breathless with bare feet.

Psalm 118:1: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

My bare, musty feet are warmed by the smoky flames just a few inches away. I hardly notice; I’m focused on the expansive sky above me, glittered with stars, heaven, and just enough glimmer from the moon. I’m in the village, and as usual, my breath is taken away. I know there is no camera that could capture this moment; no words that could suffice; simply one of those moments in life between you, God, and the people there with you. I love that feeling, it’s one of my favorites. For the first time in a few weeks, I feel like I can breathe. No distractions. I’m on the precipice of an exciting transition back home and so I’m perfectly content just you know, taking it all in.

Eugenie is in the outdoor kitchen adjacent to the traditional Rwandan mat preparing rice and a tomato sauce for dinner. Her mother, seated next to me, is telling me about her own parents, and what their life was like in the Northern Province when she was growing up. I love tales from times before now; they feel authentic, genuine, and wisdom-ridden. That’s why I love hanging out with older people, I think. 

When the meal is ready, we go inside. I follow the blinking torch Eugenie holds; I’m village deep, meaning I sure ain’t going to be charging my phone anytime soon. It’s freedom, in a way, because I’m fully present, fully aware. Dinner is uneventful, and soon we are laying our heads to sleep to prepare for the next day. We are meeting the other girls from Ruramira in the morning – a reunion of sorts (the first time in 2 years where the GLOW girls are all together!) – and so rest is not optional. We’ll need it.

The next day is Saturday and it’s beyond full. I wake up to just-enough-sugar tea and warm water to bathe (from a bucket, obviously). When I am perfectly presentable (Eugenie is sure I didn’t miss a spot) we walk 40 minutes to a home not far where I used to take residence, and share fanta, laughs, and stories about school with the other girls. All of them have one or two years remaining in their secondary education and so it seems crazy that I started teaching them when they were just in Senior 1 or 2! …Perhaps I am that old?, I wonder. 

I’ve been back to my village numerous times since finishing the Peace Corps 2 years ago, but this time is special. The girls are all together and so it just proves, once again, that a place is about the heart of those that you love – not even the beauty that surrounds the mountains, trees, and hills. God’s spirit is what makes a place full. The girls cherish this time, but because it’s rainy season we eventually move quickly back to our respective homes; some back to the north part of the village, some far out in the Eastern part of Rwanda; and for me, I’m headed to Maisara & Zahara’s home for the evening. 

We travel there and my! It’s cumbersome. Mud trickles in our toes from heavy rains and once again, I’m barefoot. When we do finally reach their humble abode, Zahara does something intensely intimate and beautiful. 

She washes my feet. As the mud trickles away, I find myself in tears. There is something so personal about this – and I remind Zahara of the way Jesus washes the disciples feet in the Bible. She smiles and remembers too. “No problem, my dear…I’m happy to do it!” Of course she is. We share traditional Rwandan food shortly thereafter (cassava bread, obviously) and we fall asleep under a mosquito net to the noises of frogs, fireflies, and a crying cat. I love it out here. In the morning, it’s time to go. We say goodbye and though it hurts my heart, I feel so fresh, clean, and abundantly joyful. It’s sad to leave; but what a mighty blessing to have come back in the first place. My, my. Once again, Rwanda has reminded me of the deepest provisions He has given me – new life. With beautiful people. With beautiful experiences. I can see Him in everything…and so yes, I’m left breathless. Breathless with bare feet.

In addition to all the fun I have had in this season in Rwanda, God has also provided experiences of deep reconciliation, opportunity, and faithfulness. I can’t possibly recount or describe it all in just a few words. But there are many, many stories. I suppose that’s why I write at all. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead and sharing some of what has happened here. About doors that have opened. About doors that have closed. I have a job that I love and I can’t wait to see the roads and opportunity it brings. I have the world littered with people that I love deeply – and that in itself is such a blessing in these uncertain and scary times in our world. I have a family that is scattered – and that too, is a reminder that as God’s people we are far more united than we think. God is doing something, and that something is very special. And it’s not just me – it’s all of us. It’s these deep corners of joy that God desires for us. Not because life is perfect, but because it’s perfect in its’ imperfections. He is the one constant; He is the great provider and His love truly does endure forever. Shoes or no shoes.

A new season is upon me, and the only way I can describe it as I gear up for a long flight home is simply, breathless with bare feet. I’m renewed, excited, grateful, and just….content. All glory to God.

the beautiful Eastern Province. A home, of sorts.
the beautiful Eastern Province. A home, of sorts.
Where peace transcends all.
Where peace transcends all.

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Heather Newell Oglesby

Hi! I'm Heather. I am a writer and counselor in-training. I share stories so we can keep the magic of being human alive. I spend a great deal of time going on long walks with my wife, rollerblading, learning, and traveling to find new adventures. By day, I work as an Education and Employment Specialist for Jefferson Center for Mental Health, working with adolescents who have experienced their first episode of psychosis. A Colorado native, I love dark-roasted coffee, sunshine, and succulents. Enthusiasm, passion, and possibility: that's me at my best.

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