Sunday, August 2, 2015

Where I never thought to look

For those of you who don't follow me on Instagram, the background of this post is that I'm doing a photo-a-day challenge this month, meaning that everyday I take photos to match a daily theme, which is decided by the wonderful Carly Campbell. If you're interested in seeing the adventure that is me trying to take pictures on demand, you can check that out here.

Fill my day with color. As if the color-based theme in March wasn't enough, I was being asked to find color in my desert world and make it look good once again. It was 107 degrees outside and I had just come back from the extremely green midwest, only to realize that every naturally occurring desert plant was mostly, if not completely dead.

I'm starting to think I sound a little overly morbid. I apologize.

No matter how I was feeling about the desert, I was determined to find a picture for today's prompt, and I really wanted it to be of nature. Even if it just meant mixing a bunch of shades of green together, I would find a way to succeed. And with that semi- inspiring thought, I jumped on my bike and headed to the Nature Preserve.

It was far too hot for this decision, but never mind that.

As I stood next to my locked up bike and looked at the dusty landscape of the preserve, I wondered 2 things; 1) How was I going to find any extraordinary color in the middle of a desert summer and 2) if I stood in one place long enough, would the ground manage to burn my feet through the soles of my shoes?

The solution to the first question was to keep moving and keep my eyes open, and the second is something I would still like an answer to. My feet were getting pretty hot just standing in one place, and I half expect that the soles of my shoes melted a little.

And so I set out, and about ten feet later found my first subject; some golden seed pods that pulled me in with their bright contrast against the green trees. I walked to them and started shooting, only to be distracted a few moments later by a flash of crimson further down the tree. The dying, drying pods were changing colors, and a few were spotted with a deep shade of red that I hadn't expected to see.

The rest of my walk went something like the scenario above, with me finding a vivid shade of red, or gold, or even green (which seems so normal that it couldn't be surprising, or enticing to take pictures of). There was color all around me, I just hadn't bothered to look.

I needed that reminder, the reminder that sometimes the most beautiful things in nature are dying, or worn by monsoon winds, or hidden just beyond my view.

If I were to describe every moment of the walk, you would probably never read my blog again. So I'll let the pictures tell the story of my color- filled day.

The pods that originally caught my eye

And the details that drew me in

The picture I'm actually using for today's challenge

I love how vivid the green on this tree is again the sky. Also, we have completely green trees. 

Flowers on cacti
I love the greens here

And the contrast between the green stream and the rusty looking rocks was beautiful

The sky was a bright blue and I love the slight tint of purple on the mountains

And one final splash of gold
And that is the story of unexpected beauty in the desert, and a girl who constantly underestimates life, even when she's been blown away by the splendor of it again and again.

<3, Audrey

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

5 Things Long- Distance Friendship Has Taught Me

1. Distance will either make, break, or change a friendship. It didn't take long to find out which friendships were going to fail under the pressure of distance, which ones would hold their ground, and which ones would need to change. I say the last option because some friendships that used to be everyday conversations and would take up hours of my time, are now once a week or once a month conversations, but that doesn't mean they fall under the "failed" category.

But sometimes you do need the constant support. #friendshipgoals

2. Different is okay. Continuing off of my last point, a change in a friendship because of moving isn't a bad thing. There are people whose friendship I took for granted in WI, who I saw in the halls at school and never really realized just how amazing of friends they were, but when I moved away, I got a chance to see the strength of their friendship and their willingness to be there for me when I needed them. That's true friendship.

3. I don't have to talk to my friends everyday. Recently, I went a month without talking to one of my closest friends, and I thought I was going to burst with everything I needed to tell her when we finally did find time to call. A month between phone calls seems like something that signals the end of a friendship, but when she picked up the phone,  I knew we were picking up where we left off. Those are the people I want in my life, the ones I can pick up wherever we last ended and not feel a difference.

Pretty sure my friends are thinking this during our conversations no matter how long it's been.

4. Having long distance friendships makes the world feel a little more like home. My long distance friends aren't only in WI, they're also in France, Ghana, Pakistan, and all over the U.S. I know exchange students all around the world who would gladly give me a place to stay if I was nearby, no matter how long we've been apart. And that's one of the most wonderful feelings ever.

5. Friendships are 100% two-sided. I've had friends who I've fallen away from because of distance, and it's usually because one of us didn't put in as much effort as the other. I know I do this, especially right before I leave a place, or when my life is changing rapidly in a short period of time. I've stopped putting effort into a friendship and it doesn't end up working out, or the other person doesn't call or make any attempt to contact me (and I'm not talking a month break). I hate seeing these people fall away and losing the connection we had, but in the end it's taught me the value of putting effort into the friendships I value, and when I do those friendships flourish and become even more valuable.

Distance makes those shared eye rolls so much better when you are together

6. True friends are honest with you. Isn't this just a general rule of thumb? Probably, but it's something I've realized more since I moved away from Wisconsin. The people who can be brutally honest with me are the same people who really care, and who want me to be the best version of myself. They're the friends who aren't looking for a shallow friendship or a phone call once a year. They're the ones who want something that will stand the test of time.

It hurts, but it's a good thing.

In the past 2 years I've lost old friends, but I've also gained some pretty cool new ones. I've taken what I learned from the past and built a stronger group of friends who I love to pieces, and who I know are going to stick with me through tough times. I can't express how much these people mean to me, whether they're across the world or right here in Arizona.

Some of my old friendships came to painful ends, and there's no denying I miss a lot of what I used to have, but I'm incredibly grateful for where I am now, and what the past 2 years have taught me. I'm stronger and smarter now, and that's something I wouldn't trade for a hundred easily breakable friendships.

<3, Audrey

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ten Tips for Before You Come Home

We're currently in the exchange student return season, a period of about three months that takes brave hearts back to the initial pain of leaving home, only with more confusing emotions than they had the first time around. It's a time of embracing what's become routine and wondering if you're truly ready to give up the life you've built abroad. All the fun emotions aside, I was recently asked what advice I had for a soon to be alumni, and here's what I came up with:

Throwback to right before we left, constantly missing my Ghana girls <3

1. Embrace Every. Single. Moment. The walk to school. The hike up the mountain to your house. The way the vendors yell at you in the market. The smiles of every person you meet. Don't let a single moment slip by you. Take pictures every few feet on your way to school, write descriptions of the conversation with strangers who make you laugh, savor the flavors of what has become your normal.

2. Continue to fall in love with the world. Ghana was the true spark that made me realize that my heart was set on falling in love with places I had never been, with beach sunsets, and beautiful strangers. This world is unbelievably breathtaking and exchange magnifies everything, especially those beautiful moments that grab at your heart. So keep falling for the sunsets, for the rain storms and the simple adventures. Do that and your awe of the world will carry on even when your back in the daily grind of life in the U.S.

3. Think of every little thing you've missed about the U.S., the running water, the constant electricity, the air conditioning. Now think of how not having these things has changed you. Think of how what you once needed is now a luxury, how lacking luxuries has made you more thankful than ever before. Don't let yourself slip into taking these things for granted ever again.

4. Put done your phone! This was the point in my year that I realized how much time I spent staring at a screen, taking to people who might not even be relevant to my life when I got home. And while I'm not saying you should throw your electronics in the nearest body of water, I am saying that putting them down helps you savor those moments. I didn't realize how much I had slipped into being on electronics after talking to people back home became less painful, but when I did put my phone down, I was able to make a lot more out of my last days.

5. Don't get addicted to a tv show now. Did I do this? Psh, of course not! I definitely didn't spend hours watching Once Upon a Time in my room at nights. That's crazy. If I had I certainly wouldn't have been proud of that choice. 

6. Chanel your excitement from your first week back into your last week. Play those games with your family that you tried to play with them at the beginning. Ask them the questions about their past that you meant to ask long ago. Spend hours visiting family. The only way I can think to describe the attitude I wanted to have at the end of the year was the same excitement I had at the beginning.

7. Eat whatever you want. You're probably already pretty deep into exchange student weight, so don't bother worrying about that now. Eat extra street food if you want to. Make so much Indomie that your host mom starts to doubt your sanity. Don't worry about it now, you have your whole life to lose that weight, but you only have a few more weeks to have you favorite foreign foods.

8. Give the last days, weeks, and minutes all you've got. You know how your teachers in American school tell you "don't check out now!" when there's like three weeks left of school, but you "check out" anyways? Well I'm going to tell you not to check out yet, and not only to not check out, but to put your best effort forward, to give the last memories your best effort.

9. Get involved as soon as you get home. Volunteer with your exchange program if you can. Welcome new students to your school. Stay active, stay thankful, and stay positive. Coming back isn't easy, it's more bittersweet. But you're a stronger person because of your experiences and someday all the frustrating things about coming back will stop bothering you, at least enough that you can laugh at people's ignorance instead of wanting to lecture them (in a loud voice that sounds vaguely like yelling). 

10. And of course get connected with other YES Alumni!  We're all here for you; we've been through the reverse culture shock and annoying experiences before, and we'd love to listen to you vent about every little detail and help you walk through the difficult days and celebrate your successes with you.

Writing this is reminding me how much I need to keep this advice relevant in my life even now that I've been in the U.S. for almost a year (gasp!). My life isn't African markets and traveling solo anymore, but there are still moments that I'm likely to miss if I'm hiding behind a phone screen, or not giving this beautiful life all that I've got. Maybe the wording is different, but the message is the same no matter where you live: search for those moments of awe, find the best in people, and keep falling in love with the world.

Speaking of beautiful moments...
<3, Audrey

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Sibling Question

A little note: I wrote this a year ago and posted it on my blog when I was living in Ghana. While I was considering what to say about today, I came back to this post and I realized that there was nothing I would change about it, and that it still rang true in my life, especially as I'm in a new school, town, and state. And so, I decided to come back to this common plot line in my story: the sibling question.

Also, I'm always open to talking about Per and my life story in general so feel free to ask questions or share this post if you know someone else who might relate!


Do you have any siblings?

This question has been a constant source of confusion for me over the past four (now five) years.

People who ask me this question unknowingly send me into internal paralysis. If I want to seem normal, I have to consider several factors in a matter of seconds.

How long have I known this person?

How long do I plan on knowing this person?

Will this person probe farther into this question?

Do I have the energy for the inevitable conversation that will follow?

You would like to think a simple “yes” or “no” would answer this question. But nothing in my life has been simple since my brother, Per, died five years ago.

This proves it.

I happen to know I am not the only person out there struggling with the sibling question. It’s one of those “Wait, you have that too??” side effects of having a sibling die.

You have to decide whether for the rest of your life you will deny their existence, or if you will suffer though possibly unnecessary rounds of “Oh I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.” At least, that’s how it felt when I first faced this problem.

Now I realize it’s more complicated than that. When having a casual conversation with a total stranger, I just might not find it worth my energy to respond with “Yes, I have a brother, but he died four years ago.” Mostly the reactions are what cause the frustration.

I’ll encounter oh-so-many “Oh I’m sorry!” ‘s and people apologizing over even bringing it up. They seem convinced I’ll break into tears because they’ve mentioned my brother. The thing is, I won’t.

If I tell you straight off the bat that my brother has died, I probably have a reason. I think you’re important enough to know. I think you are part of my future, and so you need to know an essential piece of information about my past.

That’s why I avoid the apologies. If I broke down crying at every mention of Per, I would be an eternal mess. I know, I know,people don’t know how else to react. And I don’t have the answers for a better way to respond. The “Yes, he died four years ago” spiel is a lot to react to. I understand that.

But it doesn’t make the decision of how to respond any easier. I don’t want the apologies. I don’t want the awkward moments. I want people to know.

That’s the truth behind it. I don’t like saying I don’t have a brother, because I do have one. For better or for worse, I have a little brother who has changed my life forever. And I want people to know about that amazing little boy.

Maybe at some point I’ll figure out a better response for both the asker and me. But right now I want to say to my fellow siblings who are missing their friends, their siblings, that they are not the only ones out there struggling with this question.

I know personally that feeling understood by one of my camp counselors who had lost a sibling made me feel connected and not alone. When I asked her if she had a problem with this question and she shared her initial reactions to it and the answers she gives now (“Yes, but he doesn’t live at home”) I felt understood.

You’re not alone. It may seem to others to be an awful thing to say that you don’t have a brother or sister when you do, but I understand. It’s more complicated than that. It’s not an easy answer, but it’s one you have to decide on. Just know that your choice doesn’t change how much you love or miss your sibling.

And to the askers of the sibling question: be patient with us. And know that when I tell you about my brother Per, I am letting you in on a piece of my past and my future. I am letting you know an essential piece of what makes me me.

Don’t apologize for asking, I’m glad you did.

<3, Audrey

Sunday, January 11, 2015

To the Girl Who Bullied Me

Hi. Do you remember me? I'm quite sure you do, since you managed to recognize my face in crowded high school hallways freshman year, even after being mostly out of my life for two years.

I'd like to say that I didn't mind seeing you again, one week into my freshman year of high school, that maturity had kicked in for both of us, and we just walked on without saying anything. Unfortunately I remember the sneer on your face as you passed all too well, and your eyes telling me you still wanted me gone.

I really thought I was past your chapter in my life.

We have a long history. For years in elementary school we battled, running to teachers and crying late at night, broken down by silly elementary school revenge. I think you also struggled and maybe you cried just as much as I did. I think you were faced by as many obstacles as I was, though we both chose to handle them differently.

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry if I ever hurt you. You seem to have something very personal against me, and I'm not sure why, but I'm sorry for any way I might have wronged you.

I'm sorry for the way I reacted when you lashed out at me in high school. When you decided to use a few choice words to describe how you felt about me, I'm sorry I didn't respond in a better way. I'm not proud of how I acted.

I'm sorry that you'll be carrying around whatever burden you have for a long time, that your friendships will be restrained and many parts of your life will be filled with hatred for as long as you chose to hold it.

If I could go back in time, I would do things differently. I wouldn't hold the words you said to me at your seventh birthday against you. I would try to love you and accept you more. In such a small school we were pretty well divided into cliques and I think you felt like you didn't fit in any group. If I could go back, I would try my hardest to change how you were treated before you resorted to putting others down to build yourself up.

I wish you would have let me be your friend in high school. Certainly neither of us expected to be in contact again, but I think that could've very easily been a fresh start and not a tense semester that ended with me walking away realizing I would meet many more people like you, sad people who had something they just couldn't let go of.

You meant to hurt me, and you accomplished your task. For many years I was the one being broken down, but as far as I know, you're the one holding the poison now. I've let go of the negativity you aimed at me, and learned to see myself in a light much better than the one you once cast on me.

Today I'm praying that you've learned to let go of the bitterness. I hope you've found something or someone in life who makes you feel happy and secure. My wish for you is only good things, adventures and accomplishments and everything you ever wanted.

And I pray that someday when we have daughters of our own, that they never end up like us, that we will know to teach them to be kind, and accepting, and to reflect Christ's love much better than we once did. I pray they have friendships that only build them up, that they only spread kindness and love, and that they never have to cry over innocence broken by insults and petty fights.

<3, Audrey

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Still

It was a wonderful time in my life, the days when I realized that only by relying on God 100% could I continue my journey. For a while my life was simple but exciting, a mix of constant adventure and knowing I loved myself and was truly loved by God.

Those days seemed perfect. Most of exchange, once you've passed the toughest parts, seems wonderful, sometimes somuch better than life in your home country. For a while I thought I had finally perfected my relationship with God and found the adventure I had been searching for.

But since I've returned, I've realized I don't have it figured out.

Because I still fall down.

I still fail.

I still give up on my dreams, trading them for a faded reality instead.

I still doubt myself.

I still forget the lessons I learned.

I'm still, in some respects, the same girl I was before I left. Flawed, lost, and relearning everything I thought I had learned. And that's okay. I have to learn somethings all over again in this new environment. I have to continue to learn and relearn, as long as I live.

<3, Audrey

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What I've learned from calling four places home

In my life, I’ve called four different places “home”; twice in Wisconsin, once in Ghana, and now Arizona. I know the most drastic, life-changing moves have been in the last year, and I haven’t spent the majority of my life moving from place to place, but these moves, recent though they may be, have taught me valuable lessons and have made me more thankful for change than I ever have been before.

Living abroad opened my eyes to new struggles and issues that I hadn't noticed pre-exchagne. It made me more aware of the differences in priorities and politics between the US and other countries, and taught me to make these different issues more personal. I knew this would happen and I definitely experienced it while in Ghana, but what I never expected was the lessons I would learn when moving across the US.

We are blessed to live in a large, beautiful county. You can drive for a day and still be within the US, but looking at a completely new landscape. One hour can be the difference between desert and mountains, and that's truly beautiful. Along with the new landscapes and varying town sizes comes different mini- cultures. Each corner of the US has it's norms, it's dialects (some corners more than others) and it's own issues, social and political. 

 It's those issues that have opened my eyes to why I'm thankful that I've moved to Arizona. While I was in Wisconsin, the issues plaguing the news were teacher protests and blizzard warnings. Since moving to Arizona, I've become more aware of issues such as the actual effects of illegal immigration on the US, and the effects of the drastic weather here, including drought and monsoons. 

Recently, my Spanish teacher took a week to talk about Mexican and South American immigrants. She talked to us about why these people took the dangerous desert trek, what the journey was like, and what happened after they crossed the border. It was eye-opening and much more in-depth than I had ever gone before. Yes, I've watched border-crossing videos in Wisconsin, but the topic is more personal and applicable when living near the border where thousands of lives are lost every year during the desperate trek across the desert.

My host mum in Ghana was a teacher, so while I was there I learned about how Ghanaian teachers are (or are not) paid and how they are treated by the government if they work in public schools. I also had many conversations about the struggles of living in a developing, more than slightly corrupt country, and what the goals for countries like Ghana are ten or fifteen year from now. No, I didn't always study these problems in-depth, but they weren't easy issues to avoid when my home's lights and running water were out every other night!

And the differences that have effected me the most aren't always political. Wisconsin taught me patriotism (Go Packers! Also, the Bears [still] suck.) and what it meant to be tough, no matter what the weather is. I think I'll always have some attachment to Wisconsin, and that's thanks to the atmosphere of pride in our state that I grew up in. Even within Wisconsin I lived in areas where the focuses were different. I can only imagine what I might be like today if I had lived my whole life in the tiny town I first lived in. A few miles can affect the view you have of the world throughout your entire life. 

All this to say, though I may complain about Arizona and its blistering heat and desert landscapes, I'm thankful for this move. Each place I've lived has added a layer to my story, and the depth of what I understand. It's just one blessing that I've been able to find in this crazy life I live, and something I'm thankful for, despite how much my life has had to change to bring me here.

<3, Audrey