Posts Tagged ‘Family’

You know that feeling when you finally see the ones you love…that’s what I was feeling here. =) Reuniting with the whole family is always the sweetest thing.

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We set out to catch up on things we missed and had the most lovely Christmas and celebration of Luka’s birthday.

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If you didn’t know it before, you should now know, that I have the coolest brother in the world!

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A couple days after “Christmas” we headed off to Oman to have a new adventure together, and we were wowed by everything we saw. The land, the people, the mosques and forts…

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Wandering and exploring the wadis was probably all of our favorite activity. Climbing, swimming, adventuring…

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We got to visit this gorgeous Grand Mosque

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And though you can’t see it, we are standing on the second largest carpet in the world.

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Wandering around this old fort was an incredible adventure too!

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Even our downtime was spent taking over the world…

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To the ones who taught me to adventure,

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And the ones who have never let me adventure alone.

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It was an incredible trip and I can’t wait for the next one!

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img_8513I always wear my Africa. Africa is my strong. It’s my symbol to remind me to pray. It’s my tiny map so when people ask about home I can point out where it is. I wear it like armor, it makes me feel brave. It has led to laughter when people try to figure out which state in the USA it is. It has opened up multiple conversations with strangers. The other travelers in a crowd can find me and start an easy conversation. When it is around my neck I feel like home is close to my heart. That family isn’t so far away. That I will be back someday. That it isn’t over 7000 miles and several days of travel to get home.

But the other day I took it off. Sure, I take it off to wear a different necklace sometimes, but it always goes right back on. Not the other day. The other day I took it off with no replacement necklace. I set it on the dresser and walked away. The other day I took it off because I was afraid. I was angry. I couldn’t make words make sense and I was reminded of that every time I heard it jingle around my neck or felt it move against my chest. I just couldn’t take it…so I took it off.

As a reader, you’re probably thinking, “this girl has lost it” or “where are you going with this one, Shelby?” or, “have you made this thing an idol?” even, “can it really be that strong of a force?” I think the challenge of this post (and all writing) is to get to a vulnerable enough spot that you can understand the thoughts swirling inside my head, but I’m going to warn you right here…they are swirling through the mud and it’s messy, it’s confusing, I’m not sure I can win this one and make it all make sense. I’m not sure it will look nice on the page or be smooth on your tongue as you read it. And even now, as I write this, I’m not sure of the emotion I want you to take away after you’ve read it. Probably, as with all my writing, this is much more for me than for you. But please read. Read it because though I’m not so clear in my writing, it’s even harder in talking…but I want you to know. I might cry if we talk, but I want to talk. I might say I’m fine, but the truth is I’m hurting and confused and I want you to know. You are allowed to ask. If you read this we will at least both be at the same starting point if we ever do try to talk about it.

I took off my Africa when I heard that my family moving away. I LOVE my family and I LOVE when they are close to me, but this time, they were coming closer but it felt so far. It felt wrong. It felt broken. See this time they were being “removed” from Tanzania. What does that mean? We didn’t really know. Lets be real, we still don’t really know. But they were told they have to leave and so they will leave.

There are times and places where culture seems to be stronger than faith. Where people’s desire for power and strength looks better to them than following Jesus. When someone wants to be on top, sometimes they feel a need to push others down before they get there. It sucks. A lie that I have been fighting since I was a kid is that God is the cause of the mess. Sure, God meets us in the mess, but it is not His intention to hurt us. He will help us grow through it. But the mess is made by humans. We are broken. Sinful. And not always the smartest.

This is just one example. Brokenness, messes, trauma – this stuff happens all the time.  I took my Africa off because I was angry that so quickly this token of love and hope and overcoming could become a carrier of loss, hurt and feel overwhelming. Something I wanted to fight back against. But I’m not a fighter. So when I couldn’t take it anymore, I just took it off. “This is a personal battle,” “I’ll show them,” “I don’t care,” and “I’m stronger without it,” I lied to myself. I wanted to believe it too. It would be easier if I could believe that I could just walk away and block it out. I wouldn’t have to feel the hurt. I wouldn’t have to remember the loss. I could avoid going back to the other times people in the church had hurt me. The time the mission made us leave our house and village when I was 14. The time a boy studying to become a pastor treated me as if I didn’t exist when I was 20. The time a man wrote me a letter that fell into the stalking category and I had to bring it to the police when I was 27. There’s more. But other people’s stories are too closely tied into mine for me to share them publicly. There is a whole lot of junk in the church. There’s a whole lot of pain. It’s pretty easy to look at all those things and so many other things that happen ‘in the church’ and believe that God is mean, bad, evil. But then I have to stop and remember…I invite all my friends to church. Church is about God…but it’s full of people. People are risky. People mess up. People are broken. God’s not bad. That’s a fact. I also don’t want to just give you a list of bad things others have done and ignore that I have hurt so many. I’ve said the wrong words, been uncaring, insensitive and ignorant. There are people who could add me to their list and I must remember that. I’m a person. People are broken.

I don’t know what it means that my family is leaving. They don’t either. We are trying to process it. We are trying to figure out next steps. “Can they go back somehow?” we don’t know. “What will happen to all their stuff?” it is already sold and given away, other things are in boxes that they hope they can get to America in the future. The last of my childhood has been packed up. The walls I painted, the posters I hung, the clothes I left for when I go home to visit, the dogs. They’re gone now. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I took my Africa off.

But then I realized, if I take it off and block out the pain, I also block out the joy. Did I want to give up the memories of mud fights? The hours spent painting nails, watching Princess Bride, making beaded bracelets with Hekima, Jenny, Grace, and Alice? Did I want to forget about playing ‘nage’,  the best game in the world that no Americans know how to play? Did I want to give up roof rack riding? Picnics at the waterfall? Swimming in the catfish pond? Did I want to give up goat roasts and pig roasts? Hunting with my dad? The 30+ foster siblings my family has cared for? Did I want to give up hours of eating sugarcane and kumbikumbi (bugs) with all the other MKs? Did I want to give up the country I called home for over half of my life? Could I give up the country of my brother’s heritage? If I couldn’t take the pain, I’d have to block out the joy too. I’d have to forget that I already overcame lots of those battles I’ve mentioned above.

As angry as I was (am) I couldn’t give those up. I couldn’t let them go. That is my life. It’s my heritage. It has molded me into the woman that I am today. And this…this really painful and confusing time…this will continue to mold me. It can lead me to bitterness. It can lead me to strength. I get to choose. So after a few days I put my Africa back on. I’m still angry. I’m still hurt. I’m still confused. I still haven’t made it through many days without tears. But, I choose to trust.

My word for the year of 2017 is trust. I chose the word trust the day before I heard about my family being kicked out of Tanzania. I was nervous to pick the word trust, because I know that learning to focus on trust and trying to learn more about it is risky…we learn to trust through trials. Our faith is strengthened when we persevere. I chose the word trust and then I wanted to give it back. I didn’t want it anymore. But I do. I believe that God didn’t change when my circumstances did. I believe that God is faithful. There have been times I’ve taken out my anger on God instead of trusting God and being angry at the situation. I don’t want to do that anymore. There’s hard times in life. There’s hard people. Life is messy. God is good.

I’m still hurting. I still might cry if you ask about this. I still don’t know what it means. I still don’t have closure. But I’m telling you this, I’m choosing to trust. I’m willing to share. If you want to ask more then ask. If you want to pray then pray. I’m sharing this here, because I need to face it. Africa may not always be on my neck, but it will forever hold a piece of my heart. It might not always be my home, but it will always have been my home. I may be from Pennsylvania now, but I grew up in Africa. And that’s okay.

Below are some of the verses I’ve been clinging to these past couple of weeks. Hope if you’re going through something, they might help you too.

  • God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (Gen 1:31)
  • The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:9-10)
  • We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22)
  • See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)
  • When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” (Luke 7:13)
  • May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Do you ever have those days where the line from the song in the kids version of Robin Hood seems to be about the only fitting words to share, “oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally golly, what a day”. I had a lot of them this past year.

For 2016 I chose the word ‘true’ to be my word for the year. Part of me wants to say, “that was a mistake,” because of what path the year took and all the lessons I learned from it that I would’ve loved to never experience, but amidst the pain and chaos I learned oh so much. I will share some, because ‘true’ is a newer thing for me, and I’ve had a year, but I’m still working…

  1. I wanted to be honest with how I’m doing. I’m a person who can easily hide my own emotions to care for yours. But some days are hard. And real friends should have the right to know that when they ask. Living in a house with 19 others helps force conversations. Especially when you live with 19 of the most intentional people in town. This year I got to work on telling the truth when I came home from work whether it was a good day or a hard day. I learned, that when you do tell them, people very often care. So interesting.
  2. I wanted to stay true to myself, my faith, and my God. In the world of “you do you” it’s easy to start believing that whatever you want to be true, can be true for you if you just believe it enough. But I know that isn’t really true. That’s convenient. That’s nice. That’s comfortable…but it doesn’t work in the long run. There are some things in the world that just aren’t true. There are some things in the world that are just unavoidably true no matter how false I want them to be. This year I’ve gotten to remember some of those. Pay attention and notice them. And process what I want to do about them. So interesting.
  3. In May 2016 something happened that brought up a whole lot of garbage from my past. It brought up: Insecurity. Fear. Anger. Confusion. Hurt. Trauma. Sadness. Isolation.  And the biggest one was a general distrust and dislike of people. It brought all the lies that I’ve fought against for so long right back to the surface. The lies that people aren’t worth it. The lies that I am too messed up to fix. The lies that everyone is out to get you. The lies that people don’t really care. May was a really hard month. So was June. Followed by July, August and September. Might as well add October too… But in November something happened. I got to say these 5 words that actually made me cry, “I feel like me again”. For over 6 months I didn’t feel like me. I didn’t want to be around my friends. I didn’t want to leave my room. I didn’t want to face the world. I faked the smiles. I forced the conversations. I cried a lot. I dealt with anxiety for the first time. I believed a lot of lies. But in that whole time, I had incredible support. A family in multiple timezones who were always there when I needed to talk. Friends who invited me to join them or just came to me even when I wasn’t fun. A mentor who prayed over me. An online therapist who listened to me. Coworkers who picked up my slack in both my jobs. God used so many people to demonstrate His love for me and to counter the very lie that was trying to push it’s way into my heart that I shouldn’t trust people. God made people, and He made them very good. So interesting.
  4. Focusing on ‘true’ in 2016 taught me (reminded me) that fear doesn’t get to call the shots in my life. Sometimes it answers the quickest though, but throughout the year I tried to identify when fear got the first word, and go back and acknowledge that I was wrong in letting fear answer first and then tell the truth…maybe I still didn’t know what that was, but that fear didn’t get to make the decisions in my life. So interesting.

2016, you were a tough year. But God taught me so much through you. I wish “word of the years” could go away after the year ends, but I know just like ‘delight‘, ‘pursue‘, ‘intentional‘, ‘greater‘, and ‘overcome‘ you, ‘true‘ will be here to stay in my life for me to continue working on. Stay tuned for 2017’s word of the year to get a post soon. It’ll be another year full of learning…that’s for sure.

Kids these days are different.
Systems these days are broken.
Some always have been.
But they don’t always have to be.

When I was born I nursed at my mother’s breast.
One of my friends just had a baby, but they are not together because she is in jail.

When I was one I saw both parents in my home every day.
My friend has a one year old who she sees for an hour every other week when her daughter is brought to the jail for a visit.

When I was two I tried to run away (but couldn’t open the door), because my parents wanted me to be safe and wouldn’t let me play on the stairs.
One of my friend’s kids are out of county with her in-laws and she cannot reach them now because she’s in jail, and if nothing changes she cannot be with them when she gets out because she’s not supposed to leave the county on probation.

When I was three I moved to a new house with my family.
One of my friends signed her three year up for an Angel Tree Christmas present to be delivered, because she will be in jail for many more years and her daughter has been adopted into a new home and family.

When I was four life was great, I had dolls and toys and dates with my mom while my sister was at school.
One of my friends was not allowed to talk to her kids for several months until CPS changed their minds and now she can call home from jail and at least talk to them on the phone while she waits for her trial and for the courts to decide if she is guilty or innocent.

When I was five I went to kindergarten and loved my teacher.
One of my friends has a son in kindergarten who hides under the table, swears at his teacher and asks for his mom.

When I was six I had my first real birthday party and all my friends came over.
One of my friends has a six year old in the hospital because he tried to take his own life.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. I am by no means saying that these six women are innocent. Nor do I think they would all make the best mothers (some sure would). But I do think this…our system is broken. We are not helping these kids by throwing their moms in jail and forgetting about them. Maybe, just maybe, there is another way, that we haven’t tried yet.

Like I said before.
Kids these days are different.
Systems these days are broken.
Some always have been.
But they don’t always have to be.
Will you take one step towards changing them?
Will you make a difference?

Today was beautiful.

There are so many reasons why. I’ll probably blog about lots of them individually, but I’ll give you the quick list now:

  • IMG_5883It started strong when soon after I woke up my phone reminded me to have a good attitude since I knew I’d need a reminder after getting very little sleep.
  • I got to talk to my Mama in Tanzania for a minute.
  • My phone didn’t break even though I dropped it down a flight of stairs and it bounced on every step.
  • We got to feed 50+ artists breakfast and they were so very happy about it.
  • I heard stories from people who live all over the nation.
  • We got to hand out hundreds of free water bottles to strangers on a hot day.
  • Several friends came to visit me and hang out.
  • My kitchen and bathroom are both clean.

I could go on…there are so many reasons today was beautiful! But the one that stood out above the rest was getting a small white flower from a sweet little girl. After we gave her a bottle of water, I complimented this (maybe 4 year old) little girl on a flower she was holding. She paused, looked at the flower, and then slowly raised it up to give it to me. From someone else, this might seem worthless, a frail flower they grabbed from the side of the road somewhere, but from this little girl, it was clear she gave me a treasure. And by doing so, she reminded me to be intentional about being aware of my perspective. Life is full of moments. I don’t always see the treasure in each one, but I want to. I hope your day was beautiful too.

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After the awkward introduction with a new girl where I couldn’t shake her hand because we aren’t allowed to touch:

“How are you doing?” I tried to ask soothingly.
“I was caged alive for 7 months.” she said despondently as she stared into my eyes.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“That must feel really scary.” I settled on. (At this point I still wasn’t sure if she meant she’d been in jail for 7 months, been in solitary confinement for 7 months, or she had somehow been held captive before jail.) I’m not sure I ever really figured it out, but she went on. She told me how great her life was and then she paused:

“Then he went off and died on me.” she said as the tears started to flow.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“Who was it that died again?” I asked, trying to pretend I just missed his name when really I was incredibly confused by the conversation… She went on to talk about addiction, loss, and through the tears our conversation continued to be very confusing. I can only imagine how confused her heart must be feeling tonight.

After joining the ladies for our PB&J lunch on the block another new girl asked to speak with me. She said she had court yesterday and it was hard to process. Noticing her eyes filling with tears I quickly promised I’d call her out to talk one on one instead of at the table with all the other girls listening in:

“So what happened at court?” I asked.
“If I get more than a year they are going to adopt out my daughter,” she sobbed.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“That must feel really scary.” I settled on again. This has honestly become my go to phrase. Sometimes there’s just no way to fix it. There are no words to say. We still can’t touch, so no hugs to give. Nothing I can do but acknowledge the emotion. And sit in the pain with her.

We talked about adoption. How there was no one in her life she would trust with her sweet daughter because the people closest to her did drugs. How she knew adoption was good, but that this girl was a part of her. She wasn’t for someone else. I can only imagine how scared her heart is feeling tonight.

On to the next and the story goes like this:

“So you heard my big news?” she asked cynically.
“I’m so sorry.” I replied, knowing she was referring to the loss of her mother.
“This is torture.” she said flatly.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

Again, no words were fitting. I had a hard day yesterday when my mom flew to another country but is still only a phone call away. We reminisced on stories of her mom. How she was her best friend. That she would miss the funeral. Though she was struggling throughout the whole conversation she was grateful that her mom was finally out of pain. I can only imagine how much her heart is hurting tonight.

IMG_5657I think it’s these conversations that make me dislike TV so much. I have a hard time sitting back and separating these stories from the stories in the shows even when they are so very different. I hear the phrase “New Girl” and I think of all the new girls I met today and their stories. I hear “Orange is the New Black” and think about what all the different colors of clothing mean in jail. I hear “House of Cards” and think about the odd politics and manipulation that goes on between the girls in there. I just can’t get their sweet faces out of my mind.

But I also see so much good. I get to see the girls who care about each other as well as they can in the middle of these broken situations. I hear about the gratitude lists that are being made each day. The many people who start their mornings reading the Jesus Calling book we were able to give out for Christmas and then choose to face the day with hope. The counselors who squeeze as much work into their time there as possible. The COs who stop many fights before they begin. The excited updates of girls who have gotten out. The constant requests of prayers for loved ones. I know it’s hard to imagine their lives, but if you believe in God, would you lift up a prayer for these girls? I’m sure their hearts could use it tonight. 

Decided to share some pictures with anyone who’s interested in my latest adventure. After driving eight hours (six of which were in the rain) to get to Michigan, #JoyfulWheels and I made it!

And this cute ninja was there waiting!

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I got to see college friends, go to a favorite local restaurant, and get new (to me) clothes from a friend’s garage sale.

I got to see all of my grandparents as well as multiple aunts and uncles (even the set from Colorado)!

But mostly I just enjoyed spending time with these favorites of mine.

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Helena and I practiced walking…but we both struggle

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We got Luka all packed up for his week at camp!

Grandma, me, and JoyfulWheels were all being gimpy together. But dad fixed one outta 3…not bad.

We enjoyed a picnic in the park with old family friends.

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Found old pictures =) and hung out with the cousins…cousin time is still just as chaotic, and just as fun!

Also met new friends, and saw other old friends that I forgot to get pictures with. All in all it was a fabulous weekend full of love and joy and I’d gladly drive 16 hours to do it again!

When I asked to go into the jail 2 years ago I had no idea what that would bring. I thought maybe I’d just teach a class and get to meet some people and whatnot. That’d be cool. I didn’t know I’d become a chaplain, the “party planner”, and the random girl in “street clothes” that eats lunch on the block every Thursday.

I didn’t know that I would start running the Angel Tree program at Calvary to provide Christmas presents to local kids with incarcerated parents. I didn’t know I’d get to bring in a small library to share with everyone. Or that I’d raise a couple thousand dollars and lead a church wide candy bar drive to be able to give presents for each inmate in our local jail for two years now. I didn’t know people on the outside would tell me stories of impact from their loved ones on the inside who received our gifts.

I didn’t know I’d decorate cards with men and woman who would send them to their kids, parents, lovers, and friends around the holidays hoping to not be forgotten. I didn’t know I’d listen and pray with women who signed their kids over for adoption. I didn’t know I’d recruit others to go in and lead events and classes. I didn’t know I’d hear about so much death and the many lost loved ones in these people’s lives. I didn’t know I’d launch a community mentoring program to help people adjust back into life after jail.

I didn’t know I’d become a penpal with someone on the inside. I didn’t know I’d make real friends who have left that place and now I get to see in street clothes sometimes. I definitely didn’t know or even hope that I’d get put in touch with people who live 4 hours away because their son is in our jail and they need help knowing what to do and who to contact. I never expected to hug a random stranger who cried on my shoulder as she thanked me for caring about her son and acknowledging that this was hard and embarrassing, but it didn’t define her. I knew God called me to go into that jail, but there was so much I didn’t know. I keep dreaming of more, but there is still so much I still don’t know. That’s just one reason I keep following after Jesus as He leads me into more and more incredible adventures beyond my wildest dreams.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

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“Happy birthday!” I told her. No present though. Not a cake and ice cream, or even a card or a hug. She told me instead how it’s a stressful day with people detoxing and in bad moods on the block. Not your typical birthday party.

“I finally heard from my fiancé,” she said. I was glad to know he wasn’t dead because she had been nervous that he might be. “He’s with another woman now.” She said as if that’s what she deserved since she was in jail.

“I lost a daughter 10 years ago.” She said seemingly unrelated to our conversation. So then we talked about that. We talked about how 11 days before her due date the baby stopped moving. The cord had wrapped around her neck and then she had to deliver a dead baby. She talked about how she knew it was dead, but still had hope it would wake up and cry. How she held her sweet daughter for two hours before saying goodbye. Today she cried. She said she hasn’t cried the whole time she’s been in jail, and that she needed this. It’s amazing how long it can take us before we are willing to talk about the pain in our past.

“I was clean for two and a half years,” she said as the tears started to flow. “But I came back here and I used and I can’t remember Sunday through Thursday…I don’t know what I did. I feel so ashamed. Did I sleep with people for money? I can’t remember. Then when I was sober again and I got picked up for something else and brought back to jail.”

“I didn’t call or anything, I just stood her up,” she said about visiting her four year old daughter who now lives with a different family since she was taken away as a baby when her Mama was addicted to heroin. “I know she was there wondering, ‘Where is my Mommy? Why didn’t see come?’.” This woman is left hoping her daughter knows she loves her even when she’s failed to show it.

5 stories. All hard. Jail stories are hard. Sadly, these are just one day. Every day has so many stories. And they’re hard. It makes my heart happy that Jesus offers hope. I could never go in and hear about this pain again and again without having hope of redemption.

I love living in the Co.Space. We tend to ask so weird questions around here, and sometimes they are exactly what I need. Tonight around the dinner table we asked, “If you were a boat where would you be on your journey?” and I got super emotional.

Let me explain. When I paused and thought outside of the normal day to day what will it take to survive? I haven’t written my grandma back yet and she emailed me days ago…I haven’t called back the voicemails I have from work…Someone introduced me to a new girl I should meet up with to chat about jail stuff and I ignored her text for 24 hours because I was busy and forgot to text back…I forgot to order supplies for the house and we ran out of dish soap…I haven’t written a letter back to my friend in jail…my grandpa was in the hospital today. (The list could go on and on of how the day to day things try to take all of my attention). But suddenly, when I was told to be a boat instead of a human, and explain life in boat terms, it became so clear.

I immediately imagined my boat.

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I didn’t have to think about it. It was one that I had seen in the news filled with refugees. It was a boat filled too full. I couldn’t make everyone comfortable. I couldn’t guarantee everyone’s safety. I wasn’t sure of where the best place to land that boat was. There wasn’t room on it for a crew. It felt so incredibly scary, but at the same time this tiny, lonely little boat full of danger was the hope that all the passengers had been longing for. It was another chance at life. Although it might land in a dangerous place, it was headed in the right direction. I had this overwhelming sense that even if everything in my day was chaotic God was still on my side and I can always hold onto hope.

Suddenly the silly question made way too much sense. It was deep. We are all on a journey in life, and that’s ok. If you’re in a big boat, a small one, a floating one, a sinking one, if it’s landlocked or if your swimming outside of the boat you’re still on the journey of life. Keep doing the next thing. You might not always be on the same boat. You won’t always be in the same place. It’s all part of the journey. But I will challenge you on this…let other people on your boat. And if you aren’t ready for that, at least take time to find someone and tell them about your boat. Stories help. The help us connect to each other and they help us remember what it is we are chasing and why we ever thought to chase it.
Happy sailing friends.