A Lesson on Exploration from a Canadian Fjord

 “A ship is safe in harbor. But then again that’s not what ships are for.”

—Admiral Grace Hopper

So far in 2017 I have escaped to Canada twice. Retreating from the loony American politics and the gloomy Seattle weather, a few close friends and I have gone to a little cabin north of Vancouver, located in a mountain-rimmed fjord. It’s only accessibly by boat, so there are no cars making noise or people walking around. Just the sea, mountains, and us—in a word: perfection.

Most of our mornings were spent blissfully caffeinated with a cozy fire at our backs, marveling at the view outside. However, one morning I decided to not just gaze at the mountains and sea, but to get in the midst of them on a kayaking trip to the northern part of the inlet with our Canadian friend, James. The water was abnormally choppy that day as the wind had kicked up, but we were determined to at least give it a try. So I dressed in layers, grabbed a life jacket, and met James at the dock.

The start of our journey was effortless as we kayaked out of the cabin’s sheltered cove. However, once we got beyond the protective rocks we were hit full force with wind gusts and waves. The water was almost indistinguishable from its usual glassy calm. For over an hour we hugged the cliffs along the edge of the fjord in an attempt to avoid the brunt force of the wind. Though eventually we had two options, either cross open water to reach the other shore or to turn back.

A beautiful and old abandoned power station from the early 1900’s sat on the other side. I had been itching to visit it since my first trip to the area and it taunted me, as if waiting to be explored. So after checking our energy levels (and gumption), we decided to make the most dangerous part of our journey. We would cut across the wind and waves, all coming at us sideways, to reach the power station.

Though the sky was blue and cloudless, it was bitterly cold and the wind relentless. The sea was so riled-up that 2-3ft tall waves slammed against our kayaks as soon as we abandoned the safety of the rocks. Those waves might not sound large, but try sitting half submerged in a little plastic tube sometime, with nothing but the lip of a kayak to keep water from leaping a few inches up and over that ledge and inside with you.

It didn’t help that after we hit the first few whitecaps James called to me across the waves, “You know, we would only last about five minutes in the water at this temperature… so don’t fall in!”

Real comforting, James. Especially when every incoming wave is a non-stop battle to keep your kayak right-side-up.

Trepidation in my heart or not, I had decided to go through with this and I certainly wasn’t about to back down now. Stubbornness: 1, Caution: 0, and so we continued. The wind bit at my skin and each crashing wave sprayed me with water in a struggle to yank my kayak off-course. And yet it was there, between the wave troughs and peaks that could toss me into freezing water, that something stirred inside my heart. I knew in that moment that a greater truth was trying to capture my attention. And as I focused on that quiet voice in my soul with renewed clarity, I realized this journey was offering me a glimpse into how God leads us.

I believe wholeheartedly that we follow a God who sends us out on great adventures. He gives us a dream to start, and it may be something as vague as kayaking out of our little sea cove and turning north. But as we begin our journey He reveals something worth fighting for—even if it’s far off in the distance. Sometimes the path before us is as smooth as silk, but other times it can be fraught with waves that threaten to sink us. When God stirs our hearts to reach that other side, He doesn’t promise us a journey without danger. We can still take on water, curse in frustration as the waves try to yank us off course, or worse, toss us into the sea. Yet these problems don’t necessarily mean we’re on the wrong path. They might just mean the course we have chosen is one worth fighting for.

An hour later the waves began to subside and the sea relinquished its hold on my kayak. Thank God, because I was exhausted. Once James and I slipped into the shadow of the mountain on the inlet’s opposite shore the change in the sea was instantaneous, from chaos to calm.

As we skirted around the rocky bend from shade to sunshine, something rippled in the water before us. My eyes took a moment to adjust, and then I saw the gleaming head and body of a seal only 10-feet away. It peered at us curiously before smoothly slipping under water as we approached. Finally, with one last turn along the rocks, we were met with the faded baroque architecture of the power station and the massive stones at its base that gently sloped into the water—all bathed in glorious sunshine and protected from the wind.

We laid out our jackets to dry in the warm sun as we shared a lunch of muffins, apples, and a thermos of gloriously hot tea. If you doubted how truly Canadian this moment was, we even had a little tub of maple syrup to sweeten the tea. Seriously.

On the heels of our struggle to reach this point, I can hardly describe how wonderful it felt to sit in peace and gaze over this view of the Canadian wilderness; one we had fought so hard reach. The sun danced along the water’s surface, the trees bowed over the cliffs as if to catch their beauty reflected in the sea below, and the water was so clear near the shore that you could see the pebbled sea floor. We sat and talked for nearly an hour, and even when we didn’t speak there was a comfortable silence, won only after a hard battle faced in community. Eventually the opposite shore called us home and we said goodbye to what now felt like our powerhouse.

Like that famous rule, “what goes up… must come down,” we learned that “kayakers who go across a stormy inlet… must return.” Though it was every bit as dangerous, wave-ridden, and difficult to paddle our little kayaks, for some reason the journey back didn’t seem as difficult. Perhaps it was because we had done it once before and had proven to ourselves the strength we didn’t know we had.

We fought the wind and the waves one last time before reaching the cabin’s safe little cove relatively dry, four hours after we had begun. I hadn’t realized it before, but that cabin’s cove was truly a gift with its smooth-as-glass water compared to the chaos we had experienced.

Upon returning to the dock, I looked out on the cove and the choppy sea beyond, and that quiet voice stirred again in my heart as if to say,

Look at where I’ve taken you. Look at how much strength you have. I didn’t reveal the entire plan at the start, but with unstoppable faith you kept pushing for more—and now look at how far you’ve come.

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What Adventure Does

“Most great adventures work that way. You don’t plan them, you don’t get all the details right, you just do them.” -Bob Goff, Love Does

Think about a book you love. A story treasured from one generation to the next; one so powerful it offers readers insight each year it’s read.

Stories like those have a funny way of sticking to your heart, like snow on frozen ground. Yet it often seems hard to decipher what qualities connect them all to greatness. Is it a complex prose? Captivating dialogue? Or, a meticulously planned storyline?

Maybe.

But when I think of my all-time favorite stories like Harry Potter, The Alchemist, or the Narnia series, the common theme I find is the unexpected adventure their characters find themselves in.

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From Greece to Germany: 5 Lessons from the Refugee Route

A few months ago I wrote an article for Nations Foundation about my experience traveling Europe’s refugee route. In light of the tragic events that continue to unfold in Syria, I am reposting this as a reminder of what I learned, why it matters, and why we should be paying attention. The Advent season is one of hope and peace, so read on and discover why I believe refugees are worthy of both–and learn how you can respond.


Imagine this: you are in a massive white tent with 200 people crammed together in rows of shaky bunk beds. The air rings with the sound of multiple languages from men, women, and children all waiting to hear what their futures hold. You walk through the tent’s single pathway and all eyes turn toward you, a young woman with a journal in hand, a camera over your shoulder, and a weight upon your heart. As you head toward a family at the back of the tent one father stops you by placing his child in your way, insisting that you take his son’s photo. He points to the dry cracker in the boy’s hand and cries, “This is all my child has eaten in three days. Please, tell the world what is happening to us!

Now snap back to reality. The scene I just described seems more like something from The Hunger Games than a moment from real life, doesn’t it?

That, however, was exactly what I encountered in a refugee camp in Serbia. And that father’s plea was why I was there in the first place—to hear and tell those stories.

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The Refugee Route: Our Journey Begins

Our journey from Greece to Northern Europe to meet with leaders and collect stories along the refugee route has begun! We’re one week in, and in case you haven’t been following my daily updates on The Syrian Circle’s Facebook page, let me give you a quick summary.

GREECE has the weight of the world on its shoulders, or at least that’s what it seems like as of February 2016. Between political unrest, suffocating debt, and a massive influx of people, Greece has been having a pretty rough year (and that’s all I’ll say without getting political)—Now to the reason we’re even in Greece: refugees.

The arrival of refugees in this part of the world is nothing new. It has been happening for hundreds of years with one people group or another as wars have been fought and different populations have fled oppression.

However, what distinguishes this movement of people from any other is the sheer scale of it. With over 1 million refugees arriving on European shores in 2015 alone, that number is only expected to increase exponentially as 2016 progresses. One Greek woman explained to me in Athens, “this is not just a tragedy, this is an exodus.”

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Responding to the Refugee Crisis

When I first started my “Seek the Good” project, it began with a dream to find voices that needed to be heard, to put a megaphone where there had been none, in order to pierce the darkness in our world with light–with hope. Something was stirring in my heart to tell meaningful stories  locally and internationally, and now that dream is becoming a reality.  Let me fill you in on what my Spring will look like…

This December I was asked to join a team working to mobilize locals, aid-workers, missionaries, etc. across Europe to care for refugees in the midst of this historic human migration. If you aren’t aware of what is happening across the Middle East and Europe, I encourage you to start paying attention. Ever since the start of the Syrian civil war, over 11 million Syrians have been killed or forced to flee their country  (that is over half of the country’s entire population). Many have turned to neighboring countries and a growing few are turning to Europe for refuge. And it’s not just Syrians. By the end of 2015, Europe surpassed the 1 million mark of people (Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, etc.) fleeing their war-torn countries and seeking safety on European shores. The video below powerfully represents the humanity of this crisis.

Many of the relief efforts up until now have been slow to start, but full of sincerity in their efforts to meet the complex needs of this migration. Some of the “big fish” in the humanitarian pond like the UNHCR and Red Cross are already working with refugees, but this issue is too big to be left to large (and often slow-moving) organizations alone. In order to meet the immediate and long-term needs of our brothers and sisters moving to Europe, we need a movement of ordinary people, locals, and churches.

That is where the team I’m joining is hoping to step in. Starting in February a small research team and I will be traveling from Greece to Germany/Denmark along Europe’s refugee highway in order to face this crisis head-on.

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10 Tips for Authentic Travel

It’s only been two months since I was last living out of a suitcase, but the travel bug is already starting to nibble again! In the past few years I have had the opportunity to travel to 14 different countries across 4 different continents and I am always anxious to add to that list. I’m enthralled with travel because being in another country strips you of typical comforts and allows you to learn and grow tremendously without the typical limitations we usually put on ourselves. However, this isn’t the way all people choose to travel–and that’s fine. But if you want to see the world, be challenged and infinitely rewarded with an authentic travel experience whether traveling with a group or on your own, these are my tips for you!

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Yours truly in front of the Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic

1.) Make the Choice: Predictability OR Authenticity

Before you leave, pause and decide what kind of travel experience you want. You can travel in comfort by staying in nice hotels, following prescribed travel itineraries to only visit the main attractions, and only seeking the people, foods, and shops that reflect the culture you are familiar with.

You can travel comfortably and still have a great time OR you can choose to embrace a new context by simply immersing yourself in that culture and not paying for a cultural experience wrapped up in an easy to understand package. The next few points illuminate how travel this alternative way…

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