It's when....

26 January 2014

It’s when I’m assaulted by hot, sticky, salty-fishy-diesely-smelling air as I saunter down the gangway and to the dumpster (skip, bin, whatever culturally-appropriate term you choose), greeting the Gurkha on duty with a smile and a ‘thank you!’ on my way down and then back up. 

It’s when I actually pay attention and notice it’s exactly one hundred steps from my ‘front door’ (of my cabin) to my workplace,  (my desk) and think about how much time I spent commuting back in America.  It’s also when those hundred steps takes me over a half an hour for all the greeting and hugging and good morning!’s and how was your weekend?’s. 

It's when a group of friends  sing "Happy Birthday" to someone in a minimum of four different languages.

It’s when I spend my Saturday evening laughing both with and at my friends as they compete in the ship version of the “Not-So Newlywed Game”, featuring couples from Australia, the US, England, the Dominican Republic and Holland.  (the Dutchies won it…)

(Photo credit to Natalie Bullock)
It’s when I get to meet Katie’s dad who grew up in the interior of the Ivory Coast and we share a few anecdotes about life in the bush and my Peace Corps experience, and the genuineness with which he says “I’m grateful to be in a room full of heroes”… and he’s actually Wess Stafford, president of Compassion International, and kind of a big deal, but really, I know him as Katie’s Dad who’s awesome.

It’s when I am conversing with a visitor from Kinshasa and the entire ship tour comes as easily out of my mouth in French as it would have in English, with barely a second thought. 
It’s when I am greeted with excitement and gratefulness that the café is open; when I make and serve a crewmember his/her coffee drink and we can see a dove in the swirl of coffee and foamy milk (if you squint and hold your head the right way and think really hard about doves); when any crewmember takes the first sip of the coffee drink I prepared and their face lights up with a big grin, as if saying yes! It is EXACTLY as I hoped and dreamed it would be!  
(Photo credit Shea Payne)

It’s when a friend asks me how I slept last night, and knowing it’s not just polite chatter; she knows I’ve had issues with sleep and is genuinely interested in my answer, and when I say I slept great! she’s excited for me and we celebrate together.

It’s these moments, these priceless treasured moments, that cause me pause; it’s when I am overwhelmed with gratitude, with amazement, with utter abandoned joy that I have the honor and privilege of serving on a hospital ship in Africa. 
I had the opportunity to share my story a couple times whilst I was back in Minnesota and there were a few surreal moments during those talks that I almost felt disembodied, as I rattled on about life on a ship and this patient and that country, and watched the facial expressions of my listeners.  They would smile and their eyes would widen and say things like wow that’s so amazing! You’re incredible! You’re an inspiration!  and I would almost get angry at them, but not really angry; I just emphatically tried to point out that no, I’m a real person, I’m not quite sure how I ended up here, and I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other just like you are… I just happen to do it in a rather unorthodox environment.  But then, as I read my own story in print or I hear others, heroes of faith and service who are also my coworkers and friends, share their stories which are inexorably intertwined with mine, suddenly I can agree, not that I'm amazing but this, what I get to do…. Yeah, this is amazing! And then… How can I possibly be so blessed? 

I didn’t choose this life for myself, it was chosen for me, before the beginning of time, and I simply said yes.  Never in my life did I think I would ever fill up a passport, but as I paged through mine after it was stamped at JFK it occurred to me that if my summer travel pans out as I hope it will I might need to get a new one before fall.   It’s exciting and adventurous and I think my time with family reminded me of that, but also reminded me I’m missing out on a lot; birthdays, weddings, first steps of nieces and nephews, and mom’s pot roast (among many other things)…  And I think I need to be reminded of both, from time to time.  Both the blessing and the sacrifice, the joy and the not-so-joyous moments, that make up this thing called life to the full to which all of us have been called…. I just happen to be, as I like to call it, in a bit of an unorthodox environment.

Blessings on your Sunday, and wherever you find yourself this day, make sure to seek out the joy in it.  And have a cinnamon roll.
(photo credit to my sister Karin who makes amazing cinnamon rolls and posted this photo to my facebook wall just to remind me of what I'm missing out on...)

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