Saturday, November 28, 2015

Next.

I just spent my seventh Thanksgiving on the African continent.  (note: yes, a previous post said eighth. unintentional math fail. apologies to every math teacher I ever had)

2009 Benin
2010 Benin
2011 Sierra Leone
2012 Guinea
2013 Republic of Congo
2014 Madagascar
2015 Madagascar

This is not the life I dreamed of as a little kid.  This is not the road I ever imagined I would walk.  Looking back at the twists and turns and surprises I feel nothing but gratitude.  Maybe that is why I have made it back to the states occasionally throughout the last seven years for other holidays but never Thanksgiving.

So what is next?

If you remember this post in 2014 we were supposed to be in Guinea, and then in Benin, but ended up in Madagascar.  This stunning country was never on my radar and while I still grieve for Guinea I am eternally grateful to have experienced this incredible place and her beautiful people, her beautiful beaches, her uniquely different culture and customs and weather patterns and personalities. The relaxed pace of life in this small coastal city is entirely different to the chaos of the large port cities in other countries. There are so many things to do and places to see and beauty to experience, it has been such a joy to be a part of this place for two years.

We will continue to serve here in Madagascar until we sail away in June, 2016, for a stop in South Africa and then onward to our next destination.  Benin.

When I left Benin after serving there over two years filled with blood, sweat, tears, sickness, love, pain, and joy; when I said goodbye to the people I had loved on and lived with and poured myself into; when I flew away into the next adventure, I never thought I would return.  I didn’t really want to return.  And when we were scheduled to return in 2014 I was simultaneously sick with fear and filled with excitement.   I left a piece of my heart in Benin, my first Africa experience, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  So after making peace with it all in 2014 and looking forward, after that trip was cancelled in 2014 I once again thought the return to the place that tried to take me out but only made me stronger was slipping through my fingers.  I put all that hope on a shelf, wondering if it would ever be needed.

But here we are, pulling it back off the shelf and dusting it off, planning our next field service while entrenched in the current one; we are scheduled to sail into Cotonou, Benin in August or September 2016. I’m excited.  I’m excited because much of what was so hard before – seeing so much need and not being able to do anything about it – won’t be as hard this time.  I’m excited to visit my village and other villages and help make surgery and childbirth safer.  I’m excited for $0.25 beans and palm oil sauce at Mama’s mud hut kitchen; I’m excited for beautiful fabrics, for Secret Shawarma, and Beninoise in a bottle; and most of all I am excited for the beautiful men, women, and children who will be able to experience hope and healing for perhaps the very first time.


It’s a privilege and an honor to continue on this path. Thank you for your support – financial, emotional, and physical – and encouragement as I continue to put one foot in front of the other and seek to honor God with every step.  


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Beauty in the Broken.

I was in Berlin, Germany last May and visited the Hillsong church for a Sunday morning service.  As with any Hillsong church you ever have the chance to visit, the music was incredible.  We sang in English and there was one song that really stuck with me.  It repeated over and over that “God will not be shaken”.  One of the leaders stepped up in the middle of the song and said something about how we sometimes sing songs that say we won’t be shaken, but really? We will. It’s God that won’t be shaken.  Then we continued singing the song… and it haunted me.  I googled the lyrics, what I could remember of them, for days and weeks afterward.  Even just a few weeks ago I was trying to remember them to try to google them again and still couldn’t find the song.

Then, I purchased the new Hillsong album on Itunes and had it on in the background while I did schoolwork – and what song came on?? The one we sang in Berlin!  There it was.  And it was still powerful.

Now in God we trust, in His name we hope
I know, God will not be shaken
God is here with us, He’s already won
I know, God will not be shaken

(In God we Trust, Hillsong)

~~

I will be shaken. 

We all will.

There is not one among us who, regardless of how incredible and strong and vibrant and solid and definitive our faith in God is, wouldn’t be shaken by a simple phone call. There has been an accident or It’s cancer or There’s been another attack.

I am shaken.  Syria. Mali. Paris. North Minneapolis. Brussels. Myanmar. New Zealand. Liberia.
And then if I take my eyes off the crying, broken world and put them back on my own little story? I am still shaken.

I can go from happy to tears in approximately .005 seconds.   Honestly.  A friend chooses to spend time with someone else.  Words somehow get twisted between speaking and hearing and misunderstandings open the door to doubt and fear and despair. Someone makes it clear they don’t really like me. I feel used, excluded, unwanted, lonely, unseen, unloved.

I am so easily shaken.

But my eyes aren’t supposed to be on my crying, broken self.  They aren’t supposed to be on the crying, broken world either. 

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus. Hebrews 12:1-2

What a relief!  I don’t have to keep staring, appalled and open mouthed, as the world falls apart yet again or as I fall apart yet again. 

I can fix my eyes on something else.  Something that is beauty within the broken.

I have to.  The alternative is just too awful. I can’t stand looking at the broken around me.  I can’t stand looking at the broken within me.  I have to look at Jesus, who sees the good beyond the broken, can bring peace to chaos, hope to the hopeless, and bring joy out of despair.  I can’t do those things myself.  Neither can you.  Neither can movie stars or politicians or aid workers or pastors, no matter how good of a heart they have or how good of ideas they have or how many supporters they have or how much money they have.   They, too, are shaken.  Just like you and me. 

~~

The older I get the more I realize that Jesus really is always the answer.

He is the only thing that will not be shaken.  Let us fix our eyes on Him. Let us hold on to His hand throughout the shaking and the shifting and the burning and the crying.

He’s already won.

It’s a relief

Even as I write this, likely the most bluntly Jesus focused blog I have ever written, I feel the peace in those words.  It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about him. It always has been, and always will be.

To the only God our Savior be all glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now, and forevermore. Amen.  Jude 1:25

xxk


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Seasons.

Yesterday I had a really great day.

That might not sound like a really big deal.  You probably think I have a lot of great days. And I do. I tend to write about those.  The highlights.  The encouraging and the profound and the exciting and the cool.

But you may also have noticed I’ve been rather quiet this last several weeks on the blog.  I haven’t had a lot of great days.  It’s been really difficult season, actually.  So the fact that yesterday was a really good day is worthy of celebration.

~~

It has been a season of knowing.

I find myself quite often lately wondering what my future holds, how long I will do this thing, where we will sail to next and how do I fit in the grand scheme of things.  

I start to get anxious when I think too far ahead.  I am coming up on my eighth thanksgiving in Africa and I never fathomed my little adventure would turn into what it has.  People ask how long will do you do this or where do you see yourself in five years and I just shrug my shoulders and say honoring God with my life and helping people, somewhere in the world.  If I try to define the structure any more than that, my heart starts to beat a little too quickly and the doubt starts to creep in and the darkness whispers who do you think you are and I start the downward spiral.

So instead of wondering how I fit in or where I belong in the coming months and years; I stop wondering and start knowing – knowing exactly what honoring God with my life and helping people looks like tomorrow.  It looks like shining light in dark places. It looks like giving the person who is in need in front of me my full attention.   It looks like speaking truth and life, be them words of greeting or encouragement or correction or blessing.  It looks like embracing my gifts and abilities as well as my faults and failures, fully aware that both are required to be a member of the human race.
I don’t need to wonder and worry over the future. I know what tomorrow looks like. That’s enough.

~~

It has been a season of climbing.

It might surprise you unless you have known me awhile, but I have always really struggled with feeling like a failure.  I know it is ridiculous and irrational and all evidence is to the contrary. But it still plagues me.

God, I am sick of seeing everything through the lens of failure. Please help.

I feel like I have prayed that prayer a million times and yet keep tripping up.  So then I think maybe it is unbeatable, maybe I won’t or can’t or shouldn’t, and if I let my thoughts drop even lower and deeper I wonder if God is maybe holding out on me, like a mean father holding something precious just out of reach, laughing as I jump and reach and flail and fall trying to get to it. But I know that the heart of my Father is one that is good; and maybe it just takes a million and one or a million and a hundred or a million billion prayers before the breakthrough comes, but I know it will come. And it is worth pressing through and pursuing. 

After all, to see the view from the top of the mountain you actually have to climb it; which is easier for the smaller mountains but the higher ones will take grit, determination, drive, a few bruises and a bloody knee; some stretches where I am gasping to even take in enough oxygen to keep my heart beating, let alone keep climbing.  I think about stopping and I dream about stopping but something within me keeps me pushing harder; maybe it’s the promise of a good view, or a nap in a hammock, or pancakes and syrup, which are pretty good things. Maybe it’s freedom.  That’s definitely worth pursuing.  I know what it is like on the smaller mountains and that knowledge is what keeps me pressing forward towards the summit.  People tell me mountain climbing is like a drug; once you see the top once you can’t wait for the next time.   I think that is true in the figurative too.  I know that I will make it to the top of this mountain.    And I will celebrate and enjoy the view, but know that I will not be satisfied and will start looking towards the next peak to conquer.

~~

It has been a season of learning from kids.

I realized I have the tendency to make things so much more complicated than they need to be.  A friend is a bit short in response to something and I immediately wonder if they are upset or did I blow it or that thing I said two weeks ago that they said didn’t offend them really did or maybe I did something wrong earlier and upset them or if only I could do something to make it better all would be okay but I can’t and wow what a failure I am as a friend.  Sigh. 

There are two little girls on the ship that keep coming to mind – A and E, both kindergartners.  If I went up to E and asked her why do you spend time with A she would say because she’s my friend. Simple as that. 

She’s not wondering and thinking and assuming and spiraling.  If they disagree, they get upset for like thirty seconds… and then they move on.  Guarantee they aren’t thinking about it even fifteen minutes later, let alone weeks like I tend to do. The recurrent wow you really blew it isn’t plaguing their thoughts as it does mine.

We’re all really just kids, trying to do the best we can here on earth.  I’m trying to simplify my thought patterns and use E and A as my teachers.  Say what we mean.  See the best. Assume others say what they mean.  If they don’t, that’s their problem, not mine.  Believe the compliments. Receive the problems with grace, sort things out quickly, don’t hold grudges and for goodness sake don’t waste time with mental gymnastics that are based far from reality. 

~~

It has been a lonely season.

Work has been extremely busy. And when you live where you work and your friends are also your coworkers, there is really no way to stop.  Still, I love what I get to be a part of.  When I am not working I am doing school work.  I love it, too, for the most part.  I love learning and I love being able to apply it to my work.  Academic writing is getting easier and I am doing well.  All good.

Many people ask or wonder out loud how on earth I can handle a very demanding job and being a student at the same time.  Honestly? It’s a lonely existence.  It’s the social that gets cut, and I knew that when I decided to pursue graduate school.  Because the only other thing left to cut is sleep, and if you know me at all you know that would be a disaster from day one.  So most evenings you find me either at my desk in my office or at my desk in my bedroom.  This isn’t a season where I meet and pursue relationships with new people. And that makes me a little sad.   And is rather isolating. 
I know that I know it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the right thing to cut. But that doesn’t make the lonely any less painful.

~~

It has been a season of beauty.

What we get to be a part of, throughout the difficulties and pains and tears, is incredible.  I get to be a part of hope and healing and shining light into dark places.  Last week I was walking down the long hospital hallway, my mind on the to-do list and not on where I was.  A girl in pigtails with a toothy grin and her legs thigh-high in casts hobbled up and grabbed my hand.  We looked at each other, my conscious snapped to attention, and held hands and walked together all down the hallway, neither saying a word and both grinning like there was no tomorrow.  She got to where she was going and let go of my hand and waved as she turned into her ward and I kept walking towards my office.  It was a beautiful moment that just reminded me why we do this thing.

The projects I help with are incredible.  Read this about the checklist project, a blog I wrote a few days ago for Mercy Ships – https://mymercy.mercyships.org/blogs/45/85 


Last weekend I went away and while I still did school work away I spent a significant amount of time connecting with friends and reveling in the beauty that is the Madagascar rain forest.  I forget how much I need beauty until I haven’t had it for awhile.  I’ve also started making it a habit to watch the sunset at least once a week.  Such beauty deserves an audience. 






Thank you for your support and love through all life's seasons. xxk