the Estuary {week three}

I spent last weekend at the estuary of the Volta River, the place where the Volta meets the Atlantic. I stayed on a finger-like sliver of land separating river from ocean, and each morning I sat on a weathered wooden chair gazing out at the river while I listened to the ocean’s waves crashing against the shore behind me.

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And I thought about that sliver of land I was sitting on, this sandy separator between the chaotic, crashing ocean and the peaceful, winding river. I sometimes feel like I’m straddling that line between the ocean and the river, between the adventure and the calm. I crave the wild, strong adventure found within the open sea, all at once furious and beautiful. But other times I long for the river, for its gentle, peaceful, soothing rhythm, its predictability and grace.

Ada, Ghana

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Sunday morning I walked to the end of that sliver of sand separating river and ocean. To the Estuary. To that space where the river meets the ocean and the lines blur and you can’t quite tell which body of water is which. It was as if in that brief space where ocean met river (or river met ocean) there was a pause. An oh-so-fleeting moment where they coexisted, where you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. Where safety and danger met. Where the water was all at once wild and calm, furious and beautiful, strong and graceful.

And I thought that maybe God is a little bit like that sliver of land I was standing on, this Holy Separator between ocean and river, the Mediator between wild adventure and peaceful calm. This place of safety, where I can retreat to when the ocean’s chaos is too much or can escape to when the river’s predictability begins to wear at my soul.

And I realized maybe I could have both the winding river and open sea. Maybe I just need to find that brief space where they meet, my own Estuary.

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Filled to overflowing

I have four other documents open on my computer right now…papers I need to write, research I need to finish, blog posts for work I need to edit. So much to do, always.

But right now, I need to write for me.

It’s been too long since I wrote…really wrote. I spend most of my days surrounded by words. Reading textbooks, legal briefs, academic journal articles. Writing about human trafficking, immigration policy, human rights.

Sometimes I get lost in the influx of words around me. I read this, hear a professor’s opinion about that, talk to my classmates about something else. I hear their words, absorb them into my ever-filling mind, and try to let them spin into coherence with everything else I’m learning.

I haven’t written on my blog for a month and a half. I’ve tried to start a post for weeks, but the words haven’t come. They seem to be all used up in all the other arenas of my life. I try to write, but nothing seems worth disseminating. Nothing is particularly new. My life is just barreling along, like it always is. And I’m just running, trying to keep up.

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But as I was driving through Denver on I-25 this afternoon, mesmerized by those snowy peaks to the west and soaking in a rare moment of absolute peace, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the goodness of life right now. Somewhere between Belleview and Yale avenues I realized despite the craziness of working two part-time jobs and going to grad school full-time, I love my life. I really do. And I think there’s a shift that happens when you decide (and it is a decision) to love your life. When you decide to forget about the things that you don’t have and focus on the things you do have. When you decide to forget about what you can’t do right now and focus on what you can do. When you embrace the crazy and just start running with the flow. And in that moment when you decide to love your life, suddenly the semi-controlled chaos feels more manageable. Suddenly the uphill battle seems to flatten out.

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And sure, there will always be less-than-stellar aspects of life. I’m sure some of you reading this are scoffing right now, thinking I should come walk in your shoes for a day and then talk about loving life. I get it. I really do. I’ve been there. But I think happiness and joy and contentment are often choices. I know for me, when I decided to love my life and invest in where I am at right now, there was a shift – a perhaps imperceptible shift to an outside observer, but a massive shift within my spirit.

How did I start loving my life? I refocused on the things that made me happy, and made sure I prioritized them amid work and school. That means more people and more church, because that’s where I get encouraged. It means more time at coffee shops, because research is always more bearable with a latte. It means running and rock climbing, because those are the only times I can really forget about everything else. And you know what? When I make time for the things I love, everything else still seems to fall into place. Everything else still gets done.

I love my life and I am blessed. Denver has been beyond good to me in the past seven months. I am well aware that the mere fact that I get to go to graduate school should not be taken for granted. Whenever I talk to people about what I’m studying, they inevitably say something along the lines of, “That’s so noble.” And I respond with, “Maybe, but I mostly just feel lucky to get to study and work in the field I’m most passionate about.” I think that’s rare, and I truly do feel blessed.

As one of my dearest friends likes to say, “my love tank is filled to overflowing.”

(…and now back to the books)

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Though it tarry

“Though it tarry, wait for it.”

This Christmas, the word in my soul is wait.

For most people, Christmas is the end of waiting. The wait of thousands of years for the birth of the babe in Bethlehem is over. We are done waiting, they say, Rejoice!

And that’s true. There is much to rejoice for.

But with the birth of that babe in Bethlehem, we are also asked anew to wait. Continue reading

Quarters and romance and mountain territories

I’ll be 25 on my next birthday. My friend Missy says I should be excited because it’s a quarter year and quarters are super useful for things like laundry and vending machines.

It’s not that I fear getting older. I think age is a good thing. It’s more that I’m grappling with the fact that my life looks completely different than what I used to imagine it’d look like at this point. Which isn’t bad, per se. God seems to like deconstructing our ideas of what we think our lives should look like. And my life is great right now. But there are always parts of me that wonder about the “might have been.” Continue reading

Mission trips: What we’re doing wrong and how to get it right

As a Christian, I’ve done my fair share of short-term mission work…local community projects, hurricane relief in New Orleans, half a year spent in Thailand. And I never once questioned whether I should go.

Pattaya slums 2 (photo by Megan Edmiston)

But now I’m also a student of International Human Rights. And as I research and read and consider the needs that exist in the world and the ways that have proven effective for addressing those needs, I’m not convinced the Church’s current model of short-term missions is the best way to solve the issues. Continue reading

The crooked ways

When I lived in Thailand a friend and I took a “jungle trek.” The second day the guide told us that because of the rain we hiked through on the first day, the original route for day two was too dangerous and slick. He proposed an alternate, easier route. But if any of us wanted to take the original route — which ended at a fantastically beautiful waterfall — we could do so at our own risk. A new guide was assigned to our more adventuresome group, and off we went. Continue reading

Nine fingers and thousand-piece puzzles

I’m typing this with nine fingers.

It’s pretty difficult.

You see, I took a knife to my left index finger last week. Completely by accident, I assure you. But it resulted in a chunk of flesh missing and a late night trip to the emergency room. Continue reading

Dissonance

In my college communication classes, we called it cognitive dissonance, that feeling of friction you get when what you’re doing doesn’t necessarily line up with what you believe.

That’s where I’m at.

Cognitively dissonant.

I’m in graduate school right now, studying human rights and human trafficking. I’m here because I lived in Thailand a couple years ago, where I actually saw human rights abuse and human trafficking happen all around me. I lived it out. And when I got home, there was no way I could do anything but spend the duration of my years fighting those things.

So that brought me to Colorado. To one of the best graduate schools in the country for international studies. And now I spend my days listening to long lectures. I spend my nights reading endless books on human rights. I spend my Saturdays doing hours and hours of research. And I’m learning things that are completely altering how I think about these issues and the needs that exist within this field. I’m getting a better handle on exactly what I want I want to do someday.

But today, I’m cognitively dissonant.

Because I want to be back there. Maybe back in Thailand, because God, how I miss those brilliantly smiling faces gracing my bedroom walls. But maybe elsewhere. Anywhere, really, where I can help. Where I can bring restore dignity and create change. Because as I sit here staring at those smiling faces on my bedroom walls, it’s hard to realize that, for a season, I have left them, in order to live this completely comfortable Western life, to pay a lot of money for this fancy little degree in this incredibly privileged, academic setting.

Dissonance.

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Pattaya 1 Pattaya 2

And in this same moment I could expound to you all the reasons why I’m here. And I do know I am called here, that this is my role and my task right now. And He whispers those reasons to me daily: that I am being prepared, that right now I am called to learn, that He wants to use my intellect and not just my heart, that before I can create change, I must learn how to best do so. And already in these first weeks of school, my thoughts on human rights and human trafficking have been turned upside down. The ways I thought were best are clearly not. The things I thought I wanted to do are clearly not the most effective ways of bringing the greatest, most lasting change. I can already see how the knowledge I’m gaining is going to completely alter my future. And that’s a good thing. It’s an affirming thing.

But yet.

That doesn’t stop the dissonance. That doesn’t stop the tears that well up in my eyes when I hear my friends’ stories of moving to Africa, or my cousins’ stories of traveling to Thailand to pick up their adopted son, or my best friend’s plans to move to Guatemala, or the stories of advocacy workers right here in Colorado who are changing lives. That’s where I want to be, and sometimes spending an entire Saturday researching “the efficacy of the raid and rescue model” doesn’t quite satisfy my heart.

But I suppose the Lord doesn’t always ask us to do exactly what we want, in our own timing. He doesn’t bring us to what we want, but rather to the things that we are perfectly fitted, by His will, to do. So I trust that. And I trust that these months and years of school are fitting me to carry out His purpose for my life in better waysI trust that while He has me here, He has other people who are bravely and beautifully carrying out His other works. 

So today I’m trusting that the dissonance resolves. Because it always does, right? Just when you think you can’t handle that dissonant chord, when the melody isn’t quite coming together, it does. And when you hear that chord, you breathe a bit easier, and you understand the purpose of the dissonance.