In three days a new year will start. Time for fresh grace, fresh opportunities. Leaving behind the regrets of 2018, taking stock of life anew. This coming year is a milestone one for me: turning 60 years old, celebrating 30 years of marriage, and 40 years in the mission I serve with. Arriving at 60 seemed like I was getting older, until a few weeks ago in Kigali, Rwanda. Now it seems young, like I’m just getting started. Why the different perspective?
It happened one day when two friends and I went to visit a man in Kigali, a friend of one of them. I knew he was older, and my friend called him Grandpa. But as Grandpa walked into the room, with a cane yet firmly and confidently, I estimated him to be not above 80 years old. How wrong I was. Actually Grandpa was 101 and counting. As we all sat down, Grandpa asked me how old I was, and also the age of my friends. I was in the middle, with my friends on either side being 29 years old. Grandpa looked at me after I told him my age, and said ‘but you’re so young!” And compared to his 101 years, I guess that was true! And compared to both of us, my two friends were just getting started.
But Grandpa had more stories to tell. In the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda that left over 800,000 dead, he had tried to flee the country twice into neighboring nations. Both times he had been caught by mobs and left for dead in piles of bodies. And both times he had been able to get up and find places of refuge. This man had seen unspeakable horror including the deaths of family members and the death of so much of what he had known before. Yet there was no bitterness in him that we could detect. He had a big smile (see the photo with this post) and told a joke every few sentences.
Grandpa had returned to Kigali after the three months of Genocide had ended, rebuilding a house and a life. He now has children and grand-children. He walks each day on the arm of his grandson to visit his cows, about 10 minutes away. Grandpa also has extensive devotions each day, waiting on God and praising Him for protection and grace. My friends and I visited Grandpa twice during my three weeks in Kigali, and it was at the end of the first visit that we received our blessing.
We were leaving his house, deeply impressed not only by Grandpa’s advanced age but his advanced spirit of inner freedom. We wanted the blessing from him of both. So we asked him to pray for us. One of my African friends, from Uganda, fell to his knees to receive the blessing. I put out my hands and opened them, though afterward I felt like falling to my knees also. One by one he placed his hands on us and prayed, asking in his mother tongue for physical blessings to enable us to live to 101, but also asking for spiritual blessings as well.
I don’t know if I will live to 101 years, and don’t care so much about that compared to living a life of freedom from bitterness and revenge. That is the life I want, a life of inner freedom and contentment. I doubt I will ever live in the middle of genocide, and be left for dead in a pile of bodies. But there are things that can happen to us that cause our spirits to wilt, to be crushed, and to want to get back at those that have caused it.
We go into 2019 with a new opportunity to let the baggage of hate go, to make sure that any speck of bitterness has been cleaned from our inner life. Whatever our state in life, we have a new opportunity to say thanks, to live life like Grandpa does at 101 years old. I know that is what I want, and however imperfectly, that is how I will live.