On the Fourth of July, We Move.

I’m writing this post from Colorado where we now live. Yep. We do.

And… I know. We moved last Fourth of July. Currently, all of our stuff is in storage and we are living with gracious family members while we get details worked out. Let me tell you friends- mountain air + minimized obligations + living out a suitcase. THIS is liberty.  And of course,  the new adventure and the free spirit in me feel satisfied. We like it. The palpable potential.  So there you have it– me and myself are chocked-full of Independence Day metaphors. Too hard to resist.

Okay. Let me also say: it’s tricky to know how much to update via social media when there are many dear people I’d like to tell more personally. So, with hectic schedules and the perils of packing and missed phone calls and honestly just outright exhaustion I’ve committed to clicking “publish” this evening. And, I’d also like to begin to provide some real-life updates beyond snapshots of our adorable dog.

So, the scoop is: Luke’s degree program was transferred online and I really didn’t like my job at the VA.

I tried to like it. And then I quit trying to like it and tried to let it just be a “job.” And then, I realized that I was expending far too much of myself for things to just be job-like.  So then, I worked really hard on fine-tuning boundaries, and felt uncomfortably grumpy. Historically, it’s been easy for me to wait out a real wonky arrangement because I think something wonderful is about to happen  There I was, stomping into work, everyday, grumpy and heavy. Why on earth am I holding this cup? It feels like a JUG.

The things we all carry.

Sometimes we need to, most times we don’t. I don’t know that all carry-on items are as awkwardly heavy as mine felt but if we hold anything for long enough it makes us ache.  Put. it. down!!!! I say.   Alas,  it is just that easy and that terrible and that impossible to put things down, isn’t it?

Speaking of which, the security loving parts of me wail when I think too hard about the pension and benefits that I’ll be parting with. I think I could comfortably retire when I am 49 if I waited out this gig.  But, I know God is an abundant giver and to operate from the theology of scarcity that would keep me locked away at the VA, makes me feel like I’m in some kind of proverbial dungeon. To which I say, ” Mmmm No. I don’t think this is it.”

So, we press on, delighted and careful. Delighted that we now live in a state where we have abundant family members and dear friends, MOUNTAINS, radio stations worth listening to, -25% humidity and an overwhelming social consciousness that dogs are definitely not just dogs.  I have found a job that we are both praying will make itself cool and clear and drink-worthy instead of lemony and sour wash-like. Our ministry supporters back in Texas that are walking hand in hand with us to make Luke’s education possible have been nothing short of wonderful. They are wonderful.

We are in the throes of raising support for yet another school year for Luke, and once again my security-loving self gets so chatty and negative. I try to shush her with Psalmist kind of prayers, but as always, peace descends when I’m not mustering up a darn thing but when the Spirit of God covers me. I am thankful for this gift– so that even my run-around “what-ifs” might take a breather and say, why yes, God is my shepherd and oh yes, God’s ways are good.  And oh yes, in God’s graciousness, I will be reminded  once again, tomorrow, that God is my shepherd.  Friends: this is a most authentic and necessary lullaby.

So, we are also pressing on with care. Though I gladly farewelled my job, we were not ready to leave our friends in Wimore behind. Of course, you are never ready to leave good friends behind, but the swiftness of it all, made the ache of leaving a bit of a bigger thing to carry than anticipated. It’s a bittersweet cup that we gladly carry because it’s full of prayers and kindness and until we are reunited, this memory cup is what we have. And of course, every once in a while, when we take a good loooong sip, we will pause and cry and think, “Oh, how I miss that sweet sleepy seminary town full of sweet, life-giving people.” And then somehow, someway, the cup will be filled up again.

And as for my Luke, I am ever-grateful that he is the one who is with me in this.  The past week has been a journ-ey– as you might imagine.  I vanned (i.e. drove our rather large van) while Luke drove a 26 foot semi-truck trailing the red car behind.   Camping in the van in not so certain places– again, another humid-sticky,  feat. And loading that long, hot yellow Penske full of our stuff– horrible, horrible tetris like feat.  Yet, we did it. And gosh, does one have to dig deep to be patient and helpful and not totally 13 year old tantrum-ish. It’s in times like this that I am especially thankful for the covenant we have promised each other. I could feel  myself leaning into it thinking– okay, Luke, I do.  And sometimes to keep  “I-doing” whether its waking up to truck full of boxes or riding out the throes of total uncertainty is hard to do with patience and grace.  But, I have been given a man who is also committed to doing what it takes to make my life a little sweeter, a little less burdensome and he is full of kindness and ease. The give and take of this kind of partnership is sacred and lovely even when it’s not enchanting.

So. There are fireworks tonight. I love fireworks. We will watch them. And,  when we watch them I will probably think in poems  and thank-you prayers like I always do when perfect and nostalgic things happen. So, thank you God, for all the bright, beautiful, wise, wonderful things you give us.   And as thankful as I am, help me be just as faithful. That’s where the doing happens. The sweet, sweaty, moving-day dig-deep kind faithfulness.  And you know what? Colorado clifty mountains or Kentucky green valleys–God gives us doings that need to be done. That’s the beauty of the Kingdom of God.

Swaddled: A Response to Sandy Hook

There is a wise lady at church, Sister Avis, who tells me that I am so young and how time goes so quickly especially as we get older. I think it was just after the Easter lilies were cleared off the altar that she said something like, “Christmas is coming!” And here we are. She was right. Christmas is here and 2012 nearly accounted for. The pages of the calendar have been full this year and of course, there are twenty bajillion things for which we can and must bow our heads. Luke and I are filthy rich when it comes to material and spiritual blessings: moving arms and legs, people that love us and cheer-lead us, employment that is meaningful and a Savior that we believe has come to deliver this weary world and secure our Hope.

Speaking of immeasurable blessings, scrolling through my Facebook news feed is better than peering through the windows in a maternity ward. So many lovely people I know are bringing life into this world.  Seriously, it feels like there are bellies popping out everywhere.  And next, the babies: these tiny hes and shes with perfect names and toes and expressions on their faces. They come out alive and  kicking and in a matter of moments, bam! love wins. Things are never the same. I have never held a tiny person I grew inside me and felt my soul change, but I do believe I have an itsy bitsy baby idea of what mothering might be like.

Sometimes, I think about my counseling room as an incubator all its own.  A little cocoon. Womb. A place where the babes I see get to be born some more, explore the world some more…alive, kicking, and wondrous like they were when they were two days old.  “I said that!” they get to say. ” I want more!” they get to dream. “I am okay,” they have sorted out. And I get to listen and say Yes. I have heard with all of my ears and all of my eyes and all of my heart what you have said and I acknowledge what this means. You do not know how my heart and tear ducts swell when I think about this very precious kind of swaddling I get to do.

And no matter if we are 3 or 11 or 27, don’t we all kind of need this at some point or another?  To be reminded of who we are like the  people that ooogled over us when we came out in that hospital room?  Don’t we all need to scream without abandon and be held that way too?  To be celebrated for the beautiful work, the beautiful life that has begun?  For gosh sakes, we are the same exact human being we were then. Bigger brains, bigger bodies. But still, vulnerable spirits and delicate.  Some days, we all need swaddles.

Last Friday, we felt vulnerability in the very worst-in-the-world kind of way.  And still, I feel pretty dead inside when I think about Sandy Hook. Everyone tells me to turn off the news and stop looking at their faces: their sweet picture day, jack-o-lantern, familiar looking grins.  So, sometimes I do. I do turn it off  because it is too big for me or it is time for me to go to sleep. But sometimes, I do not because we must grieve this together.  This tragedy belongs to us, friends.  Those families cannot be alone.  And if my horse-loving, craft-making comedian of a six year old was shot, I think I would want people to swaddle me, and to care.  Like, really really really care. Not in a, “oh that’s so awful I can’t think about it too hard”  kind of way.  That’s shallow, and if December 14th, 2012 taught us anything it might be that we cannot afford to be shallow.

In times of tragedy, I know we try to make a teensy bit of sense out of senseless things. I want to know, like everyone, if there was anything that moved this 20 year old boy to these actions.  I think of the kids I work with in my practice who are suffering emotional distress on a lesser scale. Most of the time, they have no blessed idea why. If I sat a child in my therapy room and said, “Now tell me why you are kicking the other kids in your class,” it wouldn’t work.  They know something feels uncomfortable, they hurt, they don’t like it, and their response is, well, less than stellar in our adult opinions.  The emotion runs deeper than the reason: this is a neurological fact in young children. In the same manner, we do not ask a boy with a fresh gash in his arm why he screams in pain. We figure out what he needs, what kind of wound it is and how his body responds to certain medicine. Next, the medication stings, he resists, but slowly, with help, he begins to bear the pain. Then, perhaps, he might be calmed down enough to tell us what in the world he was doing to create such a gash in his arm.  In the same way, we must give our children the tools to feel before they develop their self-insight.  We must teach our children to bear their own emotional pain and to help others do the same. We must teach them to use all of their hearts. And we must teach them with all of ours. 

Of course I don’t know what was going on with this monster of a shooter.  But I do know, he wasn’t always a monster. At one point in time he was our baby just like the victims are. And in my humble opinion, I might venture the guess that the shooter didn’t know what was wrong with him either, but by gosh, something was wrong, terribly wrong and now all we have is a horror story to tell.

I have searched Scriptures these past couple of days desperate for hope. Desperate for the light that people are talking about this season, the light that can’t be shut out, that flickers on. I have lit candles and read the names of the victims out loud. But most of all, I have clung to this verse from The Message translation of Hebrews 13:3  “Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.”  

In Chapter 13, the writer of Hebrews is telling recently converted Christians how to be Christians. He is giving them practical guidelines. He is saying that we must lean into our brother’s suffering and musn’t ever, ever begin with judgement, but with pure heart: the really, really pure 7-year old, freshly swaddled kind of heart.

So let us start here. Let us all be mommas and daddies and professional swaddlers and givers of  light. And let’s teach our babies to do it, too. And their babies. And their baby-dolls. Whatever. But, please, let’s make this the most important thing. More than the rat race and the degrees and the enlightening experiences is knowing how to love. Please. I know this tragedy makes God weep. I also know that God loves to give us hope in the most unexpected ways, and we must be looking. We must be looking for babies in barnyard stables, lying in mangers in swaddling clothes of His own. May you experience the redemptive grace and love of this Peace Baby in your homes, in your hearts, in each other. May we all.newtown

Growing Old

Today, I’ll start here: Growing old is not for sissies.

The most notable transition in my life of late is a job shift  from counseling at the Children’s Advocacy Center to providing counseling at Hospice of East Texas.  It’s a PRN gig about twenty hours a week, and I have the opportunity to do private practice on my off days. After difficult goodbye(s) (s) (s) to my sweet former clients and colleagues, I walked out of the CAC feeling quite brave and quite grateful for the opportunities set before me. It’s not everyday that a flexibly scheduled, well paid, meaningful job opportunity shakes my hand and says: “Hey, just thought I’d let you know, I’m here if you need me.”  Over the course of two job searching weeks, that had happened. Twice.  So, on I went, hospice at one side and private practice at my other. My heart was open, my knees were knocking and my eyes were full of everything. Mostly, I was hoping my knees would just stop knocking.

Now, two weeks in, I’m deciding whether variety is thrill, or whether it’s whiplash.  The medical setting will make me a better t crosser and i dotter.  I have a few crookedly-crossed, halfway-dotted consonants in my life, so I’m gladly practicing.  Non-profits easily attract the idealistic-holistic- hippie (but don’t put me in a box) type. Hospice, as one might gather, attracts doctors and nurses.  While I’m sure some of these medical folks have an easy-breezy side to them, I’m staying preeetttyyyy buttoned up in my blue scrubs, name badge and hair pulled back.

My private practice is the opposite. There are purple walls, a large sandtray, and throw pillows with neon owls.  My clients talk a lot about Angry Birds (fine) and Justin Bieber (no he’s not your boyfriend), I have no boss, and the shag rug makes everyone want to take off their shoes, including myself. See what I mean? Whiplash, right?

My counseling clients don’t remember 9/11  and my hospice patients tell me stories about D-day and working for the New York Paper Company in 1951. Can you imagine if I took off my shoes at hospice?  I don’t think that would go over well. In fact, I’ve made a practice of singing happy birthday twice while I wash my hands in the hospice bathrooms. There’s a sign that says that staff should, so, I turn off the faucet right after “birthday to youuuu…” and feel quite satisfied, knowing I’ve just dotted another i. 

One foot in front of the other, friends.

So, my mind is buzzing with the life experiences that these people, my clients, are going through.  They seem very different. It seems very different to hear a teenager talk about the shame she carries than it does to watch a ninety six year old man kiss the shell of his wife. They are both profound and even more, profoundly sad, yet I think the connection is beyond the loss and the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors doctors like to offer me when I tell them about my work (just kidding. kind of.)

Very beautiful people whose anecdotes and insight line my bookshelf have written about the way learning how to die well means learning how to live well. How life is this mysterious and delicate string of births and deaths to which we must hold honestly. Honest holding, for me, is honest trusting that God has orchestrated this life and death balance in such a way that the death will bring the life abundant, which ultimately is closeness to God: wonderful counselor, mighty God, prince of PEACE (Is.9:6).  I want to walk the life-death-life-death tightrope, more than I would want to walk the life-life-life-life-life tightrope if it makes for such communion. Besides, I just don’t think I can balance very well when I am pretending to be in charge.

Dying people, hands up over head, nearly face to face with their Creator is not life-full. It is death-full and squeamish and oh-so not pretend or in charge for that matter. And this is the gift Hospice has given me: We are all going there. We will all take our last breaths, leave ourselves, get made-up like clowns and get put in the ground.  Eeeeeessshhhh.

So what if we weave our mortality, the knowledge of it, into ourselves in a different kind of way? I know we can do this in a carpe-diem kind of way.   I have been on this bandwagon, let me tell you. Be the change. Save the world. Suck the marrow out of life. Seize. The. Day.  I can totally talk on this because I love it, but tonight I won’t. I think hospice is teaching me something much different than grabbing life by the horns.

Hospice has this kind of whisper-speak to it, that goes: “be gentle, be very very gentle.” I don’t know that it’s a passionate whisper speak.  I also don’t know that it’s the kind of thing I want to proclaim with zeal and fervor. Strange isn’t it? Strange for something so rich to be so quiet.  But I am quiet. Because hospice says this, too: “be careful. be very very very careful. you are so young.”  And sometimes, I don’t know how to try to be humble other than to try to be quiet.

So, I sit, wonderfully small by the bedsides of people who have lived their life.  And when they speak, I listen and let the age-old wisdom pool around my heart. Growing old is not for sissies and really and truly, I want to do it well.

As for my living clients with their shoes off and their chewing gum? Indeed, they are  in the thick rather than on the edge.  But you know, they are dying, too. They are dying to the comfortable life-life-life balance and replacing it with a  finer life-death-life one. They are feeling the weight of the necessary losses.  For these clients, I think: You are brave. Growing up is not for sissies, either.

So tonight I think I will put extra honey in my tea, kiss Luke’s sleeping face and thank God for the space to Grow Up so Grow Old might make a graceful entry (maybe, hopefully…I know I am so young)  Oh, and the  kind souls in my life who help share the load? Thanking God for you, most of all.

Image found here

Sweet Potato Love: Summer 2011

“I could eat sweet potatoes for breakfast lunch and dinner,” so I told my husband.  Before a morning workout, I stuck a sweet potato in the oven anticipating some serious post-sweat hunger. Some sweet potato meat had gotten singed while I was out squatting and lunging. The burnt smell left Luke wondering, which prompted my defense of the sweet potato. When I lived alone, I really gave my affinity for sweet potatoes little thought other than props for some Vitamin A consumption. But this morning, I thought about the quirkiness of my orange delight and how my husband who enjoyed his very normal shredded wheat, didn’t skip a beat. Instead he laughed at my comment and said, “Yep. You probably could.” See? I think to myself… my sweet potato of a husband knows weird things about me and smiles. Hmmm, I think, all giddy over breakfast…isn’t love grand?

Later this morning, sweet potato in stomach, I thought about it again. The whole loving sweet potatoes and being in love reminded me of something. Last night, I worked with my teenage girls on the concept of self-compassion in support group. I always begin our groups with some sort of inspiration that’s supposed to center or lift. At least in theory. Sometimes they just roll their eyes.

Last night I talked about letting go of suffering. I asked the girls if they ever thought about loving their pain as a way of letting it go. When someone is abused, like these girls had been, the tangle of emotions needs some sorting. The tangle also stings which makes sorting hard. I was suggesting that it might sooth the sting  if the negative emotions were loved. Accepted. Not glorified– just, taken care of.  Given a little pat on the shoulder. If we accept things, they are much easier to address.  And girls, I explained, we’re here to address things. We’ve got to address things.

Crickets.

They looked at me like they wanted to leave. I was self-conscious, but I tried not to show it. “I know it sounds crazy, but what kind of power would your guilt have over you just…accepted it?”  This time they looked at least intrigued instead of totally irritated. One girl looked up from looking down: “Ummm, no.”  I smiled but ignored her and continued:  “Let me ask a different question.  Have any of you learned to like something about your physical appearance?”

Still, nothing.

“For example, I  said: I used to HATE the dimple I have in my chin, mostly because in fourth grade somebody called it a butt chin.”  They looked up when I said the word butt. One girl perked up and touched her own chin.  “The point I’m trying to make,” I continued, “is that I’ve learned to like it, in fact I don’t really think about it. Ever. It just became part of who I am.”

Now, the girls started chiming in. If there is one way to engage a bunch of teenagers it’s to talk about looks. I was hoping I wouldn’t regret this. The red-head thinks her freckles are okay but she used to hate them, the quiet girl in the corner likes being tall because she’s good at basketball…and on and on. If there’s another way to engage a bunch of teenagers it’s to get their friends to start talking.  I summed it up for them as best I could, encouraging them to accept the painful parts of their stories: self-hate, frustration, guilt… the whole ugly mess.  Without doing the cilche darkness before dawn thing, I wanted these brave girls to entertain the idea that suffering and joy might already be comrades in battle. How might they shake hands? Help each other even? And true beauty? It’s usually the soulful kind. And if there’s anything we know about suffering it’s that it takes up some serious soul-space. Their stories have already made them some of the most beautiful spirits I’ve ever known.

But mostly, I wanted these girls to think about love. And what it does. And how it frees. True love accepts to the utmost umpteenth degree and holds us until we feel its perfect embrace and say: “YES.”  Yes to God, and to our Beloveds, and to our quirky selves. Yes to life and its richness and to the moment that sits in our kitchens mid-week, mid-June…sweet husbands, sweet potatoes and all.

Falling

Fall in Texas is this catch-22 for me. On the one hand, I’m thankful to have (finally) stopped sweating. On the other hand, it’s still 80+ degrees; tweed jackets and boots necessitate the AC (what’s the point, folks? let’s keep wearing shorts), and besides that, the light is all weird. Has anyone ever noticed that? In Waco, the dusky light foreshadows October, but then I step outside and it’s steamy. With a sigh of disappointment, I try for gratitude acknowledging at least it’s not July.

Still, being the sap for setting, place and nostalgia that I am, when I remember my leafy Massachusetts hometown my heart skips a beat. Autumn was a peaceful and still sanctuary, even though the foliage was ablaze and the colors ran wild. My mom, with her beautiful knack for ritual and celebration, made a tradition of leaf-walks. Together, we would go in the woods behind my house and crunch through the leaves the maples had let go. We would hold hands and hum songs, and in between, I’d tell my mom all my secrets.  The crunching and the humming just made me spill. It was all sort of magical. I would ask her what her favorite color leaf was, and without fail, she would say, “yellow like the sun,” and I would say, “I like the orange because it’s a mix.”

On top of the trees, and the leaf-walks, and the leaf-piles that dotted our yard, there was the hustle of the season. Autumn is a season of intention, purpose and energy. For better or for worse, this is my stuff of life, so I welcomed their seasonal arrival even as a young child. The lazy days of summer are over! I get to go to school! And meet more people! And do more things! And work hard! It’s true and a little pathetic. My own neurotic harvesting, if you will.

But now, as a grown-up, beginning my fourth year away from my bright and dear East Coast Autumns, I am thinking about the way the falling leaves and the rising harvest-time shape the season. The beauty of the trees is also their downfall. Come December, the maples are skeletal and scrawny, and the leaves, glorious just a week ago, are gone. Thanksgiving is over. We have planned and gathered. We have prepared and stored. We have begun new routines and they have quickly become dull. Now, the light has gone away and the frost has come. There is a natural lull and winter covers things. And in Northern New England, that covering is for, well, a long time. We have no choice but to release the things that we had worked so hard to maintain and just settle in—we don’t hold our breath.

So I think about these things as I am carving out my corner of the world. I think about the losses that I must endure, and continue to endure so I can mature in the way I seek my God and find myself and engage creatively with others. Letting go has something to do with release and release has something to do with freedom and freedom, for us small human beings in this great big world, must include a bit of surrender.  So, might we live life with the passion and all the rich color of Autumn herself, but might we let it go as easily and as naturally as she does? Might we give in and surrender the attachments that keep us from running wild and ablaze? Might we let go of things that make us run ragged well past harvest time? Let us be alive! And when winter comes, let us be alive still.

I’m not sure how well I ease in and out, or up and down or over and under life’s transitions. It’s painful, to let go of the people, dreams and notions that we harvested. But, it’s necessary. Let’s face it: no one wants to welcome a seven month freeze, but you know what? To do otherwise would be to ignore what’s there, and delusion, when caked on too thickly over the years makes us crusty, hard-headed and quite….stuck.

One thing I know: Loss is hard, but when we give, just a bit, it begets wisdom, just like the changing season begets the budding crocus or the burnt leaf or the first snowfall. We are thankful that grace, once again, has arrived unanticipated, against all odds and all at once. And all the sudden we are down on our knees again, knowing that life is good and life is fleeting. And we let life in.

Remembering Rwanda: Summer 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

I know this letter is long overdue.  After a whirlwind of a summer, I have finally taken the time to share with you some of my Rwanda trip.  Before I do, I want to thank you for the support I have received and felt from each of you.  I am both blessed and humbled by the outpouring of financial donations, encouragement and prayer with which you have so graciously provided me. Many, many thanks.

I toyed with giving you a play-by-play account of what we did, whom we met and what we learned.  But, containing the experience I had into a journalistic account, travel log or the like doesn’t seem to do my time in Rwanda justice. It feels too narrow especially in a place where time was never the essence! So, to share Rwanda with you, I will try my best to tell you what I learned and what I felt, and now, what it is that I (think) I might know.

A page in my Rwanda journal is devoted to a list of words that best characterized this “land of a thousand hills.”  While it seems rather reductionist of me to summarize a nation of such strength and beauty in three words, I’ll do it anyways. For me, Rwanda was gracious, alive and open.  First impressions really are priceless, especially when traveling, and these three words began my word list on Day Two of our trip.  They stick with me and will remain my words for Rwanda.

On that same Day Two when Rwanda became gracious alive and open, our team drove around for some time in our ma-ta-tu (Rwandan word for bus), and I was overwhelmed by the amount of people outside! It sounds naïve, but I wanted to ask the people on the side of the road, “Where are you going?” People were walking (or skipping, or running) barefoot, people were in deep conversation, they were hanging up signs, digging ditches or carrying jugs of water.  People rode up and down the street on bikes, oftentimes with two or three babies in tow.  Even though this day-to-day (that is: the digging, and the carrying and the towing) looked at worst unpleasant and at best humdrum and routine, when we interacted with Rwandans, I thought their life was exciting! Full! And, perhaps most significantly altogether peaceful.   I walked away feeling refreshed and encouraged.  They seemed to embrace life, down to the very moment.  Or maybe, I was just seeing people who were simply convinced that life embraced them—I’m still not really sure which way it might go.

Early on in our visit, we learned about the Rwandan genocide, which took place from mid-April to early July in 1994.  I went to Rwanda with a vague idea of the atrocities that took place, yet visiting the many memorials honoring the 800,000 victims reshaped my perceptions.  One survivor’s story resonated with me in particular when she equated the terror of mid-1994 with a morbid silence.  “For 100 days,” she said, “no one said a word.”  I don’t know that I have ever imagined fear as acutely as I did as our new friend shared further details.  They were gruesome.  I have always found great value in sharing stories.  There is something that (can be) so genuine when people share a bit of his or herself and the listener willingly receives it. Relationship. Connection. The like. Yet as I listened to this young woman’s story, which was like so many other Rwandan survivor stories, I felt overwhelmingly moved yet entirely disconnected.

What do I know? I thought to myself.  What do I know of courage or of hope or of family or of forgiveness? She spoke about these things with such grace and such candor that my eyes welled up. “How easy it is! “ I thought to myself. “How easy it is to feel convicted about these very things our friend spoke of from the comfort of my Waco, Texas apartment in a place where I am supported and encouraged and rest-assured that I will go to bed well-fed.  Writer Anne Lamott says that our most ardent and genuine prayers go something like this: “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” and “Help me, help me, help me.” And in that moment, I thanked God over and over again, for this lady, for her story and for the way it brought me down to my knees.

Learning about the genocide at the beginning of our trip opened me up. It opened me up to experience and to heartache and to the moment because perhaps more than before, I believed that the moment at hand is the only moment we have. And indeed, most of Rwanda I can classify as a series of moments.  The moment that beauty was an old Rwandan woman dressed in bright yellow grabbing my hand and saying “mara-ho.”  The moment that our bus driver, Cyusa (pronounced Choo-sa) told us that he  “would never forget us” and was “full of happy.”  The moment two Rwandan orphans, one named Rose and the other a name that I cannot pronounce, taught me a traditional Rwandan dance.  They were so kind and so patient with me and then all of the sudden, the dance wasn’t awkward anymore, it was fun! The moment that I looked around and saw that everyone was dancing and laughing and dancing some more.  The moment our team found we would, in fact, be performing the song “Father Abraham” in front of a Rwandan congregation.   There were many more full moments like these, most of them brimming with such unique experience that I could barely stand it and sometimes, it felt like I should be able to touch it.

But most of all, Rwanda opened me up to the greatness of our God.  Indeed, part of this characterization is in the most self centered sense, a response to how big the world felt and how small I felt when I was in Rwanda. But the other half has to do with the mysteriousness of our God’s love.

Before I explain, bear with me for a moment. In my social work classes we spent a great deal of time talking about empathy. That is, how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes: honor their experience of course, but with a bit of intuition, or an attempt to conjure up the feelings that the client might be experiencing.   If your client is grieving, take yourself to a time when you suffered great loss.  In other words, invade the mystery of the other a little bit.  Recognize that your experience will never be his or hers, but in the name of service, link a bit of your life and maybe even heart to the one before you.  In Rwanda, I could not do this. It was all mysterious. And it didn’t even feel like I had a right to touch it. I could not touch it.  I was too far away.  In these moments I felt I didn’t know how to relate. I didn’t know how to understand.  There were times when I thought that I didn’t even have a right to listen.  I probably didn’t, but true to their graciousness, the Rwandans shared.

But the really funny thing? In spite of this initial disconnectedness this total foreignness, this “oh-my-goodness my world is being shaken more than I bargained for” kind of feeling, we were all still together.  We played together (a soccer game: Rwandans vs. Americans), laughed together, broke bread together, worked together, danced together and worshipped together.  It was altogether mysterious and beautiful and felt filled with the Spirit of God.  We felt close in the purest kind of way, the kind that transcends self and embraces redemption.  In the gospel of Luke, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “ ‘ The kingdom of God is not to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you’” (Luke 17: 21-22).   Jesus tells us here that the Kingdom of God is within our grasp. Closer than we think.  Maybe right under our very noses. And in Rwanda, there was a holiness that brought such light to those words.

God and all His goodness, all His hopefulness, all His light and His love; all these things that I seek in all the wrong places seemed to just come.  What a blessing! While the vividness of Rwanda has faded a bit, sometimes it seems that the memories rush in as alive and as gracious as the Rwandans themselves.  In the midst of these waves, my cup runs over.

I hope that yours are too.

With Love and Grace,

Sarah