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.

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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.

Organized chaos

I have a case of the crazies.

I stare at my planner each week trying to make an extra day appear in my schedule.

Because I’m on week eight of my third ten-week quarter of grad school. Since January, I’ve been in class every week except one (thank you, DU, for that one meager week of break). I’m surrounded by books and papers and research on labor rights and export processing zones and participatory planning processes.

Because I’m running from work to school to my other job to church to the climbing gym and every now and then, to bed.

Because yesterday I pulled my suitcases out from the closet – the worn one from Thailand and the red one whose wheel broke on the cobbled streets of Florence. Suitcases that have been around the world both ways.

Because my to-do list is a mile long and the days to finish its tasks are dwindling. Immunizations, visa, Target runs, research papers, statistical analyses, meet with Claude, see my friends, find a summer’s worth of coffee to bring to Africa (very important), and then try to eat and climb and sleep. All important.

(In case you’re wondering how I’m making time to write this, I wrote it during class. Multitasking at its finest.)

“I’m so stressed, I have so much to do, I’m so tired, school is so hard, I’m sick of research.” Oh, how I like to complain. My friends and my oh-so-understanding boyfriend know this well. But the truth is, a year ago when I was preparing to move to Denver for graduate school, I couldn’t have imagined the opportunities that are in front of me right now. Opportunities to study topics like forced labor, migration, microfinance, field methods, and human rights. Opportunities to work with DU’s Human Trafficking Center. Opportunities to go to Ghana this summer and work in human trafficking prevention. Opportunities that don’t come around simply by chance.

So I may be going crazy for the next for the next 17 days, and I may be absolutely unequipped for what I’ve been asked to do in Ghana, and I may not know exactly how I’m going to turn in all my finals before I leave the country, but I do recognize the uniqueness of the opportunities in front of me.

I always grow the most when I travel, when I live abroad and get to experience another culture and forget about the anxieties and complexities of American life. Don’t get me wrong, human trafficking is far from simple and the issues I’ll be engaging with are certainly complex. And I’ll miss Denver and my family and my friends and these mountains that have become home. But I need this summer, because sometimes amid the craziness that is grad school, we forget why we’re studying this, why we’re writing these papers, why we’ve taken on two years of sleeplessness and cheap food.

But today, I remember why. It’s because my perspective has grown tenfold since September. It’s because I’m surrounded by brilliant classmates and colleagues, who are on a trajectory to make amazing contributions to this world. It’s because I have a (mostly) grant-funded trip to West Africa where I will learn more from rural Ghanaians than I could ever learn from my books.

It’s a good life and I am thankful.

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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

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

In case you were wondering….

{Preface: this is not a pity post. I’m writing it to humor myself. Laugh with me, please. Because laughter is better than tears.}

For those of you wondering what grad school is really like:

It’s the beginning of week ten of the quarter. The final week. The quarter system is like a sprint. You barely get off the starting line and all of a sudden you’re crossing the finish….but somewhere in between there were midterms and finals and presentations and thousands of pages read and more pages written than you care to count. Continue reading