Alive

thankful

 

I had plans of making this really beautiful collage of photos. Photos that represented people, places, things and experiences I am thankful for. I had plans, but then I decided to be with those people, to talk about those experiences, and to add to the list of places I’m thankful for. I spent the day with my sister, and then joined my dad in the tractor and relived a bit of my childhood. I realized today that the smell of a John Deere tractor never really does leave the memory space in your brain. In traveling, I’ve come to really appreciate this time of year. Yes- it is beautiful and cozy with sweaters and scarves and leaves changing colours, but it’s the holiday of Thanksgiving that is so beautiful. A day dedicated to making you stop and reflect on the things you’re thankful for. Here’s my list, in no particular order, and totally incomplete. I could be here for a while if I listed them all.

Thankful for:

A country like Canada to call home. It’s vast, it’s beautiful, it’s safe, and it holds so many of my memories. I’m thankful that I can contact my local MP to help me out with legalizing forms, that we have a government that cares about us (really, we do), that our backyard is nearly a national park, and that I can really hear people yelling “Thanks for stopping by, eh!” I love it.

I am thankful for handmade cards and letters, transformation, music, tea, thrift store finds, the smell of a field, living in a new place, and my bed.

Travel. It has opened my eyes, and my mind, completely. Traveling the world has helped me see my home with new eyes, to see “familiar” people groups with a new understanding, more compassion, and a more simplified mindset. Although traveling has opened my eyes to a lot of pain, it has showed me that simplicity is incredibly beautiful. I’m thankful for the ability and privilege it is to travel the way I do, with the people I do, and how it is making me a better version of myself.

I am thankful for my people. I could say family and friends, but really, you’re one in the same. I’m thankful that no matter where I live, God brings people into my life that challenge me, bless me, and teach me. You make me laugh uncontrollably, cry at your pain, shake my head around when I’m becoming too selfish, and question my beliefs in a great way. My people come in all different shapes and sizes, and as young as 2 to as old as 85. My life would be pointless, boring, and quite lifeless without you, and I am blessed beyond belief to have such incredible people to invest in me.

I am thankful for food, sunshine, tea, handmade journals, scarves made by my mum, nap times, toddlers learning new words, biographies.

I am thankful for the challenge and blessing of loving deeply and letting go. I am thankful for it because each time I do, each time I allow my heart to cling to another, my eyes are opened to a new perspective. I am thankful for it because each and every person on this earth deserves to be loved, and in that moment, He has chosen me to be the one to love them. I am thankful (and must choose this one daily) to let go of the ones I love. Thankful because, by being loved, they now have the ability and knowledge to love others well. By letting go, I release them to go where they are being led, and His love gets to be spread to more people. I’m thankful this is a challenge, because I grow most when I’m challenged, although I never desire the challenge.

I’m thankful for education, for Canada’s health care system, for a strong Dutch-Canadian heritage, tea, nail polish, tax returns, beautiful nieces and finding money on the ground.

I’m thankful for the past 10 months. When I look at the state of my heart on January 6, I can’t help but realize a softening, a maturing, and a subtle growth in myself. I walked into this journey quite naive, and although I still believe I’m naive, my eyes have been opened. God has opened them to more of what He sees, which is pain, brokenness and evil, but even more joy, hope and restoration than my small mind could ever comprehend. I’m thankful that I said yes when He asked me to pack that first suitcase, no matter what or who it meant I was leaving behind. I’m thankful that He is more committed to my plans than I am, and I’m thankful that He led me gently as I resisted so often the destination He was guiding me to.

I’m thankful for harvest, Thanksgiving, fog in the morning, old and new friends, hopes of a new camera, Amsterdam, road trips and brothers that make me laugh until I cry.

Take a page in your journal and write out what you’re thankful for. And if you don’t journal, start. I’m serious. The way I’ve seen God answer prayers, provide miraculously, teach hard lessons, and bless incredibly is all recorded for the past 3 1/2 years. Each time I read them, I stop and thank Him for how beautiful He is, and for how He uses me and blesses me along the way. I’ll add that to the list. Journalling. I’m thankful for the reminder it brings that He is good, all the time.

What are you thankful for?

With Strength that is not my own. Sam

La Vie en Togo

 

 

Different

It’s the word we choose when we try to compare our lifestyles. Different because we don’t struggle with the same things. Different because of the things we have or don’t have. Different because of the languages we speak, or the way we express affection or anger. Different.

Different has a way of poisoning us. What is really just a word turns into a barrier, a wall, a separation between what “we” do against what “they” do. Somewhere along the lines, our way becomes better than theirs, but we won’t admit to believing that, we just say “we’re just different.”

I’d like to challenge that. I’d like to challenge the belief that we all seem to have and say that even though the circumstances may not be identical, that our lives are made of the same things. I’ve been in many places, and I’ve seen the same things. Joy, life, excitement, frustration, boredom, anger, confusion, sadness- these things are everywhere. When we choose to open our eyes, we can see that, but there’s that magic word- choose.

Take a moment and look outside yourself. Look at the people around you and see the way they do things. Is it different? Quite possibly, yes. But can you relate to them? Can you relate to the mum who is visibly frustrated with her children, whether she portrays it the way you would or not? Can you relate to the teacher who is so proud of all of his students, regardless of whether they meet national standards or not? Can you relate to the father who would do anything to provide for his family, even if he works a different job than you?

What I saw in Togo was different than what I saw in Canada, or Australia, or Papua New Guinea. What I saw in West Africa is even different from what I saw in South Africa, but do you know what tied it all together? There’s a common theme in all of these places, something that, when I chose to look for it, I could relate to? It’s people, doing life, right where they are. I smile because they are beautiful, and they smile because they’ve never felt hair like mine before. I cry because they deserve more than just trying to survive, and they cry because someone is hearing their story. I laugh because they are unashamed, and they laugh because I dance and look ridiculous doing it.

You see, we’re not that different. There is no “us” and “them” in my eyes. I am a girl of 22, seeing life and death, joy and pain, new and old, all over the world. She is a girl of 22, seeing the exact same things, but through her own eyes, her own perspective, her own experiences. We all laugh. We all cry. We all sing. We all dance. We all live.

So let’s live. Let’s live as if there were no barriers. We need to look past our differences and realize that He created us to live this life together, with Him. Look inside and ask yourself where you have created those barriers, the fences that keep you on different sides. Ask yourself where you’ve used the word different in place of better. It’s not an easy process, but you have to do it. Walls and fences and barriers make for a lonely life, one full of comparisons, loneliness and pride.

So breathe. Laugh. Cry. Dance. LIVE.

Live life out loud, knowing that the only differences that keep us apart are the ones you choose to hide behind.

Lessons from today

This day was one I will always remember. I’ll remember it because it was an ordinary day that, when turned to God, becomes something surprising and beautiful and sometimes- just what you need.

This was a day when God took me on an adventure with an incredible friend. A group of us walked to the local market and I was overwhelmed, thirsty and unimpressed. This market was nothing special, nothing set it apart from all the other markets we constantly found ourselves in. To be honest, I was in an awful mood, not exactly the person you might deem fit to lead a team across the world. Exhausted and thirsty, we decided to walk the 45 minutes back to where we were staying. Along the way, I remembered a scene I wanted to take a photo of- two trees hanging over the road, perfectly framing the mountain on the horizon behind it. I set out with my student and sent the others on ahead so we could take some photos. When we finished, we decided to walk a bit further past the trees and happened to run into our friend, Ellie, who we had met just that morning.

African’s continually amaze me. When I was in South Africa in 2008, the hospitality and generosity of the people humbled me, and this day was no exception.  Ellie invited the two of us to his home, which he had built himself (and is in the process of finishing) just behind his parent’s house. He called to his wife, Simonè, who came out to greet us, holding their 3 month old daughter. I wasted no time in taking that beautiful girl into my arms as Ellie set up a bench for us and a chair for himself and invited us for tea.

 Here I was, sitting with my Korean and Togolese friends, holding a 3 month old baby, in Africa, being offered organic, home grown tea. A beautiful surprise, perfectly timed, and perfectly suited to me. 

Ellie was a blessing, a gift from God I’m sure. God knew the state of my heart, ungrateful, annoyed, exhausted and ready to be an extreme introvert, and He gave me 4 things I love- friends, a baby, Africa and tea. As I reflected on the day, I was humbled and challenged and encouraged all at once.

Humbled because God looked at me in my dirt, and He chose to give me the best blessing He could at that moment. He didn’t look at me in my bad mood and choose to leave me alone until I sorted it out, He looked at me and said “She could use this right about now.” Do I do the same? When I encounter someone having a bad day, do I seek for the best way to bless them? Do I truly desire to love the ones who don’t love me?

Challenged because far too often, I only look out for myself. Even in a situation where I’ve been leading a team for the past 2 months, my mind still snaps instantly to what I want/need/desire etc. I’m sure there was another person that day, guaranteed at least at some point on this trip, who needed a blessing. Did I choose to serve them? Did I choose to ask them, to pray with them, to set aside what I needed/wanted, in order to bless them? It’s a simple thing, really. We try to make it sound complicated so we don’t have to do it, but really it’s simple. I was challenged to get over myself, again. (still learning)

Encouraged to know, and be blatantly reminded, that God knows my heart. He knows what makes me smile, what reminds me of home, what I need and in which moment I need it. I was encouraged to know that He loves me even if I’m in a terrible mood, and encouraged to bless others simply. It was refreshing to know that something as simple as tea can change someone’s entire mood as it did for me.

– – – – – –

So I’ve been challenged, encouraged and humbled, all in one afternoon. As we set out, thanking Ellie profusely for the blessing it was to sit with him, to hear his stories of God’s faithfulness, to pray for healing for his sister, I nearly cried. You could chalk  it up to homesickness, exhaustion, frustration- but I choose to give credit to God, for being the One who made my heart and knows the simple things that make me smile. I felt so blessed to be so loved. And I pray you feel that too.

So challenge yourself, be encouraged, and humble yourself. I’m sure you could find a million ways to bless the people around you. Can I call you to action? To love and serve them, even if they never know? Even if they don’t show their appreciation, and even if their hearts are never warmed to yours? Jesus was the best example of this- serving people who, really, had nothing to offer Him, but aren’t you glad He did?

Be blessed, my friend. You are loved!

Ellie-tea

Kathleen teapotJiminSamtea

beautifullight

With Strength that is not my own, Sam