Together.

Two weeks. Two weeks since I landed in Minneapolis, bleary-eyed after hours of travel, winding my way through customs and immigration. My phone, silent for so many days, now blowing up with received messages, emails, and missed notifications. A stark contrast from the song of my 10 days in Rwanda, and a bittersweet reminder that life here has carried on, day in and day out; the unavoidable yet anticipated “welcome back” to the land I call home.

Coming back is always hard for me. Each time, I search for the root of the dreariness that seems to settle itself over the first few days, and can never seem to find it. Perhaps it’s the end of adventure…perhaps it’s the goodbyes. It could be the fear that what I experienced, what I learned, and who I became over the past however-long–its-been just can’t translate to the present-where-I-am-now…or maybe it’s just the jet lag. Whatever it is, I’m thankful for it. Those days lend themselves to reflection; to thoughtfulness. A sacred time to figure out just what on earth I’ve taken from this experience, and even more difficult, what then will I do with that knowledge.

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This time around was no different. I felt those wheels touch the ground, bounce up again and then settle, right along with the pit in my stomach. My trip was incredible. If Rwanda is a masterpiece, her people are the artists. Strong and beautiful, they are painting their country a home again. Just twenty years ago, the country was devastated by genocide. Neighbor turned on neighbor; friend on friend. Today, hands are linking. Voices are mingling. Shared stories of pain and loss are woven together in a tapestry of healing…a picture of rising hope. The power found in the word “together”.

I knew in that moment, that first bounce up and down on the runway, exactly what Rwanda taught me. Even more than that, I realized just what this entire experience showed me. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, coming into this trip the way I did, the winner of the #styleforjustice “guest storyteller” spot. I knew I loved International Justice Mission. I knew I loved what I had heard and seen of Noonday Collection. Empowering women? Sustaining families? Providing justice? Yes, please. But heck, you guys. Entering into this “contest to win a trip”, surrounded by entries from hundreds of equally deserving, awe-inspiring, world-changing women. Having to rally my community. To ask you all for help. Well. That. That small little thing. That, my friends, was difficult.

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For the purpose of full disclosure, you should know I was terrified. I was absolutely shaking in my boots. I am, by nature, very competitive (just a little tiny bi…okay actually maybe a lot). Business plan competition? Sure. I’m on it. Race up that mountain? EAT MY DUST, BABY. Volleyball match? Now, do you really want to go there?

But this…THIS. Asking you all to join me…to rally with me and for me…to put this opportunity I wanted so desperately into your hands…God’s hands…WHOEVER’S hands, just definitely not mine. Well now. That was a different story.

Because I am competitive. Because I am prideful. Because I fear failure. Because I am any number of things. Having to choose vulnerability, admitting to you all that I could not do this alone. That I needed you to join me. Hoping, but trying not to hope. Initiating, but relinquishing all control. Terrified. Mortified. Fearful of the unknown.

But you know what? It was beautiful. It was so beautiful. And I was amazed every single day of that darn competition. Because you showed up. You rallied. You stood, with me and for me, joining your voice and your heart with mine. You encouraged me daily with your words and support, friendships were rekindled, and we became a team.

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Friends, although you made it possible for me to have this opportunity and I am so incredibly thankful, I wasn’t the only winner. Even you all aren’t the only winners. The true winners are found in every single voice that joined this cause. Every single woman who had the courage to enter. Each incredible community who rallied with her and for her, lending their voice to the oppressed and in that, bringing awareness to organizations like Noonday and IJM. We had the opportunity to see thousands stand together for the sake of justice. FRIENDS. That is an absolute slam-dunk Michael Jordan WIN. Community. Togetherness. Supporting each other and lending our voice. Linking arms and joining forces towards one common goal. What power that has. What incredible strength.

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Because of this process, watching all this unfold, this idea of community was already swirling around in my brain before leaving on this trip. Mulling around and processing the idea. Trying to truly understand what it means to live in community; to become someone’s community. Of course you can guess what came next.

Rwanda taught me community. She showed me, through her people, how to live and love in “togetherness”. My heart, now tender to this thought, burst. Over and over again. Meeting the seamstresses, employed by Noonday, at the sewing co-op. Women who create such beautiful goods. Designing with them, seeing them run their business with efficiency and professionalism, but working together as a family. Being invited into their homes, sharing meals, and watching them share the joy of creation with one another. Rejoicing together. Aiding each other. Standing with and for each other.

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I saw community in the support groups run by IJM. Mothers, whose children have been victims of sexual assault, gathering together weekly. Teenage girls were victimized themselves. Weeping with each other. Sharing each other’s burdens, reminding each other that they are not alone. Offering a tissue; extending a hand. Simple acts; but oh so powerful.

“I’ve been there.”

“I understand.”

“Sister, I stand here with you.”

What a joy…what a gift to know that we don’t have to weather this life alone. What a relief to know that we, if we can just get over ourselves…just get over our pride… can reach out a hand when are feet aren’t quite as steady and grab a lifeline. We can trust others with our vulnerabilities and our uncertainties, knowing they have our back if we fall…and hoping they know we’ll do the same for them. We live for and with each other, linking arms and binding hearts.

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We all struggle…we all need help. We all need the strength found in community, because Lord knows we can’t walk this road alone. These women…these precious Rwandan sisters… showed us their hearts, and the true community lived out within them. I hope and pray that someday I will live with their hope, their grace, and their joy. I hope that I can replicate their sense of community, the commitment to a life lived for “togetherness”. I hope I can stand for others the way you all stood for me, and continue to stand for me. I’m so thankful. So thankful for you all. You will never know how deeply you and your support touched my heart.

Community is a gift. An incredible blessing. It’s something I will never take for granted for the rest of my days. Embrace your communities, and invest in them deeply. Join in each others’ sorrows and triumphs, and all the little things in between. Hold each other up, and let yourself be held.

And together. Together. We’ll find our way.

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*Want a way to get involved with communities of passionate women looking to empower others around the world? Host a trunk show or become a Noonday ambassador. Click HERE for more information.

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