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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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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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Yes, that is why I like climbing mountains.

{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.

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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.

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