28 things.

28 things I’ve learned in my twenties

Recently, I turned 28.

It felt good. More than that, I feel 28. In the best way possible.

I have lived enough life to have learnt a thing or two, but am still young enough to know that I will forever keep learning. I’m in a good place with that. As I’ve reflected on my years, experiences, and seasons, I put together a list of lessons I have learned – specifically in my twenties. The Roaring Twenties is a time full of varying experiences, full of both exhilaration and mass confusion. They are not easy, but they are formative.

Cheers to more great years to come.

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Asking questions keeps you humble. And helps you make friends.

When we meet new people, we must remember that we know nothing. The best way to start the process of learning about someone? Ask questions. Some questions in my standard repertoire include: if you could eat only one food the rest of your life what would it be? Who has had the biggest influence on your life? Where is your favorite place to visit? If you were an animal, what would you be? Small talk is not dead, my friends.

Snail mail is an important practice.

I grew up in the advent of the internet; we’re talking AOL-style dial-up. I got my first phone at 14. Communication mediums have continually evolved and with the integration of emojis and facetime, it becomes tempting to abandon the practice of writing, sending, and receiving hand-written notes. I grew to love this when I lived in Rwanda; I would spend hours listening to the radio and writing letters to friends in far-off places. Writing notes like this reminds us of our connection. The personal touch shows us also, that we are dearly loved.

Love is a verb. Practice it. 

A parent will visit you across the world. A friend will study with you all night. A lover will keep you safe. A sibling will reach out for help.

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Grace hurts.

Entering relationships of every kind assumes a risk: at some point, we will disappoint or hurt the people around us – even the people we love. Recently, I did something that hurt someone I loved. With some space and time, she forgave me, wholly and completely. I was left in a dizzying circle of doubt: but I hurt you! I can’t take what I did back! I made such a huge mistake! And yet, her grace was supreme. It hurt to accept, but I believe that our relationships hinge upon the ability for us to offer and receive the grace extended to us.

Everyone is a teacher.

On planes, in homeless shelters, in rural farms, and in investment banks you will find humans that you can learn from. Around 25, I began a simple, internal mantra with each person I would meet: “what can I learn from this person today?” Believe me, this isn’t always easy. Without coffee, on my period, or on a crappy day, this would fall by the wayside. But, it remains a practice I take seriously. It brings equity into relationship – and that’s powerful.

Life can be intense, boring, interesting, difficult, passionate, energizing, engaging, and confusing – all at once, even.

Life is not static; it can be a million things all at once. Moreover, the small moments filled with a delicious cold-brew coffee, a beautiful sunset, an act of kindness, or a colorful mural are what sustain us. Instead of seeking “big adventure” all of the time, I’ve learned to be more observant, aware of what small wonders are happening around me.

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Stuff is just stuff.    

My dad always told me: you can only live in one room at once. He was right. I like my laptop. I treasure my books. I hoard my journals. But, there’s a place for stuff, and it should not come before ourselves or the people we love.

Pray with the people you love.

I pray weekly with one of my best friends. This has created a deeper level of fellowship and awareness than I could have ever imagined. Prayer is powerful. I’ve seen it work.

Invite people for a home-cooked meal.

I learned to first host community members when I first was a teacher in the Peace Corps. I was consistently asked to visit homes from students’ families for a meal of potatoes, cassava, and bananas. We often shared our food from one plate. I realized then – as I know now – that there is no better practice of building respect and admiration than by including people in your home and in your meals.

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By simply existing you will “change” the world. You have the power to influence this.

It’s tempting to think (at least as a millennial) that your job alone will carry the value and contribution you have in the world. This isn’t true. Your “change” in the world will be felt in every aspect of your life: in your family, in your neighborhood, on the roads, at coffee shops, and in your participation in civic engagement. Existence merits value which precludes change. Once I realized this, I felt free to know that I could change innumerable things: the precedence for how we treat refugees, how I speak to elders, how I respect strangers, how I manage my money, how I live openly and authentically, and how I commit to a sports team.

There is no secret to happiness.

You could read every self-help book available, but the real “secret” to happiness is that there isn’t one. Happiness is a bountiful mix of contentment, gratitude, and hope. It comes in sharp, surprising ways sometimes. Other seasons it feels absent.

Yet, of this I am sure: we all have the right to be happy. No matter where we are from, or who we are, we deserve to fight for the right to be happy. What I’ve learned, as our society has grown in division and in strife is that our happiness is bound in each other. We can’t seclude or isolate our happiness at the expense of others. It’s completely unacceptable.

Seek wisdom from those who’ve lived more years than you.

I’ve met with a woman for lunch (Red Lobster, in case you were curious) above the age 70 on a regular basis for the past year. Like a sponge, I ask questions and note the lessons they share, ranging from successes to failure. They know more than me, and I respect that.

Your dreams will change.

When I was 21, I wanted to work internationally forever. I thought it would be the only way I could advocate for women’s rights or in deference to poverty issues. With more time in different places, I realized my dreams expounded larger than a job or vocation: I wanted to help. Make a difference. Stand up for others. I could do that in many ways. That was a real kind of liberation.

You won’t be able to explain everything. That’s a good thing.

Like art, things happen in your life that you won’t have the words for. Surviving a motorcycle accident. Falling in love. Losing a loved one. Experiencing Jesus. Meeting the right person at the right time. If we could explain these things, life would be formulaic and rigid. Instead, we live in a world that is full of complexity and mystery. I find comfort in that.

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Long-distance friendships add significant meaning and intention to life.

My 5 best friends live in 5 different places. And yet, we’ve seen each other through years and years of changes, difficulties, successes, and celebrations. We are intentional to stay in each other’s lives, and because of that, it’s worked.

We are formed by the environment around us. That makes traveling even more worthwhile. 

Culture runs deep. Inevitably, we are formed by the people, places, and communities around us. Thus, it’s important to think about the place you live and how it affects your life experience – and how this might be different from someone else.

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Parents are real people.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties I had a jarring realization: at one point, my parents were also in their mid-twenties, just “trying to figure it out.” That brought me a lot of peace and patience for where they are now and the way our relationships have changed. I’ll always be their daughter, but now, I can speak, understand, and see my parents as more than just “mom” or “dad.” We are more than singular identities.

There is no blueprint for how to let go and move on.

One guarantee: life will change. Anticipate it, acknowledge it, prepare for it. In the last eight years, I have lived in over 10 different places. However, as things changed, I took things with me and left pieces of me behind. Our legacy becomes the crevices and corners we have let ourselves be known.

Women can do anything.

During my twenties, women became my superheroes. Men are also incredible people, but women have a way of instigating truth, advocacy, and strength. From my grandmothers to my co-workers to my friends (and yes, to Beyonce) I have seen the ways in which women defy (and continue to defy) all possibilities.

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“Love is love is love is love.”

Before I could believe it, I had to learn it. And learn it, I did. The hard way. I wrestled with what love could be for several years. I recognized who I was. I denied who I was. I wrestled with who I was. I celebrated who I am.

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My early twenties were spent learning about what I want. My mid-and late twenties focused on learning how to have the guts to follow through.

People will want to tell you exactly how they would do something. We all have perspectives, but at the end of the day, the one that matters is the one you carry. At some point, you must know yourself well enough that you live your life accordingly. Trust your gut.

 

Read. As much as you can.

I realized during my twenties that I much prefer non-fiction work to fiction. I like memoirs, sociological pieces, and national narrative pieces. When I returned from Rwanda at 25 my first order of business was getting a library card. I’ve never looked back.

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People want to share their stories. If you listen, you are being richly blessed.

Old stories are like treasured diamonds for some people. More than once, I’ve found myself in hour-long conversations about a person’s path to some circumstance. We all end up somewhere for some reason. It’s too darn interesting not to learn why.

Most clichés about love are true (damnit).

It’s as splendid and as hard as they say, and still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You don’t have to pretend to be happy all the time.

On the enneagram, I am a type 2 (“the helper”) or an ENFP on the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. Hence, I’m all about positivity, enthusiasm, and energy. Yet, I’ve matured emotionally and have come to know that instead of being afraid at signs of unhappiness, I can welcome the spectrum of emotions, realizing they are all necessary and needed.

Our lives and journeys should and will look different. 

It’s tempting to compare yourself to colleagues with families or friends with high-powered careers. Whether we envy stability, money, families, or futures, we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t acknowledge the value of our own journey. 

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Taking care of yourself is a skill – and one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

I still struggle getting enough sleep. But, I eat decently well. I exercise regularly. I journal and try to take time to myself. This is like recharging my batteries, and without it, I would burn out, again and again and again. Living through my twenties has shown me my own limits. We all have them. We must be aware of them and honor them, too.

 

Just be you.

The world is better when you are authentically YOU. The one you are made to be. The one who is imperfect, odd, caring, and determined. Let that part shine – that’s what the world needs more of.  Come hell or high water, I will be me. I’m a Maya Angelou enthusiast who loves roller-blading, mountains, writing about stories, and red wine (cheap). That’s me, and that’s just how it is.

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benedictions.

As I peruse my old journal reveries and recollections from the stacks of notebooks I have kept, I notice that, clearly, I’m a sucker for benedictions.

Page after page, it’s not unusual to find text I have written of well-wishes, inspiring quotes, and beautiful blessings spoken into my life – whether after a church service, a ceremony, the ending of a major life event, or from the mouth of a friend.

It makes sense, I suppose, to enjoy the intention, meaning, and tradition of benedictions. By its nature, a benediction is defined as, “a short invocation for divine help, blessing and guidance.” The words Latin roots are bene (well) + dicere (to speak)[1].

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I was spurred, along with other members of my Peace Corps cohort, with well-wishes, bravado, and yes, a benediction unto Rwandan communities across hills, valleys, and lakes as we began our service.

When I wrote about it later, I mused,

 “…I, too, had tears in my eyes, knowing that the journey is young, like I am on the cusp of a life I have eagerly wanted to make. I’m closing my eyes. I’m jumping in. And I know without reservation, God is with me all of that way. He has to be.” – December 16, 2011

Each of us would take our bags, leave Kigali, and go.

I etched the words of the benediction given to us in my journal, too, hoping the reverberation would be a reminder for when I would need it. It was spoken ever-so-eloquently by a Peace Corps Staff member, notable for providing the same benediction each and every year to graduates – it was that powerful.

As we received it, my life changed.

“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

There are moments in life that physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually touch you. Your skin becomes prickly, your belly turns upward, like a whale catching its breath. You lose words and gasp at the idea of articulating what you are feeling. These moments are brief, but certainly, they do come.

The rawness of Whitman’s hopes for humanity left tear-stains on my cheek. Could – and would – my life play out like the kind of poem he says?

Instinctively, I knew my life would be different after that day.

Turns out, I was right.

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Benedictions are powerful because they combine what is so wonderfully mystical about God – one, entering  humbly in a posture of receiving, and two, simultaneously (and boldly) proclaiming what you know to be true. In other words, benedictions encourage listeners to enter the world with eyes open and hands up. We recognize that we are not God. But, we are also not a doorknob, a sheet, or pomegranate lotion. The blessing, then, has potency. Active agent, if you will. Much like yeast in bread.

God may have all the love, grace, and peace for you – but you have to step forward to receive it.

This implies choice. This implies an intentional step-forward. We’re alive. My, how miraculous.

Whitman’s preface to Leaves of Grass has stuck with me for all these years because it outlines, I believe, what it means to be alive.  Not quite a manifesto (it’s a bit gentler than that), Whitman captures the human spirit at its best.

And, I’m glad I copied it in my journal.  That way, I can return to it – over and over again, recognizing my own need to be reminded of the soulful glaze it places upon my heart. Words soften me, reminding me that the gritty parts of our world don’t have to rule over all.

My hope for myself – and others – is that we seek often the benedictions life presents. Benedictions keep life fresh and relevant. The darker corners of life will tell us that “it’s all for nothing” or “we can’t change the way things are” or “it’s all to hell and hand-basket” or “there isn’t anything we can do.”

Those are lies.

I can say for myself, I did not reach 27 years of age unscathed. I believed some of these lies at times. I have believed worse ones as well.

Far more than a question of embracing an optimist or pessimist identity, I choose to see the world in a certain kind of way. It’s redemptive. Sure, it’s broken.

But I’m sorry, that’s not the end of the story. Benedictions exist to remind us that there is always more to the story.

Whether it’s gossip, fear, bills, stress, or anxiety that keeps you up at night, I sincerely hope your eyes will widen (with your hands placed upward) to receive the blessings present in the midst of all this…crap. Crap is injustice. Crap is hate. Crap is poverty. Crap is hunger. Crap is war.

Both are true: we’re alive, but sometimes, our lives are marred by the crap all around us.

Let’s redeem it together, even on the really, really hard days.

Laced between, I am sure, we can find soft whispers of benedictions all around us.

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[1] http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=benediction

dream (big).

“I don’t like chocolate but I like jellybeans.”

Yep, that’s Emmy. One of about a thousand “Emmy-isms” one can get in the course of 24 hours with the guy.

Emmy is the fiancée of one of my dear friends from the Peace Corps. We served together in the same cohort or group, and in doing so, shared some important life experiences, changes, and relationships. I wouldn’t meet Emmy until after our service had fully completed, and when I did, I remember thinking, where did you find this man? Overtly goofy, dramatically kind-hearted, and inquisitive, he was a different kind of man, and I was thrilled that my friend had met someone (even around the world!) that carried such a spirit and heart for life.

They had met in a small village out West in Rwanda. The hills, red clay, and bananas of the East were my typical domain, but the terrain of Western Rwanda is distinctively different. Scattered with terraced tea plantations, gray gravel treks of incline, and capped by rolling mountain tops, I have always been left breathless by the intensity of that kind of landscape. Much like comparing the rolling Tennessee hills of Appalachia with the domineering geography of the Rockies; a special kind of dominance is apparent.

From colleagues to committed relationship, the couple are having their long-awaited wedding ceremony this fall following numerous visa complications and months stacked together with distance between them. Something like 7,511 miles. Talk about some kind of global relationship.

It has been a joy to journey with them – even in the complications – and getting especially to know Emmy.

Eccentric, boisterous, and resilient, Emmy has been in education (a teacher of entrepreneurship) for the last few years. He is an advocate, promoter, and big fan of planning for the future and being open to any kind of possibility.

Perhaps that is my favorite thing that I’ve witnessed and seen in Emmy throughout our conversations and time together: his dreaming heart.

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I traveled to Emmy’s hometown a couple of weekends ago. The trip requires around 3-hours in a large bus weaving up and down, in and out of the “thousand hills” as Rwanda is often affectionately called. The journey pulls you towards Lake Kivu, on the border of Congo, and a word of advice: do not sit shotgun on these busses! In a move of what I thought would be undisputed brilliance, I grabbed a seat next to the bus driver immediately upon purchasing my ticket. Nobody else had taken the seat and so I just smiled, thinking I had been endowed with a small, extra, little blessing. Um. Not really.

With no seatbelt, I shifted back and forth, back and forth, falling upon the driver and the window over and over again. Whiplash? Oh, absolutely.

This is just on the main road, y’all.

Hitch a motorcycle taxi upon arrival to the appropriate town and plan for the following during the next hour of your life: a numb butt, gravel in your face, and gasping breaths when you descend below mountaintops with elevations far above 4,000 feet. Seriously. It’s adventurous, but even for a risk-taker like yours truly, it’s kind of terrifying. I saw cassava fields; I took a photo of an abandoned 4-wheel drive car that had fell in the rivers’ valley after falling asleep at the wheel the night before; and I became lost in my thoughts as I witnessed 6 men carrying an old woman with a traditional stretcher to the hospital around 5 miles away. The best part of motorcycles – even in their scary nature – is that you can see the road in ways you might otherwise miss.

all the mountains. always.

all the mountains. always. Birambo, Rwanda.

The buzz of the engine pulsated heavily as we climbed and I was convinced that Emmy had laid down roots in the most remote corner of Rwanda. Surely….this was just, well, it was just crazy!

I knew I had arrived when I saw an energetic man smiling, shouting, and waving from a grey compound near a football field. Yes. Emmy. I had made it! Engulfed in a large hug, I met his dog, Rama, and we shared the meal he had prepared for my visit (my favorite): cassava, beans, with some banana too.

Emmy & Rama.

Emmy & Rama.

the best of the best: cassava & beans - made by Emmy.

the best of the best: cassava & beans – made by Emmy.

It seemed ironic, as we ate this humble, delicious meal in such a rural place to know that in the following month he would be America-bound – for the indefinite future. He shared of his life to come over the next couple of days – even as he showed me the place of his past, such as the location he had gone to kindergarten, the church he attends, the neighbors he has known forever, and his favorite place to watch football. It was an honor to see the roots of this man; it was an honor to hear and discuss his hopes for marriage, future, family, and opportunity. His dreams are spiced with a bit of everything: fullness in his relationship with his wife, the possibility of helping his community with a school project one day, and the pursuance of furthering his own education.

This is all the more profound knowing Emmy’s background. His life has not been easy; in fact, he has overcome situations and circumstances that many would deem “impossible.”

Again, that’s where I am most inspired in this friendship with Emmy – he has a dreaming heart because He knows that the Lord provides and he actually believes it. That is the only possible explanation of the inter-workings of a life such as his.

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His vision and desires encouraged me to think of my own dreams I have kept inside of my heart. Some “feasible” and some not so much. But what do I know? What may not be feasible to me is nothing in comparison to what God can do. He really can do anything.

If I could do anything, I would write a book and it would be based on stories demonstrating how God moves across cultures, experiences, and provisions: I also hope one day to ride in a hot-air balloon, get a dog, volunteer in a nursing home, and of course, continue my passions for travel (Italy, Greece, New Zealand, Peru, South Africa, Madagascar….the list goes on..)!

I dream to be married, have a family, and perhaps even adopt – if God so wills it.

I’d like to visit all 50 states in the USA; I think it would be cool to open a specialty macaroni & cheese restaurant; pay off all of my debt; and help people plan trips in and around Rwanda in my free time. I hope one day to run a marathon, too. I’d also love to pet a baby elephant. Just to be brutally honest, here.

I dream for a cute, humble home – wherever God places my feet. Porch swing is a must.

Sigh. Man. It’s fun dreaming, isn’t it?

It’s people like Emmy that encourage this kind of thinking; I find that to a really beautiful, inspiring quality.

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Hearing Emmy’s dreams and considering my own, I’ve also been able to see this played out in the ways God is revealing Himself to me lately.

In a crazy work by God, He has pointed me back to Matthew 25: 14-28 about 10 times explicitly in the last couple of months. We studied this passage closely in a lesson this summer during The Experience and when I asked a question about it, the speaker almost prophetically said, “You will likely need to keep turning back to what Jesus is trying to say in this parable; keep digging, keep exploring.”

I didn’t think much of it – until my church back home in the US AND a church I have been attending in Rwanda are simultaneously dissecting and working through this passage. It was a pretty incredible coincidence – if you believe in that kind of thing. I know it’s purposeful.

In these verses of Matthew 25, you can read about The Parable of the Talents.

Essentially, a man brings together three of his servants, and before going on some kind of journey, entrusts them with an apportioned amount of “talents” (worth more than a thousand dollars in today’s conversions). To the first servant, he provided 5; to the second, 2; and to the final servant, 1 – each according to their abilities.

The parable continues to explain that the first servant (with 5 talents) put his resources to work and was able to gain 5 additional talents. The one with 2 talents had the same kind of experience, gathering 2 more talents. However, the man who only had 1 went ahead, dug a hole, and in fear, hid his master’s money. When the master returned and followed up on the actions of his servants, he was incredibly pleased with the first two, acknowledging their faithfulness of both of them:

“Well done, god and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt 25: 23).

The last servant explained his actions by excusing himself in the following way,

“’Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was AFRAID and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.” (Matt 25: 24).

The master was furious. Not simply because his offering wasn’t multiplied, but because his investment was wasted.

In reading this and being consistently placed back in this story, I have realized the need to live daily with God and trust the “initial investment” first, trusting that the return will be God’s desire in the first place.

So, in seeking ways to be a good steward little by little, my prayers have been for a fearless, mindful, and committed offering of four primary areas in my life:

Sleep. Money. Food. Time.

Like the first two servants, if God’s given me enough time to sleep, enough money to live into many blessings, enough food to enjoy the beautiful experience of eating fully, and enough time to use, then certainly, I can be discerning in how those play out in my life each and every day. If I invest these initial talents in the way the Lord desires, then those crazy goals above? They might happen. They might not. But, it’s truly important to do the first things first.

Emmy spoke about this quite a bit in his own dreaming – and I think it’s an incredibly life-changing truth as we think critically about the lives we are leading. The human experience is a beautiful balance of hopes and practicalities. I know the Lord will lead us in that – if we so let Him, and surrender our ways to His.

I used to be a kind of girl who would prefer to stay up till 12am, pumping out work, or “obligations” and then waking at 5am so I could do all the other things I needed to “do”. I didn’t used to tithe, and I would never pray or give thanks before meals (not even considering the miracle of food on the table!). This isn’t because I was a “bad” person – goodness, no. But, I wasn’t stewarding daily life well. I liked to be in control; I liked the driver seat. This will and always be a struggle for me.

As I have pressed and asked God what to do about this, it’s been the four words above (sleep, money, food, time) that have presented themselves.

All I did was ask.

Also, as I have committed to this, it’s kind of crazy – the dreams, hopes, and visions I think for the future actually seem possible.

God is no genie, that’s for sure, but He does love us and He does know our hearts. Walk in that, surrendering on a daily basis, asking questions, and it can really change your life.

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AMASHYO : wishing you many cows.

AMASHYO : wishing you many cows.

Cows, milk, & dreams.

Cows, milk, & dreams.

Emmy showing me the lay of the land and sharing insights on his way of seeing the world.

Emmy showing me the lay of the land and sharing insights on his way of seeing the world.

See that hill? That's Emmy's stomping grounds. That's at least a two hour walk. OH DANG.

See that hill? That’s Emmy’s stomping grounds. That’s at least a two hour walk. OH DANG.

Learning the insider scoop to Rwanda's mainstay at the bars: Goat Brochettes. This man, Fiston, has been doing this since he was a little boy.

Learning the insider scoop to Rwanda’s mainstay at the bars: Goat Brochettes. This man, Fiston, has been doing this since he was a little boy.

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good morning, birambo.

a grandmother’s blessing

“Grandma, where are you?”

A bit flustered and slightly more concerned, I entered Fairmount Cemetery all the more clueless. I tend to do this – if I don’t know where I am going, rest assured, I’ll figure it out. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

Per my father’s advice, I did try and go to the main office to ask for directions to Grandma’s gravestone. However, on a day full of tractors, construction, and barriers, I was unable to find my way to the main office.

Back in my car, I said a quick prayer, Alrighty, Lord, please show me where she is.

I drove around with direction and determination, but with equal levels of uncertainty. The windy roads took me past thousands upon thousands of massive tombstones. Around since 1890, and the second oldest in Denver, you can just imagine the sheer amount of names visible every which way at Fairmount.

Blazing bulldozers drowned out my music yet before reaching for the radio, I glanced left and immediately remembered where her small plot had been established. In a garden nook, somewhere on the North side, lies a beige-red stone with the name Genevra Newell, 1937-2011.

Thank you, Lord.

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When I went to visit Grandma yesterday, I didn’t stay terribly long. Maybe, 15, 20 minutes? Still, it was life-giving and something I knew I needed to do. I prayed to God, spoke to her, and just sat in the blustery rain, flat on the ground.

As my time drew to an end, I was full of incredible gratitude. Here lies a woman that so intimately influenced who I am while growing up; yet, how blessed am I, that now, my maternal grandmother is doing the very same thing. Without question, she has taken the reins.

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Monday thru Friday you will find Mary Lou behind her desk at the Aurora City Municipal Court processing paperwork, filing documents, answering phones, and delivering customer service that would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. She has been doing this diligently for something like 13 years now, and she’s absolutely brilliant. If you are looking for someone who can treat a person with genuine kindness, she’s your gal. It’s in her blood.

Born in Wausa, Nebraska, a small Swedish community of around 700 people, Mary Lou knew manners, generosity, and humility. When founded, the original settlers – a group of 12 families or so – had called the place Vasa after the Swedish King, Gustav Vasa. However, it was altered to Wausa when combined with letters from the acronym “USA.” That’s an American story, if I have ever heard of one.

Her grandmother had emigrated from Oopsala, Sweden (that might be the most fun word to say, like, ever) and moved to the mid-west, speaking only Swedish when she arrived.

When grandma finally came along, and grew up in this little community, she graduated in a class of 25. She knows what it means to know everybody. Literally.

She’s naturally a Cornhusker; journeying off to the University of Nebraska for school. She was hardly “just a student” though: she was a daughter, sister, and community member, carrying her Wausa roots every which direction she went. This was all the more important when she wistfully recalls her precious relationship with her father. Watery eyes and a strained smile, you can tell how much she loved him. He died at an early age, when she was 23, after a successful career as dentist and mayor. Without a doubt, she was a daddy’s girl.

Imagine then, the boldness it would take to leave these small-town loyalties and move to Chicago, one of the biggest cities in the United States. More than just a move, she would become a flight attendant for United. In perhaps a small plight of destiny – as flying in the air often brings – she met my grandfather on a flight too. “Charming,” she said, “and traveling with an old friend from my high school,” they chatted and connected in a scene that seems a bit Hollywood-esque to me. I suppose that’s because when I board flights these days, whether to Africa, St. Louis, whatever, I talk to anyone and anything that moves….still no husband yet. I’ll keep you posted.

Mary Lou – Grandma – would become a mother as well and move to Brighton, Colorado, where my grandfather became a mayor and architect. Her daughters, she has told me, “mean everything” and they are truly her “pride and joy” in life. Numerous times, especially when I was young, my parents would drive us by mom’s childhood home in Brighton and I would ohhhh and ahhhh. It’s a classic American home; blue with white trim, with a Victorian touch. To me, that’s the kind of home I would love to have a family with. Old, rustic, worn.

Raising four (yes, 4) girls is heroic, in my opinion. I recently watched a friend from high school hold her 1-month old daughter in her arms, and feelings of awe, amazement, and respect filled my heart. The kind of investment raising a child requires – emotionally, financially, spiritually, everything – is the most selfless thing you can do. I believe that.

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Fast forward 50 years.

50. years. 

That’s half a century. In that time, birth, life, joy, death, sorrow, separation, and love has happened to my grandma. It boggles my mind, sometimes, when driving together after church, to think that this woman has put so many years into life. And yet, it propels me to share as much as we can together. Not for the sake of solely wisdom (that’s great too) but also because that is the kind of beautiful, positive legacies that God can call us to create with our families.

In the last 9 months or so, we have been spending most Sundays in the pew together at Colorado Community Church; we have cleaned house together on Sunday afternoons; and we also have shared wonderful meals for dinner – at Mimi’s Café, Rosie’s Diner, the French Press, you name it. Aurora is full of good eateries and we have tried a good bulk of them.

Our conversations, however, are what sustain this guidance and love that she has placed into my life. We honestly share our difficulties, our struggles, and our wounds. So, in this time, I have moved away from just seeing this woman as my grandmother. She’s truly a woman, a human, a child of God, and seeing her in that light changes everything.

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I mused over this yesterday at Grandma Jenny’s grave. I never got to see my fraternal grandmother this way – with this kind of intimacy. As a growing child and teenager, she was my angel. Certainly, I don’t think this was simply because she took Lance and I for frozen yoghurt or let us watch too much Care Bears or purchased us Oregon Trail for the computer. I think on some larger level, I knew she was protecting me, nurturing me, and loving me. That was enough.

gma

Now, as a young woman, my other Grandmother is filling a different – but equally important – role. She is my encourager, supporter, and defender. You see, being 26 brings different problems than simply wanting to play soccer at recess with the boys or going to Dairy Queen for an Oreo blizzard.

What do I do with questions about love, identity, career, God, Jesus, friends, family, and making decisions?

I go to her. And for this season of life, I can’t really think of a greater blessing. To have been companions, in a sense, with both of my grandmothers is only something I can attribute as a unique, rare gift from God.

My family is far far from perfect. I assure you, we don’t prance around in flower-fields, holding hands in the sunshine, and singing songs of praise for each other all the time. That would be nice.

No, there is brokenness, there is hurt, and there are issues. But, let me say this:

this is normal. THIS IS NORMAL.

I think I’m emphasizing that for myself more than anyone.

In a lot of ways, I think I spent the first 20-ish years of my life wishing and hoping my family could be “perfect” and that we could sweep our issues under the rug and call it good.

What my grandmother has now been able to demonstrate and show me is that with family, perfection will never be in the equation. However, if you are so blessed to have your family within reach, then by all means, accept, love, and grow together.

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I’m packing today for a 2-month training this summer in ministry. My hope, above all, is to grow intimately with God. A big part of that – I anticipate – will be learning how to accept family, how to honor them, how to give thanks for them. We carry around brokenness in backpacks, taking it along for all of life’s journeys. A good chunk, though, can be set free. That’s what I am most looking forward to. In a one-word summary, that’s what the Gospel gives. Freedom.

Grandma is dropping me off at the ministry’s campus tomorrow, which is all the more appropriate. It’s been her, praying alongside me this last year, and filling my mind, soul, and heart with a kind of compassion that only a woman full of life could know.

Thanks Grandma. I’ll miss our Sundays together, but in two months, I know we’ll be at it again.

I love you.

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dale

Frigid from the cool air escaping off of Highway 56 and the nearby Rocky Mountains, we prance and nearly jump into the restaurant. The log-frames complete the high-rise ceiling and the elk antlers mantled in the center of the large dining room are noted. The selected Friday night Bluegrass band is in the corner tuning their banjoes and assortment of instruments. Mountain climbers mingle by the bar. This is a local favorite that we discovered like true 21st century explorers: YELP. The reviews were many and the reviews were good. “A local gem” and a “must-see” in the Rockies was enough to compel mom and me to hop in the car and head over to start our girls’ weekend in the mountains.

Bundled in layers of scarves, jackets, and long underwear, we were beyond ready to sit near the fire following below freezing temperatures in Denver and up in the high country. Let’s get the party started. Eager to eat, we find our table, gracefully accept the menu, and consider the options.

What’s on tap? Oh! Coffee-chocolate drinks? Check out the honey brie and the buffalo burger options!

Their menu is extensive, highlighting comfort food with a healthy kind of twist. Mom ordered an all-natural Chicken sandwich, I went with a butternut squash with cashews, vegetables, and spinach so called their “vegetable medley”. Yum.

But friends, this story isn’t about so much about the restaurant, menu, or even the food. Certainly, they all have their roles, but this particular story is about Dale.

Mom and I took our seats, speculated about the upcoming musical entertainment, and relished in what appeared to be our good fortune in choosing a fun, local-flair, kind of restaurant. I felt like I was up in the mountains, “away from it all”, with a bit of Western spunk, and I liked that.

Directly to our left, sat an older man on oxygen. I noticed him when I came towards his table because he smiled and tipped his chin as if he was saying ‘hello’ without having to say anything at all. By the time we were seated, he was already in conversation with someone else and so I simply thought we were sitting next to a nice old man.

After a few minutes he glanced over, in his blue flannel shirt, and greeted us.

“Excuse me, but have you ever been to this restaurant before?”

“No, actually, it’s our first time! We heard good things about this place and it looks wonderful…we are glad we came.”

He smiled slowly and took a sip of water before continuing.

“It’s a pretty cool place…look over there towards to bar. That guy, in the red, he’s climbed Mt. Everest recently. And the guy on the other side of the room as climbed Long’s Peak hundreds of times. The people here, they are interesting people.”

“Wow! Do you come here often?”

“Well…you see, my wife of many years died earlier in the year and so now I go out for food. So…you know…”

We did the sympathetic-smile-sort-of-thing (where your lips dip just slightly downward in efforts to demonstrate your regret) and said we were sorry to hear about his loss.

“Well, you ladies enjoy your meal, I don’t want to interrupt your time.”

I couldn’t have this from an 88-year old man. I pushed him.

“Oh please, you have to share about yourself! What’s your story?”

“….oh! I’m 88….”

“Exactly. Which means you have lived a lot of life. That’s a story.”

He went on with his meal and so did we. Mom started to sip his glass but eventually, this old man was chatting with us, yet again. He certainly was a talker, which is why I had pressed him in the first place. As one of those people who love chatting with ANYBODY, I can recognize it when I see it.

When I reached out to him again, he engaged a little more fully, angling his chair towards our table. He told us how much he loved traveling, how he had a big interest in the Himalayas and Nepalese area, and how his wife had actually divorced him at one point for 10 years. Yes, 10 years. He said she was a Christian and he was an atheist, and though it didn’t work for a large chunk of time, somehow their lives led back to each other.

He pushed his eye-glasses to sit gently on his nose and commented on mom’s ravishing good looks. Mostly, he said there was no way she was my mother. Sister, maybe, but mother? No! Mom blushed and laughed. He listened to me rattle on about living in Rwanda and seemed genuinely interested. Genuinely. He listened. He asked questions. People do this less than you would think. He muttered to mom, “you must be proud” and just like mom, I blushed too.

At one point, he asked if I was a Christian and I was surprised and thrilled with my response, “oh! Of course.” Didn’t think twice; how could I?

This man, as I said, was named Dale, and from the indication we got, was a regular not only here at The Rock Inn but just around little Estes in general. A nice man, a caring man, he just seemed to understand how to engage with people. Perhaps 88 years of life will teach that you. I hope I reach that age with a strong sense of that.

I went to the bathroom, clinking across the wooden floors in my brown cowboy boots, feeling particularly at home. I washed, returned, and found my mother in tears.

“Dale…he paid.”

“Paid? Paid…?”

“Dale paid for dinner,”

Apparently, while I was in the restroom, Dale had settled his bill – and ours. He said goodbye on his way out and that was that. Or was it?

We sat at our table silently for a few minutes, absorbing what had just happened. We agreed; these were the kinds of things you hear about on the Christian Radio Station or on the morning 9News segment. You know, people pay for the coffee for the people behind them, or in the case of Chick-fil-a, they pay for the person’s chicken sandwich. People certainly do nice things for people, but to pay for a complete strangers’ dinner?

His act of kindness spoke volumes about what a 10 or 15 minute conversation can do for our world.

No, I don’t mean the free food. I mean to allow people to share, to speak, to feel a little more included.

Imagine, this man, having lost his wife may just want a friend on a Friday night. Maybe he’s perfectly content, but either way, how much better we could meet someone so kind and genuine at a small mountain restaurant, of all places. We give the opportunity for others to share a meal, a bite to eat, and what’s more powerful than that?

Whether it’s paying attention to what’s around you, looking someone in the eye, saying “hi” with a little more gusto”, or sometimes, yes, even paying for the coffee or meal for someone else, practice random acts of kindness. If that fueled the world, who knows what it would be like.

Dale, if you’re out there. You are awesome. I won’t forget you. Thanks for making my mom feel pretty – and for the great meal.

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