springtime

The drizzling rain and grey skies reminded me of Oregon as the rain stung my bare arms and blurred my vision through my helmet on my moto ride home. For the first time in a long time, the weather fits the season. It will always be difficult for me to recognize it’s January when it is 80 degrees outside (but I’m not complaining). Today, the chilly, grey rain feels fitting to a mid-March day for both the Oregon springtime and the Rwandan rainy season.

The newness of spring has been so evident to me lately. I witness new things springing up to the life all around me and sense that the newness is just a rhythm of life.

I sense newness in me, too. A stability and strength that is surprising, but good. Part of it might be that I am mere days away from visiting my Oregon home, and the excitement of embracing my family and eating sharp cheddar cheese again so soon is driving me forward. It could be, too, that I am finally fitting into my role here and feel comfortable in the work, life, and community that God has been drawing me to over the last year and a half.

Two weeks ago we stared an entrepreneurship training with our women’s group in Kangondo. A friend of ours from another organization has been leading it. I sit in the back and write down things I hear or words I don’t know to look up later–an exercise to improve my ability to listen and hear Kinyarwanda. I don’t lead the training at all, but leave each afternoon feeling exhausted. Listening to a difficult language and the small attempts at conversation with my friends stretch my brain in an unfamiliar way.

The women, too, are stretched during the trainings. Most of them dropped out of school before reaching 6th grade, so it has been a long time since they have been in a classroom setting. All 18 women show up everyday though–notebooks and pen in hand for those who have the ability to read and write–also driven by the promise and hope of new things that could come from this. We sit cramped together on sturdy wooden benches in the courtyard of Immaculee’s house and enter in to the hard work of transformation.

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with joy and dancing

img_5599Yesterday, Annie and I headed into the slum for our weekly bible study with Immaculee and the 18 women we have been building relationships with here. We finished the savings group we have been facilitating with them for the last six months, so this day was a prep day for the party we will be having on Saturday, Christmas Eve. By “prep” I mean sing every song in our repertoire to pick the ones we will sing to on Saturday and, of course, dance.

I don’t know any of the songs we sung, nor do I look good trying to mimic their style of dancing. There were a few songs that I could actually understand the meaning of, and one where the leader asked “Where are you, ___?” and the person who was called had to dance in the middle of the circle. I understood that one.

Regardless of whether I could sing along, it was the most fun I have had in a while. As I stood just outside the dance circle clapping along, I thanked God for giving these women a space to be free. Life here is hard and it would be so easy to be broken under the weight of what these women carry with them, but here in this little courtyard we can be free and have hope and dance.

 

random thoughts about life here

Today I accidentally took one of Kigali’s newer buses that requires payment via a smart card, which I don’t have. After the driver loudly told me to get off the bus (super embarrassing), a stranger on the bus swiped his card for me and then flagged down a smart pass vendor a few stops later and helped set me up with one to avoid future embarrassing bus incidents. Then, an old man named Harby—decked out in a light green woman’s peacoat with fur around the hood—sat down next to me, told me his life story, and invited me to visit his coffee farm someday.

After this I took two more bus rides in between various errands and absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened.

Life here is like that sometimes; one moment exciting and vibrant, the next completely mundane. I never know what to expect. A friend of mine who also lives abroad recently wrote that her life is somewhere at the juncture of insane and so what. I totally get that. One minute riding on the back of a motorcycle taxi driving on the sidewalk on the wrong side of the road, the next deciding which brand of orange juice I want to try this week (if you’re wondering, I haven’t yet found a brand I like here). Both feel normal and strange at the same time.

I have been trying to practice being more present and available to others. Sometimes that means being open to help from a stranger when I make (yet another) mistake. Sometimes that means being willing to chat with the person next to me on the bus when I was actually looking forward to listen to the new album I had just downloaded on my phone.

Being present often requires me to take the long route. To be patient and open to whatever comes, both the insane and the so what.

changes

I have been reflecting a lot lately on being here. It has been almost one year since I arrived in Rwanda, and it has looked a lot different than I had imagined. When I was asked to join Word Made Flesh and move to Rwanda a little over two years ago I had one condition: I wouldn’t go on my own. So, it was frightening and a little disappointing to step off that plane alone last year, but I knew that this was the right place and time for me, and trusted that a companion would be provided along the way.

I have grown a lot this year, and a lot of that is because I came here on my own. I have had to learn to rely on my own intuition in making decisions, and to keep walking forward in the midst of insecurity. I have had to rely on God for strength and courage when I just cannot find those things in myself (which is often). Even more than being a year of starting a ministry, I feel like this last year has been a journey of discovering myself.

After months of anticipation my first staff member, Annie, arrived yesterday! And instead of welcoming her at the airport, I found myself hooked up to an IV in the hospital, being treated for dehydration and a bacterial infection. The doctor told me I would be there until the evening, and a group text later I had a friend offer to pick her up at the airport and take her to my house, and others offering to visit me at the hospital! It took a poorly-timed trip to the hospital to realize that I am in no way alone here. I am surrounded and lifted up by kind and compassionate people who took a lot of time out of their Tuesday to help a sister out.

I would love to believe that this is the last time I get so caught up in my messes I forget to see the goodness around me, but it won’t. Already, though, it has been encouraging to have Annie here and show her around this city that I now know so well and introduce her to the wonderful people I have gotten to know here. I have been able to see it all through new eyes, and it has been refreshing.

frankie & howard

If you’ve been following me on Facebook, or have asked me how I’m doing in the last two weeks, you’ve probably heard a lot more about ringworm than you’ve ever cared to know. Sorry about that, it’s kind of all-pervasive.

But that’s what happens when you pick out some kittens from a box in a Chinese supermarket on the other side of town and don’t take them to a vet right away to get the weird patches on their skin checked out. So, you know, I certainly could have been smarter about that.

It has been super exhausting to be constantly cleaning and re-cleaning every sheet, blanket, towel, rug, and recently-worn clothing in hopes that any free-wheeling ringworm bits (Mites? Bacteria? I don’t know the correct term here for this pesky fungus) would die and it just keeps spreading regardless of all efforts.

Cats were supposed to be easy and therapeutic. Thus far they have been anything but.

Fortunately they’re still cute so I’m keeping them, and I think after a couple of vet visits and some new meds we’re turning a corner.

In the midst of this has been usual work, social activities, and all of the ins and outs of moving into a new house and re-orienting routines to fit the new space and altered commute. It has been a lot, and there have been several times where I’ve felt alone and in way over my head. It has felt like one big balancing act that I’m struggling to maintain on my own.

I heard a song yesterday by the band Joseph that resonated so deeply with me. The chorus is so simple:

I’m alone—no you’re not—I’m alone—no you’re not.

Back and forth, back and forth—and I realized that this is my internal conversation with myself on most rough days. It’s really easy to convince myself that I am an island.

I’m definitely not alone—which should be obvious after two weeks of friends asking me how I’m doing, unfailingly listening to my rants about the woes of ringworm, and continuing to invite me into their homes even though I have gross sores on my body (that are not contagious at this point, but still gross). I am certain they are all as tired of hearing about ringworm as I am living through it. I’ve got some pretty solid friends here.

It is often more tempting to listen to the lies I tell myself than to open my eyes and see the truth that is right in front of me, so thanks, friends, for lifting me up and sticking with me, ringworm and all.

In somewhat related news, I won’t be alone here much longer! At the end of September my first WMF staff member, Annie, will be joining me from the US! You can read more about her journey here. Here’s to hoping my house will be scabies-free by the time she gets here.

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The cute culprits: Frankie (a.k.a. Soul Patch) and Howard the Lady Cat

encountering brokenness

This week, like every other week, I spent an afternoon with my friend Immaculee, visiting women in a poor community where we have been building relationships. We sat on broken chairs in dimly lit, two-room houses and listened as these women poured out their hearts: their concerns for their family, their health, their loneliness, their despair.

I don’t know why, but this week our home visits were so much harder for me than other weeks. I left feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, that their poverty was too great. A few times I wanted to just give money to these women and get the heck out of there! I could go back to my comfortable, spacious home feeling like I did some tangible good in the world. That would have been so much easier than sitting there in the dusty, stuffy reality of their poverty.

Henri Nouwen defines compassion as “suffering with”; a definition that is challenging, but full of truth.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.

I read this for the first time a year ago as a starry-eyed intern and was fist pumping the air. “Yes! Brokenness! Vulnerability! Solidarity with the poor!” Truths I was slowly discovering put into words more eloquently than I ever could have done on my own.

But, you know what? “Being weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless” is really, really uncomfortable. It reminds me of my own brokenness, my own weakness, and that doesn’t exactly leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling or a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

I recently read a piece by Richard Rohr that talked about our tendency, when encountering suffering, for either attachment or detachment—fight or flight. Which explains my internal struggle between quick-fixing the situations before me (by handing out cash) or running for the hills.

Rohr talks about the Third Way, the way of compassion, which calls us to sit in the tension between attachment and detachment until it transforms us.

Fight, flight, or love.

This week I experienced the bitterness of a broken and unjust world that makes cycles of poverty seem unbreakable and suffering seem unredeemable.

But these friends that I’m making, these sweet sisters of mine who sit on the floor so that they can offer me a chair and cheer for me when I am able to say even the smallest phrase in their language, remind me that love is the source and the goal. They give me the courage to have faith in slow processes and in moving forward without resolution or complete clarity. To live day by day,and know that while I cannot end all suffering here, I can trust in small signs of hope and the joy of friendship.

“When, however, we discover that our obedient listening leads us to our suffering neighbors, we can go to them in the joyful knowledge that love brings us there.”

 

a little bit of home

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View from the top of Dog Mountain, on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. A day well spent with old friends.

Oh, to be back in the land of passion fruit, motorcycles, orange dust, and a thousand hills.

My time in Oregon last month was an absolutely incredible time with family and friends. In spite of a packed schedule, way too much food, and not a lot of sleep, I returned to Kigali last week feeling refreshed—a further confirmation that my trip home was a good choice and the right timing.

When I came to Kigali last November, it was not with the level of serenity and confidence that I felt this time around. After over a year of talking about and preparing for Rwanda, I stepped on the plane overwhelmed by the pain of feeling like I was walking away from a beautiful community in Portland, and fear of the unknown.

I remember at some point during that first flight to Amsterdam I was listening to music and working on a Sudoku puzzle as a way to occupy my mind and attempt to calm my nerves. I recently was going through that Sudoku book and found a note that I had written in the margins during that flight (sometimes the effort to dig through your backpack to find your journal to write down a thought is just too much).

“I had a moment where I wondered how I ended up on this plane headed to God knows what…and then I saw stars and remembered his promises.”

A few years ago, I was working at a summer camp in Santa Cruz. There was one evening towards the end of my summer where I was star-gazing with a friend as we waited for our campers to show up for our evening time around the fire. I was a few days away from my semester abroad in Rwanda and was feeling a lot of anxiety about the trip and the quick transition. As we laid out across wooden benches and watched the stars I listed aloud all of the things I was hoping for with my time abroad. Once I was in Rwanda, and in the years since, every time the sky was clear enough to look at the stars I felt like God was reminding me of those hopes, and to see how he was leading me towards them, or already had.

So, when I was on that plane, full of fear and doubt, the sight of a starry sky outside of my window gave me enough hope to keep going.

Several times in the last six months I have been on an evening bus into Kigali after a visit to a town in the northern part of the country. Sometimes, if it is dark enough, the dark hills blend into the dark sky, making the small, blue lights of the houses scattered across the hills look like stars, and I am reassured about this place. That the things I have been hoping for and pursuing are good and true and real. It is so easy to doubt that.

I recently re-read Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, a book about vocation and discernment and navigating through the various seasons of life.

Vocation at its deepest level is not, “Oh, boy, do I want to go to this strange place where I have to learn a new way to live and where no one, including me, understands what I’m doing.” Vocation at its deepest level is, “This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.”

With just a little bit of sass, Palmer says exactly what I have felt over and over again on this journey—that this is something I can’t not do, even if it doesn’t always make sense on the surface level.

Last week, as I boarded a flight to Washington DC, then Ethiopia, then Kigali I felt sent. Maybe released is a better word, but I felt like I was moving in the right direction and that I had a lot of people pushing me onward. Rather than mourning the loss of friends, I was thankful for sweet time with so many dear people and the ways that each of them is encouraging me forward. I felt refreshed in my soul and released from the fears and stresses that I had been feeling in the previous months as I was starting my life here.

It felt a little bit like going home.