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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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

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

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.