If the incessant attack of jackhammers and grinding metal on my eardrums and the lingering scent of burning plastic and fuel oil weren’t enough to bring on a headache, the constant unsteadiness of a ship that is swaying far more in this port than it ever did at sea and the lack of forward progress on some critical work projects certainly did. By mid-afternoon my confidence fizzled out under the weight of responsibility; some real, some imaginary, placed on my shoulders and multiplied by the absence of key leaders and the presence of my own insecurities stirred up again, reminding me of faults and failures that were long ago forgotten and forgiven.
I knew what I needed – I crawled my way up to the open expanse of deck 8, that space that calls to me when the unseen becomes suffocating; a place where I can hear God’s heartbeat and feel his presence in the cool wisps of the evening breezes. I inhaled deeply of fresh, salty air, the wind ruffling my hair and bringing up goosebumps as I settled into my chair.
The usual sounds of children playing and sunset conversations have been replaced by a solitary hum from the refrigerated container in its temporary home on the deck. I prop my feet up on the railing, feeling the vibrations of the engines that never sleep. I lean my head back, looking up at the cloudy sky, and let my mind start to wander… Things weren’t all right with me, in that moment, and knew I couldn’t go back in until all was well again.
This season is hard… harder than I thought it would be.
I want more than anything in this moment to go down to the wards full of patients; to be greeted with bandaged faces and toothless smiles, little ones grabbing on to me to paint my nails and braid my hair and slaughter me for the twentieth time in Memory. (Seriously – I’m a relatively smart thirty something that gets absolutely killed by four-year-olds at that game. It’s incredible. And humbling.) Images and memories of patients I loved and stories I cherished come drifting through my mind, and my heart aches.
It’s Tuesday night - life group night. I miss them. I miss their stories, smiles, hugs, prayers, conversations, running the race of life and community and faith and freedom… together.
I’m trying to pursue excellence in my work but my time is running out and several key leaders are on holiday. I haven’t slept well the last few nights. I miss my roommates. I’m freezing cold all the time. The tears begin to sting in my eyes…
My heart is longing for a different season.
But the reality is that where I’m from, no matter how much I desire to see snow in July or flowers blooming in January, neither is going to happen.
This season is not for patients, small group, or African heat. This season is one of maturing, of roots growing deeper and confidence getting stronger and dependence on that which remains, the One Thing, regardless of season or situation.
What we focus on, we empower. What we behold, we become.
As I’m mentally chewing on these things, that quote slithers it’s way in to the mix of words jumbled up in my consciousness. It’s a gem, that one, and complete truth. As I think about these things I’m missing or frustrated with or upset about, I realize I’ve already given them far too much time and energy. I need to refocus. So I plug my ipod into my ears and as Chris Tomlin drowns out the hum of the container I offer all these things up; myself, my tears, my friends, and my frustrations. I lay them down and refocus my gaze on that which I want to empower in my life – God.
I think about the next few weeks that I’m spending in the US and try to find words to describe what I’m feeling. Excited, of course, I can’t wait to hug friends and family and break bread and share stories and just do life with the people I love that I don’t often see. But there’s a hint of nervousness in that as well. Allow me to be honest: There’s often an awkwardness in trying to connect with people whose stories have taken them in a completely different direction. People change and personalities clash and somehow Seattle is home and Minnesota is home and yet the Africa Mercy is really my home now and not everyone gets that. Feelings get hurt and people forget you and somehow no one ever really truly understands, to the depth my heart longs to be understood.
I’ve changed, too. I’m not the same person that said goodbye last September. I hope all the changes in me have been for the better, but can I really walk it out in the authenticity that I long for? Or will the old whispers of fear and insecurity come crashing back in?
What we focus on, we empower.
Instead of giving those fears and insecurities any more lip service, I breathe deeply and hand them back to God. He hasn’t brought me this far to abandon me. This trip is a gift, and I will embrace every precious minute of it. I want to squeeze out every drop of glory I can; out of renewed relationships, exciting new challenges, joy and laughter and sunshine (or not) and all that will be shared, and the stories that are being written.
I feel the nerves and anxiety wash away. What was once faces of patients I longed for and friends I missed was suddenly replaced with faces of all the awesome friends I will get to see and the kids I get to serve at camp and the congregations I get to speak to and share life with and the family I get to love. I begin to pray for them, and I can feel the tears have dried on my cheeks as I can’t keep from smiling. I can’t wait. A laugh escapes my lips as I realize the 180 I’ve done in the last hour or so up here on the deck.
I am so grateful for this season.
Instead of longing for a different season I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude and thankfulness for this season that I am in. I’m so thankful for all I get to do and see and say and be. I’m so grateful that I call this place my home and that place my home and really, if home is where the heart is, and my heart is fully alive, won’t home be wherever I am? Or maybe, home is wherever I belong. Today, I belong here, on the Africa Mercy. Next week I belong in Seattle. Two weeks after, I belong in Minnesota. And then I’ll belong again back here… eventually maybe back to there, or another place, or wherever God calls me to be… That’s home.