A whirlwind. A tornado. A headspin. A summer tempest. Crazy. Unbelievable. Absurd. Wild.
I love words. And so I keep trying to find ways to describe the past 3 months of my life. Words, my dear friends, have failed me.
I’ve settled with my fairytale :-)
Summary: I have hit 17 cities, 7 countries, over 3 continents. I have traveled on 3 airlines, traveled over land for 5 days across borders, slept in 9 different beds (if you count the front seat of a car at the Senegal border a bed lol), and celebrated and eaten the culinary curiosities of 6 different cultures. AHHHHHHH!!!!!
This story kind of starts at the end of last year…. by way of a story that started at the beginning of last year….by way of a story that started in my childhood.
Because no story has a definite ending or beginning :-)
A little over 1 year ago, I had just moved to my site in Labé and was spending my days prancing around the town asking as many questions as possible, drinking tea with old men, and learning the ropes. I came with so many ideals of what it would be like to live in Africa and what the development field held for me. They were all theories that couldn't be proven until I was on the ground, with my feet in the sand, hands in the dirt, face to the sun.
And many have been beautifully confirmed :-)
Since I was a child I have been magnetically drawn to this continent; its history, its life, its struggles. The stories my family told me of growing up back home, coupled with news reports of the political instability of our country captivated my imagination. For every school project, I chose Liberia as my subject. Somehow I’ve known for a long time that I needed to be here to see if all I had dreamt was true. And finally being here has been the epitome of peace. I had the nerves of a girl before a date with a great guy, but once we settled in at our table, over conversation and laughs, I knew, “This is meant to be.”
Yet, too much of a good thing becomes a burden. At the time I left for the states at the end of last year I was beginning to lose my grip. Guinea had opened my ability to create again and I ran with it. The flood gates opened, motivated people began falling in my lap, and soon I was involved in 8 huge projects, planning ambassadorial visits, and writing proposals for USAID & UN—I was moving too fast. I loved my work, I relished the thought of waking up every day, I was FINALLY running in my direction, and I did not want to stop.
Until God stopped me.
I completely lost my voice before I left, making it impossible to complete any meetings. Here, meetings where decisions need to be made are shouting matches, and I couldn't muster up more than a squeaky whisper. I was forced to just simply give up.
WHAT?! Give up?! NO!! I can’t!! To. Much. To. Do.
Oh believe me I tried to stay in the game, but the more I tried, the sicker I became, until I had to just throw in the towel and sit quietly in the corner. I wasn't able to close out plans that I wanted to, and I had a plane to catch in the US….to sit on my couch and do nothing….something I hadn't done in over a year. The 3 weeks I had planned to spend in the United States turned into 6 weeks with an included stint in physical therapy for a prior ankle injury.
Truth will always show itself clearly.
I was burnt out, and I needed to be brought to a screeching halt.
Yet, even after traveling 3000 miles away from my work, I couldn’t just walk away. I was too used to running, worrying, stressing, and filling every single moment of my days with something just to feel productive.
It took me all of 5 weeks to finally learn to relax. I spent my last week in the states smoking cigars with my dad, seeing my cousin perform (shout ou t to her band Meen Old World), being silly with my grandmother, getting dressed up, EATING……..just being.
I wish it would have taken me less time to realize what was most important. But grateful that God gave me that short, but precious, time to re-frame my thinking.
More on how my thinking has changed in a later blog :-)
God wasn’t done with me yet.
My 3 week extension in the United States gave me only 4 days in country before I had to high tail it to Dakar to meet a dear friend to catch a flight to Italy, where the fairy tale continued to blossom :-)
Even though I knew my touchdown in Guinea would be short lived, listening to Toto Bona Lokua (Check out my favorite single by this amazing group), watching the sunset as the plane landed in the Gambia on my way back to Guinea from the states my heart came alive. Home :-)
|Landing in Gambia at Sunset|
I was soooo happy to be back.
Many would think this is bittersweet. I’m leaving the US after spending every day with my family –and leaving a fairytale trip through Europe and West Africa, eating the best food and fully experiencing incredible moments with great friends and amazingly motivating people.
And yes it was incredibly uplifting and beautiful :-) The things that dreams are made of. Sometimes I think back to the past 2 months and I can’t believe this is my life. I am coming back with the fortune of seeing and speaking to my dearest friends and family---my inner circle---emblazoned on my heart. And the experience of some of the most beautiful sites, world treasures, and gorgeous sunsets to motivate me to continue to live what I believe.
But there is something about this continent that resonates with my soul in a way more familiar than the United States. Home. Whereas others may see barren ground, poverty, and lack….I see a blank slate, a portrait, a blank canvas, a future waiting to be carved out. The excitement of the possibility of change on the edge of everyone’s lips contrasts against the disappointment and still fresh blood of the past and present political and social wounds. The juxtaposition of challenge and possibility is the perfect atmosphere for a struggle. But with every struggle there is growth. And I deeply relate to the internal struggle of the continent, fighting with herself and outside influences to get out of the multiple square and slip knots she and the world helped form.
When I was deciding whether I should leave Atlanta and go after what I had wanted for so long, I was working in door to door sales. Long days, no returns, picture of misery. I was so tired of life. I knew there HAD to be more than what I had been living since graduating from Emory University. I was moving backwards, and wasn’t sure what to do to turn around. I stopped at one house where a man proceeded to tell me he was a prophet. Skeptical, I said try me……
And he began to tell me my current situation with more clarity that I even knew it to be in my own heart.
I was at a major crossroads, and he spoke life to me when I needed it most. An image continues to stand out to me from that day. His wife asked me if she could pray for me. She explained that she saw visions, and would stop when she saw something and explain it to me. By this point I was sold and so hungry for a compass. She began to pray and stopped.
Her first image was me in a field of wheat with a large sickle in front of me clearing everything in my path as I walked patiently, calmly, confidently, forward.
She continued to pray. And her second image was a room sized canvas. Mostly white, except for the beginning of an explosive array of colors unfurling into the makings of something---the image unclear—but obviously the start of an attentive artist’s work.
It was clear to both of us what was ahead.
She told me nothing was holding me back, the path in front of me was clear, and I had the paint brush. God entrusted me to continue the beautiful work of art I had started on the canvas He had created.
I am moved remembering this moment in my life. I had a choice. I could live in limbo between my dreams and the status quo, or I could grip bravery by the balls and jump. As scary as it was, I’m so glad I took the plunge :-)
The past year has been crazy: oscillation between highs lows, repeated sickness, failed and successful projects, patience, frustration, sleepless nights gripping the toilet, beautiful sunrise mornings, relationships lost, fear, relationships that will rest near to my heat for the rest of my life, sinning, loving, learning my limitations, and where the world is limitless….
Learning to embrace freedom by owning my paintbrush.
So we have lot of catching up to do :-)
But I’m still excited to share this journey with you.
Because life is never a destination, but a journey. And the minute you begin to see your life as the pursuit of a destination is the minute you begin to lose hope that change….real change….lasting, eternal, internal, soul gripping, life exploding CHANGE…..is even possible. When you stop dreaming, your current situation seems never-ending, and you….the person created to conquer some part of this world….begins to die.
Even though the realities of working on the ground in development have challenged my ideals and culture, I am still overwhelmed by my dreams for Africa. Of a continent united, of a people who know their greatness, of countries giving out of their excess rather than being raped of their resources.
We MUST continue to dream. Faith, the belief in what we cannot see, begins with hope. And hope, always begins with a dream.
(Check out this article on Entrepreneurship and Faith I wrote for our website Dare to Innovate. Join the movement! )