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.


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


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. 

We trying.

06 December 2018

Here in Liberia, when you ask someone how they are doing, sometimes they say fine and sometimes they say alright but often they say we trying. 

It took me awhile to understand.  

The first time ma Mary said that to me, I said something like huh and she repeated it.  I thought for sure I'd misunderstood, but it was early in my time in Liberia and I didn’t understand about half of what people said on a pretty regular basis.  Huh and leaning my head in indicating my lack of comprehension was a very common posture in the first month or two I was here. 

But with time and effort, more began to make sense and words and phrases found their place in the expanse of phraseology, diction, grammar, terminology, expressions and languages constantly growing my neural network. I began to recognize the phrases and syntax of expression that were important and those that my conscious thought could discard and eventually I found myself speaking and understanding easily and freely. 

And recently I asked ma Mary how you doing and she replied we trying, and it resonated deep within me.

We trying. 

It says we’re doing what we can, putting one foot in front of the other, proceeding with each minute of life and breath and purpose as best as we are able given the environment we live in and the challenges we face in every one of those minutes. 

It says we haven’t given up because things are difficult. It says we aren’t complaining because the path doesn’t look like we thought it would or should or was promised.  It says things aren’t amazing and awesome and full of the abundance and favor and blessing we wish it had, but we’re moving forward anyway. 


If you asked me today how I’m doing I’d say we trying. Things aren’t amazing and awesome; the path doesn’t look like I thought it would or should or was promised… but I’m doing my best to put one foot in front of the other and proceeding with each minute of life and breath and purpose.  

But I think life to the full isn’t about always living in abundance and favor and blessing, though it is recognizing those things in the everyday slog, as we put one foot in front of the other as best we can and keep moving forward.  It’s not letting trials and challenges and frustrations stop your forward progress; it’s progressing forward despite these things, and thanking God and the universe for the privilege of life and breath and love and hope and a future.  

Sunset in Liberia

Between dogs and wolves.

26 September 2018

I grew up and lived the majority of my life in the far northern United States, never further than a few hundred miles from the Canadian border.  As you move away from the equator the dusk and the dawn stretch out longer and longer; the first hues of pale blue lighting the horizon long before the actual sunrise, and summer evenings dawdle as they dwindle, holding on to the day like a small child fighting sleep for as long as possible before darkness finally falls.  

This space between darkness and light is one of wonder and awe.  I loved hearing the morning songs of the birds, the rustling in the leaves, the sounds of life awakening and a new day dawning. I hold close fond memories of playing cards late into the night on the front porch with the mosquitos buzzing angrily outside the screens and the loons calling between the lakes as they settle in for the night.  The French have a beautiful, poetic phrase for this space in between: temps entre les chiens et loupswhich literally translated means the time between dogs and wolves.  It’s the twilight hours when you can’t quite tell the difference between dogs and wolves, or maybe it’s the time in between the dogs barking and the wolves calling, but either way, even thinking about it brings a familiar ache to my belly of longing for that magical feeling of the world holding it’s breath for just a moment longer.

Here, near the equator, it’s a different story; the night falls very quickly, the daylight appears almost abruptly.  One second I look out my window to complete darkness and seemingly a few seconds later it’s full-on daylight. The sun comes barreling in to the day like a bull in a china shop and it’s as if it can’t wait to escape the heat and humidity of the day (I can relate) and plunges us all into darkness as quickly as possible. Without the spot lights and street lamps and gajillions of gigawatts of power at our disposal that you might have elsewhere, the darkness here is really, really dark. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this time, this space between darkness and light, in our own lives.  When we’re feeling the darkness closing in, and we try to find the light… sometimes it’s like equator light; we say a prayer or make a decision and the darkness lifts immediately.  You take the risk and open your heart to the possibility of being loved and everything changes in a flash.  You get honest and admit your struggle and suddenly you have no desire to continue living in darkness. You decide one day to give up whatever vice is holding you, any one of a hundred possibilities, and for whatever reason, you stick to it.  Forever. The abrupt change from darkness to light can be disorienting, but you can also clearly see the difference between dogs and wolves where to place your feet and walk towards a future of free from that particular darkness.

But sometimes, a lot of times really, we don’t get that equator light.  We get a peek of light on the horizon where we take a breath and hope but it’s a long, arduous journey through the space in between.  Sometimes we can’t see where to step or where the path leads or the difference between the dogs and the wolves, and it’s really tempting to just sit there, refusing to move. What we don’t realize in that is the light won’t come if we aren’t moving towards it.  The sun will always rise eventually because the earth is in constant motion towards the light.  It’s not always a given in our own lives. 

Humans are excellent at ignoring, avoiding, deferring, or defying logic, and truth, and hope, and all the other components to life to the full, freedom, joy, and light.  I’m usually a decisive person, and won’t hesitate to make a change if I know the outcome will be good, no matter how painful or difficult the change might be.  I don’t like times of uncertainty, of not being able to tell the difference between dogs and wolves, but sometimes we can’t just flip a switch.  

It’s not a secret the transition to this season has been long and arduous and I just wish the dawn would rise for heaven’s sake! But there’s always beauty to be found, in the time between dogs and wolves.  

It's where the most beautiful sunsets are. 


18 September 2018

Home is a tricky word for the global development worker. Home could mean the house you grew up in, or your passport country, or the place you currently lay your head, or any one of the dozens of places you have lived in your lifetime that captured your heart in a special way. 

Home for me is Minnesota, where my biological family is. Home is Seattle, where my heart family is and where I lived for many years and where I’m still an official taxpaying resident. For many years home was on board a ship somewhere in Africa, my heart still longs to return there someday. When I think of home and my heart aches a little, I still think of Boston, though I lived there less than a year, southern France, a place I stayed several times, and Colorado and Florida though I’ve never lived there; they all contain people I love, and when I think of home, I think of being with people I love and who love me; that feeling of safety and belonging and being known, regardless of where it is, feels like home. 

It hasn’t been the easiest transition, coming to this place I am now living but don’t call home, and someone said to me yesterday when I was thinking longingly of a getaway weekend to the States, “I think you’re just really homesick”.  

I’m in my tenth year of living overseas, and it honestly never occurred to me that I could still be homesick.  When people have asked about that over the years I’ve always said nah, this is just my life, I don’t really feel that attached to one place or long to return to another. Like somehow after a certain number of years or moves or goodbyes you can turn off the emotions.  But when she said this to me it was like, duh, oh yeah. That’s it.  I’m homesick. 

And not for a certain place but for that feeling of being known and loved and belonging. 

I was watching a vlog from a friend who was talking about making friends in a foreign country. He said give it at least six months to make any progress on the friend front and I was like WHAT? Oh man… If you know me at all, you know I do things quickly. I make decisions quickly and expect things to fall into place quickly.  And until now I’ve been pretty successful at making and finding community in my own timeline.  And I’ve met some great people here, don’t get me wrong; friends I’m sure I’ll keep in contact with long after we’ve all gone our separate ways.  But I haven’t felt at home

So this low level despair I’ve been beating myself up over? This longing that I have been angry at myself for feeling… How can you be unhappy when you are so privileged?  By finding it’s name, it’s no longer this scary monster that I’m simultaneously running from and trying to appease.  It’s homesickness, and it’s totally normal.  I’M NOT FAILING AT LIFE, I’M NORMAL!  And that, my friends, feels like a profound relief. 

Let us find it.

14 September 2018

The sea felt calm this morning. 

If you’ve ever lived on or spent time near the ocean, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s moodier than a teenager.  These last months, during rainy season, the sea has felt angry; its color dark with sand and silt and other debris stirred up from within its depths, depositing huge heaps of seaweed ripped from its roots by the relentless current and cresting and crashing, while eating away at the shoreline as if it were desperate to consume anything and everything in or near its grip.  

If I’m honest, that’s a bit what this season has felt like for me, too; angry, ripped from every known and comfortable thing and deposited on to these shores gasping for breath, with dark waves crashing around and over me relentlessly. There’s definitely been great moments, like a stunning sunset after a rainy day while sharing drinks with friends and soaking in the breath of hope it brings for a better tomorrow. But those wisps of hope have been fast moving and fleeting, with angry foamy crashing waves coming up behind and washing away the remnants into the deep, dark abyss. 

(And lest you feel the need to remind me I chose this life, I wasn’t ripped from anything: Yes, that’s true.  I chose to come here.  But what I anticipated the transition to be like (a few challenging weeks followed by finding my tribe and settling in) and what it’s actually felt like (ripped, deposited, and gasping) has been markedly different, difficult, and jarring.)

But this morning I woke up to only the sound of my air conditioner and not the steady drum of rain on the roof; shifting the curtains, I peeked out and saw what appeared to be blue sky with clouds tinged pink from the rising sun.  We’ve had a few nice sunsets at the end of rainy days here but I can’t remember the last time I woke up to sunshine; I was so excited I called a taxi and grabbed a few necessities and headed to the beach. (I had already told my staff not to expect me today; after a long few weeks of running trainings and hosting guests I needed an extra day off this week)

As I walked towards the sea I felt my blood pressure drop and my lungs fill with the salty damp air; the sea was calm, more beautiful than I’ve seen in months. The colors around me were so intense it felt as though God had cranked up the color saturation and I found myself gasping at the beauty of it all.  The sea was blue, the sand free of the debris that was piled up the last time I had seen it; the palms were rustling in the breeze and the grass seemed to be reaching towards the brilliantly blue sky, every blade desperate for the sun’s rays as if their very existence depended on it… because it does.

Not unlike what I was feeling, as I settled in with a coffee and my journal.  The sun always comes out, eventually.  Soon, or so they tell me, rainy season will be over and every day will be like this; but this particular vibrancy you can almost feel to your marrow only comes after the rains.  It was breathtaking. And I felt myself release some of the tumultuous dark sea that had been churning in my soul.  Hope does that. Hope gives you the chance to breathe deeply and believe that the seas won’t always be angry and the rains won’t always be falling and the lonely won’t always be present and the questions won’t always be haunting. 

I sat there this morning, sipping my coffee and breathing in time with the calming seas, until a few hours later, the clouds began to roll in again. 

That happens, too. The sun will always come again, but so will the clouds, the storms, the angry seas and the difficult seasons of wondering and wandering and hoping and dreaming. 

This is what life is. Putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of what happens to be going on in the sky, trying to make something good of what I’ve been given and making the world a little bit better when I leave it than it was when I came in.   By being angry at the sky and believing that everything will be better once the rains stop or I can live on my own or I do this thing or that thing or whatever I’m grasping at for hope on any given day, I’m missing out on the good that can come even through the rain. 

And I want to find goodness in every day, not just the sunny ones. Because it’s there.  I have to believe that it is.  

So I’m choosing to hang on to the peaceful seas and the vibrant beauty of this morning regardless of the state of the sky or my emotional state or the state of the union or anything else might be the object of blame... in the end all things will be made new, more beautiful than the most vibrant of sunrises and more peaceful than the stillest of mountain meadows.  In the meantime, there is beauty and love and goodness to be found in the gift of today and every day.  

Let us find it, and celebrate. 


21 August 2018

This life is one of (ridiculous) contrasts. 

I got back to my West African home late on Wednesday night after a magical week in Paris with perfect, sunny, cool (for me) weather.  I came back to torrential rains that haven't ceased since the drive home from the airport. 

#blesstherains is trending in my life, and I wish I could mean it, like actually bless the rains, instead of hate them.  It's incessant, and after five days of solid, non-stop downpours, all I could think about was how soon I could look for a job elsewhere, how much I detest this place, and was ready to give up and crawl into bed forever.

And then this morning, I woke up to only the sound of my air conditioner and not rain on the metal roof above my head.  It was still dark out but after a shower and ingesting some bran flakes and coffee I could see actual blue skies lighting up the soggy ground. No longer wanting to stay in bed, I was thrilled to walk to my first meeting and got here an hour early.  I'm sipping coffee and gazing at the little bit of blue skies I can see above me; and while I see the rain clouds rolling in on the horizon, I'll take every little shot of hope and joy I can right now.  

And I sit here and think, my life is pretty great.  Monrovia isn't so bad.   Shaking my head at the ridiculousness of the contrast, I choose to be grateful for today, and for the shot of hope that it won't always be rainy and miserable, and take a picture to remind myself in the next deluge that blue skies will return someday.  

On Walking.

17 August 2018

The pit of despair. 

I knew it would be hard. I’ve lived in various countries and started over in new places almost constantly for the last ten years, and I know that 6-8 week mark is one of the hardest ones. 

The magic of being in a new place and surrounded by new people is totally real and totally addicting and really fun, most of the time. But after six or eight weeks or so, that magic has started to wear off; people aren’t as thrilled to see you as they were in the first weeks, and now they’re much more likely to be pleading for more money or more things or asking yet again if you could please get them a new iphone because the phone they have just isn’t working well.  (nevermind that you’ve never had a new iphone in your life). 

Reality starts to set in about life in this new place.  Nothing happens quickly; the child in crisis you were contacted about in the second week you were here and were really happy to see rescued and cared for is still in the temporary limbo they were in three months ago.  There’s always an excuse; the rain, no gas in the car, the staff is away at a training session or on vacation. Another ignored phone call, another excuse, another delay, and you wonder why on earth you even bother.

Decision fatigue is real, and you actually think longingly back to the days where your sole job was washing dishes; when no one was dependent on you and demanding of you and there wasn’t a decision to be made except which music to play while washing those dishes.  If you’d only realized then what a gift that time was. 

Surface level friendships are abundant, and really fun in those first few weeks. But you’re a person of depth and long for conversations about more than where everyone has lived and complaining about local staff or work ethic or lack of integrity. But getting beyond those things seems to be a challenge you haven’t yet figured out how to overcome. 

You can’t walk down the street without being harassed and someone trying to steal your bag.  There isn’t much to do except go out to eat, and your wallet and waistline aren’t super thrilled about that.  You miss the gym back home that was air conditioned and full of class options; everything is expensive, nothing is easy.  

And you realize you came at just the wrong season; the incessant, drenching, flooding rains that fall every single day keeps you inside and alone, limiting social engagement and exercise options and interactions with nature and vitamin D therapy, which just adds to the weight on your shoulders and makes staying in bed a seemingly better option than just about anything else. 

And you’re feeling all these things, realizing the excitement and bliss of the honeymoon has worn off and the next year or two or three of your life spreads out before you in a long, dark, lonely, moldy tunnel, and you can’t help but wonder if you’ve made a huge mistake or misheard God’s voice calling you here and you are faced with the decision to either leave with your tail between your legs in shame or grit your teeth and muscle through and try not to feel along the way. 


The choosing.

I knew it would be hard. I knew every one of these things would happen.  And I do have a choice, no one is keeping me here against my will. I have a lot of choices, actually.  And I’m determined to be as mindful and intentional as possible.  

I’ve made the choice to stay.  A million years ago someone told me to trust in the darkness what you learned in the light, and I’ve tried to live by that ever since.  Emotions are powerful but not good decision makers; I knew a few months ago this was the right choice for me, and if I can shelve the emotions and the lonely and the frustrations and the despair, I still believe this is the right choice for me. This is why I committed back before starting that I wouldn’t even consider looking at other jobs for at least a year; the grass is always greener on the other side of the ocean and just glancing through job postings would only leave me feeling more dissatisfied and frustrated and not help at all in engaging fully in the present.  

Having that decision out of the way leads to the next one; I can choose to be miserable for the next year of my life, or I can choose to do everything in my power to find joy and fulfilment and hope and happiness.  I choose the second one.  

I know all the right things to do.  Eat well, exercise, cut back on the mindless scrolling of the social networks, get enough sleep, talk to friends and family, go out and be social even when it sounds like the worst idea ever.   It’s another season of saying yes, of not letting fear be the boss of me, of putting one foot in front of the other and choosing to do the next right thing. 


The rising.

Life experience has taught me when I’m feeling something, like finding it challenging to make friends or feeling desperate for social interaction but not knowing how to make it happen, I’m probably not (read: never) the only one.  So I can choose to wallow and whine and wish someone would do something about it, or I can be brave and do something about it.  So I started an expat social group on Facebook, and organized a few get-togethers, and, surprise surprise, found a whole community of people who were looking for the same thing.  

I’ve found plenty of things to dislike about my current city, but instead of dwelling on those things, I’ve decided I’m going to purposefully seek out all the great things about life here.  I even started a blog about it –  Intentionally choosing to be grateful and to identify all the goodness around me has really helped me to get my eyes off my little depressing story, and I’m excited to discover new great things over the coming weeks, months, and years.  

And the rainy season should be coming to an end soon; roads will become passable and beaches a common Saturday excursion once again.  More expats are returning to the city from their time away; I’ve found people to run with and to eat with and play games with, and am looking forward to book discussion groups and regular yoga practice and surfing once the seas have calmed.  It’s a relief to feel like I’m on the upward climb once again, and looking forward instead of dreading the future. 



I read something a year or so ago that was an iteration of: self care isn’t about pedicures and bubble baths, it’s about setting up a life you don’t feel the need to escape from.And I loved it and grabbed on to it like a drowning woman to a safety buoy.  For most of my adult life I’ve never longed for escape because they’ve been built in to the system of life; I’ve been ridiculously blessed with work that I love and environments that value sabbath rests and seasons and boundaries. And as psalm 1 reminded me yesterday, we’re not meant to be fruitful every day of our lives; we’re meant to be fruitful in season. 

Knowing myself and knowing that 6-8 week pit of despair would come, and having something to look forward to would be helpful in navigating the darkness, I booked a long weekend away at the 14-week mark.  And that was high on the list of smartest things I’ve ever done in my life.  I just returned from a magical time away in Paris; extravagant, yes, but desperately needed.  It was filled with delicious food, with long walks, with naps and monuments and laughter and blending in and not being harassed and beautiful weather and exploring. It was absolutely everything I needed it to be.  

And my real hope was that I would embrace the fullness of joy in every moment, and not dread returning to my current home in West Africa.  And that hope was fulfilled.  As I sat on the plane on the way back across the continents, my heart was filled with contentment for what had been and looking forward to what is to come.   The pit of despair is officially behind me, and for that, I’m profoundly grateful. 


The next steps. 

It’s exactly twelve weeks now until I return to the States in November for some work stuff and family time.  I’m really excited about some of the projects I’m working on; here’s a blog I wrote for my organization about one of the big ones: A rousing success.  I’m looking forward to spending time with some friends here and expanding the circle and getting back into the rhythm of life.  The rains should be lessening over the coming month, and I can’t wait for more beach days and to try surfing again.  And yes, I’m counting down until I get to see friends and family and blend in again; sometimes gritting your teeth and pushing through is just how it goes, but knowing a break is coming makes me feel like anything is possible.  

I’m walking forward, one foot in front of the other, into the next right thing.  Sometimes the path is cobblestones, and you have to be careful not to twist an ankle.  Sometimes it’s sand, and walking can be challenging and a little painful, but also can include stunning sunsets over crystal waters.  Sometimes it’s a beautifully manicured lawn, where you can take off your shoes and press your toes into the grass.  That’s my personal favorite.  Sometimes it’s pouring rain and you’ve got to stop until the floods recede.  Sometimes it’s flat, wide pavement and you can run unhindered and unafraid.  It takes all kinds to make the world and the journey; I wouldn’t trade the adventure for anything, and look forward to uncovering the treasures in each walk I get the privilege of experiencing. 

La coulée verte, Paris

Proudly designed by | mlekoshi playground |