Inspiration — from in spirit — from the latin root of being in breath — is fascinating. Breathing the same air as those who have come before gives me so much to consider. Lately I’ve been inspired by tales of extradordinary faith, such as that of Immaculee Iibagiza. Her story of surviving Rwanda and of connecting with God during the worst time life could possible hand you, is, not coincidentally, breathtaking.
My heartache of late has fueled much time praying, sitting alone in churches, writing, meditating and trying to find God’s voice. I’m exhausted. Plus, I’m a bit of a spiritual pariah. Most of my friends hear about my time talking with God and think I’ve got soft in the head. Immaculee lived with seven other women in closet-sized bathroom for months. I’ve got days in pain of an entirely lesser degree, with food, without companions also suffering, and I am wiped out. I have no idea how she did it.
The only thing I do have in common with this amazing woman is our shared belief. I would have to hope if ever put in a similarly trying situation where I was fighting for simple survival, I’d be on my knees reaching out in prayer. This seems to be the only thing I know how to do. I vividly remember praying for my family when I went to live in Mexico at age 14. I would find quiet cathedrals to sit in to speak with God, asking for the homesickness to fall away. Quickly enough, it did. I sat in the Catholic church in Flagstaff begging God to keep a friend safe during a breast cancer scare in college. A blue-eyed, blond angel painted near the ceiling seemed to watch over me and sure enough, my similarly beautiful blond friend was deemed healthy soon enough. I cried through my prayers on the way to Cameroon, sobbing so much I infuriated those sitting next to me on the long flight. I found a huge church in Yaounde, with a black and white mosaic Jesus behind the altar, staring at the array of tile as I prayed to end the homesickness; instead God brought me home.
I prayed and visited churches and friends for many months after the last time I said goodbye to a loved one. I felt cracked, but God didn’t accept my Humpty Dumpty ways. He glued me back together by keeping my friends and family close by, and reminding me that life without golf really wasn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it’s much better.
See? My woes by comparison are so minuscule, it’s shameful. I should say I have nothing in common with this incredible woman and I should say so with an attitude of thanks. Her life has been so miserably difficult. Her story has made me appreciate the simple blessings in life — like my family — so much more.
We are like so many other American WASPY families in that most of our traditions have fallen away with the generations. We maintain a few cultural things here and there, but for the most part our family is very much apple pie. I was lamenting to a girlfriend the other day that I so wish we had some Irish or English customs so I’d know how to pass them on to my own children. Later, without knowing why I was doing so, I took her into my closet and opened my hope chest to show her the collection of handmade quilts and wall hangings my mother has made me over the years.
She stepped back, looked me in the eye and smiled.
“Kelli, these are your traditions. Here are your customs,” she said, running her hand over one of my most cherished possessions — fabrics selected, cut and sewn together with unconditional love.
She’s right. My mom’s love for art is our tradition. Her generosity in gifting me the luxurious new sewing machine is nothing in comparison to her generosity of spirit. My mother loves me with such a fierce force, it is embarrassing how at times I’ve let myself forget. She sent the machine and has spent so many hours coaxing me through bobbin winding and stomach unwinding. I am exceptionally blessed to have my parents. I’ll never understand why I’ve been so lucky to have this family, but I hope another day never passes without recognizing what a gift they are.
Thank you Immaculee. In many ways, your story has reminded me how my family and spirit are one.