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Friday, June 29, 2012

story: chapter one

word of the day: story \stȯr-ē\ a person that wants something and is willing to overcome conflict to get it.

I am convinced that the most beautiful part of Africa is the people.  That’s true of most stories though, I suppose. 
For me, it’s always the characters in books that keep me moving forward.  In fact, I tend to get overly emotionally involved in their lives.  I laugh with them, I cry with them, and I often feel a deep sense of loss when the last page is turned. I didn’t read anything for weeks following the last Harry Potter book—getting to know new characters felt like a betrayal to the ones I had just spent seven books with.  Recently, I stopped a book in the middle because I didn’t agree with the choices a character was making—I didn’t believe in her and didn’t care to be a part of her story.

It’s the same with people, I think.  People are important. They are the characters in our stories who move us forward.  The 6th grade teacher who first helped you fall in love with reading.  The high school coach who taught you the benefits of hard work.  The stranger on the street who smiled and waved as they waited for you to cross the street.  They all impact our journey in some way (whether or not they’re aware of it at the time).
In the three weeks I was in Africa, more characters were written onto the pages of my story.  They were beautiful.  And they were hospitable.  And they reminded me that people are really what matters in this life.

During our trip, someone on our team noted that the people of Africa really aren’t that different from the people of America, and I couldn’t agree with her more.  The people of Africa have dreams.  They laugh.  They cry. They make sarcastic jokes and tease one another.  They smile.  They ache.  They worry about the future.  It’s not difficult to relate to the people because, at the core, we’re all people.  Our cultures are different; our needs are the same.
I realized, while in country, my tendency to stereotype.  As Americans, we are fed a clear picture of what danger looks like overseas.  That danger is often personified through the people—they become a picture of the problems, and I’m sad to say that at times I carried that picture with me.

Early on in the trip, we spent an evening in the desert with some local women.  As we made our way back to our apartment, our car started acting up.  The clutch was finicky and was stalling at every stop (which in Africa traffic is approximately every 10 seconds).  The driver of our car urged us to pray, and so the four of us prayed very fervently that our car would work, and we’d make it out of the very busy and people ridden section of town. 

No luck.

As we pulled our way onto a side road and stopped to wait for a ride, I found myself fairly frustrated with God.  “Really?” I can remember thinking.  It’s not that hard to start a car back up.  And, we were all asking for it.  It’s not like it would have taken that much to get us moving again.”  Then I had another thought: It would have been easy for Him to start the car back up again.  But He didn’t.  So, there must have been a reason why.

At that moment, our car was surrounded by local people.  And they were smiling.  And they wanted to welcome us into their homes while we waited.  That was why.  I needed my picture of the people torn to shreds.  I needed to be reminded that the people of Africa are kind and spirited and generous.  That they will do anything in their power to make sure you feel welcome in their country and in their city and, eventually, in their homes (because that’s always where you end up anyways). 

The most beautiful part about Africa is the people, and I guess what I really learned about others is that you can’t miss that.  You can’t get so caught up in your own issues and your own agendas that you miss out on the beauty of people.  On the hurt of people.  On the dreams of people.  On the needs of people.  Because no matter where you go, you’re bound to meet people.  And when we choose to love those people despite everything else that may be going on, we choose to write something beautiful into our stories. 

It’s humbling to be the benefactor of this kind of love.  The kind that drops everything to meet your present need.  The kind I hope now to take with me in every walk of life. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

story: an introduction.

word of the day: story \stȯr-ē\ a person that wants something and is willing to overcome conflict to get it.

Today’s definition comes not from Merriam-Webster.  Instead, it’s lifted off the pages of Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, a book in which I very deeply resonate with.

The premise of his book is simple: as people, we live stories.  We are the protagonists of our own life stories, and we have the ability to choose how the pages pan out.  We hold the pen. 

I love this excerpt from the book:

[When] you live a story[,] the first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative and you’re caught in the water, the shore is pushing back behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The other shore is inches away and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of you’re boat and walking the distant shore, looking back to see where you came from. The first part of a story happens fast, and you think the thing is going to be over soon. But it isn’t going to be over soon. The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. It’s as though the thing is teaching you the story is not about the ending but about the story itself, about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle. The shore behind you stops getting smaller, and you paddle and wonder why the same strokes used to move you but they don’t anymore…The shore you left is just as far and there is no going back, there is only the decision to paddle in place or stop, slide out of the hatch and sink into the sea. Maybe there is another story at the bottom of the sea? Maybe you don’t have to be in this story anymore? Maybe you can quit and not have to paddle in place anymore?

I often think about this in my life retrospection.  What kind of story am I living? Am I living something that’s worth telling someone else?  Or am I living a mediocre fantasy story with little prospect of being turned into a movie?  Am I getting fed up in the middle?  Am I tossing the oars overboard or am I layering on an extra coat of resilience and packing an extra bottle of ink?

I wrote a new chapter into my life recently.  The current in-progress title is “Africa," and I know.  It has some jazzing up to do.

Jake and I returned from three weeks in Africa this past Sunday night, and since then, I have been agonizing over how best to write about it.  How best to tell the story.

Consider this the introduction to the story because even as I put these words down, I’m dotting a few i’s that I hadn’t realized I’d written yet.

I was asked three questions about the trip before we set sail back to the States:  What did you learn about others?  What did you learn about God?  What did you learn about yourself?

At the time, I was frustrated to be sans an answer.  I had no real clarity around any of the questions and couldn’t seem to form answers that contained any substance.  Well, it should not surprise anyone that I have been processing answers to said questions since they were asked and now, it’s the only organization to my thoughts that feels right. 

So, if you’re interested in hearing about our trip to Africa, this post isn’t going to give you any answers.  The next three will though; I promise, so stay tuned.  Until then, let me appease you with some pictures…

To be continued...