Monday, August 15, 2016

full circle

When I first arrived in Cape Town, I was thrown in the deep end. Still recovering from jet lag and only beginning to experience culture shock, HOPE Africa sent me to a Healing of Memories workshop at the Christian Brothers' Centre - a Catholic monastery and retreat center in Stellenbosch.

Looking back, I realize it was good that I had this experience early - before I had context and biases and stereotypes. At the time, it was hard. I was staying in a dorm room with roughly 30 women who were clearly excited to be there and showed this by chattering loudly into the late hours of the night and again early in the morning, leaving me about 5-6 hours of sleep in my state of exhaustion. While the sessions were led in English for the few of us who did not speak Afrikaans, there were plenty of moments when I had no idea what people were saying around me. A confessed gangster and drug addict approached me on the first night and told me that he took his first life at 14 and asked simply, "How do you move on from that?" I'm sorry to say that I still don't have a good answer, but I truly saw God in him that weekend. I broke down crying during a video about Fr Michael Lapsley and Apartheid, and I felt like it wasn't my place to be shaken because it wasn't personal to me. I understand now that others weren't crying because it was just part of their history. They'd heard about it so often but rarely in ways that moved them anymore.
Tree of Religions at the Christian Brothers Centre

I explored an interfaith garden there that informed my theology with beautiful living metaphors, setting the stage for the interfaith work I didn't know I would be doing. I journaled and reflected. I took in the beauty all around me. I felt held.

Two weeks before I left, I found myself once again in that space (although I admit this time my room assignment was a bit more comfortable). A group of Americans, South Africans, and Batswana came together for Lift Every Voice - a pilgrimage exploring the theme of reconciliation. During that time, I had the opportunity to meet and hear from Fr Michael Lapsley, the founder of the Institute for the Healing of Memories.

When I told Father Lapsley what I'd been doing in South Africa, I didn't use the word "missionary." I never used this word because it carries so much baggage and simply doesn't resonate with my soul, as much as I initially tried to embrace it since YASC did. Nevertheless, he said, "You know you're not a missionary here right?" Unsure of his meaning behind this, I played along: "Okay...?" He continued, "Your mission work begins when you return home." The true mission work is bearing witness and giving testimony to the sacred stories and truths I encountered. It is allowing myself to be changed forever and to apply those learnings in the ways I am able.

I've been back in the States a little over three weeks now, and I've been putting off this post. Admittedly I've been busy:  two weeks at home with family and friends followed by a transition to Boston. But mostly I felt a lot of pressure about my final one. Would it be profound and beautiful enough? What should I write about? What should I say? During Lift Every Voice, I met many other amazing humans including one of the men who killed Amy Biehl and now works for her foundation, an incredible actor writing and performing the kinds of stories that aren't usually told, a woman who attended the Highlander Folk School as a child, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. One such amazing person was a woman we called Momma Bear. I learned many things from her, but I will never forget her telling me to stop "should-ing" on myself. "It's not okay to should on yourself or to should on other people," she said. In other words, it's not okay to obsess so much over what you feel you should be doing that you aren't giving yourself grace and freedom and love. I was delighted this week to hear a second-year fellow with Life Together use that same language. I'm committed to working on it.

I was trying to wait until I'd had time to process. But the fact is that I will be processing this year for the rest of my life.

I wrote about learning to leave well when I first arrived. I wrote about culture shock. Now I've come full circle, experiencing the reverse. I was incredibly sad to leave, and I feel like a piece of me is still in Cape Town. But I've also been thriving in my new home and community in Boston, and I feel so strongly that this is exactly the right place for me at this season of my life and journey.

I need to empty my glass so I am able to receive. I need to let go so I can be fully present. So I'll hold on to what I can use now. I'll let go of what is harmful. And I'll save the rest for the times when I can retrieve and process it along the way.

Thank you for following me in this journey. Thank you for your invisible network of support. Thank you to those who made my year meaningful. Thank you again to those who made it possible.

Wishing y'all love and light and wonder.

Had to share this photo - still in shock that I got to meet Desmond Tutu!


  1. Such a great post and a lovely photo with Desmond Tutu! :)

  2. Such a great post and a lovely photo with Desmond Tutu! :)