African eyes {weeks 6 & 7}

I work with three Ghanaian social workers named Stanley, Leo, and Collins (dubbed the Three Musketeers), and nearly every day I see them they ask if I’m wearing my “African eyes.” With my African eyes, I can see monkeys swinging from the ceiling fans and elephants traipsing around outside the office. African eyes are eyes for adventure. African eyes remind you to stay lighthearted amid a lot of heavy work.

For the past two weeks a hundred different worries were running through my mind. I was looking at the year ahead of me and wondering how all my bills were going to get paid. I was thinking of graduating next June and wondering kind of job I would be able to find. I was missing my family and friends. I was sick and sure I was dying (I wasn’t). I was missing rock climbing and hiking and worrying about needing to rebuild strength and endurance when I get home (Petty? Yes).

I was thinking about a hundred things I needed to do. Buy books for my fall class, pay cell phone bill, remember to get my oil changed when I’m home. Schedule a doctor appointment, buy plane tickets to weddings, buy more iCloud storage. Replenish my supply of vitamins because the humidity here ruined all of mine. Respond to 30 emails, write another blog post, study Spanish for my proficiency test this fall. And the list goes on and on…

And amid all the worry and stress I piled upon myself, I wondered if wearing my African eyes meant more than monkeys and elephants. What if it meant a perspective change in how I was handling my worries? Because while I’m sitting here missing my friends and family, every week I’m working with people who don’t have families or who have been abused or abandoned by their families. While I’m worried about my final year of grad school, I’m constantly having to adjust the empowerment program I’m working to accommodate the high rates of illiteracy in Ghana. While I could’ve afforded hospital treatment if I had needed it, one of my seamstresses can’t afford $7 malaria medication. While I’m missing rock climbing, people in Africa don’t even understand the concept of recreational activity because why would you spend time or money to do something so frivolous, that doesn’t serve any function??

So. I’m going to try to keep on my African eyes.

City of Refuge

Kokrobite, Ghana

City of Refuge

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.




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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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

School so far…

Hi there blogosphere,

Long time no talk. It’s just that life in Denver has decided to move at warp speed, and that leaves you, my dear little blog, lonely and neglected. I’m sorry.

So, an update? I’ve started grad school, and it’s no joke. Definitely no breeze-through like undergrad. The workload is never-ending…always another page to read or film to watch or paper to research. Add on a job or two on the side, and I feel like I’m constantly wishing for an extra day in the week. Sleep is oft-neglected. Coffee is oft-utilized. Classes are good, but the workload + content make it difficult to turn off my brain. Studying human rights and human trafficking is tough not only on an academic level, but an emotional one. At times the problems we discuss in class feel too overwhelming to solve and I wonder why the heck I’m studying them. But then I remember that I’m not responsible for saving the world. I just have to be faithful to play my own small part. And for today, that means studying.

What else? I go to the mountains a lot. It keeps me sane. I’ve climbed a couple handfuls of 14ers, and there’s no feeling like sitting at the top of the world, watching the sunrise over distant peaks. Every time I look westward from Denver at those mountains, I’m in awe of the majesty and beauty of creation. I’m thankful I get to live in this beautiful corner of the world.

Mount Bross sunrise

St. Mary's Glacier


Mt. Bierstadt

Other things: I’ve met great friends, found a great church, and live in a great house with great roommates. The logistics of life have settled themselves out, and I have much to be thankful for. I apologize in advance for the coming days and weeks where I’ll be MIA, hiding in the far corners of academia; thus is the life of a grad student. If ever you can’t find me, I’ll be neck deep in human trafficking books and research. Be sure to give me a ring, I’m always in need a good distraction.



{a vast expanse of a great unknown}

I moved to Denver 42 days ago. I drove out of my quaint Iowa hometown with tears streaming down my face, tears that didn’t stop for the entire first hour of the drive. I left so much goodness at home. I left a job I loved, a family I loved, and friends who had become dearer to my heart than I imagined they’d become. I never thought I’d end up back in the town I left at 18. But God’s plan is bigger and better and graner than my own, and He knew I needed to be back home. To have that job, to be with my family, to meet those friends. He gave me that gift.

So I cried as I left. I cried for all I left behind, all that would go on without me, easily adjusting to a Dana-less existence. The coffee shop would inevitably survive without me, my family would be just fine,  and my friends would adjust to Tuesday game nights with one less person. Life would go on there. And in my heart I knew it was time for me to go.

Some of the tears were for what lay ahead. A vast expanse of a great unknown. I was driving out to Colorado to go to grad school….and that was all I knew. I had no job, no place to live, no church, and I hardly knew a soul. The uncertainty was suffocating. My mom kept reminding me of the fact that I moved to Thailand all by myself, and that at least in Colorado they spoke my language. And I suppose she was right. But yet…something about this move was more permanent than my brief waltz across the globe to Thailand. This move meant leaving home, possibly never to move back. This move meant finally starting out on the trajectory that the Lord had begun calling me to in Thailand. This move was it.

It wasn’t that I doubted what I was doing. I knew I was supposed to come. Aside from Thailand, I’d never been more certain about anything. I knew grad school was God’s call and Denver was His location. He had been quite clear about that, and affirmed it in countless ways. And what I know of God is that He always provides in the places He calls us to. So my heart knew that He would make a way, that He would take care of the details. But that knowledge didn’t make the trek out to Colorado any easier. It didn’t mean I didn’t worry about all those details. As one of my mentors told me, “Obedience to the Lord is the hardest thing. He never tells us how it’s going to work out. He only asks us to trust that He will always come through.”

Trust. It seems like the Lord’s always trying to teach me that lesson in new ways.

So I’ve been here 42 days. And a journey that started with tears of fear for what was ahead and tears of sadness for what was behind has turned into songs of joy for what I’ve found. The Lord has indeed provided. And not just in okay ways or “good enough” ways. But in great ways. In better ways. In immeasurably more ways. In God-ordained ways that my small human mind could never have conjured up.

mt princeton

hiking mt princeton

Every single thing I have needed, the Lord has provided. Housing and jobs and a beautiful church and amazing friends. His providence and goodness and sovereignty astound and humble me. He has been so faithful. He knows what I need and He will never fail to provide it in the best way.

I am so thankful I serve a good God, one who is for me, one who cheers me on, one who encourages me to aim for His best. I don’t deserve an ounce of the blessing He pours out, but I receive it with a grateful heart. I only pray that I would take what He gives me and turn it back around and offer it to Him. I pray that I would only go further up and further in, and that His goodness and mercy would continue to go before and behind and beside.

hiking mt princeton 2

Khap khun Praa Jaao. Praa Ong dii. Thank you Lord. You are good.

the Immeasurably More

Lately I’ve had several conversations with friends about not settling for “good enough” lives. “Good” is easy. It’s comfortable, predictable, and fairly straightforward. And there’s nothing wrong with it, per se. Because God is good always, in any situation,  good is, well, good.

The thing is, if good exists, then better also exists. Continue reading

{saying yes}

Obedience to the Lord is hard.

It usually involves a step toward some unknown, some uncertainty. Obedience always involves a high degree of trust and an unshakable confidence in the Lord’s goodness, in His wisdom, in His guidance. Obedience calls us to increase our faith.

It runs counter to everything that says be safe! be comfortable! stay where it’s easy! do what you know! Continue reading