Monday, July 2, 2018

When Love Wins Everyone Wins

We live in a brutal world. Maybe you’ve noticed. Sometimes I try to trick myself into thinking the hard things that happen are just a season. Life will get easier, less painful, kinder to my heart. This isn’t true.

The truth is, every day brings incredible joy and incredible pain. Last week we said goodbye to one of my dearest friends.  Yet that day which brought extreme pain and sadness also brought laughter and joy. I held onto the love of my husband and children. I laughed with my friends. I smothered five year old David with kisses and grabbed on tight to him as he giggled.


At the memorial, I watched my young Congolese friends sing, and was awed by their courage and kindness.

The following day, I woke exhausted, worn down by grief and busyness. I woke ready to tackle a new day.  A day filled with getting four young refugee children to summer camp. Yet I also woke to news reports of nine refugees being stabbed while celebrating a child’s birthday. How can this be the world we live in? Quickly I checked to see if I knew any of the injured. I did not. Relief followed, then horror that anyone could harm those who have suffered so much already. Who had already fled violence and death.

A dear friend messaged me, “Why does this happen?” My first thought was, “The light has come into the world and the darkness cannot overcome it.” John 1:5 I thought, “I must do a better job of loving people.” Sure, I do a pretty good job of loving the people I already love. My family, my friends, my bigger family of Congolese refugees. But honestly I don’t do a good job of loving those I view as unloveable, unworthy. Where does that fit into my life?

Because we all own the hatred that has become commonplace in our country. 

Since the last presidential election, which seemed to push us even farther away from each other, I have been asking God to help me truly love each person. Especially to help me love the person who appears to be the opposite of me. The person who doesn’t want refugees in our country, the person who attends a White Supremist Rally, the person who wants to hurt my gay friends. 

I can be so quick to judge. It feels like my right because I’m the "better person.”  I’m so quick to blame. So quick to believe I am, of course, the kinder person because of how I voted or who I spend time with. But since I’ve begun praying specifically for these feelings to break down, for my heart to embrace anyone I previously considered unlovable, a strange thing has happened. I have actually begun to love those I previously allowed myself to hate. This is only Jesus. This isn’t me.

I hope we will accept that we are all the same. All deserving of love. I hope we will all look around and love those who believe differently.  I hope we will become uncomfortable listening to anyone speaking badly about those “on the other side.” That we will stop those conversations, those jokes that seem so funny but really are just cruel. I hope we will choose to love. 

Only love can eradicate hate. There is no other way. There is no MY way that fixes this broken world. There is only the way of Jesus. And that way is love.

I hold onto this as I open my heart each day to the incredible joy and the terrible sadness that is every day life.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Always Say the Words

Yesterday we said goodbye to my dear friend, Lori. Lori left us Monday after a long battle with breast cancer. Two weeks before Lori died, I gave her this letter. At her memorial service yesterday my daughter read this letter. I struggled with whether or not to share this here, and I do so only to honor Lori and to share how well life can be lived. Lori chose to live well and for others. Also, if you loved Lori and didn't get the chance to share with her the words in your heart, please take these words and make them your own.

June 13, 2018

My dearest Lori,

I hope it’s okay that I’ve typed these words and not handwritten them, but tears don’t smear digital letters like they do handwritten letters.

I’m going to start by sharing the two verses I pray for you each day:
Psalm 23:4 “Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, LORD, because you are with me.” Oh Lori, I pray you feel the love and presence of Jesus so real and tangibly every moment.
Psalm 71:14 “But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.” I pray for extreme trust, peace and joy to live deep inside you. And always I pray for healing.

Oh Lori, every week when I have the privilege of spending my day with you, I want to tell you everything in my heart and all you mean to me; but I know if I open my mouth to say these things, only sobs will emerge. Such is the way of me. I’m grateful God has given us the written word.

You know, I know you do, how much I love you. Without you, a big gaping hole will forever be in my heart. I will miss your laughter (oh your laughter!) and incredible wit and silliness, your wisdom, our last minute coffee dates at Janjou, our hikes and XC skiing, your gentle words of guidance and sometimes even correction, and of course the pictures we text each other of our meals (at least we aren’t posting them on Instagram).

My first memory of you is when Rebecca and Madelon were in first grade together and you sent an invitation to the parents for coffee at your house. I was annoyed and felt a great deal of FOMO ☺ that I couldn’t come, because I was attending Boise State. I felt pretty sorry for myself.

I’d never had a friend like you before, someone who prayed for me and showed me a new and friendlier, more loving Jesus. There are some moments we’ve shared that are so clear in my mind. Once at my house in the Highlands, when Caleb was a teenager, I mentioned I was worried about how difficult it would be for our children to find spouses who followed Jesus and had the example growing up of a good family life. And you replied this didn’t worry you because the Holy Spirit can conquer anything. You probably don’t know this, but your words changed my life that day. Truly, changed the way I live. I began to let God out of the box I’d put him and really let him have power over my life. My world changed that day because of your words. I’m so grateful.

There is another memory that plays so clearly in my mind. We were in the garage of your home on the bench, painting corn toss boards for the Ambrose auction. Steve was with us and you snapped at him (I'm such a good friend for bringing this up). I remember being startled. Wait, what? My Lori also gets annoyed with her husband. This made me feel so good and normal (I know. Such a good friend).

I hope it’s ok that I refer to you as “my Lori” when I pray. I know there are many who come before me and that you belong first to Jesus, then Steve, Madelon, Tom, Jack and so many others. But Lori this is just how it is with you. You have loved us all so well. The rest of us Wonder Women joke that we each feel like your best and closest friend. This is just how good you are at loving us. We live in this love of yours and give Jesus all the glory for bringing us together into this little band of women.

A few years ago when I started to speak at church – some might even say preach! Your support and encouragement and validation gave me courage and kept me returning to the pulpit. I have never spoken at church without you praying me through it. The first time I preach without you praying me through the week before and day of, is something I cannot let myself think about. Maybe put in some extra prayers for me now that I can always hold onto. I really do love you so much. 

But here’s the thing I want you to recognize and hold inside yourself. I hope. I pray you know how much you have changed the world for good. I know this is Jesus living inside you, but I hope you will let yourself dwell upon the way you have impacted this world with your life. The choices you’ve made, the way you have loved others, the time you have given to others, the incredible way you can see what others need – your unselfishness – all of these things have made this world a better place. You have loved well and your love lives inside hundreds, maybe thousands of people. You have lived the royal law of love that is the way of following Jesus. Lori, Jesus is so proud of you. I know he is.

Hold onto this and the rest of us Wonder Women will laugh with you and love with you again. There are many tears ahead of us, but I know Jesus is bringing us more laughter and better days than we have ever known. And I will hold onto this.

Your forever grateful, forever loving you friend, 

PS: There is a pile of tissue on my desk and poor Daphne Dog is pretty worried about all the tears. Maybe put Archie outside when you read this. Oops, I should have said that at the beginning. My bad.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

When Darkness Closes In

Note: This was written August 11, 2017. Today, the darkness isn't closing in on me and I am wildly grateful. It is my true desire that in sharing my life, hope will be passed on to another who struggles.

Depression is a cruel thing. Sometimes depression makes sense to me. The first time I lived in this darkness it made sense. I had just received a second diagnosis of melanoma, I was working at a job I hated, my husband was out of work, our son had gone away to college, leaving me wondering what my purpose was. It kind of made sense that I fell into the dark place.

But this summer depression has made another hard run at me, and it makes no sense. My life is lovely. Our son is newly married and living  just ten minutes away from us in Boise. Our new daughter in law is a delightfully perfect fit for our family. Our daughter is a joy and finishing her nursing degree. Life is secure and filled with friends who love us and care about our lives. I’m not sick. We are financially secure. I have the rare blessing of being in control of my days.

I feel guilty being sad like this. It seems self-centered and such an unkind thing to put my family through. Again.

Yet as much as I try and try and try to be free of it, here I am.

And I worry. I worry my family will get tired of "sad me." That my friends will stop calling, because who wants to be around this. I don’t.

I’m hesitant to talk about this thing that’s happening to me. Depression seems like a cliche. Something everyone is doing - like being hipster.

And yet I know this terrible thing I struggle to be free of has made me a kinder person. I judge less, perhaps hoping I will be judged less.

I hold onto the hope that my time in this dark place will pass. It always has. I must believe it will again. Maybe when I’m sitting on the other side of this darkness, I’ll look back and see I’ve learned new stuff, become a better person, stronger, kinder, more forgiving (of myself even). Right now, though, I hate this place. I want to laugh and soak in the good stuff happening all around me. It’s not fun. And it’s awful for my husband.

Yesterday, I sat in my favorite coffee shop downtown and a homeless man was sitting next to me. He started talking to me, asking about the book I was reading. I looked at him and wondered how often people like me really see him. Really hear him, so I put down my book and gave him my full attention. We had an odd conversation. He bounced from one random topic to another, and I followed where he led. After fifteen minutes of talking and laughing, I wished him a good day and said goodbye.

I left him there in the coffee shop, glad I had given him part of my day, knowing that in my own brokenness I too need the kindness, the understanding, the attention of those around me.

I left hoping I can stay focused on the road ahead, trusting it will get better.

For You LORD are a shield around me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. Psalm 3:3

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time a woman stayed awake at night filled with anxiety that as her children grew older they would move away and become more mature versions of their amazing selves and forget about their mom.

Once upon time a woman stayed awake at night filled with fear and anxiety that when her children were grown, life would be empty and lonely and there would be no one to love and care for.

Once upon a time this woman’s husband tried desperately to console her. Yet she would not be consoled and cried anyway.

Once upon a time this woman’s God walked with her through sadness and despair and brought her out the other side into a beautiful light. He never left her. He was always faithful, always compassionate. He showed her how to walk in the light of Jesus and open her heart to EVERYONE and let go of fear.

Today, this woman’s children are grown and amazing. One of them even moved away. . . yet life is sweeter than ever. The children did not forget their mom. That was a silly fear.

Today, this woman’s life is filled with children - big and small - to love and nurture and hold deep in her heart. There has never been so many to love and care for.

And she never forgets what a gift this is.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

I'm Paying Attention

Yesterday was not my favorite day. I’m not a fan of the new president. I find his character - at least the persona he shows us - disturbing and sad. I remain mystified and hurt that we’ve elected him. This isn’t Italy after all! 

Still, this is the president we have. Deal with it (that’s the pep talk I give myself; it needs improvement).

Yesterday my daughter said, “I made myself pray for the president today.” I stared at her. I hadn’t gotten there yet. Oh, I’ve prayed around him. “God, protect us. God bring good out of this mess.” That sort of thing, but praying for him? So this morning I took my daughter’s example and prayed for the president. It wasn’t the best prayer. It went something like, “He seems like such a messed up person inside. Help him love you.” That’s nice. I hope God can do something with that. . . 

I also prayed for myself, because I’m afraid my anger and hurt will change my insides. And that scares me. In the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, I’ve seen many of my Christian friends hating and disparaging Mr. Obama. It always startled me, and I don’t want to go that route. So I prayed “Please help me truly follow you in all this. Really. In my heart and in my feelings towards the new president and in my words and actions. It’s hard because hurt wells up inside me and flows out into words of anger that don’t honor you. Surely, I can disagree with our new president without hatred claiming a piece of me.”

Sigh. One sentence for our new president and a paragraph for me. It’s a good thing God never gives up on us.

Yesterday morning God was looking out for me. As usual. Each morning before I talk with God, I read a chapter from the book of Psalm in the Bible. This is an everyday thing and I just keep cycling through the Psalms, starting with chapter 1 and reading through chapter 150 and then starting all over again.

On Inauguration Day 2017, I read Psalm 46. At random. It was just the next Psalm to read.

It goes like this:
“God is a safe place to hide,
Ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,

Attention all! See the marvels of God!

‘Step out of traffic! Take a long,
Loving look at me, your High God,
Above politics, above everything!’”

Rather timely. . . 

I’m paying attention and stepping out of traffic to take a long, loving look at my God. I’m looking to see how he will use this mess for good.

I’m reading through the bible again this year, and was tempted (haha!) to skip the book of Genesis because, having grown up attending church, I’ve heard those stories a million times. I mean, I did turn fifty last year! But oh how glad I am that my “rule following” tendencies wouldn’t allow me to skip even one page.

As I read the last words of the book of Genesis, I recognized God is constantly taking situations we have completely messed up and making something good instead. The book of Genesis tells story after story of humans ruining every good situation God has given them and then God fixing their messes.

When this “light bulb moment” occurred to me, I laughed. Instead of being sad and hopeless, I should be watching and listening for the good God will bring from our mess. 

“Pay attention and see all the marvels of God!”

God is bigger than my mess. Bigger than your mess. Bigger than the messes we make together.

And I’m pay attention.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 10

“I think I made you too small.” Those words from the song What Do I know of Holy kept running through my mind while we were in Rwanda. As we traveled to nearly every district in Rwanda, I kept hearing those words over and over. There are thirty districts in Rwanda. I’ve been to twenty. I had a lot of time to think.
Her God is BIG

At home in Boise I read Psalm 62 this morning and found a note I wrote in my Bible when we were in Rwanda. It was written the morning after our hardest day. You can read about that hard day here.

Psalm 62
God, the one and only—
I’ll wait as long as he says.

Everything I hope for comes from him,
 so why not?

He’s solid rock under my feet,
 breathing room for my soul,

An impregnable castle:
  I’m set for life.

My help and glory are in God
—granite-strength and safe-harbor-God—
So trust him absolutely, people;
 lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be.

The note I wrote says, “Kageyo, Rwanda 2016: I will not be broken. I will be a strong advocate for the poor and these dear families. I must not try to be strong on my own, because my strength comes straight from God.”

As an American sometimes it’s hard for me to remember I must not attempt to be strong on my own. I am, after all, from the land of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” My roots run deep in individualism.

In his book Embracing Grace, pastor Scott Sauls says: “Individualism is the biggest obstacle to the gospel of embracing grace. . . . Individualism diminishes us because it backs away from commitment and community. If humans are made to relate to God and to others, Individualism attacks our very essence.”

A focus on my individual self will always take me farther from God.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to let God be God, to let him be awesome and filled with love for me and great. I make him small, because I can solve my own problems. “I’ve got this.”

In Rwanda, most Christians don’t have that luxury. Their lives don’t always give them the opportunity to solve their own problems, to pull themselves up by their (non-existent) bootstraps.

In Rwanda, God is not small. God is big. Very big. He does big things. He loves big. He forgives big. When God does these same things in America, I often don’t recognize him, and instead credit myself and my own cleverness. Because, “I’ve got this.”

I desperately want to see God in all his bigness, in all his glory, and each time I visit Rwanda, God gets bigger.

I don’t want a small God.

I don’t want to read one more book telling me everything I need to know about God. I’ve done a lot of Bible studies and enjoyed them and learned and become healthier because of them, but the danger for me is in thinking I have God all figured out. Thinking, “I’m so smart.”

I can talk theology fairly well (I mean all those Bible studies. . .), yet every day my prayer is just this, “Jesus, please help me love you more. Bigger. With everything I am.”

I don’t want a small God.

Maybe we have to leave America to see a big God. Maybe we have to leave for a while to let God out of the the box we’ve put him in. When I’m in Africa, God is not in a box. He is big and he is all around me.

In Rwanda, I see a big God in the face of every friend.

Let’s make God big again and put him in his place.
Their God is BIG

What do I Know of Holy by Addison Road

I made You promises a thousand times
I tried to hear from Heaven
But I talked the whole time
I think I made You too small
I never feared You at all No
If You touched my face would I know You?
Looked into my eyes could I behold You?

So What do I know of You
Who spoke me into motion?
Where have I even stood
But the shore along Your ocean?
Are You fire? Are You fury?
Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?
So What do I know? What do I know of Holy?

I guess I thought that I had figured You out
I knew all the stories and I learned to talk about
How You were mighty to save
Those were only empty words on a page
Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be
The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees

So What do I know of You
Who spoke me into motion?
Where have I even stood
But the shore along Your ocean?
Are You fire? Are You fury?
Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?
So What do I know? What do I know of Holy?

What do I know of Holy?
What do I know of wounds that will heal my shame?
And a God who gave life it's name?
What do I know of Holy?
Of the One who the angels praise?
All creation knows Your name
On earth and heaven above
What do I know of this love?

So What do I know of You
Who spoke me into motion?
Where have I even stood
But the shore along Your ocean?
Are You fire? Are You fury?
Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?
What do I know? What do I know of Holy?

What do I know of Holy?
What do I know of Holy?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 9

When we stepped off the plane in Amsterdam early Saturday morning, I turned to Kevin and said, "This time in Rwanda was way more intense than last year." Walking through the crowded airport, I started to cry. I felt sobs coming. Kevin quickly hushed me. Apparently, he thought sobbing my way through Immigration Control was not a good idea. He's smart that way. 

Last year in Rwanda was amazing and new and hard and an explosion to all my senses. I went home and told Kevin, "All other travel is going to seem boring now."

But this year we saw so much more. We were more connected to the people. More friends. More loved ones. More children to visit. More heartache to share. 

We absorbed more. Refugee camps and poverty at a level we've never seen. More hungry children. More desperate teenagers begging for help. 

Yesterday our friend Kamana (who will soon be an American citizen!) texted us and said, "You guys have done more in two weeks than I could do in a year." And it feels like it. I've never known this weariness. I imagine it feels a lot like many of my Rwandan friends feel. Every day. 

Maybe next year I'll have discovered how to create a more restful itinerary. But that's doubtful.

For now I'm grateful for two nights rest in The Netherlands, but there is no avoiding the culture shock of traveling from Rwanda to Boise in two days. I'm so grateful to get home to Rebecca and be where I can easily talk to Caleb on the phone and not wait for the electricity to come back on so we can FaceTime.

I'm grateful I don't have to leave Rwanda entirely behind as we go home to dozens and dozens of friends from Rwanda and Congo. These beloved friends keep me real and grounded and honest and living outside of myself in a way I'm scared wouldn't happen if they weren’t in my life.  

Truly, I don't know why God loves me so much, yet I know he does. I see it in the faces of my family and friends every day. 

And I am grateful. 

Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 10 here

at home in Boise

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 8

Remember that time I visited our World Vision child, eleven year old Noel, and scared him to death by fainting in front of him. Yeah. That was a good day.

That was my day Tuesday in Rwanda.

The day began nicely enough. Kevin left early to guest lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in Kigali, and I jumped into the car with Fred Tumusiime, the sponsorship officer from World Vision’s Kigali office to make the three hour drive to Nyamagabo in Rwanda’s southern province. It was one of those drives that won’t let you to take your eyes off the road, even though I was low on energy and fighting what I thought might be a stomach bug. Rwanda’s beauty wouldn’t let me nap.
I saw things I hadn't seen before in Rwanda. Lots of pigs. Pigs are good money earners as each piglet brings a good price. Coffee washing stations dotted the side of the road. We even passed a station that said, “Roasters for Stumptown Coffee.” In the middle of rural Rwanda I found Portland’s own Stumptown Coffee. Crazy!

We arrived at World Vision’s district office in Nyamagabo, where I met district director Jean de Dieu and was given coffee and mandazi (Rwandan donut), a favorite of mine. I thanked Jean because just the day before, Prince, one of our young Rwandan friends in Boise had messaged me, “Have you eaten mandazi yet?” I hadn’t and didn’t want to get in trouble back home.
mandazi - my favorite Rwandan treat
World Vision does incredible things in Rwanda. I thought our sponsorship money just went to Noel, when in fact it helps develop a sustainable community by teaching improved farming methods, good hygiene and nutrition habits, digging wells, and providing vocational training. They help 11,500 people in Noel’s district alone. World Vision works in partnership with the community and one of the ways they assess needs is by holding regular meetings with school teachers and local pastors.
those clever fish farms
After sharing coffee and mandazi, Jean stayed behind while I went with Fred and Christella, a World Vision field worker, to find Noel. We drove another forty-five minutes on blacktop before turning onto a dirt road. We drove by fish farms. Ok I have to stop. These fish farms are genius. A pond is dug and filled with water and fish, then rabbit hutches are built over the pond. The rabbits do their business and feed the fish. Genius! Also, the ponds attract amazing birds, which we didn’t have time to stop and see.

We drove over a wooden bridge, up a steep, steep hill, passed a genocide memorial and reached a village. We went down the hill, then up another steep hill to another village. We went down that hill, got stuck on the dirt road, were rescued by the villagers and continued our drive. Finally, we parked and continued on a path through the fields and up a hill.
Fred had told me it was a forty-five minute “walk” to Noel’s home. I understood walk to mean a walk. On a flat surface. But I soon discovered “walk” has different meanings, and it’s meaning on this particular day was a vertical walk. In Boise we call that a hike.
The climb
The evening before I had sent a prayer request to several friends and my mom. I was feeling exhausted and a little sick. I asked that they pray I would be able to see Noel. He knew I was coming, and I couldn’t NOT go even if I was sick.

So we jumped out of the car, and I grabbed the bag containing Noel’s gifts but I forgot my water. Oh water, water, water, water. I love water.
Before I knew what I was getting into.
The walk was incredible. One of those, “I can’t believe this is happening” experiences. We walked over handmade wooden bridges while I worried about losing my balance. 
Alphonse - I thanked him a million times
We passed homes and farmers and goats and pigs and coffee plants, and people resting on small wooden stools in the shade of their homes. And I was feeling worse and worse. We began to climb a very steep hill and I asked, “Which is Noel’s home?”  Fred pointed to the home at the top and I got worried. I stopped to rest. I felt like I might vomit. It was noon and the hottest day of our trip. I felt incredibly foolish for not having water. I put my scarf over my head to shield me from the sun. We kept walking. I rested some more. I felt more foolish. I dreamed of water. I knew nobody on this mountain. Kevin was in Kigali. I had met my World Vision friends only that morning. 
My World Vision Friends
We climbed that mountain in the hot sun for forty-five minutes. Finally, Fred said, “There is Noel’s home.” It was so close, only about 150 feet away. Yet, I couldn’t get there.

I stopped to rest again, leaning against the terraced hillside, in the shade of a tree. I waited. I don’t remember fainting, but next thing I remember I was lying on the ground with my head in Christella’s lap. Fred was furiously fanning me with my scarf.  A dozen people stood over me fanning me. Alphonse, a teenage boy, had been sent at a run to our car for water. Just before I woke, it felt like I was having a really nice dream, then I opened my eyes, realized what had happened and instantly started saying “Ni meza” (I’m fine) and “murakoze” (thank you) (like a million times). Fred and Christella got me on my feet. Noel hugged me. I was embarrassed. His grandmother hugged me. I was more embarrassed. I couldn’t stand by myself, so Fred and Christella held onto me until they sat me down on a chair in Noel’s home. That chair was the best thing I saw all day. I loved that chair. I fell into it and immediately began visiting with Noel and his grandmother, acting like I was fine but really I wanted to lie down so badly.
Noel with his grandmother
Fred kept fanning me, while I began pulling out the gifts I had brought. I wanted desperately to make everyone forget I tried to die in the front yard. . . I brought out the fabric for grandmother. I pulled out the bag of marbles. I gave little sister Marie a harmonica, because every parent loves a noisy gift (yeah, I didn’t think that one through too well). But it was when I pulled out the soccer ball that the entire room went, “oooooohhhhh” simultaneously and Noel might have smiled a tiny bit.

Suddenly Alphonse burst into the room wearing a backpack filled with bottled water, sweat pouring from his face. I drank a liter of water and kept visiting with Noel. You guys, our family photos are on their wall. Every family Christmas photo I’ve sent is on their wall. I wanted to cry. At least I’m good at that.

Noel and I sat together but he was so shy and never, ever smiled. Christella kept saying, “seka, seka, seka” (smile, smile, smile) to no avail. His grandmother encouraged him to talk to me, but he would only respond to my questions in whispers. I scared this kid speechless. Trying to make him smile, I told him he’ll have the best sponsor visit story of all his friends. He just stared at me.

The entire village had come to welcome me and crowded into Noel’s home, spilling out of the doorway. They danced and sang their traditional welcome for me. I love this welcome! Noel stood up and said the Hail Mary for me (I mean, I’m sure he felt if anyone needed it, it was me). The eldest gentleman in the room stood up and made a speech. I was overwhelmed. I felt so undeserving. I am just me.

Before leaving, we stood together for photos and Noel and I played a bit of soccer, but mostly I tried to stay in one place. And also upright. It seemed wise.

The village followed us down the mountain to say goodbye. Christella wouldn’t let go of me. I kept saying, “I’m fine. I’m fine.” Fred replied, “Yes but now we don’t believe you.” I smiled. He’s a fast learner.
Saying goodbye at the car
I teased Fred saying I hope he’ll let me visit another year and he said, “Yes but you must bring Benedict (that would be Kevin) with you.” He told me all he could think of when I was unconscious what “What am I going to tell Benedict?”

World Vision took Noel’s family and me to dinner at a restaurant in town. It was the first time Noel had been to a restaurant. I will carry these memories with me always. Little Noel sitting across from me, his plate piled high with food, his eyes so big. Never speaking. Never smiling. Just staring at his wimpy muzungu sponsor. When we said goodbye I said, “Maybe someday you’ll send me a photo and you’ll be smiling.” I’m hopeful.

The “walk” up the mountain was hard, but I wouldn’t change it. I love these words my friend Alison texted me after reading an account of my day. She said, “What a picture of God’s grace. Here you’ve been helping Noel and he and his family had the opportunity to help you.” Every time I read her words I cry.

I collapsed into the car, and we made the long three hour drive back to Kigali. It was dark when I arrived. It had seemed wise to tell Kevin of my day’s adventure via text. . . and I fell into his arms as he opened the car door. Exhausted. Relieved. Embarrassed. Grateful. The entire staff at the guest house welcomed me. I had scared them all half to death. I was too nauseous for supper, so Emmanuel our cook made toast for me, but took it away saying it was too cold now and would make more. Rwandans love so well. I want that in all of us. Can you imagine that world?

I didn’t represent us muzungus very well that day. But I got up the mountain. I saw Noel and I loved him. I can’t explain how meeting your sponsored child changes you. It just does. You begin to love your child when you get the first letter or picture, but that first hug changes everything. From that moment the love you share becomes forever love. You never read those letters the same way again. Because you are never the same again.

Sponsorship may change a child’s life. But mostly it will change yours.

Please sponsor a child. It is good for your soul.

World Vision

Africa New Life Ministries

Monday, September 5, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 7

“I don’t know why God loves me so much.” These are words my friend Beatrice says to me often. Now they are also my words. On Saturday I visited Beatrice’s grandmother (Tate) in her home in western Rwanda. Again. For the second time God has brought me to visit with this wonderful grandmother. This time I brought Kevin.
Greeting Tate and I didn't even cry this time - well barely
Oh, what a day! I’ve decided I love second visits best. Last year was wonderful and fun and tear-filled and overflowing with joy, but this year I knew everyone’s name. We laughed together about our previous visit. We were at ease together. Tate said she remembered last year I said I wanted to bring my husband and here he was.
As promised I brought Kevin
A lot of the visit was the same. We sat close together in the same small room of her home. We drank Fanta. I shared photographs. She has a new grandson, Gavin and stared so long at his photos. I gave her the gifts her children sent. She was so grateful.

Before we left Boise, her grandson Kamana had said, “Please will you FaceTime me when you are with my grandma. I want to see her face again.” And that was the very, very, very best part of our visit. Watching them look at each other’s faces. Kamana who loves his grandmother so much. I’ve never met a person who loves his family as much as Kamana does. Twenty-three year old Kamana. A new father. Works full time. Is a university student. Yet, still he takes his four nieces and nephews to the park or the fun center in Boise most Sunday afternoons. I think his son Gavin is going to have a pretty sweet life.
Tate and Kamana FaceTime while Uncle Theo looks on
We gave Tate our gift, a warm sweater, and I told her the story of the sweater. At home in Boise, I asked her oldest grandchild, 13 year old Celestin (whom I love so very much), “What should I bring your great-grandmother?” I was having trouble thinking of something special. He thought about it and said, “Bring her a sweater because she will be cold.” So we brought a warm sweater, and indeed it is cold where she lives. When she heard the story of the sweater, she smiled her most beautiful smile.
Telling Tate the story of the sweater
As we looked at photos of her great-grandchildren, Celestin, James, Simbi, David, Gavin, Tate said to me, “I think you are their grandmother too. You are their grandmother in America.” And we smiled together.
We sat a long while in Tate’s little house and talked about how good God is. She said she thought she was going to die last year because she was very sick but God healed her. I asked her to be strong so her grandchildren can visit her next year. Her grandchildren who will be American citizens next year! I laugh when I think of them needing a Visa to visit Rwanda.

Kevin talked with Uncle Theo, Tate’s son with whom she lives, about farming and what crops they are growing and how life is for them. I asked if all their children are in school. They are. All four of them. This is a huge blessing.

Cousin Gentille married since I last saw her and I was so excited to give her a hug. She looked radiant and confident as a newly married woman, and so changed from the shy young woman I met last year.
As we prepared to leave, we stood together for a family photo. Because we are a family. 
Some of our Rwandan family
Tate, making sure the family photo is a good one
Afterwards, Tate sat down on her little bench to rest and I hugged her again and said, “I hope God blesses us with another visit here in Rwanda, but if not, we will be neighbors in heaven.” Then she said, “I am not strong enough to walk so far, so I will let the others push you to the car.” As I walked away I smiled at her wording and my heart was bursting as Beatrice’s words played in my head, “I don’t know why God loves me so much.”

When I arrived at the car Kevin was surrounded by children he was teaching to play hacky sack. They caught on quickly since they play the same game with soccer balls.

Next to the car, our fantastic driver and good friend John was playing with a dozen neighborhood children. Children flock to him. He had them all in a group singing. Rwanda may have a heartbreaking past, but today they love big. They love children, and I learn so much from them about love and generosity.

Indeed, I don’t know why God loves me so much and has brought me twice to this beloved family.

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13

Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 8 here

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 6

Thank Two are better than one because they have a good return for their hard work. If either should fall, one can pick up the other. But how miserable are those who fall and don’t have a companion to help them up! Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

It is not all pain and heartbreak traveling through the poorer areas of Rwanda. Wednesday was also a day of great joy. We saw our own sponsored child, Umulisa. Again. When we picked her up from her school, I hugged her so hard, I thought she might break.
Umulisa and her Parents
We drove together to her home where her parents were standing outside impatiently waiting for us. Umulisa’s mama and papa, Francine and Jean Bosco greeted us with hard hugs. They were thrilled to meet Kevin and when we entered their small living area, Jean Bosco immediately took a seat beside Kevin. Naomi was wearing her best dress. Jean Bosco was wearing the (now faded) orange Boise State t-shirt I brought last year. He made sure to point that out to us and we laughed. We sat close together on the short, narrow benches lining the walls of their small living space.
Jean Bosco and Kevin - Prayer Partners
Umulisa and I squeezed in beside each other and while I know from her letters she writes English beautifully, she is shy to speak it. Her smile more than makes up for it. I brought gifts again this year and we have started a tradition. Last year I brought Umulisa sturdy, purple Clarke sandals. She loved them. As I received photos of her throughout the year, I saw her wearing them. In one photo I could see they were getting worn. Wednesday as we sat together, I pulled out a pair of the very same sandals, but teal colored. She smiled hugely, covered her mouth and looked at her mama with joy. There were other gifts for her siblings and her parents, but the sandals won the day. It will become an annual tradition for sure!
That Smile
Last year when I visited we were all a bit subdued. It was my first home visit to one of our sponsored children. I felt awkward. I’m sure they did too. But this year, there wasn’t an ounce of awkwardness in the room. We laughed and teased. Jean Bosco said to Kevin, “Now that we have met, we can pray for each other.”

Naomi told us a few months ago while she was cultivating in the field, she stopped and prayed to God that he would bring me back to visit them. Then she looked at us and said, “And just after that we found out you were coming.” She raised her hands up and praised God as we sat together.

We talked a long time about Umulisa’s education. We told them we will support Umulisa through university. Her mama looked at Umulisa and happily told us Umulisa wants to be a nurse. Francine and I have  much in common as our own daughter Rebecca is studying to be a nurse. I like this added bond.

Next year Umulisa will move into grade P7 which means she must change schools. It means a one hour walk to school - each way. After consulting with the sponsorship director in Kageyo, Kevin and I bought Umulisa a bicycle via Africa New Life’s online store. Now Umulisa can make the journey in half the time. I cannot wait to receive the letter I know Umulisa will write and see her standing next to her new bike. I can already see her smile.

Bicycles change lives in Africa. These aren’t your average kids’ bikes. Kevin refers to them as a truck-bike. Every day I see men pushing bicycles loaded with water-filled jerry cans weighing nearly 300 pounds. I see bananas pilled high on them on the way to market. Everything we would transport via car is transported via bicycle in Rwanda. This bicycle will get Umulisa to school, but it will also change her family’s life.

It seemed our visit passed in minutes. I wanted to stay the entire day but it takes three hours to get to Kageyo and it isn’t a drive you want to make in the dark. 

Yet I still have so many things I want to ask Umulisa and talk with her about. I’ll have to be satisfied with letters for now, and pray God takes me back to Rwanda another day.

For now, my heart is happy this bond of friendship and family continues and will continue for eternity.

God is so good to me. I will remember that when the days are hard.

Please sponsor a child. Join me in this journey of joy and change the world. Africa New Life Ministries Child Sponsorship.

Read Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 7 here