Thirty Minutes to Decide || YWAM Brisbane

The first few weeks of lecture here on my DTS, we studied the Character and Nature of God, The Holy Spirit, Intercession, Relationships and Hearing God’s voice. It was all culminated when we were brought together to pray about what outreach location to choose! 

Even before I came to Australia, I knew the location God wanted me to go to. But I tried to reason it away because first of all, I didn’t know if they had outreach teams going there and secondly, I had ideas of my own about other places that I would have liked to go to instead. 

It was a Thursday night when our school leader got up and gave a slide presentation of all seven of the outreach locations. We were given a blank piece of paper and thirty minutes to ask God where He wanted us to go. Thirty minutes! Have you ever prayed for thirty minutes before making a decision about where you’ll be spending two months? It was a thrilling experience for me. 

The first country to pop up on the screen was the country God had laid on my heart since before coming here. I didn’t hear an audible voice but I felt a burning sensation in the pit of my stomach. And before you think that I made my decision based on what I felt in that moment, it was actually a step of obedience for me because God had been preparing my heart to go to this country for several months now. I didn’t have peace until I wrote it down. 

Throughout the rest of the slide presentation, I waited to see if any of the other countries would have the same affect on me but none did.  I laid on the floor with the blank sheet of paper in front of me as the clock ticked away. “Alright, God.” I said. “I am going to write that country down. I’ll even put it at the top of my list!” 

The locations were: Australia, Detroit, Northern Europe, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan and China.

We could pick two locations, so I scribbled the name of the country I knew God had laid on my heart at the top of my paper, wrote another country name underneath and then walked up front and dropped my paper in the basket. The mood on base that night was so amped up and after we had all submitted our locations, we walked to Macca’s (McDonald’s) and celebrated with ice cream and frozen coke.

For two days, we didn’t know which of the two locations that we would be going to. We tried so hard not to leak information to each other about which locations we had selected but it was so hard!  

Fast forward two days and we were called back into the community room and given blindfolds and led out onto the lawn. We were instructed to put on the blindfold and wait until our outreach leaders would come and get us! I felt like a kid, standing in the middle of the lawn, unable to see anything but with a silly grin on my face. Suddenly, I felt my arms being grabbed by two staff members as they led me over to a spot close to the patio area. We stood there in silence for what felt like ten minutes, waiting for everyone to get into groups. “Take your blindfolds off!” I ripped mine off and we peeled into laughter. “Wait, where are we going?” One of our outreach leaders handed us a puzzle and we knelt down on the ground, piecing it together until we figured out where we were going. AUSTRALIA! Our team is the second to smallest; there are only five of us. We’ll be traveling around Queensland and dipping down into a few country towns in New South Wales as well, supporting churches and ministering in schools. I’m really excited about the way that God led me so clearly to stay here in Australia. He’s already given me such a heart for this country and its beautiful people with awesome accents. 

**Photo Credits to my beautiful Danish friend, Sophie.

At the beginning of this year, God gave me the scripture in Isaiah 61:1-4 and more specifically, gave me the word, “favor.” I’ve felt God’s favor and love this year like never before and I am thrilled to get to share it with other people.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives; the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort those who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

Thank you for your interest in my life and what God is doing. Next, I’ll be sharing pictures and stories from our week of outreach in Byron Bay.

-Gretta

I woke up in Australia

The sun rises over Brisbane City’s horizon. 721A0614
I feel God stirring deep inside and doing a new thing in me.
As I sit on the cold bench in the graveyard, I think about all that God did to bring me to this place and how all of my plans for this fall and winter dissolved and the door to come to Australia swung open.

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This past June I was listening to a podcast one day during work and the speaker said, “If you died today, what would you regret not accomplishing? And what are you going to do to change that?” In that moment, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and sign up for a DTS with YWAM. One of my friends had attended a DTS a few years ago and had come back transformed. I wanted the joy and the boldness that I saw in her.

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Earlier this year, I came home after working in a refugee camp in Greece. While I was there, I saw the depravity of the world in a very raw way.
Having witnessed so much darkness, I realized that my faith was weak and I needed to get a solid foundation in my faith. I needed discipleship.

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Of all the YWAM schools around the world that offered a photography track, I couldn’t get the one in Brisbane out of my head. I signed up in August. A few weeks later, when I got the confirmation that I had been accepted, it was crunch time to get work squared away before I needed to leave in early October. My visa came in just the nick of time and I bought my ticket and started packing excitedly.

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I’m in week six of my DTS (Discipleship Training School) and learning so much and laughing so often. God hand picked a really amazing group of people to be my “YWAM fam” and we have so much fun together.

The ball of fire in the sky continues to climb, bathing the world in brand new light. It’s a circle of light. Circles depict eternity to me and the deep commitment that comes with pursuing God. Circles tell my story so well. God keeps bringing me back around to places of need, and asking if I’m willing to let Him peel back another layer.

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The layers feel like security blankets but what they’re really doing is blocking me from experiencing true life. They are blurring my vision from seeing life clearly; from God’s perspective. I work through one layer, only to discover that there are more layers that need to be peeled back. Coming back around to the same spot in a circle I ask the question, ‘Why am I still struggling through this?’ The undoing that God wanted to do frustrated the daylights out of me. But now I am beginning to see that it is part of the restorative process that is happening in me.
He brings me back to these places because He cares about me.
The very same thing that used to frustrate me, now comforts me.
The difference is this; now in my place of need, I am met by love.
Instead of frustration and defeat, I am met by God’s mercy and grace.
Peeling back the layers doesn’t feel good but it is ultimately for my good.
As the flaky, dead layers of doubt are removed, it reveals the brand new textures and colors of faith that He has placed inside of me.

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He is making me new.

It’s been six weeks since I woke up in Australia with the strange sound of magpies singing loudly outside of my window. I walked in on Spring here in Aussie land. Normally, I’d be experiencing Winter this time of year. It feels significant the way that God has literally turned my Winter into Spring.

Stay tuned for an update on where I’ll be going during my outreach phase!

I’m hoping to use my blog as a journal of sorts over the next six months as I learn and grow and meet so many people and spread the love of Jesus.

Portraits || Alannah girl

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Alannah came into our world four years ago. Her eyes were bright and inquisitive from day one. She was the type of newborn that you couldn’t help but stare at and she’d stare right back with what seemed to be a deep understanding of life.

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She’s grown from a darling baby and charming toddler into a little girl walks and talks with grace and beauty. She’s full of darling comments that should be stored away in a jar and pulled out on grey days.

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I asked her at church on Sunday what she’s looking forward to about her birthday party the next day and she whispered back, “Will there be food?” She’s a foodie, if ever I’ve seen one.

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She’s a quiet soul; inquisitive and mysterious but full of big dreams. She’s sensitive and caring towards the feelings of others.

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She’s going to go places, this one.

Happy Tuesday! -Gretta

Maxine’s Secret

I met Maxine yesterday. She caught my eye at a wedding I was shooting and when I had a little break from taking pictures of all the guests, I walked over to where she was sitting on a pew at the edge of the crowd giving her leg a rest.

We chatted for a few minutes and then I asked her, “What is your secret to living a long and happy life?”

She paused. Her eyes sparkled as she searched through the wisdom she possessed. “Honey, I’d have to say that one of my secrets is treating other people the way you’d like to be treated. And help other people because it’ll give you those good endorphins.”

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-Maxine, age 91.

There’s so much to be said about how being selfless is linked to living a happy life. I’m looking forward to the wisdom and beauty that will come with growing old, but in the mean time, I’m gathering a collection of secrets to success from people like Maxine.

Have a happy Sunday! -Gretta

Recipe || Smoothie Bowl

Please tell me that I’m not the only one who needs incentives to get my to-do list accomplished? I’m trying to learn to pace myself in the middle of being productive and to create little bright pockets in the middle of long work days where I can let creativity flow and excite my tastebuds while I’m at it.

I’m amused about how much of the time my incentives are related to food or drinks. I recently bought a box of Outshine Fruit Bars and I keep them in my freezer, only allowing myself to have one on days where I run. See? It forces me to get out there and run because I know that later on that day, I can have one of those popsicles.

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Over lunch time today, I experimented with something that I’ve been wanting to try.

Smoothie Bowl:

2 cups frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen pineapple
2 frozen bananas
3 fresh figs
1 six ounce can of pineapple juice
1 cup coconut cream
1 tsp. coconut flavoring

Blend in a blender, pour into bowls and top with whatever you like. I chose figs, coconut flakes, sunflower seeds, and mini chocolate chips because that’s what I happened to have on hand today.

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Here’s to a happy, healthy and productive Tuesday! -Gretta

Travel || 22 hours in Greenville, SC

I shot a wedding this past weekend close to Greenville. We spent the next day exploring this beautiful, southern city. I had been here before and in true nostalgic fashion, I was happy to just revisit my favorite haunts. We were both craving some quiet space away from the busy schedule back home and Greenville provided us with the perfect retreat.

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After a relaxed morning, we walked a few blocks from our hotel to Methodical Coffee where we read and wrote for several hours as we watched people stroll by. We each ordered a simple latte and we shared their ham, bacon and brie croissant; which was divine.

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My brother in law, Merle gave me a copy of the Good Newspaper which was dreamed up and printed by entrepreneur, Branden Harvey. I’ve loved listening to Sounds Good which is Branden’s podcast channel. “Every single week we have conversations with people who are rejecting cynicism, doing the impossible and fighting to make the world a better place.”

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We sat in silence; lost in our thoughts and letting the empty pages of our journals slowly fill up, but we also talked about the problems in the world and how we can help to solve them. I think this quote sums it up beautifully:

“The solution to feeling overwhelmed by the negative news and the difficult things happening in the world, isn’t to ignore it or even to put a positive spin on it, but to be part of the solution.” -B.H.

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Methodical has a high ceiling with seating in the balcony, overlooking the barista bar. If you hit them in a slow spell, you might be able to find a spot to settle down in the balcony with a cuppa joe. When we got there, every seat in the balcony was taken and so we settled by the window, with an open view of all the people passing by.

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They have done an artful job of making the dirty dish counter and the waste bin area seem attractive enough for pictures of Amy throwing our trash away before we walked out the door. Haha.

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As we left, they handed us a voucher for a free pour over coffee. I was thrilled at the prospect of having coffee to go along with our drive home. But Amy had other thoughts. “How about we give it away to someone?” I swallowed my selfishness and we spent the next 20 minutes walking around downtown looking for someone who looked like they needed coffee.

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We found her by the water fountain, holding the hands of her two energetic children. We walked up to her, “I have an odd question for you, do you like coffee?” Amy asked. “That’s not an odd question and yes!” The lady responded. “Then this is for you. It’s a voucher for a free pour over from Methodical.” We walked away grinning. It’s fun to brighten someone else’s day.

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We were hungry but wanted to still be able to relax by the waterfall in Falls Park. So I grabbed the turkish towel that my mom gave me and stopped by Southern Pressed Juicery and picked out their Avo Basil Wrap (a combination of thinly sliced carrots, avocado and purple cabbage wrapped in rice paper and dipped in a basil, mint, lime sauce). We spread our picnic on the rocks next to the falls and ate as we journaled and took in the scenery.

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The water tumbled down the rock face next to us, drowning out the noise of all the other people who had come that day.

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“God has built creativity into creation as a gift.”

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We brought our time in Greenville to a conclusion by dancing in the shadows of the vacant Larkins on the River building.

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And that, my friends, is how you could spend 22 hours in Greenville.

Do you love Greenville? Do you know of any favorite spots in Greenville that can’t be missed? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Happy Wednesday! -Gretta

Adventure || Upward climb

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Am I the only one who gets in the mood for a good hike or time outside every weekend in the summer? It doesn’t happen every weekend, obviously, but I’ve managed to squeeze it in here and there over the summer and I’m excited for more, hopefully.

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Growing up, I had tough competition when it came to hiking. I was going to say, “sports in general” but in reality, I never was that great at competitive sports. I was better at solo sports like writing. Haha. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being outside and I’d climb trees every chance I got, but mostly just to sit up there and feel the wind and watch the squirrels and birds chase each other. #introvert

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My two siblings just older than me were both go-getters and when it came to hiking, they amped up the game. Not one to be left behind, I learned to push myself. Isaac was always at the head of any hike. We’d take breaks occasionally and only long enough to catch our breath and rehydrate. I always loved when he’d take us on “short cuts” that ended at the discovery of a cave or a quicker way to get to the car.

One thing Isaac taught me through all that was that determination is a mind-muscle that grows when we do hard things.  I’m thankful for that lesson now, on the mornings that I run through my neighborhood before work.

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I think there’s something so freeing to me about stepping outside, lathering on the mosquito spray and taking to the great outdoors. Stepping away from deadlines and agendas certainly takes intentionality but it is so necessary in order to thrive.

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I love to hike in the wilderness and to be surrounded by limbs and leaves and rocks and wind. To let the breeze play with my hair as I skip over roots (because that’s better than tripping) and pausing at overlooks to take in the scene stretching out below me.

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“Adventure with all its requisite danger and wildness, is a deeply spiritual longing written into the souls of mankind.” -John Eldridge

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I get caught up in this landscape that is so grand and majestic that it leaves me winded and speechless as I arrive at the peak of a hike.

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Taking this time to clear my head is allowing space for bigger thoughts, bigger dreams. Up here in the mountain air, I can see more clearly that I am simply a small piece in a much bigger story. But what’s amazing is that as small as I feel, I have a significant role to play in God’s big story.

“There is favor that falls on your life through faithfulness and obedience.” -Meg Delagrange

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One thing that I’m finding as I follow God, is that He’s leading me through pain and into deeper, better places. The burn I feel as I climb is my muscles being broken down and rebuilt stronger. I’m gaining endurance. The harder the climb is, the more I will appreciate the view at the top. I’m willing to burn my way through pain, if it means coming forth as gold.

“It is not the mountain we conquer, it is but ourselves.”

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On a side note, I was recently introduced to the app CharityMiles and I love the idea that my exercise is supporting nonprofits globally. “We know that you are excited to walk, run and ride.” And so CharityMiles has collaborated with big companies to raise sponsorships with the help of active people.

Tracking your activity with CharityMiles, you can earn 25 cents per mile when you run and walk or 10 cents per mile when you ride your bicycle. Their app is easily accessible through iTunes and once you’ve created your own account, you get to pick which charity you’d like to support. I chose Save The Children, since it’s an organization that I am familiar with since being in Greece this past year.

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Featuring: Table Rock Mountain in Upper Creek, N.C. It is a rocky mountain face that peaks out above the surrounding brown mountains. The 2.2 mile roundtrip has some steep climbs, so it’s somewhat strenuous. The views of the Linville Gorge below are spectacular when you reach the 3,930 foot peak. This is my personal favorite hike of the trails I’ve hiked in N.C. It’s just hard enough to make arriving at the summit feel like an accomplishment but just short enough to make for an easy afternoon hike. Distance: 2.2 miles; difficulty: moderate.

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Linville Falls, N.C. This hike is more like a walk in the park. The main trail is wide and winds its way through towering trees and let’s you pick between three different overlooks (or do yourself a favor and go to all three). The last overlook gives you the best overall view of the gorge. There is a more difficult trail that takes you to the base of the falls that I haven’t hiked. Distance: 0.60 miles; difficulty: easy.

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Happy hiking! -Gretta

Easter picnic

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Last Easter morning, my niece Lakelyn was born. I remember gazing down at her and then looking out the window seeing that the grey and misty morning sky had cleared and light was bursting over the horizon. It was symbolic to the life and vibrancy that Lakelyn has added to our world.

This Easter, we celebrated her birthday underneath the oak in our backyard, surrounded by family and friends.

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The same quilts that spent all winter keeping us warm in our beds retired from that task and were given a new assignment to spread themselves out over the carpet of lush, green grass. Rachel brought her boho beach throw and it made such an artsy addition to the mix of quilts spread on the lawn. The oak whose shade we spread our picnic under, danced in the wind at the sight of a party happening underneath its green limbs.

Weston climbed the tree above us, my phone tucked safely in his pocket to grab this shot. It sums up our day perfectly: it was a day of rest and relaxation.

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You know what’s still mind blowing to me? Jesus came to save us, to forgive us of our sins and lavish love on us. But there’s a part of the gospel that I hadn’t explored in depth until a few months ago; the fact that He came to give us rest. All my striving and earning and trying to live a holy life in my own strength is restless. It’s pointless. But when I tap into the fullness of His life, I can truly rest. The work of redemption is done. I’m leaning into this rest.

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Lynette was the first to find a spot on the lawn, underneath the shade of her straw hat, a picture of the tranquility we all felt that golden afternoon. The children ran to and fro in the yard, delighted at the onset of summer.

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It was a picnic in the truest sense, where everyone contributed and brought diversity and beauty to the crowd. There were deep conversations as well as simple fun and relaxation.

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Mom brought out her legendary rendition of the Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Salad which was spread on flaky croissants. Rachel added tacos and Merry contributed a creamy raspberry pie. Briana made lemonade that tasted like pure liquid sunshine.

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The kids blew bubbles with gusto as the rest of us talked topics that were just as big and fragile as the bubbles floating through the air; racism, war and peace, success and growth to name a few.

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And there was pavlova! Topped with fluffy whipped cream and fresh fruit.

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Lakelyn has added a delightful element of humor and adventure to our family.

Happy birthday, sweet girl!

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Olive Harvest

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It was a sunny afternoon in December when I drove up the winding gravel road; the light filtering through the silvery olive leaves. I was on a search to find an olive grove being harvested.

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Pausing at the first grove, two men harvesting shook their heads. “No, no photos.” I wished them well on their harvest and drove on. A bit further up the mountain I came across another grove being harvested, but three men sat underneath a tree, enjoying their lunch break. A fourth man sat in the pickup truck, listening to his loud Greek music.

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I drove past but when I couldn’t find any more groves being harvested, I pulled a three point turn and drove back down the mountain. By this time, the three men who had been on break, were hard at work again.

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Traveling to the island of Lesvos, Greece during the winter months had me excited to experience the ancient tradition of harvesting olives. On Lesvos alone, there are an estimated 11,000,000 olive trees. It was a common sight to see groves spread with mesh and the Greeks hard at work.

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I parked my white Nissan Micra alongside the road and got out, clutching my Canon 1D Markiii in my hand. I approached the open window on the driver side of the truck, “May I take some photos of the men harvesting?,” I asked. The man sitting inside looked up at me with delighted curiosity. “I’m fascinated by the olive harvest I see happening all over this island,” I told him, “and so I’m looking for a grove owner who wouldn’t mind my taking some photos.” With a jolly laugh he climbed out of his truck and shouted a few Greek words to his employees. He was clearly excited at the prospect.

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“I own seventeen groves and they are all organic.” He led me through the open gate and into the grove, telling me about his olive groves. “We take special care in the way that we harvest, not to injure the olives in the process. We harvest them off of the trees, rather than letting them fall to the ground and begin to rot.”

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“Kalimera” I called as we approached the workers. I motioned to my camera and asked, “May I take photos?” The three men stared back at me curiously. Their faces were lined with hard work, dirt and sweat. When the grove owner told them I wanted to take pictures of them working, they burst out laughing.

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They continued to beat the olive branches with wooden poles to coax the olives to fall from the trees. When each laden tree had delivered its fruit, the mesh was then pulled away from the tree. The olives were then carefully combed through and unnecessary branches were hauled away. Then they would move on to the next tree. “How long does one tree take to harvest?” I asked. “Oh, it depends; one, sometimes two or three hours.”

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When all the branches had been removed from the mesh and only olives remained, they grabbed the olives by handfuls and filled sacks with them until they bulged in wonderful abundance. “I inherited this olive grove from my father,” the grove owner explained to me. “He is gone now, but my father inherited it from his father and he inherited it from his father and it is with great pride that I tend it now.”

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“Most of the trees in this olive grove are 200-300 years old. Except those over there,” he pointed to a section of the grove where a handful of young olive trees stood. “The young trees are only seven years old and haven’t begun to produce yet.” The grove owner insisted that I hand the camera to him and let him take pictures of me helping with the harvest. The three workers had been amused by my taking pictures of them working. Now that I was helping them, they whooped and hollered. I raised the pole high in the air and whacked the tree branches just like I had seen them doing. “Bravo, bravo!” they encouraged.

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“Tomorrow, come back and we will employ you!” the owner said with a grin as I thanked him and left.

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A Greek man that worked in the refugee camp explained to me one day over lunch that, “Greece is unique from other European countries in that it is ties Europe, Asia, Africa and even parts of the Middle East together.”

It was incredible for me to see the way that the Greek people have taken up the tab for the refugee crisis. A team of Greeks come daily into camp Moria to pick up trash, catering companies have served food tirelessly over the last two years as the crisis has continued on. The police and military force have helped to keep things as peaceful as possible. Fishermen out at sea are suddenly searching for more than a good catch of fish; they’ve assisted in numerous refugee dinghy boat landings as well.

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As any world crisis does, it takes its toll on the people who are assisting. The Greek economy has suffered further and the crime rate has increased. I do not want to paint a perfect picture of a very messy situation. Certainly not everyone has responded well. But after living in Greece for five months, I can say that the Greek people have done their best to assist in a crisis that is bigger and far more complicated than any news article leads you to believe.

In spite of their own limitations and frustrations regarding the crisis, the Greeks have reached out their hands to the hungry and given shelter to displaced people from many different countries from around the world.

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Hope in the dark.

The room is dark.

The windows are blocked off by thick fleece blankets in hopes of providing makeshift privacy. “Salaam alaikum” I call, pausing at the door of room 9. When I hear no reply, I ascend the metal steps that lead into a dully lit entry way. I call again, this time tugging on the fleece blanket that serves as a door to the bunk room where my friend lives. “Salaam?” I stand there, staring into space.

This small, dark space houses at least twenty people. Thin blankets separate families who fled their own homes for peace and safety, only to be stuck within the confines of a camp. They wait, day after day for interviews.

Tomorrow.” The officials promise, “Tomorrow we will interview you. Tomorrow you will get your papers. Tomorrow you can leave this place.” But they’ve been saying that for months. There simply aren’t enough interviewers to keep up with the constant flow of refugees arriving on the island. The patience of those who’ve been waiting here for months is running thin. They’re stuck in the spinning cycle of a massive refugee crisis. Spinning into perfect motionlessness, or so it seems.

A blur of movement in my peripheral brings me back from my reverie. I glance up to see a small yellow bird flitting and fluttering inside a cage. The bird looks at me and then tucks its head underneath its wing. But it’s too late, the picture is stuck in my head.

The bird is yellow. The color of hope.

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I take another look at the bird in its cage, still hiding. Then I take a deeper look at my surroundings. For a moment, I put myself into my friends shoes and realize with sudden clarity why she identifies with this bird.

She feels confined. Caged in a life that she never thought she would have to live.

She once had a happy life in a beautiful city, surrounded by friends and family.
She went to school and held a good job. Her future looked bright and promising.
Until war came and tore from her all that she knew and loved. She fled for her life, hoping to rebuild the happy life she once knew.

“I am tired,” she sighs when I ask her how she is today.
Tired. It describes so well how we feel when life knocks us flat. It’s a severe tiredness that even sleep can’t cure. It’s a tiredness of the soul.

I walk away.
I am able to walk away.

It is harder than I expected; to be the free one while seeing so many bound.

I have a happy life; similar to the life she once had. But I have the ability to walk right back into my life. She doesn’t. It feels unfair.

The room is bright.

A few of us have gathered at a house not far from camp to say goodbye to one of our other friends who is leaving the next day. I find my spot on the rug and listen attentively as another one of our friends unzips his back back and pulls out a hand-drawn map. He unpacks his story. “This is how the attack happened.” He points to his hometown first, then runs his finger over the surface of this wrinkled paper and starts in one corner of the map, pointing out the first city that was overtaken by terrorism and finishing when he comes full circle. “They attacked all of the cities in my region.” He and his wife fled to Mount Sinjar and made the dangerous journey from there through Turkish mountains and across the sea to come to the island of Lesvos.

His way of processing the trauma of war is to draw a map of exactly how the attacks happened and to carry it with him wherever he goes.

His wife sits next to him, silent. She hasn’t been able to talk for days. His hand rests on her knee as he continues unfolding the details of their story. We listen and then are taken aback as his wife slumps over, collapsing by his side. Another panic attack. He is so accustomed to dealing with the attacks by now that he simply pauses his story, props up her head and starts massaging her feet, hoping to bring circulation back to her traumatized body. A kind, motherly sort jumps up to get a cold washcloth to bathe the woman’s face. Someone else brings pillows to prop up her feet and head. And the story continues. Her panic attack lasts twenty minutes but it feels like an eternity. The room is silent except for his riveting words. We take in the scene sobered by his story, by the reality of the trauma that it has imposed on both of them. We all breathe a sigh of relief when her muscles relax and she is able to sit up again.

I look at her, my heart heavy with compassion that I can’t effectively communicate. We speak the language of silence as we look at each other. Words don’t do justice to the injustice that she has faced. Her face tells a story so much deeper than words. I’ve been so focused on listening to the words of his story and the unfolding drama of her panic attack that I had completely overlooked the words written in tiny print on her T-shirt. I had not noticed what it said until now.

“Free as a bird.”

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So many broken stories are told to me with only tiny threads of hope woven through them. I have to search hard for those threads, among the torn fabric of their stories.
I scroll through news articles and see black and white pictures from history telling the same story of thousands of refugees in the past. These stories are coming to life.
They’re in full color, right before my eyes.

I cannot singlehandedly end the crisis. But I can offer aid to them in their time here in camp. I can extend myself to them as a friend.
My job isn’t to interview them and give them the stamp of approval to move beyond camp and resettle them into countries where they can rebuild their life.

But I can listen. I can retell their story, to the best of my ability. I can see it in the eyes of those brave enough to tell their story; each time that they tell their story, it unlocks the pain.

They heal.

I came here hoping to extend hope these people. But I held my guard up high, not wanting to tell my own story of brokenness. It felt insignificant in comparison to the trauma that these people have experienced. I wasn’t brave at first. I kept my story inside, under the pretense that I needed to listen their stories.
But one day, as I drank tea with one of my friends, she asked. And my story with its complexity came tumbling out. She seemed surprised.

C.S. Lewis says, “Friendship is born the moment when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

When we choose to be vulnerable, our innermost isolation gets sliced away. We’re left exposed, but oddly comforted. Because we are no longer alone in the fight. We are seen. Known.

It’s a powerful moment.

There’s a certain strength that comes of admitting how weak we are.

During my summer in the refugee camp, I realized that though our struggles and losses vary in size and shape; they are still struggles and losses. No loss or struggle is insignificant. As humans, we tend to respond to hurt similarly, no matter how slight or severe.

We cower.
We run.
We hide.
We retaliate.

I have believed in the power of story telling for a long time now. I’ve known that telling our own story brings freedom. But I’ve whispered it through bars. I talked of freedom while being held in a cage of fear. I hid my face, hoping that no one would ask the story behind my badly injured wing.

I wanted to be able to fly, to soar in the heights. But instead I was stuck, hobbling along the floor of my cage. Unable to speak. Unable to stretch out my wings and fly.

Fear is still a battle for me. But it’s a battle that I don’t fight alone. Every time I tell my story, I become a little stronger. The fear diminishes. And I stand a little taller, a little stronger.

I heal.

It’s clear to me now that it’s not just my friend who identifies with the caged bird; I do too.

This is the story of humanity.
Once broken and bound.
But given the wonderful opportunity to be liberated by the transforming power of the gospel.

In spite of the weight of hearing so many difficult stories, I have hope. This hope is an enduring thread that’s being woven into the story of my life. Hope mends my brokenness. Hope is what I have to offer to those whose stories I have the privilege to hear.

My face doesn’t have to be hidden anymore. My wounds are healing and turning to scars that tell stories of the faithfulness of my God.

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This is freedom.