Do you know that feeling after you have experienced generosity too grand to accept?  That time when saying “thank you” never feels like quite enough, but there are no other words to express how you’re feeling?  That’s how I feel after this year.  Immense gratitude is due to so many and there are memories captured in my heart that will never be able to escape.  It has been a year of great change, growth, and exploration far and wide.

I found myself staring out a window on Wednesday night as the rain began to pour down while the rest of my former group staff was in the kitchen preparing a Thanksgiving Eve feast to enjoy together.  As I stared out the window, tears began to build up in my eyes as I remembered the precious joy we all experienced in the last year.  We did this a year ago, as staff members trudged through the snow with their various dishes to enjoy a meal together before we parted our separate ways.  We parted our ways again last June as we strummed the last chords of a song and heard Brian say those traditional end-of-service words, “go in peace.”  At that point I had no idea what the Lord had in store for me for the next six months of my life.  It wasn’t long after that moment that I bid farewell to my house of five and boarded a plane to Kigali, Rwanda.

How to I begin to say thanks to Rwanda?  Rwanda changed me in ways I am still discovering.  It opened my eyes to a whole new world and I experienced things that are difficult to put down in words.  While you were reading my blog posts that were my desperate attempt to show you the world I was living in, I was beginning to reshape how I think, how I believe and how I live.  I thank God for the smiles on the faces of children in the refugee camp.  I thank God for Esther and Grace.  I thank God for the dusty roads, the long bus rides, the patchwork green hills, my co-workers and the generosity of everyone I encountered.  I thank God for their willingness and excitement to share their country with me, a lanky blonde 21 year old from America.

The summer would have been impossible without my adoptive parents, Phil and Becca Smith.  Everyday I was in Rwanda, I thanked God for them.  Mornings with smoothies made from the old fruit salad, driving to work with Papa Phil, returning home to lay my head in Mama Becca’s lap while we watched Iranze play his little guitar and sing songs about the umusambi birds in the backyard.  They were exactly what I needed as I spent my first significant amount of time abroad and away from my family.  They were my family and they treated me like their daughter and I could have asked for nothing better.  I count myself blessed to have spent the summer with them and I will never forget the moments we shared together.

Upon returning, I embarked on an entirely new adventure: group coordinator.  I delved into a book of the Bible that once terrified me and has now proved very significant in my faith life: Joshua.  I started to read it while I was in Rwanda, but reading stories of Biblical genocide alongside stories of the Rwandan genocide was to much for me to handle.  How on earth could I possibly teach these stories to the SPU campus?  What significance do they hold in the greater story of faith?  As each week went on, I began to realize the hope that is found in the time preceding this book.  When you look at what lies beyond the horrific events of Joshua, you begin to see that there is a greater hope that Christ is calling us to.  The restoration of the world is coming, not through destruction, but through the love we live our lives in.  And that is something to be thankful for.

I am thankful for the group of people I spend fifteen hours with every week.  I am thankful that they are willing to try something new and work hard and worship together.  I am especially thankful for Bob.  He is my mentor, my advisor and my friend.  I spend a lot of time sitting in his office and asking a thousand questions.  He sits patiently as he waits for me to answer them myself, because he knows that I can.  He has helped me to shape my own beliefs in light of my summer spent in Rwanda.  He has taught me what it means to be a leader.  He has given me the confidence to lead a group of people that I, at times, feel very ill-equipped to lead.  I am thankful for him.

Honestly, it is hard for me to express just how thankful I am right now.  I am thankful for all of the moments that have brought me to where I am right here and right now.  I am thankful for the confidence that I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.  I am living with ten of my best friends.  I am leading a worship service that has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.  I look at photos on my wall everyday that take me to another world, a world where there are hills as far as the eye can see and children stare at me with dark brown eyes.  I have a man who will climb mountains with me even though he’s afraid of heights and who delivers lunch to me on the busiest day of my week.  I have a family who, though we are not all in the same city, still manages to spend time together through a beautiful invention called skype.  I count myself blessed and there’s no other word more fitting than a plain and simple “Thanks.”

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