29 May 2016

I’ve been pretty down lately.

I look back on this last field service, and I focus my eyes on individual incidences... Like every time I walked through a fire, I see where I didn’t choose the best thing; maybe I wasn’t kind, gracious, or patient.  Maybe I said something that I shouldn’t have or didn’t work hard enough.  Maybe I missed an opportunity to speak life because I was so focused on my own self and the fire around me.  I had some really bad leadership moments and some even worse follower moments.  Maybe I took my eyes off Jesus, or the good things around me, or the tremendous favor and blessings that are all over the place.  And I see each one of those individual events as a failure.   Sure, there were some good ones in there too… but it’s the ones I regret that are the most prevalent as I look back over the field that was the last ten months, so I tend to see it all as one big failure.

But when I was running yesterday, something shifted. 

A change in perspective can change everything.

If I can swoop out; back up far away from each individual fire where I didn’t do as well as I could have or should have or wished I had…  If I can flap my wings, soar up in the atmosphere and look at the whole field service instead of each individual fire, what do I see?  I see a field on fire… and me on the other side of it. 

I did make it.  And I am still standing.  And looking at the horizon, the future spread out before me full of unknown adventures and joys and fires and freedom.  I made it through the field.  The rubber on my shoes may be melted and my eyebrows singed, but each one of those fires has made me stronger; both more aware of my own strengths as well as the things I need to work on. 

I might not have killed it in every fire I faced this year.  I know I hurt some people.  I know I could have handled some things better.  I know I missed out on opportunities to love and serve and shine light into dark places because of my own selfishness or neediness or whatever other ugly thing was surfacing.

But I still made it to the other side.  And that is pretty freaking awesome.  So instead of loitering around in the darkness of regret and failure I’m going to stand up tall and revel in the joy that is having survived, that is having friends on the journey, that is looking back on the countless lives impacted by the blood, sweat, and tears poured into this island and her beautiful people. 

You are strong, in my brokenness
Sovereign over every step
Even in the fire I'm alive in You

{Alive in you by Jesus Culture - played on repeat these days}

The Legend.

28 May 2016

We say a lot of goodbyes around here... it can be a challenge living with a constant level of grief. Some of the hardest are the long-term goodbyes - people who have invested here for more than two years.  When we say goodbye as a community to these treasures, we get to honor them by praying them out as a community, and usually their manager or someone up the foodchain gets to write a few words.

Last week we had to say goodbye to Rob.  Now, I don't remember many of the crew who were here just a few years ago; the turnover is such that people get forgotten relatively quickly.  However, this guy will always be a legend here in these halls, I guarantee it.  I had the privilege and the honor of working with him this last year and was even more honored to pen these words of blessing for him that were offered last week.

I know I am not alone in the belief that there are simply not enough adequate English words to begin to describe, honor, and thank Rob for the impact and influence he has had on this community.

Rob joined the Africa Mercy nearly three years ago as the Academy math teacher.  For a subject that causes many children to shudder and adults to groan, I’ve heard Rob still made it fun.  He not only selflessly served and encouraged the students, but in his spare time tutored other crew members, participated in bible studies and connect groups, was the president of Toastmasters, played a variety of sports, and served, valued, and encouraged every single person he came into contact with.

A year ago he accepted the position of Medical Capacity Building assistant for the Mada 2 field service.  It wasn’t a glamorous job, but Rob’s enthusiasm and passion to bring hope and healing to both the medical providers who participate in our training programs, and to the multitude of patients that they serve, was always on display.  He brought laughter to the stressful moments, fresh ideas and technical expertise in streamlining some of our processes, and unbridled enthusiasm anytime he shared about MCB programs.  He selflessly got up early when needed and often stayed late; he poured into our day crew and encouraged them to dream bigger dreams for their future.  He was the rock that held our team together as we managed projects on the ship, in town, in Tana, and across the country.

Rob, I know the crew will agree with me when I say it has been an honor and a privilege to share in community, in work, in calling, and in life with you.  You look like Jesus; you make me want to be a better person; to reach higher, further, and deeper into the richness of God’s grace and favor; and to inspire others to do the same.   Rob, from the depths, thank you for being a part of all of our stories; for being a shining example of strength, perseverance, fierce determination, and the wholehearted pursuit of life to the full.

As you leave this place, may the Lord go ever before you, to light the path for your feet.  May you hear the voice behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”  May he bring you alongside others, who will bless you, and many more whom you will bless, as you navigate the journey and the unknown.  May He surround you with His goodness, His peace beyond understanding, and hope and a future greater than anything you could dare to ask or imagine. 

Rob, thank you again for all you have given to this place, these people, and to me. I will forever be grateful.  You are missed.  God's richest blessings on your new season and beyond.

Rob was a key part of this team over this field service in Madagascar

I stole this photo off his facebook page

Strange awful wonderful.

21 May 2016

It’s once again that strange, awful, wonderful time of year.

Nearly two years in Madagascar – a country that was never on my radar.  I had no deep-rooted desire to see this land of rice paddies and lemurs, but turns out? It’s been a gift. To take a moment and look back on the beauty that is this place, these people, those stories of lives transformed and hope for a future… what an honor and a privilege it is to be a part of this.

Surgeries are finished; the hospital is sending our last patients home this week.  Hundreds of people will go out from here, returning to their home countries and languages and cultures and traditions.  I’ll be saying until next time to some of the most incredible, inspiring friends and fellow world-changers; also to our day crew, and to the local healthcare workers that we have poured into and served alongside for two years.  The tears are near the surface; again, I am glad to feel, because it means I am alive.  I don’t ever want these things to get easier, though I desperately wish they were.  It’s a paradox that I can’t fully grasp but know, to the depths, is what we were made for.

These last two weeks are filled with all the last things; last dinners, last Sunday morning coffee, last letters written to friends, last runs through the port, last goat cheese and honey at Oceans 501 and chicken spicy sandwich at La Braise.  They are also filled with project reports, packing and securing for sail, and my personal bi-annual get rid of half your stuff purge.  Yes, I am coming back next year but many won’t; the regulars at coffee will change along with the view out my window and the songs drifting up the stairwell from the hospital in my basement.

I thought I had mentioned it but surprised friends told me I haven’t; I’m not travelling to the States this summer for a variety of reasons, most notably that my savings account was drained for tuition payments, along with the simple truth that time in the States is beautiful and wonderful but very seldom particularly restful.  I’m headed to the mountains in the south of France, where a treasure of a friend invited me to stay, looking forward to simple things like cheese and wine, running in natural beauty (not circles in the port), drinking coffee in my pajamas, and sharing life with a fellow world-changer.   I’m also hoping my French vocabulary will expand, and that time away from this crazy ship will remind me again of how much I love it.  I’ve got a dozen books to read and another dozen or two blogs to write; the space and the time to do both will fill my heart and renew my weary soul.

I’ll be flying to Paris in two weeks, and back into Durban, South Africa, at the end of July; where we will embark on the journey to Benin, with a new team and new ideas and new plans and visions and dreams ready to set sail. 

Mada from the sky



He knows.

10 May 2016

Not three minutes after I posted my last blog, I went up to Sunday night service here on the ship, and the subject of the evening was persevering through tiredness, difficulties, the end of things, the final sprint.  My facebook feed was filled with encouraging words and virtual hugs; just exactly what my heart needed to keep moving forward through the messy, bloody, painful last few miles of this marathon.


When I got my grad school schedule for the year and planned it all out, I was supposed to have started this current module in the beginning of April and continued through until the beginning of July; my next one-week off break not until July 3.  I had thought to plan a getaway that weekend over the summer, so when I got the actual schedule just a few weeks ago I was really bummed to find out I won’t get that break in July – but, I get a break starting 18 of May for a week and a half.   Now, I am desperate for and extremely happy about the break coming in just a week’s time, where I can focus all my energy on finishing this field service still sane, and not have the constant worry of grad school weighing on my shoulders.


This morning, when I was really struggling to find the energy to get out of bed after yet another night of anxious restlessness, I got an email from one of the highest level surgeons up in Tana, with some photos showing their team using the Checklist.  He was a bit resistant to implementation as quickly as we were pushing for; to hear, with no prompting, that his team is using it proudly and ensuring safer surgical experiences for all their patients was just exactly the encouragement I needed to get up and face another day.


Throughout this last two days I’ve had packed in several meetings, our annual thank-you reception on board the ship for our local and governmental partners, quite a long to-do list and also needed time to do school work, sleep, laundry, and pack again as I fly out tomorrow morning for more follow-up trips.  It was going to be tight and I was dreading it.  How would I get it all done?  And then, as it turns out, I was able to finish so much more than anticipated; time seem expanded, my team pulled through and got stuff done for me, meetings proceeded smoothly and the thank-you reception even got finished early! 


He knows.

That is the beauty of trust in the creator of all things; of this organization, of all the places I’m visiting and the people I get to meet and work with and encourage and empower to greater things, of my own story and the stress I am feeling and the anxiety that keeps me up at night. 

He knows.  And He hasn’t brought me all this way, all the way here, to abandon me.  

This I know for sure. 

So I head out again tomorrow, on this giant impossible mission that is happening right before my eyes; the mission to bring hope and healing in places there is none, to shine light into the darkness, to pursue hope and truth and life to the full.

May it be so – in them, and in me. 

Flying over Madagascar, somewhere between Antananarivo and Maintirano last week.

Finish well.

08 May 2016

It’s something we hear a lot this time of year; push through, it’s almost the end, you’ve got this, finish well.  We’re in the last two miles of the marathon, trying to find the energy to keep putting one foot in front of the other, cheered on by our families and supporters and the hope of a coming holiday.

I don’t feel like I am finishing particularly well.  I actually feel like I am on my hands and knees, gasping for breath, finding the last portion of grit and determination in the depths of my soul to make it to the finish line regardless of how bloodied my knees are from crawling there.   But I will not give up, I will make it, and then I will collapse into the goodness that is rest in the form of a holiday with a friend in the mountains of southern France.  I wish I was finishing better; I wish I was still running and smiling and looking forward to the after party.  I’ve said yes to too many things this year, cramming too much in the last miles of the race.  I see it and I own it and I plan to do things a bit differently next year, but for now, survival is the word.

But if I can take my eyes off myself and my little story and my bleeding knees and my weary heart; if I can move beyond the selfish pity party wallowing and look up, look around, and look back; if I open my eyes and really see what has been accomplished in the last ten months, I am in awe.  The lame that now walk, the dignity restored, the outcast welcomed back home again.  The nurses that have learned to ease pain and comfort their patients, the midwives who get to breathe life into newborns and hand them alive, pink and screaming, not blue and limp, to their new mammas, the surgeons who can continue to bring hope to the patient who once had none.  The operating rooms that now offer safer surgery, across the country.  The anesthetist who was so excited to tell me how, because of what she had learned in a course, she was able to save a life and taught all her colleagues how to do it, too. The hundreds and thousands of lives that have been touched by a common purpose; to bring hope and healing. 

And we aren’t done yet.

Four weeks until I wave goodbye to Madagascar for what I hope isn’t the last time in my life; this stunning place was never on my radar or list of places I wanted to visit, but now has become a part of who I am.  Three weeks left for patients on the ward, two weeks of surgery, one more training course. There will be lots of goodbyes and thank-yous and celebrations; lots of final reports to write, connections to make, and plans to finalize for our arrival to Benin in August.  I’ve got a few more cities and hospitals to visit; a few more flights and hotels and details to sort out.  I’m still managing not to flunk out of grad school, which seems miraculous in itself some days, so will need to keep that going as well. It's full, but it's beautiful, and I hope that I can keep my eyes up on the beauty of it all. 

Thank you, friends, family, supporters, readers; I couldn’t make it to the end of this marathon without you.

Sunset over Tana, May 5 2016

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