Maybe I Can Take 2: A Confession & An Escape


Confession: I started kayaking again this summer for purely selfish reasons.  All this talk about “kayaking for a cause” is true; I am pushing my personal limits to kayak 36 miles in order to raise money and awareness.  However, that’s not where my summer 2013 kayaking plan started.
I started kayaking again this summer because I needed a break.  After five years of international travel, speaking and activism (and the criticism that often accompanies public advocacy), I was emotionally, spiritually and relationally drained.  I needed the privacy of a big lake and the contemplative rhythm of a paddle slicing through water. 
I first started kayaking a decade ago.  I logged my highest number of nautical miles during the summer of 2004, during which time I worked out the ideas that became my book, Nice Girls Don’t Change the World.  From the book’s promo:

Back and forth in a steady rhythm, my paddle pushed the water and my kayak sliced the waves.  I moved slowly as my thoughts gathered, but faster as my frustration peaked.  The muscles in my arms ached as my jumbled thoughts coalesced into a single sentence: Nice girls don’t change the world! Therein lay my frustration. Since childhood I had dreamed of being a righter of wrongs, a force for good, a soul-soother, a world-changer—a dangerous woman! But what had I been instead? A “nice girl,” an innocuous people-pleaser.  Good at going through the safe, socially accepted motions of life, I had lost all sense of passion, giftedness, or dreams.

That would make a great title for a book, my husband suggested later as I spit out my kayaking insight. Oh right, I quipped irritably. But his suggestion lingered. Are there other nice girls out there? Women living out roles that deny their true selves and violate God’s calling on their lives? Women dying to come to life? Should I write for them as well as for me? Thus was my little book conceived.

Throughout that summer I paddled ferociously.  No contemplative rhythm for this girl.  A fevered attack on the water was what I needed; I was battling my demons with a feathered polypro paddle.  Amazingly, it worked.  In 2005 NiceGirls Don’t Change the World was published.  Though it never became a big seller, I received moving emails from readers sharing their own stories of personal need or transformation, telling me I’d given them words for their own journey. I loved that!  I had “turned my pain into poetry” and it had helped other women find their own healing words. 
Releasing Nice Girls was a turning point for me. To a great extent it released me from the fear-imposed limitations of my past and freed me to bring greater energy, joy and productivity to all dimensions of life.  In ministry, I became increasingly involved in grassroots partnerships in Africa. I spent several busy years traveling, learning, building relationships “on the ground” in South Africa and Zambia, then telling stories and raising awareness and funds at home.
I did that as an active volunteer leader at my church, but in 2008 and 2009 I felt drawn to ministry outside the scope of my church’s global engagement at that time.  

A radio program on NPR gripped me and pulled me into ongoing involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the deadliest conflict since WW II continues to rage—invisible to most of the world.  

At the same time, a conference in Amman, Jordan broke my heart and led me into ongoing relationships with grassroots peacemakers—both Jews and Arabs—in the Holy Land, where a so-called intractable conflict consistently defies the rhetoric of so-called peace talks.

How a recovering nice girl—the ultimate people-pleaser and conflict-avoider—landed in two conflict zones, with the various controversies surrounding them, would be laughable if I didn’t consistently find myself in tears.  In any conflict, women and children suffer most—from the “routine” traumas of displacement and economic hardship, as well as the shocking traumas (in Congo) of gender-based violence and recruitment of child soldiers.  War zones often become venues for human trafficking and enslavement; from rebel-controlled mines to brothels to militias made up of kids, human beings become commodities in the economy of war.
I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel and learn, but a year or so ago I began to feel that my heart had been broken a few too many times. No more, I told my friends, quite seriously.  No more “issues.” I don’t want to hear about, learn about, or care about any additional tragedies in the world. 
Then I met a Syrian woman, an advocate for the civilians of Syria.  “Don’t you know,” she explained, “that the same brutal violation of women that gripped you in Congo is happening to Syrian women.  I can’t bear to put into words what I’ve seen. But you need to know: the violence is horrific and women are being victimized in inconceivable ways.”  That was months ago.  The reports have only gotten worse as the flow of refugees into neighboring countries has escalated. 
Okay, so Syrian refugees.  I’ll let them slip into my heart.
Then the President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Organizations, on which I currently service, decided to focus on the issue of human trafficking.  I was well-aware of the trafficking of persons internationally, but as the Councilbrought in experts to teach us, I learned more than I wanted to know about the trafficking of persons occurring right here, in the good old US of A. 
So now, here’s the truth for me: I often wake up in the night wishing I didn’t know what I know.  Because once you know, you either have to force yourself into a soul-shrinking denial, or you have to do something. And in the darkness of night I don’t want to have to make that choice. I don’t want my soul to shrink; at the same time, I don’t want to be held accountable for what I’ve seen and heard and learned. 
But in the light of morning, I’m glad I know.  Yes, I feel a little beaten down this summer.  But that’s temporary and that’s fixable.  Bottom line: I’m grateful—thrilled, actually—that I’ve had the opportunity to read and travel and see the worst of life and meet the best of people.  I’m glad I’m continually forced to deal with what I know.  Because in dealing with what I know I’ve found the life I was made for.  It’s a very rich life.  Yes, sometimes I want (perhaps need) to escape it; but give me a brief escape, and I can’t wait to get back to “real life.”  I love that I get to think and pray and act on behalf of God’s children who are suffering.
Most people don’t have the freedom to live this way.  I live an extremely and uniquely privileged life.  For starters, I don’t have to earn a living to take care of my family; my husband's income frees me from that responsibility.  Beyond that, we are able to fund my “global adventures” through our personal finances.  That gives me tremendous (and enviable) freedom.  I’m not tied to any particular organization, I don’t have to sit in any board meetings, and I don’t have any overhead.  I get to go where I sense the Spirit’s pull, I get to cry and laugh with amazing people, and then I get to come home and be their advocates to American Christians.  I get to tell their stories and raise money on their behalf.  I couldn’t have dreamed up a better job description for myself. 
So yeah, I get a little overwhelmed at times.  But I get overwhelmed because of choices I’ve made; anytime I need to back away a bit, I can.  It’s not like I’m overwhelmed by the inescapable hardship or horror of my own life, as millions of people in the world are.  
Additionally, I get to spend two months every year in a tiny cottage on Lake Michigan, where I can read and think and play leisurely with ideas.  Where I can walk on the beach and ride my old red Schwinn on country roads. Where I am close enough to my parents to see them regularly. Where I can dream up new ministry connections for the coming year. Where my grandsons visit and play with me in the waves. And yes, where I can drag my kayak across a sandy beach and paddle on big water to my heart’s content—and train for a #MaybeICan challenge.
I’d love to have a lot of people take the #MaybeICan2013 challenge.  Do something a little unreasonable.  Ask people to support your efforts with donations to a worthy cause. Or be the person who makes the donations, who writes the checks.  (If you’re wondering, I am accepting donors!  You tell me what you’re interested in and I’ll send you a list of organizations I know and trust.  You write out a check directly to them.) 
I really, really hope a lot of you will find challenge, joy and fulfillment in stretching yourselves to raise awareness and funds for the four causes I’m focused on—Congo, Syrian refugees, grassroots peacemakers, victims of human trafficking—or whatever breaks your heart.  If you do, please know that I don’t take your efforts lightly.  You have families and jobs and complexities I can’t even imagine.  Thank you for pushing beyond all of that to help somebody else. 
I’d love to hear about your #MaybeICan2013 challenge.  Tweet or FB me, or send a note to  Your ideas will spark ideas for others.  We need to keep inspiring each other and cheering each other on!  
I started the summer kayaking to escape.  It’s still an escape.  An escape into waves and wondering, sunshine and soul-searching, prayer and pondering.  An escape into beauty and the refreshment it offers. 
An escape that’s filling me up for the future.  I feel so blessed.