life aspirations / stuff that makes me think / what I've learned

life on purpose: what I learned from our trip to West Africa

It’s been a year and a bit since we were trekking to West Africa in the middle of the Ebola crisis. But I keep notes on significant moments in my life and the things I’ve learned so I can look back and evaluate whether I’m still practicing what I’ve learned.

As we were driven out of Africa, toward the south to the capital city of Accra, twelve hours drive from the dusty town in northeast Ghana, I quickly jotted my notes in my orange iPod.

  1. Enjoy each comfort. Comfort seems to be a backdrop to our North American culture. Certainly something we strive for. Definitely something we’re having constantly draped in front of our faces. Not so in the third world. The basics there are luxurious…like clean tap water, flushing toilets, food (organic, gluten and dairy free are outrageous concepts). Though we tell ourselves not to be consumed by our comforts, they are good things, not bad things. We can be thankful that our every day is filled with them.
  2. Your daily existence is yours to create. At the hard end of life, there is always the possibility of disability or disease, there is the possibility of poverty, where we don’t have enough to provide for our families or ourselves, there is the possibility of not having economic potential or education potential so that we can’t change our place in life, and therefore, much suffering. In North America, potential is available to us in some form. We don’t have to live in a culture bruised by constant disease or poverty or lack of education or economic possibility. So paint each day’s pallet into something meaningful.
  3. Purpose is created by you; purpose is not created by other people’s approval of you. You can take up stone masonry, accounting, musical pursuits or physiology teaching–no matter what the activity, you were meant to do something. Certain people may not understand your interest or your activity, though someone always will; but you were meant to eek out a purpose in this life, to create.
  4. Don’t take your kids or their education too seriously–they’ll figure out what they need. They see me active, and they see that I expect them to be active. I watch, and listen and pay attention to their interests. I can not script their young lives or their older lives (though I’ve tried;) They have me as a guide, not as a conductor.
  5. Don’t be greedy (glutinous), eat what you need. Frankly, to match what I saw in Ghana, or Kenya two years earlier, seems like an impossibility. Pretty sure it wouldn’t be safe. The general body fat is way too low. The options are endless here, and though I don’t have typical city where fast food options abound (somehow this town has kept even Tim Hortons and MacDonald’s away), I still have endless options to purchase or create and over-consume, even if it is a nightly snack of rice crackers, avocado and hot pepper flakes.
  6. Too many activities does not make your life more meaningful if you’re not enjoying the activities. Never was this more of a reminder to me when life slowed dramatically in Ghana, avoiding nighttime outdoor activities due to malaria potential, avoiding daytime outdoor activities because the humidity and heat were suffocating, trying to encourage my kids to walk an hour to visit orphaned kids who were open in their mocking, though some pretty friendly, and who had a hard time communicating. Every person we talked with I tried to encourage, and for every encouragement, I was doubly blessed. Many activities does not make a meaningful life.
  7. Share your world with those in your world. Be humble, show mercy. Number 6 led me to this: sharing this life with those who are in and around my community, from my authentic heart, is the most profound and meaningful thing I have to do this side of eternity. Be humble, show mercy.
  8. But don’t look for their affirmation. Every desire for approval cannot be met through the eyes of others. No matter how wonderful they can be. Approving oneself is required. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll never do everything right. Or perfect enough. You’ll not satisfy the expectations of others, not even of yourself. Know that affirmation has always been yours, by virtue of you being brought into existence.
  9. So, live life on purpose. Get at it. Be intentional about your work and about your play. Be intentional in your community of relationships. Get going…

The biggest lessons are the hardest earned ones. And the most moving ones. There is much for me to consider in this list.

I’d love to hear what you’re learning these days…

2 thoughts on “life on purpose: what I learned from our trip to West Africa

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