View from Buena Vista. PC: KSB

Three uplifting lessons from 2018

It was at a prayer vigil around the turn of year that I received my words for 2018: delight and grace. Around me echoed free-form, one voice prayer and worship, church members both walking in large circles with their eyes closed as they spoke with God in Swahili and slumped against the wall as they struggled to stay awake. I decided to express myself and not worry what people might think, so I joined in. Thus came the words delight and then grace, and on a later day, “Look up.”

DELIGHT

These kids brought me so much joy. This pool day was especially fun. Photo belongs to KSB.

These kids brought me so much joy. This pool day was especially fun. Photo belongs to KSB.

In 2018, I remembered those words regularly. I took delight in the little things, like pine cones, which I found so beautiful. Spaghetti, too, and dancing in the kitchen while cooking, often brought me delight. And of course, I delighted to spend time with my friends, the kids.

Delight finds beauty in things, and for me those were often simple things. But more than a smile, delight is a deep kind of joy, a desire-being-fulfilled kind of joy, an I-want-to-be-with-you-always-because-you-make-me-smile kind of thing. Sometimes it’s a moment; sometimes it’s a relationship, as with the kids; and always it is excited and joyful.

Delight also comes with the freedom to express yourself, because why does it matter what others might think? More likely, they’ll find your joy infectious, and even if not, your joy can continue.

GRACE

The beautiful Sault family in our house. Photo belongs to KSB.

The beautiful Sault family in our house. Photo belongs to KSB.

Grace is another word for “gift,” which, side note, is the meaning of my Swahili name, Neema Zawadi (translated Grace Gift; my friends in Goma, DRC, named me a few years back). I found everything to be a gift this year. Honestly, the year started out rough and held many unexpected challenges, some frightening, some difficult to bear, some enduring still. But the year did improve greatly over time.

Some of the gifts I was blessed with were the Sault family and their home, where I lived for the second part of the year. I was blessed with the gift of dear friends as well, for which I am extremely grateful.

Grace also travels with forgiveness. This is something I am working on as I realize new people I need to forgive as well as the grace I need to have for myself.

LOOK UP

My friend Ed, whom I had the pleasure of visiting when some friends flew me out to my college town. He knows the value of this lesson as well. Photo belongs to him and me (KSB).

My friend Ed, whom I had the pleasure of visiting when some friends flew me out to my college town. He knows the value of this lesson as well. Photo belongs to him and me (KSB).

Finally, God often reminded me to “look up” this year. Most often this was a message of hope and confidence.

It translates to something along these lines: “Look up, for I am the lifter of your head. You don’t have to make yourself small or hide because of shame or embarrassment. (Remember, grace.) You are significant, and people want to see you thriving. Be confident and lift your head. Look up.”

I especially took these things to heart as a woman growing in my faith and learning about expressing myself with confidence.

Be confident and lift your head.

 

I do not yet have any distinct words or phrases for next year. Usually I discover a theme as it happens, like God’s faithfulness that was so evident during my senior year of high school, though it has always existed and continues to impress me today, or “abundance,” which described my first time in Goma and the riches, beloved-ness, and fullness from that experience, though I did not put the word to it until I was about to leave the Congo. But I am glad that God blessed me with the words in advance to guide me, focus me, teach me this past year.

All I know so far is that 2019 will contain challenges and suffering but that God will be with me through it. I’m not claiming any false blessings of a million dollars or some new car. He hasn’t promised me these things, and I won’t claim a false Facebook prophecy that declares them to anyone who finds it appealing.

Yet I can take courage in God’s constant presence through the Holy Spirit and in the knowledge that despite any troubles, no matter how severe or long lasting, Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33).

Praise God for His Holy Spirit!

Have a blessed new year.

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Dark purple lips to match my shirt and skirt. I was ready for the job fair! PC: KSB

My story: how fashion reflects my spirit

Purple lipstick is always a good choice. Wearing it last week, I felt confident and on top of the world, basically like Fena Gitu. I wore it to match my skirt, and it changed my outlook on the day. I love lipstick and purple and the two combined. But there’s a spiritual point to this, and it applies to people of all genders.

Thanks for sharing in my story.

Today when the cashier at Wendy’s said purple looked good on me, it reminded me of how far I’ve come. I dress how I feel, but I have a rule now that I must always wear some splash of color in my outfit to share some joy. I began this practice during an eternal Chicagoland winter several years ago when everyone around was wearing black and grey like the gloomy sky above. Even when I’m mourning, I’ll wear a bright scarf or necklace on top of the black to symbolize hope.

But this was not always the case. In junior high, life was rough. Some girls at my tiny Christian school bullied me, and I had few friends. Why they excluded me, I never knew. I was different than them and refused to conform. Did our particular differences weird them out? I honestly never found an answer. I tried to keep a pure heart and to be on good terms with these girls, but that didn’t stop my understanding of my worth from dropping as they treated me poorly and ignored me.

My attire also reflected my musical interests, one of the differences I mentioned. Skillet was my favorite band at the time; I was obsessed with the band that evolved from grunge when I was born to hard rock around the time of my obsession. A quick Google search will show how it impacted my fashion choices — in short, with lots of black. The punk, rock, and emo scenes drew me. I still enjoy those genres, but my situation and outlook on life has changed, as have my clothing tastes. I don’t wear t-shirts displaying mummies anymore, although I really loved that one in eighth grade before I lost it at a basketball practice. (Sorry I can’t find it online to show you, but here’s a photo of me around the same time.)

Me and a special friend the summer after eighth grade, lol. Photo belongs to KSB.

My special friend and I the summer after eighth grade, lol. Photo belongs to KSB.

Life was miserable at school, and so I dressed how I felt: in black, lots of grey, sometimes olive green — generally lifeless colors. At the time I thought I just liked the colors, but I see now that I wore them as a reflection of my emotions.

I had a total of two friends at school in eighth grade, and I must have had a few clothes items that weren’t black or grey, because one day one of those two girls told me my purple sweater looked good on me. This comment, however random it was, stuck with me.

Slowly, I began incorporating more color into my wardrobe, including a lot of purple. (Towards the end of high school, a girl I babysat was wearing a turtleneck she liked asked me what my style was, and I could only think to say purple.) School also grew gradually better over the years. College was the real game changer. People accepted me with all my quirks and unique interests there.

Today I adore color — particularly purple, which does go well with my complexion and green eyes, but I appreciate anything bright. Color is beautiful. It represents life, joy, and hope. Color makes others smile. This is why I love to wear it now: to bring smiles to those around me, particularly when the weather is grey and everyone’s attire matches it. I want to be a ray of sunshine.

And I’m not the only one who’s had to overcome something difficult and came out rocking colorful lips. Nyakim Gatwech faced discrimination and harmful ignorance based on her dark skin in her modeling career but decided to rock bold colors in the face of the naysayers. Her story is quite different than mine, but I encourage you to read it here. Her colorful style is symbolic, too.

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As a disclaimer, I do know some exuberant people who prefer to wear dark colors, but I personally view color as symbolic of life and have found that a bright sweater can make people smile when it stands out amidst grey coats on a rainy day. I praise God for bringing me joy in Him so that I can share it with others, even through something as simple as my wardrobe. Evidently, our outfits aren’t always just clothes, after all; as symbols, they contain meaning.

Seven years ago, I felt invisible. Now I am a new woman, a confident one who is learning her worth and beauty and calling that out in others. As Fena sings*, do your thing and be a queen. And of course, remember that you were created in the image of a loving, holy, and entirely capable God who sees you.

 

*See link in first graf. Really. It’s worth it.