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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I forgot {week two}

This week I was reminded of how small I am in the face of the very real problems that exist in this world. Overwhelming problems. Dangerous problems. Complicated problems.

I study human trafficking, so I’m completely aware problems exist. I’ve seen some of the world’s worst problems firsthand. If there’s an innocence spectrum, I’m on the opposite end of naïve. But for the past year I’ve only been researching these problems. Reading about them. Writing about them. And while reading and writing and research have a completely necessary place in the world of international development and I don’t for a moment regret my decision to go back to school…somewhere within the papers and books and academic journals I was beginning to forget.

I was beginning to forget that these “problems” have names and faces. That they are twice-abandoned, single mothers who can’t afford a $50 a year school fee to send their kids to school. I forgot how difficult it is for them to save even 50 cents each month. I forgot how hard the cement floor must be to sleep on when you don’t have a bed. I forgot how difficult it is to encourage women to dream when for their whole lives their dreams have been stifled.

(with permission)

(with permission)

I forgot the pain that must follow kids who are the sole survivors of their families. I forgot that kids who have been trafficked, abused and abandoned need more than effective anti-trafficking legislation because anti-trafficking legislation doesn’t work in a country as corrupt as Ghana. They need education, they need a place to live, they need someone to care and to make sure they are encouraged to survive and dream. They need someone to listen. And they need someone who is committed to making sure the situations that rendered them exploited or abandoned are prevented in the future.

(with permission)

(with permission)

I forgot that there are no easy answers, that poverty is a complicated beast of a problem that can’t be fixed overnight. It can’t even be fixed by the most well-intentioned Millenium Development Goals. Because even when your goal is free, universal, primary education, you don’t realize that there are families who still can’t afford the school uniforms. You don’t realize that a primary education doesn’t even ensure an individual will be able to read and write. You forget that even the best theories often don’t work in practice, and what works in America may not work in Thailand and what works in Thailand may not work in Ghana.

photo 3

I forgot how privileged I am. “Woe is me, I’m a poor grad student.” But the reality is I’m getting an education most Ghanaians aren’t even able dream about. I eat three meals a day and have enough water to drink. I have a car and a bed and a closet full of clothes. The computer and phone I carry in my backpack cost more than most Ghanaians make in an entire year. And yet I complain. Yet I complain.

When I got home from Thailand I promised myself I’d never forget, but somehow I did.

Remembering is never easy.

This is Africa {week one}

At first I wasn’t sure I would like it.

Africa, that is.

City of Refuge

It was hot and humid and when the power went off (a regular occurrence) the fans went off and I could feel every inch of me glisten in the heat. It was very different than Southeast Asia and I felt like I was betraying Thailand, a land and a people I love so much. There were no rocky crags to climb or mountains in the distance and oh how my constantly sticky skin missed the dryness of Colorado. And I was tired and burned out and this laid-back African pace was difficult to adjust to after ten months of nonstop chaos.

But I’ve quickly come to appreciate even the briefest surges of power that allows me to charge my computer and cool my face. I’ve met the Ghanaian “Three Musketeers” trio of my co-workers Leo, Collins, and Stanley who never fail to provide entertainment and encouragement. I’ve been directed to a brightly painted room and a desk next to two windows overlooking the expansive City of Refuge campus, where I can see the kids playing soccer at recess and hear the teachers’ bells ring when it’s time for class. I’ve visited an oceanside shanty and met the beautiful Millicent, Monica, Janet, Joanna, and Alice, some of the artisans I will be working with weekly.

7 Continents

The kids. Oh, the kids. I’m here to work primarily with the women in that oceanside shanty but I can’t help but make a little time each week to hold hands, take pictures, and read books about happy worms and hungry caterpillars. These kids are overcoming such odds – some have been rescued from trafficking, some from abusive homes, and others walk miles just to attend this school that promises a sound education.

Faith roots international academy

So as I’m sitting at that desk in this big empty room, as the afternoon breeze drifts through the windows and the low-hanging clouds promise more rain, as the fan spins and the internet runs, as laughter floats from the school to the east and roosters crow from the coop down the dirt road, as I (almost) forgot the chaos that is life back in America, I am happy.

This is Africa.

 

 

 

Highways and Off-Beaten Paths

There are so many voices in our heads.

Saying go there, do this, buy that. Saying be safe, be stable, stay on the highways.

Somewhere deep within, though, buried under those voices is a different voice, one telling me to exit the highway and forge my own way. Telling me to stop worrying about life making sense. Telling me it’s okay to be different.

The voice is small and fragile and a lot of days it’s completely drowned out.

But when I summon the courage to listen to that whisper of a voice, when I get off that paved road and cross the border from the known to the unknown, when I foray into new territories and go my own way and not the world’s, I find adventure.

I find my dreams.

I find myself.

And in some serendipitous manner, a path always appears where before there was nothing.

It’s so tempting to stay on those highways where we can set our cruise control and turn off our minds. The first step is the most difficult…the initial decision to turn off that paved road and take that remote-looking exist leading who knows where, to turn your back on the fear and doubt and the questions still ringing through your head.

The smallest voice is usually the wisest.

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{our own borders}

“We all have our own borders.

One side is what’s easy, what’s known, what we’ve been told is true and have taken for granted; it’s comfortable here, it’s familiar.

But the other side is wider than possibility, it’s brilliant with potential, and it looks like our dreams, whatever they are.

Maybe for you that means having a family or taking up sailing; maybe it’s poetry in Prague or solitude in Barcelona; maybe it’s learning how to really be close to someone.

Big or small, these are not the “dreams” we had handed to us: good job/big house/new car.

These are real dreams, real fragile fledgling dreams, which is why they are often so frightening. But if they’re ours, if we can find them and hold them, if we can catapult ourselves across whatever border of fear or doubt or tiredness that seems to keep us from them.

In the end, the only thing standing between each of us and what we want most is ourselves. We’re our own border guards.

And sometimes the crossing is easier than expected.”

(Off the Map, Hib & Kika)

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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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No resolutions, just an overwhelming resolve

I don’t really like New Year’s resolutions. I’m sorry, but they just seem incredibly trite and cliché and don’t we all break them by February anyway?

So I don’t make resolutions.

Instead, I think about the person I want to be a year from now. I recognize that I want to be different on the first day of 2015 than I am on this first day of 2014. I want to learn and be wiser and grow from the mistakes I know I’ll make.

I want to be different a year from now.

And the next.

And the next.

That doesn’t mean that I did everything right that year or that I made all the right decisions. In 2013 I made my fair share of less-than-stellar choices. But I don’t regret them because I learned from them. And I’m a different, more seasoned me because of them. Becoming different means that I’m always growing. Becoming a better version of myself. Becoming stronger.

Stronger. 

I want to be stronger in a way that only time can make happen. I want to be stronger physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I want to pray more. Write more. Devote myself to what I’m studying. Climb more mountains. Cut off any emotional chaff that keeps me from true joy. Release myself from anything that sucks life rather than gives it. Foster the self-respect to know I am worth it (whatever “it” is), and that I don’t have the time or energy to spend on people or things that don’t respect me back. Be confident in every aspect of myself. Speak my mind assertively and honestly and stop giving a crap about what everyone else thinks. Waste less time worrying. Travel to more countries. Love people better and learn to let them love me back. Be honest about my weaknesses. Stop overthinking things and just do them. Be bold. Take more risks, even if failure seems certain. Believe that goodness can prevail in this sometimes overwhelmingly broken world.

I think it all comes down to strength.

It’s a complex thing, and I think we gain it in a lot of different ways.

So I have no resolutions, just an overwhelming resolve to be stronger a year from now.

gray's peak

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