Thursday, May 25, 2017

From Guinea, with love.

It’s a sweet evening, here in Guinea. The sun is setting behind pastel-tinted clouds as I sit in the humid, warm evening trying to catch a breeze and swatting away the mosquitos’ incessant whine humming around my ears.  I’ve captured my first bit of solitude since Tuesday morning; I passed on dinner out tonight as lingering stomach upset and non-stop extroverting leave me feeling the need to remain behind.  Breathing deep, I finally have a free minute to reflect.

Back on the ship, it’s the big night of goodbyes.  I would have been one of them, except for this trip; I don’t get to be a part of praying out the two dozen or so long-term crewmembers who are walking down the gangway for the final time in the coming weeks.  I’m sad to miss it, but know I’m exactly where I should be. 

It’s been crazy, which is really the only thing you can completely count on in a trip like this.  Plans have changed constantly; my schedule has so many things crossed off and put elsewhere and other appointments added that it’s almost illegible.  We started out with a bang, meeting the Prime Minister, and it’s been one thing after another since then.  Today was a holiday in Guinea but that didn’t stop us from a few hospital tours and a working lunch; the afternoon was filled with report writing and analyzing and figuring out how and where I could squeeze in a few more meetings.

And I love it. This work, telling people about Mercy Ships and explaining what we do and why we do it; the expansion of our training programs since our last visit and how our deepest hope is to leave a lasting impact for every tribe and tongue and life in this beautiful place.  The puzzle of people, the thrill of discovery, the challenges of culture and infrastructure and technology and the unknown, while it can be frustrating, is somehow oddly exciting and invigorating at the same time.  The people have been incredibly welcoming and accommodating and generous, as is the standard for African hospitality.  Most have heard of us, or have visited the ship or know someone who has, but the excitement they show when we explain our return in 2018 is heartwarming and encouraging.  I’m only sad I won’t be sailing in on that big white ship to their welcoming arms.

Some things have changed since our last visit; buckets to rinse your hands in bleach water are everywhere, shaking hands is no longer a regular greeting especially in a hospital setting, and the traffic seems to have only gotten worse.  Some things haven’t changed; the need for healthcare is great, the need for training even more so, the hopefulness in the conversations about our arrival is palpable.  I’m so honored to be here, to bring the news of our return and to start laying the groundwork for what is sure to be an incredible field service.   

To all those who getting their goodbyes tonight, know I'm praying from afar and grateful to have shared this season at sea.  

xxk

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A sweet goodbye.

It's tradition aboard the Africa Mercy for long-term crew who have gone through the onboarding (entry training) program to get an all-crew goodbye.   They get a few nice words said about and to them, and then they are prayed for by the community of faith.

I've prayed out hundreds of crew members.  It's such a beautiful thing as a community to send people out with blessings into the next right thing.

After praying thousands of crewmembers out over the last five years, Sunday night was my night.  Thank you, sweet AFM community, especially Kirstie and Dianna, for the kind words and beautiful prayers of blessing and favor over me into the next season.  I'm deeply grateful.



Sunday, May 21, 2017

And then there was three.

A last minute change of plans; there's a need to fill and I can fill it, am pleased and honored and grateful to do so, and suddenly I find myself down to only three days left in my floating home of the last five years.

Tuesday I head to Guinea on an eight-day assessment trip; the person who was supposed to go is not feeling well, so suddenly the twelve days I had left here is three, and I'm simultaneously ridiculously excited and achingly sentimental... such is the time of last things.

I'm thrilled to be able to do assessment; I've done them in several countries and it uses all my skills and abilities and experience and strengths in a way that truly makes me feel alive. I have incredibly fond memories of Guinea; that's where my onboarding class (the entry training for long-term Mercy Ships crew) did our field service, that's where I met some of my closest and dearest friends, that's where I started the journey of finding out who I really am and what I was created to do.

I'm the opposite of a procrastinator, I'm not sure what the word is for that, but in this last week I found myself feeling the same sort of restlessness as I felt the month before I left for the Peace Corps and the month before I left for Mercy Ships the second time; a sense of restless boredom, that I've already completed all my work and I've already grieved my departure and saying goodbye to friends and I'm just ready to get this show on the road.  I was stressed out in April trying to get all my work done because I couldn't stand the thought of panicking the last few weeks trying to get it all done.  But now it's done, and I'm absolutely thrilled to be able to jump into a last minute adventure where I am needed, my skills are useful and I'm really, really excited about it.

But at the same time, suddenly the last things are here; the last frisbee game, the the last community meeting, the last coffee with this friend and meal with that friend.  I don't really consider myself a sentimental person, but walking up to deck 8 this morning I gasped in realization that this view of my backyard, this panorama I've gazed at countless times over the last five years will soon be but a memory; while I am very much looking forward to seeing trees and grass out my window instead of concrete and steel, the water, the sky, the containers, the ships, the birds, even the trash floating in the water is the familiar landscape of my life; a landscape about to dramatically change. I'm thrilled and excited but would be lying if I said not even a little piece of me will miss this and is still grieving the goodbye.

So my days are numbered; filling quickly with friendly tea and hugs and goodbye cards and packing and finishing up the odds and ends here and there that still need to be crossed off the list. Tuesday I'll hop over to Guinea, returning the following Wednesday to one last night in my floating home, walking down the gangway the last time on Thursday to a new season of life on land.

Thank you, treasured friends, both here and there, for being a part of the journey.  I am deeply grateful.

My backyard.

xxk

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Frisbee Fridays.

One of my favorite things about this season on the Africa Mercy has been Frisbee Fridays.

Since my first stay on the ship back in 2011, I've played ultimate frisbee with crewmembers from dozens of countries, with varying skill levels and language fluency; on different surfaces including concrete, sandy beaches, and dry and sometimes squishy muddy waterlogged soccer fields.

I remember in Sierra Leone, where we walked up bad-boy lane to the school up the road to play in a dusty field; for some reason I specifically remember one game on someone's birthday, every time that person (DC) caught the frisbee, Ali would yell "Happy Birthday DC".  I remember thinking this community is really remarkable.

So many weeks I planned around the Friday frisbee game, because I knew that getting sweaty and dirty and sprinting around on the field in a competitive yet not too too competitive game was absolutely the best thing I could do for my emotional, mental, and physical health.  I've left anger, frustrations, irritations, blood, sweat, and tears out there on that field.  For me, it's been a healing game; an opportunity to practice patience, teaching others how to play; an opportunity to love this community in a different way and shape and time and place.

Last night was my last frisbee game; I will desperately miss this piece of this season. Thank you, Frisbee players, for welcoming me into the fold; for welcoming everyone into the game, for teaching me patience and how to lessen my competitiveness, at the same time as giving me a socially acceptable place to work out my irritations, aggressions, and still allow my competitive side to show up. I will always remember with fondness the Frisbee Friday sunsets, playing until we can hardly see; the stinky car rides back to the ship, the glorious shower afterwards, and the incredible community represented in the game.






Monday, May 15, 2017

Trust.


This photo was snapped at the Congo screening day in 2013. It was the last time that Mercy Ships did a massive one-day screening; I understand why they don't now, of course (infection control, safety, logistics, etc) but there was something incredibly special about how the day was meticulously planned and every single person who wanted to be a part of it had the opportunity to do so.  HR and sales people helped take medical histories; teachers and students played with kids and passed out water to the thousands of patients waiting in line.

I wrote about it here: Well done,  and it will always remain a special memory of my time with Mercy Ships.  I was new in my job but spoke French well enough to be useful (or dangerous, wink) and ran around doing whatever those who had been around much longer than I had been told me to do.

But this moment, the moment this photo was snapped, will always remain high on the list of #howisthismylife moments.  Donovan, our ship managing director at the time, called me over mid morning, tossed me the keys to his personal car and said "can you go pick up Don and Deyon?"

Gulp, no pressure. Those cars are bigger than the usual landrovers we use, and I hadn't ever driven one before.  Donovan hardly knew me, if I scratched his car would it get me sent home? At the very least it would be mortifying and I didn't know if I would outlive the embarrassment.  And even worse, imagine if I did it with Don and Deyon in the car? They're the Mercy Ships President and founders, by the way.  Kind of a big deal and I was admittedly starstruck. I didn't know them and they had no reason whatsoever to trust me driving them around and neither did Donovan trusting me with his car.

And while all those thoughts and fears raced through my head in a millisecond, I calmly said 'sure' and did what I was asked to do.  No scratches, no drama, but I will always remember it; they had no reason to trust me but they did.  There's something powerful about being trusted not for what you have proven you can do... but for who you are.

Thanks Donovan and Don and Deyon for trusting me that day, and all the days and years since then, with little things and big things and everything in between.   I've loved being on your team.

--K

Saturday, May 13, 2017

In the arena.





Things have been off with a friend. For awhile.

Let’s be honest, it would be so much easier to just skirt around and sit on the sidelines; to paste on a fake smile and do everything in my power to disappear, to not take up space or time or energy because heaven forbid it hurts and I’m sick of hurting.   And I’ve done that for a few weeks now.  Trying to avoid conflict because I shouldn’t feel this way, because it’s irrational and illogical and there’s no great win in stirring it up, it will only be ugly and painful and may not end well.  So just clench your teeth in a smile and bear it for just a little bit longer; you’re almost done, for crying out loud stop feeling. 

Because something kept saying stop with the feeling.

But how many times have I said over my own life? I am glad that I can feel, it means I am alive.

And the dissonance between what I believe and what I was doing finally screeched loud enough and painfully enough for me to stop with the hiding and running and take the risk; knowing I’ll probably do it wrong and it was going to be painful and bloody but at least it’s real and not some fake imitation of life, of becoming a non-feeling robot solely focused on the finish line and negating everything that comes with life to the full.

Life to the full includes feeling.  We belong in the arena.

And it was everything I dreaded; it was painful and ugly and bloody and hurt something awful, but it was real.  And we survived.  Stronger because of it; experts will tell you, muscle fibers actually need to be broken down to grow strong.

And I look back and think yeah, it was messy, and I could have done it better or differently but I did the best I could with what little courage I could muster… and I went into the arena.  There is no effort without error and shortcoming. And maybe next time it won’t take so long, it won’t be so painful; the muscle memory of a successful rumble in the arena will point me in that direction sooner.  Because in this journey, it’s not about winning.  It’s not about winning.  It’s about being present, and alive, and feeling… not running from, but into the arena.    

Even when you only have a few days or a few weeks left.  Even when everything in you screams and shouts like a toddler not wanting to go to the dentist.  Success is showing up and feeling and being present and embracing the pain and joy that come with life to the full.   

Go. 


xk

Sunday, May 7, 2017

And I love you.

I booked the day away months ago, knowing this last sprint to the finish would be challenging, and if I didn’t book in space to breathe I just wouldn’t.  I went to the beach. Salt water is always the remedy.  I sat down on the damp sand, and tears filled my eyes so quickly I actually gasped. What was that about?  My heart longed for peace, and in the crashing waves and salty breezes I knew this was exactly what I needed.  Something about life on this ship is so intense; and lately all the intensity of it seems magnified… I realized the noise of rights and wrongs and shoulds and shouldn’ts had tangled and wrapped themselves so tightly I could hardly even take a deep breath.

I’m doing this all wrong.  I should be at that event today. I’m so selfish.  I can’t do anything right. I’m such a terrible friend. Why can’t I just suck it up and be more generous? Giving? Selfless? I shouldn’t be withdrawing from people, I should be diving deeper into relationship.  I can’t seem to do anything right for that one person. I bet she can’t wait to be rid of me. I’m not feeling enough. I should be desperately sad about leaving this place, what kind of callused, heartless robot am I?  I must be too controlling about that one project.  I’m probably being too hands-off, they’ll accuse me of ‘checking out’.  Where is the line between the two? I can’t seem to find it. I can’t make anyone happy.  I’m doing this all wrong. This weekend is supposed to be a time of refreshing, why can’t I just forget it all and relax? Trust? Find the joy?  What time is it? Is it time for lunch? What if I don’t want lunch? What if she wants lunch? Will lunch now be the wrong choice? What if I’m waiting too long?  Argh, this isn’t what this weekend is supposed to be like…

And that was just the first few minutes.

Once I calmed the crazy and focused on the moment, the breath filling my lungs, the heartbeat that continues on regardless of the crazy in my head thanks to the spark of the divine within, the crashing waves mimicking the pulsing hum of life flowing through my veins, I could hear it.

That still small voice that was shrouded in the cacophonous noise of doubts and fears and worries and anxieties of the past and the future and everything in between...

What if there is no right or wrong? What if you’re just doing it?  You’re okay. And I love you.

I’m doing life. Work. Transition. I am okay.

It doesn’t look like what the books told me it would look like.  Except that one that said expect the unexpected. I’m slowly unplugging from this place, from these people.  It’s not right or wrong… it’s how I’m doing it. Because if I pull out all the plugs at one time on that day I leave? I won’t survive it. My heart can’t withstand that kind of an assault.  So it’s little by little.  Some friendships will last through it. Some won’t.  I’m forever grateful for the season of life I’ve been privileged to carry out in this place and the people who made it what it was.  And just because a friendship or a connection only lasts a season it doesn’t negate the beauty and the richness and the value of the investment – they don’t have to be forever to be successful. They are.  And I’m loved, regardless.

The work I’ve been called to do in this season, I’m closing out and handing over.  I’m doing the best I can to hand it over well; thoroughly, completely, to give every opportunity possible to set up the future stewards for success.  Instead of analyzing every response, every reaction, every facial expression as a verdict on me somehow simultaneously being too controlling and too hands off, that I’m doing it all wrong…  I’m doing it.  And I am loved.

Oh, the relief. The freedom to breathe again and not wonder if it was right or wrong or good or bad. Since when did I care so much about others’ verdicts?  There’s really only one that matters.  You’re okay.  What I needed to hear. What we all need to hear sometimes. 

May the remainder of this season at sea be one of gratitude, of love, of expansive light and life and friendship and humanity and healing and hope.   May it not be wrong or right or good or bad… may it just be what it is. 

You’re okay.  And I love you.