Remembering.

11 September 2019


I remember exactly where I was.

I was in college, and I was waiting for classes to start. I hopped into a computer lab, as these were the days before laptops and devices were a thing and there were big rooms around campus filled with desktop computers.  It was almost empty.  I remember only having one new email, back in the days before it was a primary mode of communication, and it was the one I expected, so once whatever it was I needed to do was done I logged in to a chat room for a band I enjoyed listening to.

There I was just scrolling through various song discussions and pop culture references, when I saw someone post something that said “oh my god look at the news, is this for real?”  I remember thinking geez, she needs to calm down. Then I saw another one, of similar sentiment and alarm.  I read something about buildings in New York, something about war, something about the Pentagon. I remember wondering what on earth is going on, is this for real? I stood up and hurried out to the hallway; certainly if this was a real thing, there would be people who knew what was going on.

I lurched out into the hallway, still believing it mustn’t be real, when just outside (had I missed it earlier? Had I been in the computer lab that long?) there was a TV in the hallway and about fifty students gathered around it.  We all stared in horror.

I remember looking around, wondering, what do I do now? Surely we don’t have to go to class.  I couldn’t watch the TV anymore, I moved down the hall to the student center where they had the radio loudly playing a news station.  I leaned back against the wall, and slid down it until my bum hit the floor, my forehead went to my knees and I just listened in shock and horror as they replayed everything they knew over and over.

I don’t remember if I called my mom or any of my family.  I remember thinking I had to go to class, so I did, where we all sat in a daze, whispering about what we knew and what the news was saying and would we go to war and if they started drafting us, which of us would go first? We were the right age; I was 20. The professor came in and said anyone who wanted to leave was welcome to do so; if we wanted to talk, we could also do that.  I did, though I don’t remember much of the class or the rest of the day.  I remember feeling afraid, really afraid, for my life and for my family and friends, for the first time ever. 

Because I was the right age and so were all my friends; the news anchors were talking about possible war and reinstating the draft and for the first time in my life a world event shook me to the core.  I remember going home and watching MSNBC for hours and hours; I remember Norah O’Donnell was the White House correspondent there, her face for some reason etched into my memory, and every time I see her now I remember hearing her say things like ‘the Taliban’ while standing in front of the White House, a word that had never entered my vocabulary before then. 

Its funny how certain things etch themselves into your memory like that.

I had a volunteer sitting in front of me today, when I was signing a paper for her and realized I was signing 9/11, I said do you remember that day? She shared she was in first grade, and remembers the reaction of her parents, but not much about the day.  Her life was not rocked.   She doesn’t remember being able to go all the way to the gate at an airport, carrying full-sized bottles of water, juice, shampoo or perfume in your carryon if you wanted with no one batting an eye.  She doesn’t look at the skyline of New York and feel like something is missing.  She doesn’t remember the radio hosts saying things like, “until the rubble is gone, we’ll leave our headlights on” and seeing every car with their headlights on in the middle of the day.   She doesn’t remember saying hello, how are you to the random stranger at the next gas pump over.  For some reason, the guy I greeted that day stands out in my memory. 

It was not a life changing event for her, as it was for me.  And that’s to be expected.  Soon, the volunteers coming through my office won’t remember it at all. Their lives will be rocked by some other personal or public tragedy, as all are; those moments that bring us to our knees in grief, in gratitude, in disbelief, in shock, and in sorrow.

Today I find myself on my knees in remembrance.  For those that started their day just like any other, but never came home.  The kids who lost their parents, those who have fought all manner of illness as a result of trying to help, those that died in the military action as a result of that fateful day.  

As our newsfeed is filled, it seems, with daily tragedy and heartbreak, its easy to just go numb; but as I tell my volunteers, I want tragedy, injustice, the anguish of my fellow humans to make me hurt, cry, lash out, or shout from the rooftops. I need to feel that, to keep it fueling me in my life’s work and mission and passion and heart.

I am glad that I can feel, because it means I am alive, and able to use at least one more breath to speak life and shine light into dark places and make the world a little bit better, for as long as I am in it.  



On limericks and peace.

07 September 2019


We were in our final of four weeks of training; weeks of group projects, scenarios, discussions, lectures, theory, stories, problem solving, and what feels like a few hundred people met and committed to memory. It was a super beneficial time, to be sure; I was grateful to be there, to be learning, to be surrounded by supportive, helpful people who were bending over backwards to ensure I knew as much as my brain could hold and when that was full, that I would know who to ask for when I needed whatever spilled over.  But by that day, I had had enough, and when they sent us to big pieces of paper and markers and said work together to draw a creative representation of today’s activity, I just couldn’t do it.  I didn’t have it in me. 

I’m usually a rule follower but with a spark of rebellion, I went to a quiet corner of the room with a bit of paper and a pencil, and in about five minutes came up with my creative representation of that day’s activity. 

In Zomba we had to work fast
The crises were varied and vast
We worked as a team
Respect was the theme
(and) Not one single team came in last

It was silly, but in those five minutes of solitary creativity using my preferred tool (words, not markers), I felt a spark of life in me I hadn’t felt in quite a while.  It’s the same spark I feel right now as I’m writing this.   And I realized in that moment why I had felt so out of sorts, so over this training even though I knew how important it was, so uninspired and tired and going through the motions. 

Writing feeds my soul.  Solitary creativity with words, whether it be an essay like this one or a silly limerick like the one about Zomba (the fictional country we worked in for the day) or even just a really well-written, clear, nice-to-look at email fills me with joy and peace and that everything-is-alright-now feeling that is beyond explanation or description.  After being grouchy for a few days before the Zomba activity, after just five minutes and some word craft I felt like an entirely different person.

I knew I needed to write about it, and I knew I needed to make writing a more intentional part of my life… and then I sat on these words for three more weeks before actually giving them the time and space they deserve.  But it’s never too late to do the right thing, so I’m sitting here tonight, my fingers grateful to get these words out of me into the world where they belong.  It doesn’t even matter if anyone reads them, what’s important is the offering. 

My work is all consuming, and I love it.  But as I’m settling in and finding my space here for more than just a sprint, I know I need to allocate time to things that will keep me healthy for the long run.  Sometimes I think it'll be writing about life here and there and wherever I find myself. Sometimes it'll be writing a silly limerick. But whatever it is, as long as it brings life, I need to give it the space it deserves. 

So here we are. 

-K
Taken from the top of the Watergate Hotel on 18 August 2019



On figuring it out.

25 May 2019


Well here I am, a week into my new job and home and life in South Africa.  I can hardly believe a week ago I was still in DC; it seems like I have been here much longer than that.  This morning is the first morning since I flew out of my north woods hometown that I haven’t had to get up to an alarm; relishing in the leisurely enjoyment of my coffee while the sun rises into yet another beautiful day.

I’m lying on my borrowed couch listening to the fighter jets flying overhead; nothing to be concerned about, today is the presidential inauguration in Pretoria, and the whole city is putting its best foot forward.  All the streets in the area have been repainted, the sidewalks and streets cleaned, new flags strung up on every flagpole and a general sense of hope for this new government is in the air.

My couch is borrowed because my house isn’t ready yet, so I’m in temporary quarters, which is totally fine; a few less things to figure out in the first week is not a bad thing.  And that’s what’s been filling every minute of every day since starting; figuring things out, learning, trying to remember what the acronyms mean and what my role is in this or that and what exactly we are talking about anyway?

This job is so big, and my counterparts in other countries tell me it’ll be a year or two before I really feel like I know what is going on most of the time.  My driven, perfectionistic side doesn’t like that, and I’m working to silence that persistent whisper suggesting I’ve already failed or disappointed everyone because I don’t have it figured out already. Ridiculous.  But at the end of every day I know more than I did at the beginning of it, and I keep reminding myself no one is expecting the superhero I expect of myself.

And also, I’ve kept myself alive in a new place for a whole week. Let us not forget to celebrate that fact.  I’ve driven every day on the left side of the road in what feels like a backwards vehicle and I haven’t hit anyone or damaged anything.  I’ve gotten to the grocery store, I did laundry, I bought and used an iron, I made it to work on time every day without getting lost (thank you google maps), and a whole lot of other things that seem menial but can also be a big deal in a new place. Figuring out how to work the appliances, the vehicles, banking, internet, traffic circles and a zillion other things ever day isn’t a small thing.  So just know if you need a round of applause for keeping yourself alive another day, you’ll always get it from me.

Work has been one meeting, briefing, introduction, and orientation after another. I’m relieved to have a few concurrent minutes this weekend to read up on some things that need my attention but I’m still not really sure what we’re even talking about when they are brought up.  But overall, I really like it, and look forward to going back.  That’s a good sign.  I’m not only going to work this weekend, I’m also going to a market, a mall, hiking, exploring, and hopefully meet up with a friend for coffee.  The weather is gorgeous, beautifully sunny skies over cool mornings and afternoons around 70; a much more enjoyable winter than the one I just experienced in my north woods hometown.

So that’s the update for today  All well, I’m so happy to be working again and using my brain, the last several months of boredom and waiting were good in a lot of ways; but really, the best version of me is busy, slightly stressed, juggling several different things, and learning and growing and stretching and being brave and letting myself be seen every day. It seems I’m in the right place. 💜💜💜

Celebrating keeping myself alive... and South African wine is amazing. 

Seen during driving practice. This is just a couple miles away from my office! Amazing.

Snapped from my window seat as we were coming in to land at OR Tambo airport.

Finally.

18 April 2019


It’s been a quiet season; a season of winter, of waiting, of wondering and hoping and longing and relaxing.

What I thought would take a few months has taken a few more, and I’ve been waiting, waiting, and waiting.  I’ve done my best not to waste the time, embracing it for the gift it has been!  Since leaving Liberia, I traveled to France and to Canada, and then returned to Minnesota to clean out my grandmother’s house which sold in a manner of days.  I surfed and loved a month of la pura vida in Costa Rica and a week of paradise in Hawaii.  I spent a couple long weekends in Boston, ran an anesthesia course in the Democratic Republic of Congo and relished in the springtime in New York City.  I’ve spent time with my siblings and their families and watched hours of Law&Order marathons.  I’ve exhausted my travel fund and savings account and returned back to my hometown in the north woods where winter hasn’t quite given up yet.  And finally, finally, I get to share what I’ve been waiting for!

I’ve accepted the position of Director of Programming and Training for Peace Corps, South Africa, and will be moving to Pretoria in a few weeks’ time.  And I’m so, so, so excited.  

I’m also nervous, and guarded, and gun-shy, and hoping with all hopes this will be a good, good thing.  I think it will be.  Everyone tells me it will be.  But if you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you’ll know this is the third ‘really exciting announcement’ I’ve made in less than two years… and obviously the two previous ‘dream jobs’ didn’t really work out the way I had hoped.

But in the same way I refuse to resign myself to being miserable and staying in a place that isn’t a good fit, I refuse to make decisions based out of fear of what might or might not happen someday. So I’m putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward into what feels like the most right thing I’ve tried.  It might not work out. But it’s still worth trying.  It might be (and I really think it will be) really amazing, for a lot of reasons.  But either way, I keep reminding myself, this is what it looks like, this life to the full; one foot in front of the other, as best I know how.

And the last two things? They were worth trying.  I thought I would love working in academia, I couldn’t know the realities of it without trying first.  I thought I would love learning a new field and working in child protection, but I couldn’t have known how much I missed working in and how passionate I was about global health until I wasn’t doing it anymore.  As one friend lovingly reminded me; this is what it looks like, trying to figure out yourself, your passions, what you were created to do.  Sometimes it happens in your early 20s, and sometimes it doesn’t.   I don’t regret one second of those experiences and am grateful for the person I’ve become because of them.   And I have certainly clarified what I love, what I don’t love, and what I need to flourish personally and professionally and be the healthiest person I can possibly be wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. 

And I believe this next thing checks every box. 

The Peace Corps.  A US Government agency that sends volunteers across the globe for two years of service in a developing nation.   Started by John F. Kennedy, there have been 235,000 volunteers since it’s inception and currently there are 7300 volunteers serving in 62 countries.  I served as a volunteer in Benin, 2009-2011, my first Africa experience, one I’ve never recovered from.  It ruined me for ordinary and I’ve stayed in Africa with various roles and organizations ever since then.

I remember when I was a volunteer looking up to the person who was the DPT; she was such an inspiration to me, and a little seed was planted way back then.  She was someone I wanted to be like.  And that was a role I’d love to do, someday.  It’s always been in the back of my head as a possibility for the future, but I’d been told numerous times how hard it was to get a job with the Peace Corps; it’s SUPER competitive, with amazingly talented people applying all the time who have super impressive resumes and education and experience.  It also takes years to get through the application process, I was told.  So I always held it out there as a dream but never really thought I’d get to a place where that dream could be reality. 

When I accepted the fact that the Liberia job wasn’t working, after talking with several close friends and advisors, I decided to throw my application into the pile with Peace Corps. Honestly, I didn’t think anything would happen, it was a long shot and a good motivator to get my resume in shape to apply for ‘real’ possibilities.  And even if they did like my resume, the process would take years, so I figured I’d find something else for a few years and then maybe be considered for the DPT position.

And just a few weeks later, I had an offer.  To South Africa.  What a dream!

I love the Peace Corps. I have since I joined ten years ago.  I know it well. I have several friends in this role in various countries, many of whom I’ve worked with to develop volunteer projects in collaboration with Mercy Ships and Orphan Relief. I’ve never known anyone who hasn’t absolutely loved the job.  It’s a big job with a steep learning curve, and South Africa is a beautiful but incredibly complicated place with challenging racial, economic, cultural, and political histories and structures. It’s not going to be a walk in the park, but I do feel like this is a lot smaller of a leap of faith than the last two things I tried.  And I’m SO EXCITED that all the clearances have come through and I can finally get started!  

So once again I find myself transitioning to a new place full of new things and new people and new challenges, but with the added advantage of having visited there several times, knowing the organization I’m joining and the work I’ll be doing, and even having some friends living nearby. I’m working through piles of paperwork and lists and logistics, buying various household items and packing up and organizing what I want to take with me. They will ship my household goods for me, so it’s the first time I’m not constrained by the size of my suitcases, which is really fun!

It's been a frustratingly long season of waiting and wondering and winter.  Springtime is coming. Finally, new things are blooming. Thank you for sticking with me as I navigate this crazy life of mine. Expect to see things pick up a little here on the blog as I have more than just vacation photos and complaints about the north woods snow to share!  Also, I’m posting one photo per day over on Instagram, which I started on Jan 1 this year and it’s been really fun to be able to keep track of my travels that way.  Follow me @krissyonmercy if you’d like!

--k


New York City spring blooms

Where and why.

15 February 2019

I have a super exciting job waiting for me that I can’t wait to start, which I’ll be happy to be more specific about eventually… but it requires a functioning US Government to jump through required hoops and clearances and red tape before I can pack up my bags and start over in a new place once again. When I got the offer in November, we thought I could probably start the beginning of March, but then the government shutdown erased those plans, and now we’re not really sure when I’ll be able to start.  Hopefully April, maybe May.  
I knew I needed about a month to clean out my grandmothers house, which was accomplished and is already sold (wahoo).  And then… what?  An excellent question. 
So I find myself on the Pacific beaches of Costa Rica, spending my days surfing and learning Spanish and doing yoga and embracing la pura vida.  Because why not? 
~~
I’ve surfed before, here and there throughout my life; I was never very good, enjoyed it enough to keep trying but needed some consistent instruction and practice to actually train my body in what it is supposed to do.  
It’s incredible. 
It’s giving up control to the waves, the tides dictating our departure, which this week has been at 6am.  It’s heading out, sleepy but excited, with eight or nine likeminded adventurers, before the winds pick up and the sun makes its full arrival over the horizon.  The sand is soft, and smooth, and packed; we practice a few pop-ups on the shore before heading out into the sea.  The water feels cool on your dry skin but warms up quickly; no wetsuits required here.  Your surfboard slices along the top of the water as you head out to where the waves are crashing in.  
I’m sharing an instructor with one or two other people, and he gives us a few pointers before telling us to get going.  It’s hard.  It’s trying over and over and over again; throwing your full body into it, and falling, and getting pummeled by the waves with salt and sand packing your sinuses and stinging your eyes.  It’s your muscles shaking and aching but getting stronger each day. It’s the giant smile that explodes across your face when you catch that wave, when you stand successfully, riding strong and sure and free.  And then you do it again.  And again. And again. 
And then just as you wonder if you have the strength for one more try, they say it’s your last wave, and you put everything you have into making it a good one; riding it all the way to the beach, shouting encouragement and congratulations to your fellow students, packing your board up and rinsing off the salt water and chattering about this wave or that crash and getting excited to do it all again tomorrow. 
~~
It’s kind of a similar cycle with Spanish, actually.  I came in knowing about ten words, and the first class felt like I was drowning a little. And then you try again, forming a sentence and conjugating a verb and ensuring the adjective agrees with the noun or the subject or whatever it’s supposed to agree with.  Sometimes I get it all right, and it’s like riding that wave; sometimes I end up crashing and feeling a little frustrated with myself but getting back out there and trying again. 
One of the remarkable things about this time is that I don’t have any expectations or requirements or any reason to stress at all.  I’m learning Spanish for fun; I don’t have a test to take at the end or a level I’m trying to achieve, in fact I don’t know when the next time is I’ll need to use it.  I’d like to be comfortable traveling in Spanish speaking countries, but that’s my only goal. Same with surfing; I’m not prepping for a competition or trying to achieve anything, I’m just here to have fun and get better at a different sport.  If I never get past the bunny hill, it doesn’t matter.  And it’s something I keep reminding myself; to not compare my surfing or my Spanish or my anything to another person, to be me, to do what I feel up to and want to do, for me, and for no one else.  It’s not easy, to be honest; I’m a natural achiever, but it’s a good thing for my ego to be doing things I’m not naturally gifted at; no one would call either my Spanish or my surfing impressive, and that’s okay. They don’t need to be.    
It’s so fun to be surrounded by likeminded people; world travelers here for a week or a month or three, from all over, who have been all over, and have fascinating stories to share.  It’s nice to feel like I fit in, because I often don’t, especially in America. Everyone knows what its like to be in a new place and not know anyone; friendships form quickly and plans for the evening come together in the afternoon and no advanced juggling of schedules or commitments are required. It’s easy, its chill; it’s what they call la pura vida, like hakuna matata; no worries, no stress, you do you, find what feels good.  
~~
And so, why not?  
I detest winter with every fiber of my being.  The cost of living is really inexpensive here.  It’s close, so if I need to get back to the States quickly for any reason, I’m just a few hours’ flight away.  It’s a new culture to experience, and a new country to explore.  What an incredible gift. 



Legacy.

30 January 2019


I have spent most of January cleaning out my grandmothers house.

My beloved Nana, my mothers’ mother, central to all of my favorite memories all through my life, lived a full, incredible, inspirational 90 years before breathing her last in October of last year.  

When I was home in November I knew I would be leaving Liberia and wasn’t sure yet what I would be doing next, so I offered to come back and take care of the lifetime of stuff that needed going through and sorting and claiming and tossing, to be ready to put the place on the market.  I hate Minnesota in January (rightfully so… it’s -20 and falling outside right now) but I am never around for family things or to help out so the timing felt right; I’m not a particularly sentimental person and I’m also very much a minimalist, so getting rid of stuff didn’t overwhelm me at all.  It was a puzzle to be solved, with the goal to have everything done by the end of January.  And here on January 29, the Salvation Army truck came and took away the last of the things I couldn’t find a home for.  May they be loved and used and enjoyed, as they were by my Nana, and her mama and nana before her.

And I find unexpected tears in my eyes at the end of an era.



~~~

Nana was an incredible woman.  She married her high school sweetheart, raised three kids, and her husband unexpectedly died while they were still young.  She then put herself through college and got a teaching degree, and became a career woman, pouring herself into little ones in early elementary school.  She loved to travel, going to Florida or Palm Springs or Arizona almost every year for spring break or longer after she retired a few decades ago.   



I grew up about three hours away from Nana, but every family birthday, holiday, or long weekend would find us packing into the car and heading to Nanas house in the winter, or the Lake in the summer (and nana would always be there too).  She always had candy or treats for us, our favorite cereals in the cupboard, made the best egg salad, loved having all her kids and grandkids together, and always fretted we’d run out of food.  (We never came anywhere close to running out of food).

When I moved away and saw less of her, she always made sure I knew how much she loved me, and loved seeing me when I was able to come home.  I began to miss Christmases and birthdays and holidays as my life path took me further and further away, but whenever I came home, she couldn’t wait to sit down and ask me about my life, support me in any decisions I made, and was often more excited than I was about some of the big changes and moves and ideas and dreams.  One Christmas I surprised her (and most of the family), only telling my mom I was coming home from wherever I was in Africa, and walked in on her washing dishes in the kitchen.  She was so surprised, and so happy.  One of the millions of beautiful memories I have of my Nana.

For the last several years, every time I said goodbye I knew it might be the last time.  And then it was. 

~~~

When you say goodbye and a lifetime is reduced to making decisions about what to keep, what to sell, and what to toss, it gets you thinking about legacy.  In the piles and rooms and boxes of stuff that needed going through, we found zillions of photos; many of them photos of great-aunts and great-uncles, great- and great-great grandparents, and other ancestors long gone and nearly forgotten.   It reminds me of a conversation I had over beers at the beach a few months ago, when a colleague brought up the fact that most people cannot name their grandfathers’ grandfather, and indeed, none of us around the table could do so.  Three generations, and forgotten.   Our life decisions feel ginormous sometimes, but our actual existence is but a breath on the wind as time marches onward.  And as someone who likely won’t have kids and grandkids to remember me, I’m asking myself often, what is the legacy I’m leaving?



But also the practical fact: you don’t take anything with you when you die.  And someone will have to sort through it all, and honestly? The vast majority of the stuff that seemed so important and useful and needed will end up either being donated to a thrift store or tossed directly in the dumpster.  I’m already a minimalist, as I live out of suitcases, but if I wasn’t, this process would certainly put me on that bandwagon.

~~~

So it’s the end, of a lifetime and season and era; my last night staying in Nana’s empty home, where so many Christmas mornings were met with exclamations of “Santa found us!” and birthday cakes were consumed and Thanksgiving dinners eaten (pass the mashed potatoes please) and shopping trips planned and memories made and cherished and treasured.

Thank you, Nana.  I’ll love you forever.









Rules of Engagement

19 December 2018


Dear parents (and family members) of overseas development workers, missionaries, aid workers, study abroad students, and other world travelling do-gooders (or people talking about doing those things):

I’ll get right to the point, in case you don’t take the time to read this entire post.  Three rules for navigating relationships with kids/family members who either want to, are considering, or are already living overseas:
  1. Let them go.
  2. Do not make them feel guilty for following their heart/dreams.
  3. It is never okay to ask “so when are you coming home?”


I am SO FIRED UP about this topic right now.   And I know it’s the season of a lot of global workers heading “home” for the holidays, to tense conversations, awkward questions, accusations of abandoning the family, and feelings of guilt for following their dreams.

The stories I hear, they are horrible. And so wrong.  And make me so angry.

As a parent, it’s YOUR JOB to raise your kids to be high-functioning, socially conscious, global citizens.  It is NOT YOUR JOB to raise them to think exactly like you and do what you think is best for them for the rest of their lives. You raise them to believe they can do anything they want or dream of, you encourage them to dream big dreams and be the change they want to see in the world.  But what happens when they feel pulled to global work, to exploring or encountering or trying to be a force for change in areas that need them?  Suddenly that’s too much, it’s too far away, and actually you didn’t mean all those things you taught them growing up. What you really want is them to do those things within driving distance of where you raised them. 

And I get it.  I mean, I get it in that I’ve heard having children is like having your heart walk around outside of your body.  I don’t have kids, so I can’t really fully relate, but I can imagine it’s an incredibly difficult, painful thing to let them soar off thousands of miles away.

But here’s rule #1: If your kid (or family member) wants to or is considering going overseas in any capacity for any length of time:

Let them go.

That’s it. Seriously.

LET THEM GO. 

If your kid wants to go overseas, there’s three options:

  1. They’ll go with your blessing and support and be happy and write/call you often and end the calls with I love you. The experience will open their eyes and minds and hearts in ways no one can anticipate, and when they call you, they’ll tell you about it and you will get to experience a slice of it, too.  When they finish their tour or visit on a break they will hug you and say thank you, and be very happy to share all incredible ways the experience has transformed their hearts and lives.
  2. They’ll say some variation of screw you, go without your blessing and support, not write or call, and will resent your non-support. They’ll probably be a little more reckless, a little more angry, and will still have an amazing time, you just won’t get to enjoy it together with them.  When they finish their tour or visit on holidays, they may give you a hug out of obligation but will not share the amazing life changing stories because you’ll just make them feel guilty for having enjoyed life elsewhere for a little while.
  3. They’ll capitulate to your wishes, not go, resent you and regret not going, and miss out on the incredible life-changing stories and experiencing the life of a global citizen and learning the lessons that only a different culture can provide. And they might hold on to resentment for a very long time.


Absolutely ask questions, seek advice and input from others who have gone before them, talk to parents or families of other aid workers, find a middle ground on how often communication happens, ensure their plans include reasonable safety and security measures, et cetera et cetera… but ultimately, let them go. 

Which leads to rule #2 – at no time, in any way, is it ever going to be helpful to try to make them feel guilty for leaving, or if they’ve already left, to make them feel guilty for being gone (i.e. not conforming to your plan for their lives).

So many stories.  Friends saying they’re dreading going home for Christmas because they know they’re going to get a guilt trip from family.  Laying on the guilt when you see them over the holidays? It doesn’t make them consider leaving the job they love or the country they love or the person they love that happens to live in a different country.  It doesn’t. It just makes them not want to go home.  I heard that several times.

My mom makes me feel so guilty for not being around… it makes me not want to go home.

I know all my friends at church mean well, but when they ask with accusatory tones if I’m going to be home for so-and-so’s birthday or wedding or event, knowing I won’t, I feel like I’d rather be just about anywhere else in the world.

And here’s a real kicker I heard just this last week:

How can you still call it “home” if you’re never there?

Oh man. 

Rule #3: So when are you coming home? Is NEVER an appropriate question.

Global workers have a complicated relationship with the word home.  This word can mean the place where you grew up, or the place where you live now, or any of the multitudes of places you’ve lived in between.  It doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to me and a global worker that it does to you, and asking the question is awkward and challenging and often laced with shame, uncertainty, and confusion about their own feelings and place of belonging. 

One missionary friend of mine shared she’s lived in her current country for twelve years and has no intention of moving anytime soon. It’s her home.  But when she visits the place she grew up she always gets the question, “so when are you coming home”.  Please don’t ask this question, ever.

And because I always try to offer a solution instead of just a problem, here’s some suggestions of conversation starters to use instead of this dreaded phase:
  1. Tell me what you love about that place?
  2. Tell me about your neighborhood or your place of work.
  3. What have been some of the most joyful moments you’ve experienced there?
  4. What have been some of the most challenging moments or adjustments you’ve made there?
  5.  What does a typical work day or work week look like for you?
  6. What do you do with your time outside of work?
  7.  How has this experience changed your world view or approach to global work?


This is just what’s on the top of my head, I’m sure you can come up with more!  But do you see a theme here? Global workers, in general, love to tell their stories, but we’re all used to the glazed-over look of people who actually don’t care or can’t relate or don’t want to hear more than a 30-second overview.  Ask questions that will show your global worker that you actually care, that you want to hear about their lives, and in general, they’ll be happy to share. 

Part of the reason I get so fired up when I hear about family’s guilting global workers is I’ve never had to experience it myself.  Certainly, some members of my family haven’t always been hugely supportive of my choices, though they’re coming around the longer I do this, but they’ve never made me feel guilty for being gone. I miss nearly all the weddings, funerals, parties, and holidays, and they always make sure I know I’m invited and they’d love to see me, but they also say whatever makes you happy and know that I am the most happy when I’m travelling the world and doing good.  They’re pretty amazing, and the longer I do this, the more I realize they are the exception, not the norm.  So for that, family, thank you thank you thank you.  I love you.

So I’ll get off my soapbox for now, but feel free to comment your thoughts, questions, insight, and perspective!  (All comments will be moderated before posting).

This guy never has to contemplate where "home" is! Lucky.

Only sweet.

18 December 2018

It’s the time of the season when I usually write poignant thoughts about the bittersweet feelings I have about leaving.  Again.  

I’ve lived in almost a dozen countries in the last decade and each leaving brings with it the season of last things: the last coffee with a dear friend, the last trip to the market, the last favorite meal of that particular place or country or season, etc. 

I’ve chosen a life of perpetual transition. The nearly constant goodbyes and new arrivals on the Africa Mercy to the transitional life of an expat living abroad, never fully rooted in one place, always restless, the thought of staying in one place for more than a year fills me simultaneously with longing and anxiety. 

It can be an isolating, lonely life; it’s hard to make meaningful relationships with people you don’t see very often or who you've only known a short while.  But the benefits, for me, outweigh that cost; the joy of experiencing the world, of setting off towards new horizons on a regular basis, of trying a new language and a new lunch offering and bringing light to places in need of it make me feel alive in a way I can’t help but want to continue to experience. 

This Liberia season has been a hard one, and if I’m honest, there’s very little bitter in this week of final things; it feels like only the sweetest gift, to look at my time here as a great learning opportunity, to say goodbye to the friends I’ve made, and take the flying leap into the next thing. This time the leap doesn’t strike fear as it often does, only the joy of soaring into the next adventure.  I’m grateful for all the partners I’ve worked with and the multitude of world-changers I’ve had the privilege of knowing this season; thank you for pouring out yourself for the flourishing of this nation and her people.  I’m grateful for my staff, my Liberian family that will always remain dear to me.  And I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned.  Nothing in life is wasted, so I hope and pray I will take what I’ve learned here and continue to grow and learn and flourish no matter where the journey takes me. 

So here I am again, in the time of last things, packing my life into two suitcases to fly out on Thursday for some holiday adventures in France and then in Canada. One foot in front of the other, grateful for the journey, and grateful that I can feel, both the bitter and the sweet, because it means I am alive. 

May your holiday seasons be full of joy, of new life, of hope and celebration and love! 


Sunset in Monrovia

Lost.

12 December 2018

I’m not usually a screen person.  When I need/have time to relax, I’ve always preferred a book over a tv show or a movie.  Any pop culture references to TV shows leave me pitifully lost!  I get bored with TV shows, but can be happily lost for hours in a book. 

So I found it a real shock when, over the last few months, I lost my ability to get lost in a book. I couldn’t engage, I couldn’t concentrate for more than a page before my mind would wander elsewhere.  I was sure it was the book I was reading but I tried several, by authors I’ve devoured in the past, with the same result.  I couldn’t do it.   And I found myself longing for an escape from the difficulties I was facing in day-to-day life, and I found myself turning to the screen. 

For hours. 

For days. 

I’ve never binge-watched anything until I pounded through several entire Netflix series over the course of a few months. It wasn’t cheap, either, with internet paid by the megabyte, but it didn’t matter.  I didn’t recognize myself for many reasons during this season, but that was one of the biggest ones. 

Thankfully, though, I have found myself, in the last couple of weeks, able to devour a book again in the way I used to.  I bought Becoming by Michelle Obama in the Seattle airport and finished it by the time I reached Freetown, Sierra Leone (where the plane stops on its way to Monrovia, my final destination) (with a few hours of sleep and a full-on sprint through Amsterdam during that time, too).  It was great.  I’d definitely recommend it. In the last three days (over the weekend) I read three books, two of which I would HIGHLY recommend: 

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – he was born to a white father and black mother during apartheid South Africa, when that was a crime, and he does a great job of exploring the heinous realities of apartheid while sharing funny stories of his childhood antics.  

Educated by Tara Westover – she was born into a fundamentalist, survivalist family in Idaho, didn’t go to school until she was 17, and yet somehow got her doctorate and studied at Harvard and Cambridge. I couldn’t put it down, and neither could Bill and Melinda Gates, I guess.  So go for it. 

Our world today is deeply divided, with people choosing ‘sides’ based on shared hatred instead of shared values.  For me, I feel it’s more important than ever to read stories of those who were raised and believe different than me; it’s so easy to limit my news feeds and the people I follow or read to just those I agree with or share my belief system… but if I do that, my world gets narrower and narrower, honestly? I’m not interested. I want to experience and be lost in and  visit and witness and serve the whole wide, colorful, different, messy, confusing, beautiful world. I’m hungry for books and perspectives of people who don’t look like me and think like me and didn’t grow up like me. Here’s what’s on my reading list for the next few months (where I should be able to have LOTS of reading time!) 

The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee
Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush
The Last Girl: My story of Captivity and my fight against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Right now I’ve also got Richard Rohr’s advent devotional going, a few pages every day, and I’m also enjoying What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe.  It’s not one that you inhale like a biography or fiction, but one you go back to for both a chuckle and I always learn something new.  

What books would you recommend??  I’m on a biography/memoir kick right now but I’m very open to any genre. Send me your recommendations on Facebook or comment on this blog! 

Thanks, reader friends – Krissy

P.S. In case you were wondering, I did read three books last weekend and recommended only two; the one I wouldn’t recommend in John Grisham’s new book, the Reckoning.  I’m sad to admit it, as he’s one of my long-time favorite authors, but his last several books have been disappointing… the story was predictable and dragged on too long.  It’s never a good thing when you’re thinking to yourself, geesh, I just want to be done with this book so I can move on to something better! 

On flourishing.

10 December 2018

On darkness. 


I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that the last several months have been…. hard.  

The job was not what I hoped it would be.  Instead of an exciting adventure, it’s been filled with unmet expectations and unfulfilled promises and one disappointment after another.  

Life outside of my job has been fine, but not spectacular. I’ve made some friends, but it’s been a grind to get there and this is a very transient community.  Monrovia is also a really expensive city to live in, and there is so little to do that the go-to social engagement with other expats is getting together for meals or drinks and complaining about how hard life is here or how great it was elsewhere.  For someone who longs for depth in relationship, that longing has gone mostly unfulfilled. 

And the rain. Oh, the rain. People told me it was rainy here, and I’ve lived in several countries in Africa and all have serious rainy seasons. On top of that, I lived in Seattle for almost a decade, so I felt I was prepared for what awaited me here.  I was wrong.  It doesn’t just rain, it pours. For days at a time.  The deluges flood the streets and stop traffic and makes what little there is to do in Monrovia inaccessible.  It’s incessant and insistent and isolating; I got here just before the beginning of rainy season, so the vast majority of my time so far has been spent hurrying around to get things done before the rain comes or sitting and waiting for it to end.  

I feel like there’s two options when it comes to fulfilment in life: either you love your job and are willing to put up with mediocrity elsewhere to be able to do it, or you find fulfilment in life outside your job and your job is how you pay for it.  There are pros and cons to each, but in my view either one is fine, as long as you are doing something in your life that you love, whether it be in work or outside of work.  I’ve experienced both in my life and would be okay with either one.  If I loved my job I could put up with a mediocre life outside of work; likewise, if I had a great social life and relationships, I could put up with a mediocre job. Most expats in Liberia would tell you they’re here for the work; they have a job they like or feel is important or is at least worth the cost of living here and being thousands of miles away from loved ones and familiarity and being able to walk down the street without being harassed. 

But the last several months I realized that I don’t have either one; I dread going to work, and then dread going home. This isn’t a recipe for good things, happiness, or joy; it’s a recipe for depression and despair, both of which have been my constant companions. 

~~~

On failure. 

If you know me at all you know I’m fiercely committed to keeping my word. I don’t make promises I can’t keep and I never flake out on my commitments.  I’m whatever the opposite of a procrastinator is; if I say I’ll get something to you by a certain time, it will almost always be early and I’d more likely skip eating and sleeping than get it in late. 

So despite the darkness and general despair I’ve felt here in Liberia, I haven’t considered leaving. I’ve committed to this job for a certain amount of time and that time is nowhere near complete; when I moved here I knewit was the right next thing for me, and I’ve always believed it necessary to rely in the darkness on what you learned in the light.  I knew this was the next right thing, so clearly, the despair and the depression were my own doing; I must not be doing enough to find life and joy.  I started a social facebook group, I joined the local gym ($150/month!) and said yesto every opportunity I could, thinking if I just tried harderI would find my slice of happy and fulfilment here.  I even moved apartments, to a nicer place of my own, to see if that would turn the tide. 

While some of these things did make things a little better, overall I found myself more and more exhausted and depressed at the thought of another year of trying to survive.  I was unhealthy in every way, but it was my own fault.  This is the path I’ve chosen for myself, that I felt God had led me to, and I just need to grit my teeth and survive until I can be free in a year or two.  

And I felt like I had failed.  I am a strong, independent person who has lived in countries across Africa and have done harder things than this.  I lead a privileged life and I should be happy.  And yet, I’m miserable.  And that’s my fault.  I was failing at my calling, at my purpose, as a person.  

~~~

On flourishing.

I heard an amazing podcast a few weeks ago, on how to find joy in the midst of life circumstances. One of the women shared that she had been visiting a friend in the Seattle area and noted how beautiful, lush, green, and flourishing the hydrangeas were at her friend’s house.  In her mind, she compared them to the scrawny hydrangeas in her own backyard in the high desert of Colorado, and thought, climate matters.  

The climate we live in directly affects the ability of our hearts and lives to flourish in whatever circumstances we find ourselves walking through. And not just the weather, though that does have an effect, but rather the climate we create and the people around us create in our homes, communities, and circles of influence.  She went on to talk about being intentional to create a climate of joy and peace and hope in her home with her small children, but this applies to everyone. 

I think about the things that promote flourishing in my life.  Hiking or any kind of immersion in nature.  Running in the dark, cool mornings.  A deep conversation with a friend who I trust and love where we can talk about the things that reallymatter.  Cooking and eating delicious, healthy food. Being a part of a faith community.  Spin classes. Yoga.  Walking.  Working on projects and programs that really leave a lasting impact, surrounded by smart people who challenge me to grow and learn and reach higher and dream bigger and who want to work together to make the world a better place. 

And I have none of those things here. 

And in that moment, I realized, I’m planted in the wrong climate. 

Hydrangeas will never  flourish in Colorado the way they will in Seattle. They just won’t.  And it would be ridiculous to get mad at the hydrangeas.  It’s not a failing on the part of the hydrangeas.  Climate matters. 

And I will never flourish here in the way I would where I have access to those things that promote flourishing, for me.  Those things are different for everyone.  Many people can lead happy, fulfilled, productive lives here in Liberia.  I’m not one of them.  And that’s not a failing on my part. 

And suddenly I knew what I needed to do.  

~~~

On leaving. 

I resigned my position and am leaving Liberia for good just before Christmas. When I resigned, I had no idea what would come next, where I would go or live, what I wanted to do, or even who I am anymore.  

I’ve always been the strong, independent world changer who always says yes to an adventure and follows wherever it seems God is leading.  By leaving this place, with no grand next adventure lined up, suddenly I was faced with admitting I’m not strong and independent, I’m miserable and desperately lonely, and I’m not sure if I want to do this type of life anymore. But if I don’t, who am I? What will people think? And will I ever find the joy and fulfilment I once had?  The last two jobs have seemed perfect, and they’ve both been disasters. How could this have happened? Is God even real? Am I destined to make the same wrong decisions over and over again? 

But the thing is… I’m trying.  I’m doing something. My last two jobs have not been complete disasters; I’ve learned so much about myself, about what kinds of things I need to thrive and flourish, about what I don’t want to do; important questions I need to ask and promises I need to have in writing before jumping into the next thing. Some people figure these things out earlier in their careers; and a lot of people don’t find the true, real right thing for them until they've been at it for many years, I just happened to stumble upon it on the early side but didn’t have a great definition of what it looked like until I knew/experienced what it definitely did not  look like. 

And I keep telling myself that the failure, for me, isn’t trying and it not working out; the failure for me would be in not trying at all.  Or maybe, to just grit my teeth and accept I’m just supposed to be miserable, or accept that my health and wellbeing and flourishing are less important than the commitment I made to stay here.  Neither is true.  This last season has been one of the most difficult in my life, but I don’t regret it; most of what I have learned I wouldn’t have known without trying, and I’m grateful I’ve learned what I have in a season of months, instead of what could have been years.  Leaving does not mean I’ve failed, but that I’ve tried my best, I’ve learned a lot, and I’m brave enough to step out of it even without the security of another job lined up. 

~~~

On the future.

One friend, after hearing things weren’t everything I hoped in Liberia, asked me so when are you going back to the ship? 

It’s a good question and one that's been asked by several.  I loved my time on the ship. I felt alive and a part of something incredible. I learned so much, was stretched and strengthened and experienced some of my life’s greatest joys while pouring out myself for the patients and health care workers we served.  Since leaving I have been looking for that, again.  And I haven’t found it. 

So a return to the ship or to the Mercy Ships organization would make sense.  And I tried.  I let several leaders of the organization know that I’d like to return and would be interested in what might be available for someone with my skills and abilities and experiences.  And I got no response.  It’s disappointing, for sure, but I’ve always said I hope to return to Mercy Ships someday when the time is right, and it’s just not right, right now.

So I’m not going back to the ship, at least not for the foreseeable future.  Maybe, hopefully, someday.

First, I’m going to hop to a few different countries for Christmas and New Years; making happy memories with people I love and enjoying the beauty of the season and of shared adventure with friends.  Then I’m going back to Minnesota for a little while to help my family sort out some things. I’ve got some cool trips planned and fun adventures on the horizon, just beyond what I’m comfortable sharing right now, but just stay tuned here and you’ll find out soon enough.  I won’t be bored.  

~~~

On hope.

Springtime is coming. 

It’s coming in the literal sense, of course; as a native Minnesotan, we always long for the longer, warmer days of spring.  It always does, even when, in the long, dark days of winter, things can seem hopeless. But like the sun rises every morning, the spring always comes. 

If I’m honest I’ve been angry at God for what feels like putting me in a season of death and despair and darkness with no end in sight. But as I continue to put one foot in front of the other, I begin to feel a thawing in my heart; like the first day after a long winter when the temperature hits close to freezing and the snow starts to melt and you can hear the drip, drip, drip of the water off the roof into the deep snowbanks on either side. That drip is always a magical sound, one stirring up hope in the heart after a long winter, reminding you things won’t be cold and dark forever.  It hasn’t been a season of death and despair… it’s just been winter.

Springtime is coming.  The season of new life, of flowers, of flourishing, of light, hope, and fulfillment of the promises left long ago as the weather began to turn cold and dark.  This story isn’t complete, there is still reason to hope, love always wins, and good things are yet to come.  May it be so. 



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