My 16-year-old son is in Rwanda.
He is there with 16 other people from our Lutheran congregation—a mix of teens and adults—to learn and serve people whose lives and communities
are still broken* were forever changed by the genocide of 1994.
The preparation for this two-week trip was a nine-month process of study, teambuilding, fundraising, immunizations, packing, and even journaling.
Yes, writing! Our youth director values the written word and required team members to record their observations, thoughts, and feelings all along the way. Some of the teens hate this writing. Someday, I suspect every one of them will be glad they did it.
Several times, while meeting the strict requirements to participate in this mission, we grew frustrated and weary. More than once, I was tempted to withdraw. “We’ll contribute financially, but skip the trip,” I thought. But Isaac wouldn’t have it. Maybe the journaling reinforced his drive. Perhaps I should have been journaling, too.
We persevered, and now my son is nearly 8,000 miles away from home for two weeks. One week down, and one more to go. I am pleased that he has this opportunity to see a culture so different from our own, and I am proud of him for having the courage and ambition to go.
But I miss him terribly.
People tell me he will return a “changed” person. How, I wonder. What will be different? What will he bring home? Beyond fatigue and dirty laundry and hopefully a lot of stories, I cannot even begin to guess. So I just sit and wonder.
Wondering is a huge distraction.
Fortunately, the team is blogging every day. More writing! And in a published format that keeps families and friends informed about and connected to the team’s experience. [Visit the team’s blog.]
Each day, the posts typically appear between 3:00 and 5:00 pm Central Time. So, for the past week, I’ve struggled to accomplish any serious, focused work after 2:30 pm. I’m too busy clicking the refresh button on the team’s blog page, monitoring for new content.
When the posts finally do appear, I ignore all else and immerse myself in the travelers’ words and images.
First I scan the bylines. Did my son write today?
So far, he has written just one post.
Five paragraphs. I hung on every one of his 428 words. I crave more. Maybe tomorrow?
When Isaac’s name is absent, I scan the photos. Is he pictured? Is he smiling? Does he look healthy and happy? He has appeared in a number of photos. In most, he is smiling or engaged in work or conversation. He does not look pale or tired or sad.
I am relieved. So I set aside those motherly worries and begin to read.
I read all of the day’s posts, all the way through, from top to bottom. Then I go back and read each one, one or two or three times more. I cry. I laugh. I go, “Hmm.” Most days, I speak aloud to the screen, as if the team can hear my response from halfway around the world.
After I have taken in every word and image, I comment.
I comment on every single post.
This is not my normal behavior. Even on Facebook, which I visit too many times per day, I’m selective about how and where I place my words. Here on WordPress and on my business blog, I do not comment much. Certainly, I respond when others comment on my posts. And once in a great while, I feel compelled to respond to another blogger’s work, usually because it brings surprising inspiration or insight.
That’s the thing. Each and every one of the Rwanda team’s posts has brought surprising inspiration or insight. So I’ve had no misgivings about responding.
The writers have challenged my mind by writing about justice, education, geography, prostitution, drug addiction, racism, faith, music, art, family … So much. These are the messages I am thinking and praying about, here and now.
Some of the writers have planted vivid word pictures deep in my heart.
So moving. These are the messages that will stick with me, forever and always. Take, for example, these three excerpts:
“When the younger and much more grabby younger children took my photo album from my hands, she delicately took it from them and gave it back to me … Her quiet love for everyone around her, both me and all the other kids, surprised me in a place filled with the constant sound and chaos.”
“To me, Jesus is red for the love he shares, white for his forgiveness, purple for his overwhelming grace, and yellow for his humility. Jesus is my rainbow of colors. Jesus is both black and white.”
“The day was cloudy and slightly foggy so the hills upon hills in the distance looked like any painting of a Chinese landscape you see an elementary school child bring home. Each hill getting smaller and a darker bluish grey as they go further back.”
That last bit is my son’s. I bet I’ve read those two sentences 50 times this week. I treasure them, and I know exactly what they mean. Isaac and his sisters have all painted some variation of that landscape, and so did I when I was a little girl. Having this shared vision of his surroundings shrinks the distance between us right now. It’s not quite a hug, but almost as comforting.
All of this teaches me again what I very well know:
Writing is good.
Words are a gift. Writing is a blessing. When we push past the reluctance and procrastination and dread and fear and just write, good things happen. Clear thoughts. Shared visions. Enlightened minds. Happy hearts.
Yes. Writing is good.
* One week after I published this post, my son was finally home from his trip and had a chance to read my blog. Barely through the first paragraph, he asked if I could edit the language. He explained that the word “broken” is inaccurate. The people are not broken. What incredible perspective he brought back from Rwanda.
it’s tough when our children are far from us – or even far from us when they are here – we must have faith that all we have done (and continue to do) has prepared the for their walk. Friends tell me I will become a great deal smarter and wiser when my children become twenty-five. I can see flashes of brilliance at times……and others … well i wonder. He looks like he is having the time of his life, I am sure he will return home a changed person and grateful for what all have… godspeed.
Clay, thank you for responding and for sharing your fatherly wisdom/experience with me. Another parent mentioned to me recently that even when our kids return from this trip, they may be so tired/overwhelmed/shell-shocked that reconnecting could be a slow process. As you say, they can be “far from us when they are here.”
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