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.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

{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)

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 preset

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)

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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

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.

Pattaya-198

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.

1:06 a.m. {on climbing mountains}

I rarely see these wee hours of the morning. But some foolish part of me agreed to a sunrise hike today, which means I’m leaving my house at 2 a.m. to get to a trailhead by 3:30 a.m. to climb to a summit by 6:00 a.m.

Crazy?

Probably.

Anyway, I couldn’t sleep. So I made coffee instead and now I’m banking on a steady stream of caffeine to get me up to 14,000 feet and back down again.

I’m a morning person, not a night person. I much prefer waking up at 5 a.m. to staying up until 1 a.m. But as I sit here drinking my coffee and listening to the crickets murmur lullabies outside, I’m struck by the calm. It’s soothing. Lovely. Undisturbed.

I think that’s why I like climbing mountains. It’s lovely and undisturbed. You drive out onto some slightly treacherous dirt road to climb up a giant mass of rock in the middle of nowhere. And as you wind your way up to the summit you might be the only person you can see, and suddenly you’re struck by a gigantic sense of smallness. The quiet is deafening and you realize anew that you are an incredibly tiny person on a huge mountain. You are alone in the midst of grandeur. And as you gaze out on this wondrous beauty you wonder how anyone could not believe in God.

Torrey's

Gray's

And then you get closer to the top of that mountain and suddenly the trail isn’t so nicely marked and it’s steeper than your legs would prefer to climb and you’re scrambling on all fours to get to this beautiful thing called the summit. And you get to that summit and you realize that all the beauty you saw along the way was nothing compared to this. Your realize the smallness you felt was nothing compared to standing atop this mountain. And you marvel at the fact that you feet carried you to the top and that your lungs are somehow still pumping oxygen to your muscles. And you sit and you gaze and you finally rest. And you’re small and the mountain is big and you’re reminded that you don’t have to worry because there is One who weighs these mountains on a scale and these hills in a balance.

And the world is quiet and lovely and undisturbed and all is well.

stek on gray's

hiking mt princeton 2

Yes, that is why I like climbing mountains.