29 December 2014

Gift [gift] noun
1. Something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present.
2. Something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.

This season brought something out in me that I didn’t like.  I’ve wrestled with it and cried and complained and whined and wrestled some more, and then of course thought why don’t I write about it so the whole world can have a window into my very pathetic-ness… Because I know I can’t be alone in this.

Gift giving, and gift receiving, somewhere along the line, was hijacked from what was once intended to be a beautiful thing; a way of showing love and affection and appreciation, voluntarily without payment in return…

It has turned into a joy-stealing competition and an open door for self loathing, pointing out my  failures and inadequacies.

Wow, seems a lot harsher when I put it in black and white, but I can’t soften it… Because it was so true in me this year… And I don’t want it to be true any longer.


There are some amazing people out there with incredibly giving hearts who have no ulterior motive in gift giving except to bless and love on the recipient.  And that is so beautiful and a lovely reflection of the heart of God, who gave and continues to give freely with no strings attached.

Gift giving is one of the five love languages, a fabulous book if you haven’t read it… And I will let you in on a little secret – its not mine.

I’m not a natural gift giver. And while I try to receive them well, this year I found it especially hard, as all I could think was oh no, I didn’t get her anything! Which quickly morphed in to I’m a terrible friend.


It looks different everywhere… Back in my previous life it looked like that deep need to one-up last year’s gift. It might look like the need to be the one who spends the most, or the one with the handmade pinterest paper and perfectly tied ribbons; the parents who are frantically searching for that one thing that their child must have this christmas;  or carefully comparing each receipt, making sure the same amount is spent on each child or family member, or making sure everyone has at least a few big gifts, so one doesn’t feel left out or less loved because of the size of the pile of presents.

Christmas and the heart behind the exchanging of gifts was long ago hijacked by marketing schemes and toy makers; it’s a good business model and I don’t fault them for that, having worked retail much of my younger days I know how important it is, this isn’t a soapbox against marketing or presents or santa or any such thing.

It’s a soapbox I’m standing on to ask, why? What is our motive?

One would think it would be different on the ship, and it is to some extent. We don’t have a huge amount of stuff, the ability to get it or the space to put it.  But the same question remains.

I know there were  crewmembers who were frantically writing out more christmas cards at ten thirty on Christmas eve, because they saw they had received gifts or cards from someone and hadn’t given them anything. There were comments in the hallways about the huge piles in front of some peoples’ doors, other comments like what if they have a small pile? They might feel bad! So lets go dig around under the bed to find something to give away to someone they barely knew just to make sure no one felt bad.

To which I ask… When did our self worth become tied to the size of our Christmas gift pile?


I see the same thing happening concerning birthdays on the ship, I feel like somehow its become fact that the value of a crewmember directly coincides with the extravagance of hallway decorations that greet them that morning.  Over the two and a half years I have been here, I have seen door decorations get bigger and bigger and spread into hallways and offices and entire sections of the ship.  And really, let me reiterate, I have no problem with this at all! If you want to decorate for a friend, by all means, go for it.

But I just want to ask as i often do, what is the motive?

When I saw someone just a few weeks ago frantically getting some friends gathered to throw together some paper and glitter and balloons to get on someones door because… Heaven forbid… Its her birthday tomorrow and we didn’t know!!! The despair in her eyes and the panic in her voice seemed exceptional for the circumstances, as if somehow by not knowing when someones birthday is we admit that we are a failure as a human.


I’m not really a terrible gift-giver, its just that I don’t want to be dictated to by marketers or Hallmark that I need to love and appreciate my friends and family on one particular day over all others.  I’ve written before how I feel about Valentines Day, how I don’t ever want to be with someone who feels the need to give me flowers or candy on that particular day. I don’t want my friends to feel loved and appreciated on Christmas, I want them to feel loved and appreciated every single day.

I want to give them a birthday card on a random day in the middle of the year, because I want to celebrate the fact that they were born, not just on one day but on any day.

I want to give a gift to a friend because I know they love it and because I love them, not just because the calendar says its December 25th and that is what I am supposed to do.

I want to pick up special things for special people when I think fondly of them, when I see something special that I know they will love, and give it to them when we can enjoy the gift together.  Not buy gift cards online and send them in the mail because I life a couple thousand miles away.  That just feels heartless.


The best gift?

It's different for different people.  But for me, the best gifts I have ever received and treasure more than any other are words.

Words that are written out of love, treasured and holy.  I can’t remember the number of people who gave me peanut butter m&ms or various other sweets last year for christmas, but I absolutely do remember the special cards, because I still read them.  Put a sticky note or a scratch piece of paper on my door with sweet words and I guarantee I will save them.  There is no better response to feeling bad about your state of affairs than to say it is written… I am loved.

Sometimes I feel bad just offering words. Like, sorry I can't be cool enough or rich enough or clever enough to give you a real gift, but all I have to offer is my heart… Er, my words.  But just today someone told me how much they have treasured something I wrote for them, and I am reminded how life giving words are. When I was away from the ship for several weeks with advance, a dear heart friend asked what I would like for her to send me.  Could you just send me some words, please?  Honestly, I love getting care packages in the mail, but what really really warms my heart and encourages me in this marathon called life? Words.


My birthday is coming up… and I want to give every single person reading this permission to give me nothing. My worth is not tied to my gift pile or the number of people at a party or the amount of decorations on my door.  I don’t need any of that.  (Especially not balloons. I don’t like balloons.)   But the flip side is, if you do want to give me something, I will try really hard not to be the grinch I was at Christmas, unable to receive anything well.  (Sorry friends.)

But this post was not intended to be about my birthday.  This post was written to give you, and me, permission to live and breathe and give, free of fear.

Generosity is a beautiful thing. It is a reflection of the heart of God.  Goodness knows I live on the generosity of others, its my very existence. Gifts are a beautiful thing, with the right heart and motives.  And my attitude and motives this season were not good.  So, here is my proposal to you, my friends…

I won’t give gifts out of fear of being a bad friend or daughter or human.
I wont give gifts because someone sometime in history decided I should on one particular day.
I will celebrate and love my friends and family the best way I can, not just one day of the year but every day.
I will receive gifts with love and appreciation for those that are giving, and I will not feel like a failure as a friend or human for not giving something in return.

May you know the beauty and love of our generous Father this final stretch of 2014. Xxk

The Thrill of Hope.

24 December 2014

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

~from O Holy Night, penned by John Sullivan Dwight

I’ve got so much to write I can’t figure out where to start, so instead of pulling together my own words out of the jumbled mess I start with these beauties.  These holy, inspired words that have been rattling around incessantly since the beginning of the Advent season, the season of waiting.  The words encouraging my soul to feel its worth, the words that regularly bring me to my knees in reverence to the king who was born on this day, words that for some reason resonate more deeply this year than ever before. Today it’s a different phrase of the same haunting lyrics that has got a hold on my heart.

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

Weary [weer-ee] adj.

                -Physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.
                -Fatigued; spent; tired; empty.

My heart is weary. Last week was one of the hardest weeks I’ve experienced in a long time, for various reasons to be explained at a different time and place.  I’ve been pushing hard since I left Gran Canaria to start Madagascar advance and haven’t really stopped more than a day here and a day there; in the marathon that is this life and this season, I’m still running but at a very slow pace and it’s time for a fuel break.  I am not alone in this; just about every person I have talked with on the ship in the last few days has made mention of the weary they feel.  My lovely friend Deb captured it beautifully here, the same words haunting her that have haunted me.

Thankfully, I know the bigger story at play.

Though I feel completely empty, my heart rejoices with hope – in my small story, this is the promise of some time away, of mental recharging, of relaxing with friends and a good book and no demands or devices or expectations or emails. And that is wonderful and I can’t wait. 

But in the bigger story, the story of ages and centuries and the rise and fall of the human race, hope is worth rejoicing in.  The world is weary, life is just hard sometimes, we find ourselves separated from our creator in a way that was never mean to be and left us fractured and broken and desperate… for hope. If we can get our focus off ourselves for just a few seconds and realize the magnitude of the beauty found in the manger, the promises he brought on his sojourn here on earth, we would not be able to contain the thrill that is hope. 

Dwell on that for a minute.

Do you feel the thrill? The wonder of it all? The joy that is ours to claim, from a baby born in a barn who came to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free. The hope that there is more than just this, that we are part of something bigger than our small stories; and I know my weary heart will soon be renewed, as will the weary world, one day.

A new life brings hope. And hope breathes life into weary hearts.  Beauty, in life.

Fall on your knees.

And the weary world rejoices. Oh, that we might know the depth of this night, the significance of the baby we celebrate together, the thrill of hope that he brings for you and I.  This is my prayer for you, this holy night, this night divine.

Much love to all, and Merry Christmas.



21 December 2014

I've come back to the ship from a long ten days in Antananarivo running a course and meeting with some governmental officials... I promise I will write more about that trip, and the work I get to do, but today I managed to serve coffee in the morning, get about four hours worth of work done in two, and then got to make lefse!!
If you know my family at all you know this is a staple throughout the Christmas season.  It's a Scandinavian thing, a thin potato pancake that my family usually eats with butter and sugar. Well, this is my sixth Christmas season in Africa and the first time I've gotten to be a part of making some of this delicious treat! It was a fun time! And knowing my family is together today eating lefse too, on the other side of the earth, makes my heart both miss home but be happy because at least we have one thing in common today. :)
I am sure my sister's lefse will be much prettier, as she actually has an official lefse stick and griddle, but here in Africa we make do with pancake turners and fry pans.  It was absolutely delicious. Thanks to Ann-Marie and Tom for making it happen!!


And the Soul Felt its Worth.

14 December 2014

Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
                ~from O Holy Night, penned by John Sullivan Dwight

I can’t stop thinking about these words.

I love Christmas carols… there is so much depth to them.  They aren’t just some words we sing in this particular season, they are words that were written to commemorate the depth of the season, the reality of what it means to have a Savior.

But these words in particular this year are resonating, deep into my core.  The world was fallen, then He came… and the soul felt its worth.

Sit with that thought a minute.

Until recently these were just words, sung but not dwelled upon, hidden in a season full of songs that are rich with meaning but sung from memory while thinking of other things.  At first it doesn't seem like a big deal.  Like, huh? That’s why he came?  But the longer I sit with it… the longer I can’t get it out of my head, the longer I realize… That is why he came.

It’s easier to think of in regards to someone else.  When I think of my friends, the people I love, that’s what I long for and pray for, for them – that she would just know and understand how amazing she is!  That she is so deeply loved for who she is, that she is so beautiful in her pursuit of God… I just want her to know that!
Because of Jesus, we are deeply valued and deeply loved, regardless of sin or circumstance or decision or life choices or situation.  And we are worth fighting for, to come out of the shell of a person we have become due to those things.  You, the real, deep, truest version of you – is what he came for.  And he wants to set you free.

I came to proclaim the good news and set people free. ~Jesus (Luke chapter 4)

And really… my heart wants it too.  I read this line… and the soul felt its worth… and I feel a tug in the center of my being; a longing, an ache, a whisper of could it be?  I want that… I want my soul to feel its worth.

I know I am just beginning to understand the depth of this.  I’m starting to taste what true freedom is, and how much worth my soul has.  How feelings of inadequacy, failure, feeling generally worthless… how those things have plagued me for too long, how untrue they actually are, how much my heart matters to God.  So does yours.

If we know who we are… if we know our worth, as sons and daughters of the King… we can do absolutely anything.  We can walk with our heads high and not be prisoners of insecurity and comparison and other insidious things that can take us right out of life to the full.  If we know our worth… we can move mountains.

And that is the miracle of the savior born in a barn.  We were once lost, then…

He appeared…. And the soul felt its worth.


12 December 2014

What do I actually do here?

It’s a great question.  Quite valid and I apologize for not being more clear more often about what kind of work I am up to.  I manage to post photos of tropical getaways and funny animals and different foods; but I’ve not managed to write anything as of late about what I am here doing, what I have been called to do, what I have been supernaturally equipped and wildly blessed and monumentally honored to be a part of.   It’s one that will take more than one post to answer, so prepare yourselves.

The short answer?  I manage our Medical Capacity Building programs.

The better answer? I get to be a part of transformation.

Transform – v. [trans-fawrm]
1. to change in form, appearance, or structure; metamorphose.
2. to change in condition, nature, or character; convert.

Everyone on the Africa Mercy gets to be a part of transformation, within both of these definitions.  We see it every single day – in our patients.  We see a young man who must hang his face to hide the tumor that once defined his future leave our hospital with his head held high.  We see a young girl who cannot run and play with her friends learn how to use her new legs and dance her way home again.  We see a woman who has lived in hiding for years because of her incontinence have her fistula repaired and her outlook on life completely renewed.  We see a little baby with a broken smile made whole, whose mama can take him out in public again and who will never know the rejection that was once his future.

It’s incredible.

I pray that those beautiful eyes and hearts will find new hope; that their transformation would go beyond physical, that they would rise up in the greatness they are created for, and that they would lead their nation into a future of abundance and favor and hope.

But there is more.

Because if all we did was come in and fix the broken faces and legs and hearts, that would be incredible.  What is even more incredible is…. that isn’t all we do. 

The reason we are able to come in and transform patients?  The care they need is either not available here or they can’t get to it or afford it.

My dream for this nation, and every one that we visit, is really to put myself out of a job. 

I dream of a day when every person in Madagascar is able to have access to the care they need.  I want to see a transformation in this country that means that Mercy Ships will no longer be needed to bring hope and healing.   And I think it is possible.  Because transformed people can transform nations.

The transformation that I get to be a part of is among these incredible Malagasy healthcare professionals with whom I have come to know and love.  It’s not a transformation that happens overnight.  It all starts with relationship – the thing I have been doing since my feet first touched this land just over three months ago – building relationships.  I’ve seen too many broken programs that come in and try to fix problems without first building relationships with the people.  Those are the programs that don’t last beyond a week after the team departs, or the clinic that is beautifully renovated falling into disrepair just a few months later.  Relationship is key, and it builds up from there. 

I had the privilege of sharing my heart with the greater Mercy Ships organization a few weeks ago and talked through the process of transformation.  Here’s the summary:

It starts with relationship.

Once a relationship is built, over time and commitment, you build a level of trust.

Then, and only then, it’s time to impart knowledge/skills/attitudes (teaching or infrastructure).

That step, in collaboration with relationship and trust and more relationship, can lead to behavior change.

True transformation comes when you have all of these things, plus… Behavior change is good, but anyone can grudgingly wash their hands or try to be nicer to patients.  Behavior change within a relationship with a level of trust, and a pinch of faith, can transform a person from one who just follows rules to one who dreams big dreams; believes passionately and strongly in improving things that can be improved, encouraging and championing change in their immediate environment, and pressing forward to change systems and structures and ultimately a national health system.

Transformed people – transformed hospitals – transformed national health system.

It’s possible.

That’s enough words for today.  I will endeavor to write more about specifically what that looks like for me, in the everyday and in my dreams for the future.

Dr. Andry, one of our education participants, with Dr. Frank and a patient. 


Calendars, postcards, and dreams

01 December 2014

I just spent the most incredible weekend in the most beautiful place on earth.  It's seriously a place of calendars, postcards, and dreams - crystal clear waters, sunshine, amazing friends to share it with and an amazing God to thank for it.  I've not been this relaxed since summer and I'm already looking forward to the next time I can find myself in this place called paradise. 

All these photos courtesy of the ever lovely Jen.  I know there are other good ones out there that I must collect from fellow adventurers, but here's a taste. 

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