I wanted to run today. Or should I say walk? Because let me be real, there are literally 1,000 hills in Rwanda and so a run inevitably for me, at some point, ends in a walk. If I’m lucky, it will end in a sort of run-walk-run kind of a thing, but that is now besides the point because this morning I had too much coffee and not enough peanut butter. You know the feeling? When you are jittery and weak and need to sit down because there is this substance full of caffeine and sugar coursing through your veins? Yes, that is me right now. So here I am forced to sit when I really wanted to run. Well, actually, I wanted to write too. There are so MANY things I want/wanted to do today.
Today is my day off.
Hallelujah. I need it. We all need one of those now and then don’t we?
But the tendency, or at least mine, is to fill it with a million things. Errands, a run, a coffee date, etc. etc.. And while none of those things are bad things sometimes they are not THE thing. The thing you really need. Like rest, and writing. Like reading or journaling. Like staying home or staying in bed. Like things that your soul desperately needs at the moment.
I read a book recently where the author described the Sabbath day of rest like having a snow day in the middle of the week. You wake up and suddenly all your responsibilities are wiped away. You have no where to be, no where to go, no need to get out of the house. You are free to sit in bed and drink your coffee all day long (just make sure you eat some peanut butter toast). You get to read a book and there is no NEED to take a shower or change your clothes. There are no expectations of you. Your only goal is to do nothing–save a few simple fun things you feel like doing.
A snow day in the middle of the week. Doesn’t that sound lovely?
That is how I am trying to view today. No duties, just be present and rest.
We have lived in Rwanda for nine months now. In many ways it feels like much longer. But I would say gladly, nine months in, we have moved from surviving to thriving. Most days, anyway. I am grateful. Life is good here. Full in different ways, but very, very good. Not always easy, but good. Funny how often I thought things had to be easy in order to be good. That isn’t the case at all.
I read a great quote by my new favorite person, Henri Nouwen, and I feel in many ways it sums up what we are doing here in Rwanda–or maybe more accurately what the Lord is doing in my heart through being here in Rwanda. He says:
“You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.”
I can’t wait to meet Henri in heaven. What a man. What a wise man. What a man I want to learn from. Maybe THIS is why God led us to Rwanda. Maybe this is what God has been after all along. Moving us to step out into a new kind of living, so that He can teach us a new kind of thinking.
I am all ears.
At least that’s my goal.
Speak Lord, and I will listen. Teach me Lord, and I will learn. Show me, and I will do. Lead me, and I will follow. May this be my heart’s desire. Always. On work days and rest days, on good days and bad days. On days when I see glimpses of His glory and His unfathomably good plan, and on days when the clouds fog it up. And yes, on days like today when I’ve had too much coffee and not enough peanut butter, because sometimes these are the days when plans change and I have to sit still–and listen.
It was almost all I could think about when we moved here. The Genocide Against the Tutsi. Everywhere I went it seemed dark brown eyes stared back at me from hollow looking faces as I passed them on the street. Eyes that seemed full of pain. Eyes that seemed to have seen terrible things. Eyes that had looked in the face of Evil–and lived. A great, great Evil. And I did not know, nor could I ask, just what those eyes had seen. What kinds of pain and tragedy they knew–indeed, still know.
I thought often of the valley of dry bones and Ezekiel, and that here in Rwanda, there were many, many valleys filled with them. Although they wouldn’t have been dry. They would have been wet bones. April, they tell us, is “rainy season.” Torrential downpours flood the streets, homes, and valleys. Usually the rains stop everything. People don’t leave their houses when it rains here. But not that April. In April of 1994, not even the rains could stop the madness.
After living here for eight months, I’ve somewhat lost sight of this great Evil. I am not quite sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing–or a little bit of both. I have met so many joy-filled people since we moved here. So many bright white smiles meet mine. Everywhere we go this country is bustling with life. At least five new houses in our neighborhood have been built since we moved in. Construction is happening all over the city. People are everywhere: walking, driving, riding, talking. People who are very much alive and living and well and working.
Dry bones, walking again.
The longer we stay here the harder it is to imagine this place a wasteland. This green and growing world, a place of death and destruction, reeking with the stench of rotting bodies. Harder still to imagine the Evil that paraded through the streets waving machetes and shouting obscenities. It’s not possible. Not here in this beautiful place. How could it have been?
And yet, for those horrid 100 days from April to July when ONE MILLION Tutsis were killed, it was very much a reality. A terrifying, obscene, incomprehensible reality. One that so many still live with today, 28 years later. Those big brown eyes live with scars. Scars that I can only imagine break open and bleed every once in a while, especially in April.
There is a genocide memorial at the entrance to our neighborhood. Unlike so many memorials you visit elsewhere, there aren’t any names on this one. They do not know exactly who, nor how many, are buried here. It is simply a mass grave covered with a cement platform. The final resting place for too many bones.
Our neighborhood, once just a field and a few mud homes, became something no human eyes should ever see.
A field, a slaughterhouse, a wasteland, a graveyard—-a neighborhood. It is hard to imagine now.
Yet, how many places are like this in Rwanda? Life where there had been death. Joy existing with pain. Present mixed with the past. I am guessing most. They all speak this same story.
As we enter this season of remembering, mourning, promising never to repeat, and looking hopefully to the future, would you remember to pray for the wounded? Those living with unimaginable scars from the ravages of Evil. Pray for healing, for unity, for forgiveness and for Jesus to continue to make His presence known in the darkness and among the suffering. He is the Only One with the power and ability to Redeem.
And as I think about what this land was and now is, I am reminded of these wonderful words that Jesus spoke. The Light Who came into the darkness. The Light that cannot be overcome by it. He said:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion–to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61:1-3
Oh thank you Jesus! Oh may these things be true of Rwanda. A redemption story revealing His love and glory. A display of His splendor.
This is Esther. She is 8 years old and has no legs. I met her several weeks ago in the courtyard of her very humble home, shared by two other homes.
I have hesitated sharing this picture because I don’t know what to do with it, or her. And maybe by sharing this photo somehow it looks like I do, or like somehow I am helping. Really, all I did was visit Esther and bring her some goldfish crackers in a zip lock bag. Two treasures from America that she probably didn’t even realize as such. I do hope she liked them though. I told her they were my kids favorite snack.
When we walked in the small cement courtyard, Esther was sitting with her mom, little sister, and a young neighbor boy. Our ministry partner, Jules, and I both gave her a hug. When I reached down to pick her up to give her a hug, I was surprised how light she was. It made my eyes water. I have never hugged someone without legs before. It was a privilege.
We sat down and began talking through Jules, our mutual friend and translator.
She was very shy, but she showed me how she liked to run, using her hands of course, which have taken to looking more like feet since they are often used that way. On the way to see her, Jules told me she was very outgoing and loved to be active. Until, apparently, this strange white lady showed up with crackers in the shape of little fish and asked her questions in a different language. In her shoes, I would have been shy too.
I asked her about school, her hobbies, and what she wants to be when she grows up. An eye doctor, she answered. I asked a few more awkward questions met with more shyness, and then eventually after 20 minutes or so, we took a picture and we said goodbye, and walked back up the clay road littered with broken flip-flops and rags caked in mud. And that was it.
But I haven’t stopped thinking about her and wondering what it is that I/we can DO for her. I don’t really know the answer to that question yet.
A wheelchair seems like an easy answer, but if you walked that red dirt road with me to her house, gauged out by monsoon rains that wash down the hill like chocolate milk, you would see what I mean. Rwanda is not wheelchair friendly, even in the more sophisticated parts. Jules has tried to convince her family to move to an easier place to access, but they want to stay where they are.
Sweet Esther is sponsored through Jules’s ministry, Shelter Them, which covers her school fees and supplies. (She attends a school for the disabled an hour outside Kigali). Her dad has a job and her mom stays home. But her family is obviously still poor, and she still has no legs, no great way to get around, and a desire to be a doctor.
And this is how it seems with so many people I meet or see in Rwanda. Obviously poor–but making it. In need of better clothes, or house, food or more money. But also, in need of so much more than that.
What we “do” can feel like a drop in the bucket. Insignificant, insufficient, and fading fast.
I am learning, the needs we are surrounded by are much much deeper than they appear at first glance. It isn’t just new clothes or food or a few hundred francs that they need.
I am starting to think, their greatest need isn’t physical at all. Their needs are tied into generational poverty, a country recovering from genocide and civil war, the colonization of Africa and the results of brother against brother and the dark forces that rule this world.
There isn’t much I can do to change that.
But Jesus didn’t ask me to change that. He has already taken care of it. Yes, it still looks pretty ugly down here in many parts of the world, yes we still suffer and go through many different kinds of trials, but that’s when we remember we have hope in the midst of the darkness. We have Good News. We have a Father who looks after us and takes care of us. We have a Savior, who took on darkness and put it to death. We have a God on our side who leads us by His Spirit and is active and moving and working at all times everywhere. In spite of, in the midst of, the really ugly things in life. We have a Father who cares.
No one can ever care more than Him. And He invites me to follow Him, to love Him, and to learn how to love like He does.
And so, when I get overwhelmed by the needs I see around me, I need to remember who I am–but more importantly, who He is. Savior. Redeemer. Friend. Teacher. Shepherd. King.
Me? An object of His love and mercy, and an evangelist of His great love.
So while we wait for Heaven to come again, I can wave and smile and hand out bananas and goldfish crackers, and do what Jesus did and sit and talk with people. I can learn to give my presence and share the love of Christ.
These may be little things, but that is okay. We may do greater things in the future, and that is okay too. I definitely don’t have it all figured out.
But, again, slowly by slowly, as they say in Rwanda. One day, one step, one person, one meeting, one smile at a time. May He lead us onward into the work He wants us to do.
Also, would you join me in praying for Esther and about the ways in which we can be of help? So very much appreciated.
Ladies, it’s November, and if it hasn’t already life is about to get busy. Full. As full as my Thanksgiving dinner plate. Like eyes-bigger-than-my-stomach-how-did-I-ever-think-I-could-eat all-these-mashed-potatoes kind of full.
I know what it’s like to have my plate and hands full. I’m guessing if you are here reading this you do too.
I also know that sometimes it is inescapable. The season we are in, the job we have, or the kids we are raising, sometimes pile it on for us. We didn’t always choose to load our plate this way. But full hands and plates are heavy hands and plates, regardless of what they are holding.
And here is what else is true: it is hard to DO other things with full hands.
Have you ever had your hands full of things you gathered from inside your van, and then, WHILE HOLDING everything, try to take a drink from your water bottle? Or unlock the front door? Or stoop to tie a shoe or pour a glass of milk?
It doesn’t end well.
It’s happened many times to me. I drop something. I spill something. On myself or the dog. The morning’s coffee mug that gelled over with cream tips and dumps at my feet.
I can’t have full hands and expect to do other things well. It just doesn’t work for me. And I don’t know about you, but the thing I really, really want to do well in life, is know Jesus. I want to go deeper. I want to love Him well, but when I’m clinging to so many other things, it is really hard to do.
So here’s what I’ve been thinking. I’m thinking I need to unload some things from my hands. I need to take less food from the Golden Corral buffet of life. I need to set a few things down and unlock the door for Him.
Sure, there is a lot I cannot rid myself of. I will, by the grace and love of Jesus, continue be a mom. I can’t let that go. I will, by God’s loving kindness, be taking care of five little souls. Thanks be to Him, I am a wife, a daughter, a friend, and yes, I have laundry to fold because there are clothes in our closets.
But there ARE things I can let go of–with God’s good grace.
As life fills up over these next two months, here’s two ways I’m trying to empty my hands, my plate, myself.
One: meeting with Jesus in silence, two times a day.
I’m on day 3, so let me tell you, I’m an expert. KIDDING. This is hard and I am not doing very great at it—although I am trying. I sit there in silence but my mind still spins. I look forward to the day it doesn’t.
Here’s the book that started it all. It’s a 40 day journey of doing the “daily office” with Jesus. What is the daily office? Well, I’m still learning that, but it is regular times of silence and prayer throughout the day. This is what I’ve been needing ladies. Maybe you too?
Here’s another thing I decided to do this morning while blow-drying my hair. (I could write a book about the good ideas I have while blow-drying my hair—I bet you could too).
Here was my genius thought, while I’m practicing silence before Jesus, maybe I should also silence some other voices in my world. Maybe I should turn off social media for the next 40 days.
You don’t have to tell me twice, Lord.
Honestly, I’m not even a big social media gal. I’m there—but more often, I’m not. And while it can be a great place to connect with friends, make new connections, share a beautiful picture or story, and even find life-giving resources, there is so much other noise, so many other temptations that are SO VERY EASY to get sucked into that makes taking a SM break good for the soul.
Two simple changes. Two simple things I am going to try over one of the busiest seasons the year brings. One that I am adding, another I am taking away.
I guess they kind of negate each other when you think about. Time spent scrolling on my phone replaced with time and silence before my Father. I’ll take it.
Would you join me? It’s never too late to start 40 days of meeting with Jesus, or 40 days of turning down the volume on the world. Or both.
Here are some resources for your journey:
The 40 Day Social Media Fast (No, I haven’t read it, but in typical Brooke fashion, if the title and main idea sound good, I’ll recommend it ;). Enjoy.
Here’s to a great season friends. A season that takes things off our plates, out of our hands, and makes room for Jesus. Because girls, He’s coming. And when He knocks, I want to have room in the inn for Him.
Hello there. It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote here and I am feeling better. Stronger. More adjusted. And boy oh boy, is it a good feeling. I’ve been able to loosen my death grip on the steering wheel, and the other night we had chili and rolls for dinner and found a way to stream an American football game. It almost felt like a normal fall Saturday.
I am not one to count days and weeks–or really anything for that matter. Maybe that’s because I am more of a words girl than a number one or because countdowns make me nervous. In general, numbers just don’t matter very much to me. Occasionally, however, they do give me perspective.
If I wanted to keep track of the number of days we have been here, it would be easy. We arrived the night of August 1. For a gal who doesn’t like counting, I love it when things are easy like that. Like the fact that we were married in 2005 and three of our five children were born in 2010 and 2015. Woot woot. This word girl can do skip counting.
And so, if we arrived August 1, I can do second grade math and figure out that we have been here 53 days. Or, if we want to be really specific, (since we are being so mathematical here), 52, because August 2 was our first full day in Rwanda.
Why does it matter? Well, first of all, I am not wholly sure it does. But someone once told us it would take 90 days for our family to settle in.
We are over halfway there.
At first, my husband thought 90 days sounded ridiculous. I am not sure I really thought much about it at all, honestly. I knew we were going into a whole new world and my expectations were nil because how could I know what I didn’t know? Now, on the ground for about seven weeks, we are learning, it’s true. It takes a lot of time to settle your family in well.
Why? Because EVERYONE is adjusting. Mom, dad, and five little children with needs, desires, fears, worries, expectations and hopes. We are flexing. We are swimming in the water. We are finding our way in this strange new world where barber’s don’t know how to cut our hair and cheddar cheese is a luxury!
So when I break down in tears, or my son does too, I remember, we’ve only been here 53 days. (or 52 if you want to slice it that way). We are newborns. Still learning how to get milk and how to sleep through the night. Those are both literal, actually.
It takes time. Lots of time. Lots of patience. Lots of grace.
“Slowly, slowly, slowly,” they say here in Rwanda.
They don’t rush. They wait. They are a patient and gentle people.
I am learning to be patient and gentle with myself (and my family) too.
Moses wrote the famous words in Psalm 90, “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
I’ve always thought of that in the ways of numbering our days here on earth, because we never know when we may be taken up to glory. And that is what Moses is speaking of here.
But when I think of it in different terms, of numbering the days we’ve been in transition, the number of days we were on the road in an RV, the number of places we’ve visited, the states we drove through or the number of houses we have called “home” in the past year, I think I also can gain a heart of wisdom. Because the numbers start to tell a story. No, they can’t tell the whole one, but they can give a piece of it. They give insight into the struggle our brains have had in doing mental gymnastics time and time again for 52 days and before.
So for fun, here are a few numbers:
In the past year we:
Spent 170 days on the road in an RV
Visited 27 states
Lived in four different time zones
Drove 9,000 miles.
Flew 9,000 miles
Have called 6 different places home.
Have called Rwanda home for 53 days.
Things we lost track of? The number of places we stopped, the number of people we were privileged to see, and the number of ways God came through and made a way. Those things are counted in our hearts.
Yes, sometimes numbers help. Yes, to 90 days (or more) of adjusting. Yes to hoping we are over halfway there. Yes to going slow. Yes to giving grace. Yes to remembering where we have been and why that is exhausting. And yes to knowing where we are right now. And most of all, yes to the One who goes before, comes behind and walks alongside us as we go.
Here’s to day 54. Whatever it may bring. May He be our constant in the midst of it all.
“…Because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”
2 Timothy 1:12
We made it. We are here in Rwanda. And by God’s good grace, we’ve already been invited in. Into people’s homes, lives, and even a small group. Grateful for this providence.
But as I sat down on a banana leaf bench on our first Thursday night at worship, I was weary. We had just spent a long beautiful day visiting a ministry two hours outside the city. It was a gift, but honestly, it had been a long two weeks. Car problems, a never-ending visa process, kids, and the major life adjustments that come with a move to Africa piled high on my plate.
A new friend sat down next to me asked how I was doing. For some reason, I didn’t say the usual “pretty good.” I was too exhausted to pretend, I guess. And I knew the more frequently I shared how I was feeling, the less it seemed to well up inside of me.
“Okay,” I sighed. She nodded understandably waiting for me to continue.
“It’s been a hard couple weeks, and I was talking with Darrell the other night and said, you know what, I would totally go home right now. I would gladly pack my bags and head back tomorrow. No problem.”
I paused. “I just want easy, and none of this is easy.”
“I understand,” she replied, and I knew she did. “We have all been there. No judgement.”
Ease. That is what my mind, body and soul was craving because nothing is easy right now. Not even buying milk. Things that used to be super simple, like driving a car, going to the grocery store, or chatting with a clerk behind the counter are no longer that.
I longed to sit on a comfortable couch in a home without bars on my windows. I wanted a dishwasher in the kitchen, a frozen lasagna in the freezer, and to know that when I wake up in the morning I will know where I am going, how to get there and how to pronounce it.
The next day this same sweet friend, whom I had known a matter of days, wrote me this and it was exactly what I needed to be hear:
“Transitioning into life in Sub-Saharan Africa is a huge mental stretch that you really cannot prepare for. You basically get here, go through shock and then the goodness and kindness of the Lord walks with you as you look for the bread, and milk, and vegetables and meat, and navigate the water and electricity shortages.
Slowly you will see beautiful things you have never seen before, and the sun shining through the clouds, and you will get God’s love in your heart for the people and their land and you will be transformed in a way that you never will have been in the U.S.
Good things are coming for you. Right now you are in the dark clouds and seeing the red dirt in your shoes. And tears are the only appropriate response. Welcome to Rwanda.”
Yes, yes, yes. One thousand percent.
My brand new friend gave me exactly what I needed: permission to not be okay. Permission to shed tears over having to go to three different places to get the meat, vegetables, and bread. Permission to dislike lukewarm showers and really, really long lines. Permission to want easy.
I was feeling bad complaining to my husband because truly there have been no major problems and God has been so very, very good and gracious to us here. I can literally list off 20 things right now where I have seen His hand these past five weeks, and here I am crying at the end of every day because—I’m not even sure why anymore.
But guess what? He knows adjusting is hard. He understands. And perhaps that is why He has gently and lovingly paved the way for us because He knows just how strenuous it is to be out of place, to be new, to be a foreigner in a strange land. He very much knows, not just because He is Creator of all—but because He was one too.
I know He has good things in store for us here in Rwanda, because that is who He is. And now I know (thanks to a fellow sojourner) that I am seeing the dirt instead of the hills, and when that happens, tears are the only appropriate response. My gracious, kind Heavenly Father is totally okay with that.
Because soon enough He will wipe away the tears from our eyes and the sun will come out, and slowly, slowly, we will figure out how to do life here. One day at a time.