely worried about her marks. Be patient, my dear, her grandmother would tell her over a broiled pot of bananas and greens. And indeed, it’s getting better for her. She wants to be a nurse or a doctor, so the only road ahead is the one full of calculators, tests, and laboratories. When I met her back in 2011, I noticed her observant mind right away. She’s still like that. Only with a little more sass.

I only began to facilitate education sponsorship for Eugenie last August, but I have known her now for over three years. She’s diligent, studious, kinder than most people I know, and also eaten alive by an incessant need for perfection. Stemmed from a forever begrudged father who is always groaning about raising 4 girls and never fathering a son, she has always wanted to prove something. It’s an innate human quality, and these young Rwandan women and ladies are no exception to the rule. In our conversations, she’s learning how to not be perfect. We’ve all been there right? It’s a necessary lesson, and one that serves a 20-year old girl quite well. Hell, we’re all still learning how to graciously do that, right?

*

I share all of this – their summaries and life updates – not to solely draw light on an important issue (education for women) but to address the reality that, like scripture tells us,

For wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

Supporting them is a commitment that I happily stand by. These long conversations, money transfers, readings of tuition statements…it pales to what the experience has been like for them but also for me. Frankly, by staying faithful to this commitment, God has remained faithful to all of us. As you can read above, they are thriving at their schools. More than that, they are thriving women. That’s the real victory. Humbly, fortunately, and by the grace of God, I can say the same for myself.

ephesiansIn this experience, God has shed light on how to serve.

What’s appropriate; what’s not. What my role is; what it’s not. When it works; when it doesn’t.

Some have called this charity. Some of labeled it ministry. Still others have commended the great and noble act of advocating for a person when they may not have the means to do so themselves.

I smile when I get comments like that. I appreciate that heartfelt sentiment. But let me be the first to say, God has impressed something important on me in this process.

This is not about me. I’ve prayed that, spoken that, and have come to believe that. I do this because ultimately, these girls are my friends. I love them. We are called to covenantal relationships of love that require agape that is unconditional. So, sure, I help them go to school. But when Rwanda was my home, they were the frameworks, building blocks, and foundation for my life. They cooked me meals, showed me how to get around, and laughed with me. They protected me. They stayed with me. They do some of this – even now. We talk and I am reminded to be patient. To practice intentionality. They remind me what’s real in life – and what is not. That, is truly a relationship.

I love cross-cultural experiences because of that – you learn quickly that the human experience is far more wide and far-reaching than you can ever even grasp.

Here’s the kicker, though.

At least in my life, the kind of relationships I describe above?

You and I aren’t only called to do this kind of stuff for people thousands of miles away who may need the opportunity. We are called to seek ways to serve, share, and do life with the people in our inner-circle or periphery too. Just because we can build from afar doesn’t mean we aren’t called to build right next door.

In many ways, it’s harder to engage in covenant with those close to us – especially in proximity to our hearts, homes, and past. It might hurt a little more – just a warning.

But I can say this: God wants this. God seeks covenant with us, and in turn, exhorts us to a covenant relationship with other people. Moms, dads, brothers, bosses, roommates, whatever or whomever it may be. Can you do this with absolutely everyone? No, of course not. But live like you can. Live a bit like Jesus and your life might look a little different. It’s not a self-righteous thing, it’s a love thing. When you realize that, everything changes. It did with the girls in Rwanda and it’s happening with my life here too.

That’s transformation, my friends.
Love will change everything.

*

From Ephesians 4:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of Godand become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Who Am I? (part three)

Frankie: Father, that was a great sermon….made me weep.

Father Hovak: What’s confusing you this week?

Frankie: Oh, it’s the same old, “one God-three God thing.”

Father Hovak: Frankie, most people figure out by kindergarten that it’s about faith.

Frankie: Is it sort of like snap, crackle, pop, all rolled in one box?

Father Hovak: You are standing outside my church, comparing God to Rice Krispies?

*

Frankie, in Million Dollar Baby, is an under appreciated boxing coach who stoops to – gasp! – coaching a dynamic, backwoods woman (Hilary Swank). As the film progresses, viewers observe as Frankie moves beyond his structured reasons of order, relationships, and sport and instead, surrenders to the understanding that limitations are only what we make them – faith included. This is not unlike many “walks with Christ”: God is before, with, and beyond us. The Bible points to a myriad of characteristics regarding God (a leader, comforter, defender, lover, all-knowing, all-powerful…) and while it’s important to track these in Biblical precedence, it’s also an experiential relationship that is revealed heavily when engaged in.

I think back on important moments where I felt the Spirit itself and here’s one I would like to share. In it, a group of young Rwandan leaders are together playing guitar and singing. This moment was captured by a dear friend of mine while beginning a week long boys’ leadership camp. Some of the students that attended were blind and it became a genuine opportunity for stereotypes, assumptions, and nuggets of generalizations to be named, discussed, and broken. God works in all of us; the students singing felt as strongly about that as anyone.

*

There’s a movement in the United States, with a vision cast by an energized and compassionate Texan, Jennie Allen, called the If: Gathering.

The premise is simple, but the ramifications are huge:

What if God is Who He says He is?

Communities of women all over the world are gathering and taking this seriously –  fellow-shipping and praying together. Building communities and networks of kindness, hope, and church. Not the structure – but the people.

Even at the church I attend, we are exploring the idea of “covenant” in our young adult community groups – practically and relationally seeking what it means to build a relationship like this with God, others, and our community.

If we say God : (fill in the blank) –

How does this impact what we do?

What does our functional belief system reveal about how we define God?

So, here on my little home of a blog, I’ve been asking the question Who Am I? in contemplating some of these questions. I see, feel, and know God to be an experience. Dynamic, creative, gracious, redemptive, strong, and without blemish. He knows His people and His people are his jewel, remnant, and perfect reward. Above all, God is transformative.

Especially in the name of Truth. Because that’s exactly who He is: TRUE.

Unlike the biblical fire stones of debate that are easily found online, I’m not talking about theological truth, doctrinal truth, or truth as any given person relativizes in their world. I’m talking about life. About the lives we have lived.

Good, bad, beautiful, ugly, weird, eccentric…whatever it has been. Because here is the thing: the PAST is our truth. It doesn’t have to hold us down in bondage by definition, but ultimately: it has happened. We are living to tell about it. Speak. Truth. God has been alongside us the entire time. He knows.

God is transformative because He encourages these discussions. About being true to what has been your life story and maybe what you hope it to be.

However, instead of asking “what do I want to do with my life?” or “what are my gifts?” the trans formative quality of these “truths” can probe a question like,

What is He calling me to?

When that’s the question life becomes a lot less scary.  Fear? It will be taken care of. Doubt? Work through it. It’s normal and it’s no less painful, but step on the right path and at some point these concerns feel….resolved. You walk through them, but you know in the end, you’ll be taken care of.

All of this to say, truth included, that’s not only how I see God working in our world, but that’s precisely why life is taking me where it is in the next few months…and years.

*

I am entering an equipping ministry training for 2 months because I believe God is asking for all of my truth and how to enter into conversations with others so they can do the same. Truth really does set people free. I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

After training, I will start a new job. It’s unrelated and totally different from a ministerial type of position. Yet, working with others cross-culturally, building relationships, and building a business model need the foundational wisdom of how to engage others in meaningful conversations and experiences. So, the ministry training will inevitably inform this experience too. I’ll be working for The Women’s Bakery – http://www.womensbakery.com.

Between sharing these two upcoming opportunities and changes in my life with friends and family the last couple of weeks, I have fielded some questions that are important to address.

I have included some of them here. Should you have more, please feel free to contact me at heathermnewell@yahoo.com.

In so far as understanding more about the ministry & equipping training program, you can also visit the ministries link here: http://forgeforward.org/equipping/the-experience.

*

Is the Experience related to working for the Women’s Bakery?

No – they are two separate opportunities. The Experience is training; the Women’s Bakery will be a full-time, paid position where I will be based out of Denver, working as the US program director stateside (from home!).

How long is the Experience? The Women’s Bakery?

Two months. I will start mid-May and end mid-July. I will start with the bakery either at the end of July or in early August. I will be traveling to East Africa a few times a year to get experience on the ground, but most of the year, I will be here in Denver.

What exactly do you do during the training with Forge Ministries?

The Experience – the titled training program with Forge – is a two month phased program. The first part is direct training in how to engage in cross-cultural ministry. The second phase is an international mission trip. The third section is utilizing teaching skills and leading a camp for young Christians at the YMCA. The final part includes a mission opportunity stateside as well as “life planning” that involves working with a mentor to map out our lives – past, present, & future. I will be here in Colorado for most of the training – but I will be housed with the other program participants – I will not be living at home. Once I finish, I will return to living at my apartment in the Denver area.

 Will you be converting people with the Experience?

The intention of the program is to build and strengthen the individuals’ relationship with God so they know how to cultivate the kind of world and “kingdom” that God and Jesus speak about in the Bible. Essentially, how to build community. The program focuses intensely on nurturing your own spiritual walk and faith in God so that you live the life that God has called you to.

 Why is the Experience costing you so much money?

It’s a training experience that is literally, experiential. This involves travel. A bulk of the expense is traveling abroad for a mission project – either in Haiti, Guatemala, or Honduras. However, we also will be getting housed, fed, and taught, all of which require financial commitments. To donate please visit the following link:

http://kbm.donorpages.com/TheExperience/HeatherNewell/

*

write.

Fancy permulate brilliant delicious ideas.

Chemo letter to my lover anything and everything.

Columbine shooting Boulder breaking through sizzling.

*

These are the words humming in the room just off of Colfax and Race Streets in the Milheim House (built in 1893) where I’m attending my first workshop, class, session – whatever you want to call it – to pursue writing.

Well, pursue writing at least a little more seriously.

I have all these journals and all these ideas and all these stories and all these people are sitting around the table and I’m thinking,

WHAT…? What am I doing?

Here in our classroom, we have ski instructors from Boulder, noteworthy people known for historical Colorado events, comedians, travelers, and a professor who is a trained writing therapist. Most excellent.

But in all seriousness, I put on a bold face because hey, I’m here to write, and if I really believe we all have stories worth sharing I might as well just hit the ground running.

I realize quickly what it is I want to write. What I deeply yearn to share about, to express, to reveal, and what’s important is that our teacher presses further.

Why don’t you write?

The honest answer, for me, was true on both sides of the equation (why I love writing and why sometimes I refuse to altogether):

ADMITTING TRUTH.

I write because it’s the one place I feel safe to do so, and I refuse to write for the very same reason.

It’s scary to sit in a chair, with your pen and paper, and realize all of the tools sitting in front of you.

Yet, our teacher is attune to this – having experience in creative writing for years and years – and so she doesn’t let us simply escape this tension. We must call it for what it is.

*

After an hour of a couple of writing exercises and setting the format for the 4-week class, we address the battle of the “inner critic”. One woman calls it her, “inner bitch” and what I found interesting is that in a variety of contexts, we have a different name for the very thing that speaks hate into our lives.

It could be evil, negativity, self-loathing, the inner critic, doubt, or Satan himself, but it’s all there.

In writing, you might hear things like, “it’s been written before” or “really, writing? You think that’s a worthy pursuit?”

In my own exercise, I mapped out my conversation with my inner critic like this:

Heather: “It’s time. The story has already begun, and let’s be real, has never really closed – what if I just start to capture what that love meant?” 

Inner Critic: “Oh okay. So, sit down. Flounder around with your tales of fetching water and banana trees. You have a blog full of those damn stories and they are getting old. Where is your new material?” 

Heather: “You and I both know there’s a kind of process and storyline that has been left unwritten. Intentionally. Let’s go! Let’s shatter that fear and just write.” 

Inner Critic: “How can you pretend that you’ll even remember the slightest details – the ones that will actually make the story meaningful? The ones that will help you even remember tell it at all?” 

Heather: “I’ll take the very approach I took when I experienced it myself. I figured it out as I went along. And guess what? I still don’t have it all figured out – but there’s a certain release of that in writing. That’s what I want to choose. That kind of acceptance. In who I am as a writer. Someone who is honest.

Inner Critic: “Good luck with that.”

Heather: “You can sit over there when freedom, clarity, and depth come to service. Those boxes of journals that sit in my room? Those memories? Those ticket stubs of moto rides, international packages, and plane tickets? The letters? They meant something. They still do. They will be a weapon to destroy you. The catalyst to action. The reason I lift my story to a place of confidence, worth being shared. The experience will be enough to move past the brokenness you so deeply want to maintain.”

*

We don’t write for a lot of reasons. A lot of it has to do with fear, self-doubt, and a number of excuses that seem good enough. Tori Morrison herself said that she was often afraid to write her first sentence in any of her works because she was so concerned that the novel wouldn’t become the novel that she had dreamed it to be.

Towards the end of today’s session we had to share two things with the class:

  1. One thing that you learned about yourself as a writer, &
  2. A small writing goal that you are committing yourself to.

For the first point, I realized that I have hung on this “balance beam” of wanting to commit to writing – or not. I no longer want to be there, I want to be all in. I want to do this.

For the second, I am going to be reading through a couple of my journals a week and begin to pull ideas for what it is that I want to write. 2 journals per week will take me some time to work through, but I’m confident that much of the material is already there. Thank goodness for being an obsessive journaler.

The challenge is evolving from that – applying it.

*

I walked out of class with a girl who was quick to ask a few questions about some of the things I had said. I didn’t know why until she talked about being involved with ministry, dealing with a struggle that I mentioned during the session, and also living and serving in Romania for well over 2 years. I hastily said, “ah! Are you a Christian?” And she was, and I am, and as it turns out, so is our workshop teacher. Our teacher came from behind with open arms and simply gushed, “I knew you both were believers.”

Really?

Um, hello, parallels.

I want to know more, but I’ll have to wait until next week.

Until then, I’ll be practicing, doing these exercises, reading my journals, and maybe finally starting to take the leap into a different kind of approach to my writing.

Let’s see what happens.

*