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. 



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. 

Yes. 

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. 







Homesick.

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. 


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