Worth the Brave.

21 February 2016

After a week in Cameroon I’ve finally found a few minutes to capture a few thoughts… My last blog post says something like nothing that is really worth doing comes easy.  Cameroon must be really, really worth it, because it seems very little here comes easy.


My flight left Antananarivo at 3am which was less than ideal, but coffee in Nairobi was delicious and everything was on time. Thankfully my bag arrived just fine in Cameroon so I could clock at least one win for the day; immigration, money exchange, sim card purchasing, phone and internet installation were anything but straightforward and entirely frustrating for this exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated foreigner.  Thankfully I had familiar faces come to greet me and help as I couldn’t seem to string together more than two or three coherent French words.   We finally gave up on getting the phone to work and headed into town. Once I got to my hotel, my taxi driver didn’t have change and the front desk clerk was rude and unhelpful.  The AC didn’t work in my room and it was hot and there were no more rooms available and they had no fans either; the crick in my neck from sleeping in planes was nearly unbearable.

Until this point I had held back the tears but suddenly the dam broke and I sat on my bed and sobbed.

This is what brave looks like sometimes. 

It looks like wanting nothing more than to curl up in the fetal position under the covers and call in sick. It looks like tears and snot and sweat and fears and doubts and a heart crying out, why? and what was I thinking? and I can’t do this!

One of my favorite quotes in the world is from Little Women; Marmee is speaking with Jo who finds herself often on the fringe; misunderstood, questioning who she is and what she is meant to do with all her strange conglomeration of personality and skills and passions and desires that don’t fit in a traditionally manufactured social class or career box.  Jo laments Why can’t I just have a normal life?
Marmee’s response: You have so many extraordinary gifts, how can you expect to lead an ordinary life?

Oh, my heart.  Those words might just as well be straight from the mouth of God. To the depths I know they are true - I have been given extraordinary gifts, and I desperately want to steward them well.  It’s an incredibly brave thing to rock up in a foreign, third-world, non-English speaking country and survive, let alone accomplish anything. 

Brave also looks like feeling all of those ugly tear-stained emotions and deciding not to give up. It’s knowing, regardless of how I feel, that I can do this… that everything will look better after a meal and a liter of water and a long night sleep.

And it does.


After that first day, things really did get better.  I spent much of the first few days at the West Africa College of Surgeons meeting, connecting with health professionals from across this region; asking questions and explaining who we are and what we do and talking quite a lot about hope and service and love.  

I’ve met some extraordinary people who are passionate about surgical safety, and about serving the poor, and about transformation.  I’ve talked about everything from anesthesia to nursing care to maintenance of equipment to surgical site infections and long-term follow up.  It’s never boring, that is for sure.  I’ve collected a ton of information about the health and educational systems here, so that we can tailor our programs to really meet their needs and have the maximum impact possible for those in the greatest need here in Cameroon.  What an honor.

"What you do is one of the most honorable things in the world." - Dr. Kassama, who worked with Mercy Ships when it was in The Gambia many years ago, and still tells stories of patient's lives transformed.  


I’ve been thinking about trust quite a lot.  Running in the back of my mind - much like a background program on your computer runs without you really acknowledging it – in the realm of awareness but not active processing, is the knowledge that just by the nature of my skin tone and my gender, at any time and in any place, I am a target. 

I was riding in a taxi to the local hospital; when I got in to the taxi I told the driver which hospital I wanted to go to, and we agreed on the price, and we took off.  And about ten minutes into the journey, the thought passed through that this thing that I do requires a very high level of trust in humanity; I would have no idea if he was taking me in completely the wrong direction, to a dark back alley somewhere, or if he has a criminal background.  I don’t know if he has ever had his brakes looked at or if he has enough fuel to get to my destination or if the tires have any tread left in them.  I have to trust all of those things and more.

This is also what brave looks like.  It looks like trust.

Trusting that I haven’t been brought this far to be abandoned by the One who holds the universe together and who knows exactly which taxi I am in and knows the heart and the motives and the number of hairs on the head of that driver and every other driver on the road that day.  Trusting my own instincts and experience and intuition and the voice that whispers this one is okay and sometimes no, something isn’t right here. 


I was staying in the hotel this week with a friend and colleague in the business of transformation, Sarah.  Sarah and I ate breakfast together most days, and every morning I would ask What are our goals for today?  Knowing my tendency is to feel like a failure regardless of accomplishments, it’s so helpful to have an outsider perspective and put words to goals and have someone discuss them at the end of the day.  So we would say things like I hope I can get some information about this-and-that and I want to either have or schedule a meeting with so-and-so.

And they always included survive. Because it is no small thing to make it through a long, hot, dusty day in a foreign land speaking a foreign language where nothing really comes easily.  And at the end of the week, we had a 100% winning streak in this regard. 

And as I was thinking about this, I was also thinking about the masses of people who read this blog and follow me on Facebook and Twitter and friends and family who tell me how amazing my life is.  And I think, it’s a pretty incredible thing that I get to do. But I also think, no calling is greater than any other calling.  I think survive is a pretty noble, brave thing for any one of us humans in this broken world.  I think about my people with young children and people with chronic illnesses and people who struggle with feeling valued in their work and people who struggle with feeling valued in their life and I think every one of us should pat ourselves on the back and celebrate that we survived one more day.  Goodness knows, I think my particular strain of brave has nothing on mothers; I would much rather get out of bed and face whatever it is I face here than face that. And I see updates from friends battling chronic illness and I think about how easy I have it…  So hats off to you, human; whoever you are, wherever you find yourself today, well done on surviving another day.

Getting out of bed deserves a round of applause.  I applaud you.


Friday the sky was blue; a welcome respite from the brown haze that has blanketed this country for this season called Harmattan, where dust from the Sahara coats every surface and crevice along with your nose and lungs.   Survival requires maintaining a delicate balance of liquids; too much and you may have to find a ‘bathrooom’ (shudder), too little and basic mental processes start to fail.
I was waiting for my teammates to arrive and was just watching the hustle and bustle of West Africa.  

It’s incredible how a foreign land has become so comfortable.  Mamma’s in brilliantly patterned dresses with babies in a sling on their backs, their heads bobbing as they doze in the afternoon heat; sitting under a colorful parasol to block the sun, selling green oranges to passersby and waving off the flies.  Boys on their way home from school, pushing and shoving and daring and laughing and teasing in the worldwide universal boy language.  

Young men and women looking at their smartphones; it’s remarkable how Africa has really skipped an entire generation of technology.  Land-line phones and personal computers were completely passed by; cellular networks are often better here than in the West, making Facebook and email readily accessible to those who can buy a few dollars of pre-paid credit on a cheap knock-off smartphone.

The dust is red and cakes around your toenails after just a few steps; the honking of taxis and the smell of rotting fruit peels and body fluids and burning trash complete the experience that is somehow beautiful to me in a completely inexplicable way.  The only way I can explain it is I was meant for this world, and this life; it is worth the tears and the doubt and the trust and the brave. 

Sunset over Yaounde.



12 February 2016

A glance at my calendar indicates somehow in the last few weeks the passage of time has inexplicably increased in velocity; February 12, and my Christmas cards are still sitting in a bag, unwritten and unsent.   

I found myself thinking “there is a holiday around here, isn’t there?” and then noticed yes, Valentines Day is coming up, and once again I am grateful that I have missed the craziness of commercialization in America that has complicated the celebration of something simple (love).

Someone asked me a question a few years ago that just popped into my head – they asked if I wished I had someone to give me flowers on Valentine’s day.   

On Valentine’s Day this year I will spend the first half of it flying across the continent; an early start in Madagascar will lead to sipping coffee in Nairobi, Kenya which will lead to dinner in Yaounde, Cameroon, with friends and fellow world changers from across the globe.

So the answer is no, I don’t think I will miss the flowers this year.  Not that I would miss them any year. (See this post for further thoughts on Valentines Day)

But I get to celebrate love.

I get to represent this organization that lives and breathes and oozes love out of every person and program and mission and adventure. 

I get to experience a new country and a new culture and ask people how can we serve you which secretly translates to how can we love you.

I get to feed the fire inside me that craves adventure and new horizons; I get to spent two weeks exploring and encouraging and connecting and asking and explaining and wondering and hoping and dreaming big dreams for a country that has yet to meet the hope and healing we have to offer.

Sometimes I can’t help but fall to my knees in gratitude.

It will be hard.  It will be long flights and 3am departures and pushing and shoving in baggage claims and customs lines.  It will be a whole lot of people and noise and sweltering heat and taxis without upholstery or windows that roll down.   It will be stretching and exhausting and exhilarating and while I am not unaware of the difficulties that are before me I still find myself falling to my knees in gratitude.  Because while it is not easy it is an honor and a joy; and really, none of the biggest things we are ever called to do come easily.  If it were all easy, it wouldn’t take any courage, or trust, or faith. I like all those things, and if I’m not mistaken, they are key ingredients to life to the full.

So today finds me needing to do about two weeks’ worth of schoolwork, cleaning my room, laundry, packing, writing a work blog, writing this blog, handing over some work details to a colleague, and painting my toenails… because heaven forbid I might run into someone important and not have a fresh pedicure. 

So I’m going to get moving on those things. 

And for you - regardless of where you are; in whichever country or city or home, in whatever relationship status or family situation,  in your hopes and dreams and joys and sorrows… wherever you find yourself,  may you celebrate love, life to the full, and all manner of goodness and joy this Valentines Day, and always. 


from lovewallpapers.in


01 February 2016

                Regret [ri-gret]
                v. to feel sorrow or remorse for (an act, fault, disappointment, etc.)
                n. a sense of loss or disappointment

The phrase ‘no regrets’ has been known to escape my lips, and I was talking recently with a friend about regrets and her desire to live with no regrets…  And you know what? The more I think about it, the more I realize that actually, regrets aren’t a bad thing.  To feel sorrow or remorse for something? That is actually what makes you change behavior in the future.  And that is a good thing.

I do have regrets.

One time I was sixteen and driving my siblings and myself to school.  We passed an elderly woman with curly white hair and a blue coat who had fallen, or tripped, or been pushed, or for some reason or another was on her hands and knees on the side of the road.  I didn’t actually notice her until we had passed, and then did a double take in my rear-view mirror.  I made a split-second decision.  I didn’t stop. I remember that moment so clearly, that I was faced with the choice to stop and turn around and help her, or keep on as if I didn’t notice.  I kept on, rationalizing the decision with not wanting to be late for school or miss out on a good parking space or some other equally lame, but at the time seemingly important, reason. 

I remember the moment as if it were yesterday and I regret that I didn’t stop. She was someone’s grandma and I would hope to heaven and back if my grandma was on her hands and knees in the street someone would help.   I still think about that woman and pray for her and hope to heaven that someone stopped.

Now, the difference between regret and guilt and shame are important.  Regret means I feel remorse about what happened.  And I know in the future I would handle the situation entirely differently.  Guilt isn’t necessarily bad either – guilt is aligned with regret, in that guilt is the fact that there was something I should have done but chose not to – I am guilty of ignoring the issue. And I feel remorse (regret) about it. 

Shame is an entirely different emotion – shame is not saying what I did was bad it is saying I was bad.  Shame is the darkness that threatens to swallow me as I think of that story (or any story) and it’s whispered phrases like what a horrible person, how could you do that, unfeeling monster, you are a despicable excuse for a human being.

Now that might sound a bit dramatic for this particular example, but I have many, many more.  So do you.  I lied to a friend.  It was a poor choice and I regret making that decision.  And the multitudes of similar decisions afterward.  I told a friend someone else’s secret and it got back to her.  It was devastating.   I hit ‘reply all’ with a firey response that was meant to go to one person only.  I’ve made millions of mistakes; some intentional, some unintentional. 

The mistakes I don’t regret were choices that maybe didn’t pan out the way I hoped but I still believe were the right choice and I would do it again if I was faced with a similar situation. 

The mistakes I regret are the ones that have changed me. 

Changed me for the good.  Changed me to become a woman who would stop for a grandma on the street and a woman who would speak truth even when it is difficult and a woman who would hold other’s treasured stories close to her heart and a woman who tries really really hard to never to blindly react or reply out of emotion.

So the people who say they actually have no regrets? My guess is they don’t know the actual definition of regret. Because I think we all, if we are on the path of becoming, should actually regret the times when we should have been kind and we weren’t, that makes us the kinder person we are today.  Or patient.  Or gentle.  Or loving.

SO I guess all of that to say, to live without regret is certainly a dream; one that I don’t think is actually possible.  I would love to live the rest of my days never regretting one decision or one word or one action.  But realistically speaking?  Regret is a daily occurrence.  I think it’s synonymous with being an alive, feeling human being. Those that don’t feel regret are probably not people I would want to spend a whole lot of time around.   I want to embrace that part of my story as the part that leads to the most breakthrough, the most becoming, the most freedom. 

Sometimes the most uncomfortable learning is the most powerful. ~Brene Brown

Agree? Disagree? Would love to hear from you.  Engaging in conversation about things that actually matter is one of the things I love most in the world.  Feel free to email me or comment on this blog.  All comments moderated before posting.  
Proudly designed by | mlekoshi playground |