On the back of my dorm room door this past school year, I placed four sticky notes – one pink, another green, a third blue, and the fourth orange. Written on each sticky note was a word or phrase, something I wanted to remind myself of every time I left my room.
Beloved. Whole. Unfinished. Called by name.
These notes were a way to ground myself, steady myself, before the world and the coming responsibilities flooded into my day, as they inevitably did. But before I opened that door to what each day would hold, I re-read my handwritten notes with the hope and intent that I would gradually live into believing and being comfortable with each of them.
When I saw the artwork (pictured above) from Morgan Harper Nichols a few weeks ago, it reminded me of my sticky notes.
“Let this be the year you go after courage.”
I think this focus on courage is pretty fitting considering what this next year will look like. Or, rather, what this year might look like – because honestly, I don’t have a clue of what’s to come. I know the basics – through the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) I’ll be living in Matimba, Rwanda for the next eleven months. Matimba is in the northeastern corner of the country, up by the Uganda and Tanzania border and near the Ibanda Game Reserve. My time there will be spent in service to the Matimba Lutheran Parish, the Kagitumba Lutheran Parish’s nursery school, and the Bwera congregation’s primary school, where I will be helping with English or other programs. Outside of these work environments, my placement is primarily relational as I engage with different communities and pastors in the region. As this is a new iteration of this placement site, more opportunities may arise as the year continues.
But because there are so many unknowns and so much uncertainty involved in moving seven times zones away from home for eleven months, courage is one thing I am in desperate need of for this journey.
Brené Brown, a researcher, author, and public speaker on the interconnectedness of shame, vulnerability, courage, and worthiness explains in her TED talk that the original definition of courage in the English language was, “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”
As much as humanly possible, I will strive to tell my story of this year with my whole heart – not only here, for you all to read, but in the ordinary, everyday moments that become woven into the tapestry that is life. There will be experiences I have and people I encounter during this year that will change who I am and how I live in this world in ways I cannot possibly fathom now. There will be permanent scars left on my heart from coming face-to-face with the realities of power, privilege, poverty, sexism, and so much more. And yet, at the same time, my heart will be strengthened and transformed by the love, generosity, and faith of the family and community that will be accompanying me through this year.
Of course, there are a myriad of additional ways to define courage, including the Collin’s Dictionary definition which says courage is, “the quality shown by someone who decides to do something difficult…even though they may be afraid.”
In speaking about this year with close friends and family over the past few months, I have often referred to this year in Rwanda as a hop, a skip, a jump, and a pole vault out of my comfort zone. I would be lying if I said this year didn’t scare me half to death, because, it does. I look at my family and friends and I think there’s no way I can leave all these people behind for a year. Orientation begins August 13th in Chicago, less than a week from now.
And yet, I would be lying if I didn’t also say that I am so ready to go, because, I am. I am ready to see who I am and who I’m becoming, and ready to fall head-over-heels in love with Rwanda and her people.
So despite all the questions and all the answers that may or may not arrive (because truthfully, they probably won’t), I am again reminded of the fact that we don’t need to have all (or even some) of the answers to do this work of loving each other, of gathering in ways that nourish community, of seeking God together and sitting together in the midst of joy and grief. We just need to start, taking our fear by the hand, trusting that the path before us will carry us where we need to be.