When we arrived in Rwanda, Rachel lead our first team devotions and she pulled out a copy of Love Does for each of us. It is an excellent book that we have all been enjoying, full of short vignettes about living a full life that is driven by one thing: love. It is a book that inspires you to live your life unabashedly, courageously and joyfully. I can’t think of a better book to read while here in Rwanda, especially considering it is the book that pushed at least one of us to get on a plane to come here. What I enjoy about reading it while in this perfectly beautiful place is that this way of life – this unabashed, courageous, joyful life – has been displayed by so many of the people we meet. Through every home visit, on every bumpy car ride and over every plate of potatoes and bananas, we are able to better understand what it truly means to fully live a life of love.

Unabashed: not embarrassed, disconcerted or ashamed. So many different pastors, volunteers, staff and community members have welcomed us into their lives with warmth. They show us their homes with pride, give us seats of honor at their savings clubs, and we part ways feeling like friends. There is something truly humbling about being given a seat in someone’s home when they themselves sit on the ground. I should not be in this seat, we think to ourselves, yet that’s just it. We should be in that seat. Because in their home, in this moment, we are not there solely to give something. Indeed, we are sharing ourselves with them, but the purpose of these moments – these points of connection – is to show that we have a strong desire to understand where they come from. We too can receive something from them as we learn about the immense relational richness they experience in their lives. The fact that they are still able to support their neighbor who is living with AIDS when they themselves live off of only two dollars a day…well, why do we so often forget it is not that difficult to live generously, even when we have “little”?

Courageous: not deterred by danger or pain; brave. Tuesday was the day that we went to visit Josephine and her mother (Josephine is a vulnerable child, heading her household as she cares for her mother living with AIDS) and it is still a day I cannot get out of my mind. All I could think about as a big group of crazy white people crammed into her little home was how incredible it is that she still has the courage and desire to live a full life. To not be deterred by pain is no simple feat here in Rwanda, yet every morning people wake up, spend all of their daylight hours working incredibly hard and return home, only to do it all over again the next day. It is not an easy life, not in the slightest, yet the people of Rwanda continue to hold their heads high with hope for tomorrow. The volunteers who support the World Relief programs in Rwanda display an incredible amount of courage because they are stepping out of their own daily life and adding a new responsibility that will take a lot of extra time and energy. Yet there are hundreds of volunteers all over Rwanda reaching out to the most vulnerable people in their communities and their love is spreading like wildfire.

Joyful: feeling, expressing or causing great pleasure or happiness. Today we went to a community event in the Cyuve sector of Musanze that hosted about 300 men, women and children, all of whom are part of a program called “Mobilizing for Life.” This program is focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and marriage and faithfulness training, but there is no way you could have predicted what this event would be like. From the moment we stepped out of the car, dozens of children came running and stared at us with their big, beautiful, brown eyes. I knelt down and spoke to them, but when I stood back up, two of them grabbed each of my hands and brought me toward a giant group of people dancing in the middle. And when they dance, they DANCE. It was at this point that the smile went on my face and didn’t leave for the next three hours. The entire morning felt like one giant talent show with every choir from Cyuve competing (it felt like that because that’s exactly what it was, with the top seven performances awarded a goat for their community). To watch the singing and the dancing filled my heart with joy because every performance was about their lives being transformed through love. Loving God, loving their neighbors, loving their families, loving their spouses…it is incredibly encouraging to see the way they love one another so deeply and I hope that I can do the same. How on earth could my heart not be overflowing with joy when this is the story I get to be a part of?

We have been learning a lot so far on this journey, but this is most definitely a day I will not forget. It is a day that makes me realize my relationship with Rwanda is certainly not over. It makes me realize that my roots here are perhaps deeper than I realized and it makes me realize that Rwanda has taught me much about living life to its fullest potential. So, as we continue to read Love Does, I think we can hope that we can create our own version of the book compiled of our experiences in Rwanda where love transforms shame into pride, fear into courage and sorrow into joy.

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After several busy days in Kigali, we have finally made our trek north to Musanze. For those of you unfamiliar with Musanze, I will try to depict just how beautiful this place is. As you drive out of Kigali, the road quickly climbs up, winding through mountains, with a new incredible sight at every turn. Just when you think it cannot get more beautiful, the hillsides somehow seem more green and small waterfalls that you’ve never noticed or wildflowers you’ve never seen now come into sight. The sun is beginning to set and the road is smattered with people returning to their homes after a long day of hard work. Women balance large bundles of sticks on their heads, men walk slowly with tools over their shoulders and children are running with small yellow jerry cans in their hands. You can see anything balanced on a woman’s head or on the back of a bicycle and it never gets old. It almost becomes a game on these long drives to see who can find the most crazy thing balanced so perfectly on someone’s head as they walk down the road.

As we pass the sign that says, “Welcome to the city of Musanze,” Pastor Bwende says, “You are most welcome here in my home, Musanze.” I cannot believe I am back here. It was dark by the time we arrived last night, but when the sun rose over the steeple of the Catholic church this morning, the dark shadows of the Virunga Mountains appeared in the distance (these are volcanoes located on the border of Rwanda and Uganda where wild gorillas roam freely) and it felt good to be back. The air is crisp and fresh in the mornings and it feels like home. Like my Seattle home, that is, but I suppose it is only accurate to say that Musanze is my home as well. I nearly cried when Bwende introduced me as his “guest of honor,” his daughter, his friend. Bwende was so very happy to have the team from Bethany in this lovely place where hope is rising and life is improving quickly for many vulnerable people. He is happy to have us here because we play a role in this hope and we are beyond honored to learn what is happening.

The first half of this day was devoted to time spent with nine pastors working the Musanze Church Empowerment Zone (CEZ). A CEZ is a specific geographic area (in this case it is Musanze) where World Relief partners with churches in the area to reach out to the most vulnerable providing hope in many different ways and slowly but surely transforming lives, one household after another. After we heard about all of the incredible change for the better that is happening in Musanze, one thing stood out to me above all others: we are all part of one church and we can accomplish so much more when we overcome our differences and work together. Sitting in this room there were pastors from the Evangelical church, the Pentecostal church and the Anglican church. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…there are more denominations in Rwanda than one can count, yet when they enter into partnership with World Relief, this difference in denomination becomes a strength, not a weakness.

Church leaders in Musanze are responsible for picking out the most vulnerable people in their communities and discerning the best way to meet their practical needs, be it purchasing school books or building house. For a part of the world that has 85.7% of its population living off of subsistence agriculture, it will come as no surprise that vulnerability is high. So, when a pastor named Boniface explains to us that churches used to only be concerned about their own congregations and now reach outside of their church and work together with five other denominations, I feel now more strongly than ever that we must embrace the fact that we are one church called to one thing: to love. I’ve said it before on this trip, but I say it again because it is a truth. There is absolutely no reason that the Church should be spending its time and energy in any other way but loving the world it is a part of. In a time when humanity feels increasingly dark and cruel, why not put your faith and your energy in something that instills beauty and hope? That is what each and every one of the pastors, staff and volunteers that we have met so far have done and it is resulting in an incredible wave of change in Rwanda.

Our team was moved by what the pastors had to share about all they have learned in the process of changing their mindset from “every church has different ways of believing” to “every church has the same calling.” Leif stood up to share with the pastors, comparing them to the church in Acts.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:44-47

So, as Pastor Theogene said, when the church grows the community will grow with it. As churches continue to cross denominational lines, more savings clubs will start. More children will use mosquito nets. Clean water will become more accessible. Homes will be built for widows. Those living with AIDS will no longer be rejected, but will be supported. Let me turn this around though and remind you that the pastors in Rwanda are ahead of the curve. Look at Bethany and look at Seattle. How many differences have you gotten over recently? Imagine for just a moment how many more people you might be able to reach out to you if you stepped outside of your non-denominational church and opened your eyes to “the other.” Would you be able to with hold your judgement and instead ask how you can work together? Please hear Bwende’s prayer and take it with you.

Let us pray for Bethany, that they too may be empowered and reach out to many more people.

 

Months ago, Joe Springer was preaching from a passage in Hebrews and a verse stuck out to me that has never left me. It was Hebrews 10:31 and it goes like this: It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. I think what stuck out to me is its incredibly brutal honesty. I love when authors of the Bible are honest with their audience because it makes me realize that I too am allowed to be afraid, to be weak, to be joyful…to be whoever I truly am in each moment. This realization fits perfectly with today’s activity.

Yesterday and today, Greg facilitated a training on professional development and how it is intertwined with personal spiritual development. So, as a majority of the team went to visit some of the water projects just outside of Kigali (these are not part of Bethany’s partnership, but an example of some of the work another church partner has been dedicated to for years: http://20liters.org/about/), I sat and observed the training that Greg and Maggie were volunteering their time at. It was a delight to see Greg’s passions coming out as he served this need for the staff. The part that stood out most to me was a conversation about emotional competencies and their significance in servant leadership. When I refer to emotional competencies, I am referring to traits such as empathy, honesty, integrity and compassion. If my return to the staff of World Relief has taught me or reminded me of anything, it is that they are some of the most honest and good hearted people I know…and it shows in their work.

The reason an organization like World Relief is successful is because the 20 leaders who were in that room today are incredibly passionate about what they do. They pour their heart into their work and the people they work with and it results in orphans matched with a volunteer who visits them every single week. It brings love that was once lost back into marriages and families. It turns rain water into clean drinking water. It teaches a child the importance of using a mosquito net to prevent malaria. It turns one dollar into enough money to feed a family and have enough leftover at the end of one year to buy a goat (or two or ten!). But without attention given to emotional competencies, the work being done simply won’t be done as well because the passion will not be there. And passion comes from a certain trust that you have been called, you have answered, and you are exactly where you are meant to be. 

Greg shared a verse with the staff that was perfect. Perfect for them. Perfect for our team. Perfect for me. Perfect for you.

But now this is what the LORD says —

he who created you, Jacob

he who formed you, Israel:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have summoned you by name; you are mine!”

Calling is significant. Without it, I would most certainly not be writing this blog and I would definitely not be in Africa right now. But here I am, writing this blog, in Africa. And I got here because God called and I answered. Though I don’t know if I’ll be back, what I do know is that right here, in this moment, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. Following God’s call is never a walk in the park. Or if it is, it’s a walk in the park with unpredictable weather conditions and potentially wild animals ready to pounce. Hebrews said it best, “It is a TERRIFYING thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Terrifying! It’s so true, but then you look back at Isaiah and know that you are never alone. For you have been called and you will be cared for each step of the way. Do not fear, but instead savor every moment, resting in full assurance that life’s next steps will become clear in due time.

The thousand hills seem brighter and greener today and I am grateful. When I left Rwanda the first time I did not think it could be more beautiful, but once again – as in so many other ways – Rwanda has pleasantly surprised me with unexpected beauty at every step.  This beauty in the banana trees and bright blue sky is only fitting for what the day was to hold: hope. Today, we were finally able to see in person the work that we have heard about for so long and it was encouraging to every one of us.

The day began singing a few songs with the World Relief staff. We were lucky to have chosen so many old hymns that the staff already knew in their own language because it resulted in all of us singing songs to the same God in our own language and that is a truly beautiful thing. It is beautiful because it shows that, despite many many differences, in the end we believe the same thing. It is easy to assume that because some live in Seattle and others in Rwanda (or Germany or China or India or England or Costa Rica or Romania…you choose) we are all marching to the beat of our own drum with no regard for the other. The reality is that we are all tied together by one thing: love. That is what I learned today over and over again. Without love, we are nothing. We explore it over and over again through books, songs, scripture, film and the lives of others…but how often do we explore it in what is perhaps the hardest place of all, our own hearts?

While sitting in a church surrounded by six different couples studying the importance of being faithful to their partners (an HIV prevention program called Mobilizing for Life), one man said something that stood out to me above all else. On the topic of good communication, this is what he had to say: 

Whatever is said, when it is without love, it is nothing.

Have truer words been spoken? Why waste our energy on cruelty, hate or intolerance? The world has plenty of that already, so why on earth should we add to it when we know the significance of love? Here in this room, we heard story after story of transformation. It is incredible that all that is required for lives to be transformed is a space in which to talk about why relationships are important and why love is necessary in order to have healthy relationships that reflect values of truth, respect and patience. The beauty of a group like the one we witnessed today is that it will grow. The couples having these discussions will realize their significance and they will spread the word. The conversations will continue, lives will be transformed and love will reign. For it is love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (I Corinthians 13:7-8)

It was in this same group that a man told us he had written a song dedicated to World Relief to thank them for the way in which they had transformed his marriage. Of course, this is Rwanda, so it was not merely a song. There was a dance to go with it. You could see in his dancing the pain he had once felt in his life and the love he now felt for his wife (a beautiful woman, about to give birth to her fourth child). It is hard to express in words the way he danced, but it was clear in his dancing what he was feeling in his heart. His head would hang low as he yelled and then he would return to his wife with loving eyes, delicately brushing her shoulders and very pregnant belly. It was later explained to us that these motions meant that he was once feeling lost and confused, but has now learned how to have a family that is founded on love. Absolutely amazing.

The second half of the day consisted of meeting volunteers of the Orphans and Vulnerable Children program (OVC) and then a few of the OVCs themselves. Meeting these volunteers made me realize just what a sacrifice they are making. Once a week (for some even more), these volunteers go to the home of an OVC and provide them with the emotional support that they need. Once relationships are developed, these OVCs have health insurance, are attending school and have a relationship with a trusted adult that they would not otherwise have. The volunteers in this program do not leave – with about a 95% retention rate – and that is a testament to how much these volunteers are willing to invest in the lives of the vulnerable in their area.

Once a week. Every week. For 3-5 years. This is indeed a sacrifice, but of the utmost significance to those on both sides of the picture.  

What amazed me was what happened when we went to visit a young girl named Josephine, considered vulnerable because she is the head of her household with a father passed away and a mother suffering from HIV. When they started to share their story and their thanks for our visit, they both started to cry. I have never seen Rwandese cry in this way before and it touched my heart in a way I didn’t expect. These beautiful women are so strong and so courageous to be living life at all. So many could have given up by now, but they are not interested in that. I felt honored to be in the presence of such strong people and I don’t know if I could ever have the strength to live the way they do. 

This is what is always baffling to me about Rwanda. It is a country with a dark past. A very dark past. Yet it is so full of hope for the future. You find a man dancing in front of his peers to a song he wrote about his own life and the lessons he has learned in it. You find a young girl and her ailing mother touched by the fact that you would want to visit their home. These are the tiny fragments of hope nestled between brick walls, tin roofs and a few more bumpy roads. The hope fragments will continue to pop out over the next ten days and I look forward to seeing how I am surprised next. In the meantime, it is time for our team to rest because, as always, we’ve got a big day tomorrow.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.  (Hebrews 10:24-25)

This journey is not simply about the eleven days we are spending on the red soil. It has never been simply about the days on the ground. Our team has been meeting for months, slowly and intricately preparing our hearts for all that this experience holds, but can never accurately be predicted. We have grown together, been challenged together, laughed together and cried together…all before we even stepped foot on the first plane! Now all that we have been learning and discussing feels incredibly real and significant as we spend time in fellowship with the staff of World Relief Rwanda. For me it was an incredible moment to watch every staff member sit down in the circle as I sang songs in Kinyarwanda from the same familiar songbook, never knowing what the words mean, but knowing they are significant to the staff, therefore significant to me. These are my friends and they each welcomed me home with a huge embrace and the same beautiful smiles. It’s good to be home.

Our team had the privilege of learning about several of the programs that World Relief is running in Rwanda. Maurice taught us about an HIV/AIDS prevention program called Mobilizing for Life in which children, youth and couples are taught the importance of faithfulness and the value of deep relationships to keep you healthy spiritually and physically. This was followed by a passionate presentation by Louise on the orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) program. Last, we were able to hear from Courtney and Pascasie about the Savings for Life program where you can see story after story of some of the world’s most vulnerable people overcoming giant barriers and no longer classifying themselves as the poorest of the poor.

Of course, all of these programs and incredibly hardworking staff are part of our church partnership. By partnering with World Relief in Rwanda, Bethany Community Church has the honor to take part in the transformative work being done in Rwanda. Our team of nine is lucky enough to see and experience these things firsthand and it is our hope that while we are here and when we return, we will be able to be your eyes into this incredible world. This incredible world where the thousand hills surrounding us are lush and green, the incredible people we encounter have faith greater than we could ever imagine, and God is hard at work turning brokenness into something far more beautiful than we have ever known. Bethany exists in an ongoing partnership, continuing to build these relationships day after day, year after year. Please continue to walk with us as we share with you more about how God is moving and shaping this incredible country.

Many people have been asking me recently if I am excited to be going to Rwanda again. The truth is, a pang hits my heart every time I am asked that question because if I answer it honestly, excitement is not the first feeling that comes to mind. Stress, fear, uncertainty…these are all feelings that rush into my mind first. I have been frustrated by all of these negative feelings because I know they are not me and I know they are not true, yet they have been so prevalent. And then today I woke up feeling that excitement I had so long waited to feel and I felt a great relief when I realized that I am going back to beautiful Rwanda tomorrow – Rwanda nziza. 

I love Rwanda so very much. It is the only place that I have truly considered a home away from home and I feel so blessed to be returning. When I left Rwanda in August 2012 I slept the entire flight home to keep from crying. I was leaving a place that became so dear to me and returning to Seattle was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. And it is not just the thousand green hills that I held in my heart. Those hills are dear, yes, but more than the hills the people of Rwanda are people that I love very deeply. So when I woke up this morning, the first thing I thought of was the way my cheeks would touch the cheeks of the World Relief staff when I greet them with a “mwaramutse” on Tuesday morning. These wonderful people who started as colleagues I now consider friends and it is such an incredible blessing to be returning. It was with the image of their beautiful faces in my mind that I finally felt ready to return to the place I love.

I know that every member of our team is filled with our own anxieties, hesitations and fears, but the thing that connects us all is that we feel called to this place. I was recently speaking with a co-worker about how God does not make mistakes. God does not call us to places to play tricks on us and God certainly does not let accidents happen. Every person, every place, every moment exists in our lives for a reason and this journey to Rwanda and Uganda will mean something different to every one of us. Please pray for us as we head out on this journey that is so unpredictable, so far away and so out of our comfort zones. 

Pray for safe travels and good health. We set out on a plane Sunday morning at 9am and will be arriving in Kigali on Monday night around 8 (about 11am Monday morning, for those of you in Seattle). Please pray for uneventful flights, easy travels and rest on the plane. It is about 26 hours of straight travel from door-to-door and this can be incredibly draining, especially if you’ve never done it before. Pray we remember to stretch our legs every hour and drown ourselves in Vitamin C.

Pray for our spirits. On Tuesday we will be visiting the genocide memorial and this will undoubtedly weigh heavy on all of our hearts. Please pray that we will give ourselves the time and space to process the grief and pain that the Rwandese have suffered. Praise the Lord that we will see with our own eyes how far Rwanda has come since 1994 through many reconciliation workshops and answers to prayers around the globe. Pray we will not move so fast that we forget to see hope.

Pray for our church partners. Both Living Water International and World Relief Rwanda have worked incredibly hard to host us in their countries. Throughout our time overseas, I will be updating this blog with prayer requests from these organizations and ask that you join us as we do our best to support the incredible efforts of our church partners by learning more about what they do and by building relationships with them.

It is hard to believe that in 10 hours we will be on a plane, but this is real and God is in it every step of the way and that is so exciting to me. I feel honored that you are walking with us as you pray for us and follow us on this journey. Thank you so very much.

Holly, Maggie, Leif, Greg, Rachel, Jenn, Nate, Meagan and Jenny

Have I told you yet that I am going home? Home to the Land of a Thousand Hills. The land of laughter. The land of tears. The land of colors and patterns. The patchwork farmlands and dusty roads. The winding bus rides and perfect smiles. The laughter of children and the skeptical eyes of the old. It is hard to believe that in six weeks my feet will step off of a plane and onto the ground that I once called home. I count myself beyond blessed to be writing on this blog again and sharing with you the bits and pieces of a world that feels so far away. It all started over two years ago when Dad returned from this tiny country in the heart of eastern Africa and told me I had to go. I didn’t believe him, but it somehow seemed right to be bold and take a plunge into a world unknown.

I never dreamed I would love it as much as I did, but it captured my heart in a mere ten weeks and it has never really let go. Life has certainly had its fair share of busy times and one might assume Rwanda was simply a small blip in the midst of my full life, but that is not the case. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about Rwanda. So, when the missions pastor at Bethany asked me to lead a team to Rwanda, there was no way I could say no. It has certainly been a challenge–to say otherwise would be a lie. There have been many moments over the past five months where I have asked what I have gotten myself into and why on earth someone would trust me with something so huge. In the end it comes down to one thing: love. Our desire as a team is to build relationships with the people we meet and those relationships are founded on a mutual love of Christ. God loved me enough to provide me with the opportunity to go there once and it is clear that this is, once more, where I am supposed to be. Though a different context–that of a leader, rather than an intern–I am confident that I will learn an incredible amount in the two weeks I will spend there.

I have been working in a non-profit for the last year and this will clearly change my perspective as I engage in conversations with the staff of World Relief in Rwanda and Living Water International in Uganda. When I return back to work after the trip, the work will surely feel different as the people PATH desires to serve will feel much closer than they do currently. I often feel far removed from the world I long to love and serve and be a part of, so I feel incredibly grateful and blessed with the opportunity to taste and see and feel and smell and hear the familiarities that have slowly been fading. As I left on June 15th, 2011, I didn’t know what to expect, but I simply fell into a way of life with open hands. As I depart once again on September 7, 2013, I don’t know what to expect. I have fear and excitement, but neither is predominant.

Returning will be like a reunion with an old friend: either it will feel natural and we will pick up where we left off or there may be a period of time where we must get to know each other once more before growing deeper into relationship. My biggest fear of all is that Rwanda may have forgotten me, and I can’t bear to imagine that pain. Yet if Rwanda embraces me once again, as it did the first time, I cannot bear the pain of saying goodbye. As you once again (or perhaps for the first time) step into this journey with me, I ask that you pray for this fragile heart. Pray that I will walk on this journey with hands willing to work however God may ask. Pray that I will not be misunderstood and that my friends in Rwanda will somehow know that they have been, and continue to be, in my prayers daily and I have not forgotten them. Pray that I will have strength to lead with humility, walk with courage, and love with compassion. Walk with me.

Two weeks ago I received a text message from my friend Stephanie that reminded me this year marked the 18 year anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.  I am guilty in admitting to you that it did not stop me in the middle of my tracks that day.  There were still meetings scheduled and classes to attend, but it only took me a few hours for that reminder to really sink in.  Sitting in a Good Friday service, I received a message that shared the darkness of that day while also explaining the hope that hides behind such darkness.  Hope is a concept I often cling to, but it was hard for me on this day.  As I remembered the Rwandese people entering a time of mourning, I begged God to tell me how it is possible that they could find hope.  How, in remembering the fear and pain of their history, could they find hope?  It is in moments like this that I realize my faith is far too easily shaken.

It is on Good Friday, though, that I am reminded I am never alone in my questioning God.  Look at the words that Jesus himself cried out on the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  We all have our moments of questions and we all experience the heart wrenching moments before we have answers.  Jesus’ words lead me to David’s words written in Psalm 22.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from the words of my groaning?

My god, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, but I find no rest.

I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted within me.

But you, LORD, do not be far from me.

You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

I cried out to God as my heart imagined pain.  The pain of the cross.  The pain of the genocide.  The pain of the mourning.  Two thousand years ago, Christ laid down his life to save us.  Yes, us, the dust of this world who are undeserving of such love.  Yet he loved us and in spite of this love, we still live in darkness.  That is why I cry at night.  That is why there are times that the tears which flow are hard to stop.  Oh God, save us!

And He does.

For after death comes life.  After violence comes peace.  After mourning comes joy.  Turn to the words of Paul in I Corinthians and you read what I find to be some of the most powerful scripture in the Bible:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

WHERE, O DEATH, IS YOUR VICTORY? WHERE, O DEATH, IS YOUR STING?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

There is hope in the resurrection and for that we must be grateful.  There is pain in this world.  It is all around us and it is unavoidable.  You can not read the news or watch television or listen to the radio, but the pain still exists.  The pain is still sleeping under a bridge at night or pushing innocent children into slavery.  My heart aches everyday at school as I learn more about this world that feels as though it is crumbling around me.  But remember that there is beauty as well.  When my heart cried out for the pain of Rwanda, I remembered my friends there.  Ngoga, Marcelene, Emily, Pascasie, Maurice and so many others.  Their smiles, courage and passion have made me realize that out of pain there can still be beauty.  I learned more about hope from the people of Rwanda in ten short weeks than I have in most of my life.

I still think about Rwanda everyday and these recollections are what drive me to do my part to make the world a better place after my feet hit the floor each morning.  I do my part by taking the time to listen to a friend.  By encouraging those who feel as though they are at the end of their rope.  By recycling.  By taking a moment to appreciate the blossoms of spring.  By praying for the pain in the world and thanking God for the beauty in the world.  By spreading the hope of Christ through living a life of love.

What are the things that remind you the world is not actually so dark as it seems?  Take time to remember these things each day and thank God that out of the ashes, beauty will rise.  Remember that the pain of the cross came for a reason and the hope of the resurrection is not something to be taken for granted.  We will all be changed and the world will no longer be the same.

For God will wipe every tear from our eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away.  

This is our hope.  Let us live it today.

It’s time to start writing again.  The six weeks away from this blog was far from intentional, it just happened.  After my last post, the feeling of peace that had come over me quickly left and I was thrown into the tension of a very full February and then the end of Winter Quarter.  And now here I am, feeling more unmotivated than ever in my studying and instead in the mood to write.  You are my friends, my family, my support in every step of life, and it is only fair for you to know what I am thinking.  It’s only right that you know what exactly it is that has brought me to a point of total exhaustion and unrest as spring waits just around the corner.

I love spring and the newness it brings with it.  While the grey Seattle rain continues to pour, pink blossoms emerge on trees that have been naked for months.  Mixed with the March snowfall are white petals flying in the wind and it is hard to tell what are flakes and what are flowers.  The beauty of the weeks leading up to spring is usually something that stops me in my tracks, but lately it has been terrifying me more than anything.  The coming of spring means the beginning of an end.  I graduate in less than three months.  This goal that has always been so far away, so unachievable, and so grown-up is approaching faster than I’d like it to and my life is about to undergo a huge change.

Many tears have been shed as I consider the end of this time.  As a dear friend often reminds me, though, we are ever changing beings.  Yes, some changes feel bigger than others, but we are never truly stationary.  Even when we think nothing is changing, the world around us is still changing and we are changing with it.  Life is entering a period of transition and I finally picked up Letters to a Young Poet after about three years of my sister recommending it to me.  It seems that I picked it up at exactly the right time, similarly to when I picked up A Grief Observed precisely when I needed to in Rwanda.  One passage in particular struck me, along with several others, about two weeks ago:

It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living.  Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing.

Three months before I dress up in a cap and gown and step foot off a podium and into the real world, I feel as though I am stuck.  There are days I feel completely unprepared for what is to come and there are days that I just want to be there now.  The struggle is to remain present right where I am.  It shouldn’t be a struggle, though, because where I am is so very good.  Between my home, group, school, the band, my boyfriend and my family, there is absolutely nothing that should be concerning me.  These are all things I love and they are surrounding me all the time…why would I ever want to accelerate to a time when these things are not the way they are right now?  I am experiencing a strange pull in two directions: one coaxes me out of the present and into the future while another sticks my feet in the mud and strikes me with a paralysis concerning the future.  

God is in all of this, though.  God is in our wanting and our waiting, our laughing and our crying, our fear and our joy.  God was in our past and God will be in our future, but most importantly God is in our present.  My prayer every morning is that He will walk with me through the day.  It is my prayer that the next few months will be full of life, joy, peace and excitement.  Not anticipation.  Not anxiety.  Excitement.  Because life with God is an adventure, not a dark and terrifying journey.  

God I look to You, I won’t be overwhelmed.

Give me vision to see things like You do.

God I look to You, You’re where my help comes from.

Give me wisdom; You know just what to do.

“God I Look to You”, Bethel

It feels like winter quarter just started this week, but the reality is that I’m going into the fifth week this week.  Two normal weeks of school, one that was full of snow days and one where I travelled to Michigan for half of it have made me feel ungrounded in my everyday routine.  And when routine disappears, I start to worry and feel scattered.  Now I find myself sitting in a church listening to some of my dearest friends practice worship music for an upcoming retreat and I have felt God’s presence more strongly than I have in quite some time.  Sun shines through the stained glass, casting shadows of a tree stripped bare of its leaves on the floor.  

Why is it that my mind begins to race as soon as I lay my head down to rest each night? Why is it that the idea of calling no longer makes me feel at ease, but instead fills me with anxiety?  Why do I fear the future when I should really just be thankful for the present?  The present is beautiful right now and I desperately wish that my fear of the uncertainty after June 9th would stop creeping into my thoughts.  I think there is only one big update of my life regarding the future right now and that is the ever prominent view in my heart that I have an unexpected desire to stay.  Always I have said “go” and now I am thinking otherwise.  A summer abroad in Rwanda gave me a taste of the world that is out there and the world I want to be a part of, but I’m not ready for it.  I know I will be ready for it in time, but that time is not now.  

God has provided so much for me in my present circumstances and I am not ready to leave them.  I have been surprised by my desire to work more closely with the church and it has come as a result of leading the Group worship service this year.  Now, more than ever, worship has become an intrinsic part of who I am and I have seen the power it holds in so many arenas.  It is a place of worship, but more than that it is a place of education.  Biblical education, yes, but it goes further than that.  It is an education that teaches us that we are all part of the greater Biblical story.  In our everyday lives, where does the love of Christ shine bright and in what places has it yet to shine?  There is a fullness of the Kingdom of God that has yet to manifest itself in our world and we have the great honor to be a part of it.  

If my being a part of the Kingdom of God means staying in Seattle for longer than I anticipated, I am okay with that.  If it means sitting in an office and doing data entry for the ultimate glory of a better Kingdom, I am okay with that as well.  If it means not yet entering the NGO world and making coffee for people in the midst of their busy lives, I am even okay with that.  In the end, my hope is simply this: that I will have a place to let the love of Christ shine simply by living my life in a way that glorifies him.  Fear of the days following June 9th is not going to help me live my life in that way.  I must once again remind myself how to rest in the hope that God has a plan and, though it may be different from my own, it will be far greater than anything I can plan on my own.

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