Monday, April 17, 2017

On light.


The sun always rises.  Sunday always comes.  Light brings hope and truth and new beginnings. 

I am so grateful these things are true, and have always been true, and will always be true, until forever.

I’m so grateful for the caring love that was shared after my Saturday post. I’m also grateful that I don’t sit in that darkness forever.  I want to assure the well-meaning readers out there that the depth of feeling I shared in that post – that isn’t my living, breathing, daily gasping for breath. That was a moment in a sleepless night that somehow felt worth capturing and sharing.  I am grateful that God uses vulnerability to speak to others, to make others feel a little bit less alone in the world, in their feelings, in the depths.  I am grateful I feel deeply because it means I am alive.

I am grateful for seasons that bring us to our knees. I am grateful for seasons that are filled with joy. I am grateful to have friends on the journey, and grateful that vulnerability allows light to shine in to dark places. If we hide the places that are dark, light won’t ever get in.  I am grateful to have a platform to share light, and life and truth and the journey, and I'm grateful that he always shows me it’s never actually about me anyway.

I am grateful God has given me a gift of words, and I am grateful when I have the courage to be obedient and share them.  I am grateful for the quiet seasons, and grateful for the crazy ones. Each and every season is a gift, is part of the rhythm of life, and the sun rises and the sun sets and we have another day and another opportunity to arise, shine, let our light out into the world, into the darkness, into the places thirsty for hope and healing and life and goodness. 

I am grateful for quiet office days that help me to feel less overwhelmed with the work to be done. I’m grateful for lighthearted laughter and friends to share life with.  I’m so grateful for team members who are incredibly capable, willing, and able to help share the load.  I’m grateful the work of bringing light and life to the world is not only on my shoulders; that I am gifted for a purpose and want to see that to fruition, but beyond that lies only trust and hope. It doesn’t mean the hard things aren’t still there… it means they aren’t quite so scary. 

I am so grateful for the light.  


Saturday, April 15, 2017

In the meantime.

I’ve avoided writing lately… because I’m a bit afraid of what will come out, if I let it. 

It’s a hard, dark season.

I feel guilty for even writing just that.  I’ve got an incredible life and get to do incredible things; I’ve got a dream job lined up and a great place to live already and both came so easily it feels scandalous, like somehow I believe these things are supposed to be hard and because they weren’t at any minute the glory will crack and crumble and all will fall apart.

I’m about to embark on a major life transition, and I’ve read all the books and the blogs and the words of wisdom from others who have gone before me.  It’s an exciting time and I’m thrilled about where I’m headed but in the meantime… in the meantime… the darkness is real.

Seven weeks left in this place and what feels like eighteen weeks’ worth of work to do in that time. In my sane moments I’m excited to hand it all over and watch it thrive and grow and flourish under someone else, but what if it doesn’t?  Because I’m analyzing everything I’ve done and trying to capture it appropriately into manuals and how-to guides and final reports, all I can see is where I’ve failed.  Where I’ve made the wrong decision or didn’t do as well as I could have; seeing all the places I wish I had more time to develop…  I desperately wish I could have made a bigger impact, I could have done more, I would have worked harder and longer and better and maybe then I would leave a legacy in this place worth remembering. 

Have I made a difference?   Many of my closest friends have left and I find myself withdrawing from those who remain… withdrawing from community, because it will be easier to leave in a few weeks’ time without the hassle of emotional ties and tears.  The masses of people present at a recent goodbye highlights the impact those people had on this community, and it was beautiful; but comparison steals joy and I feel like that wisp of smoke that remains after the candle has been blown out; no one notices when that disappears.  Maybe I should have tried harder.  Maybe I should just disappear without saying goodbye.  Who would notice, anyway?

So I spend more time alone in my cabin or at my desk, pouring all my energy into what is left to do; the things I can control, the things that don’t require emotional investment, drinking coffee to stay awake, eating enough to get by, but trying not to feel too much.

My thesis is breathing down my neck and I wonder constantly if I will be able to do what I need to do when I need to do it. I can’t control the timeliness or response of the proposal reviewers and I can’t control the timeliness or response of the ethics committee and in the meantime I need to plan flights and housing and visas as I’m staying in Benin after ship departure to finish the research, but I can’t possibly guess the timeline, which means costs creep up by the day and my tuition bill is due this week and I wonder how on earth I’ll make it through the next few months of crazy expenses without anything coming in.

Anxiety lurks constantly. And then there’s the sciatic pain I’ve been experiencing the last few weeks; I’ve never had nerve pain before, and suddenly it’s clear to me why people get addicted to pain medication.  Running, biking, Frisbee, they all keep me sane in this place, they keep my moodiness in check, so to gradually be doing less and less of these things isn’t helping my current mental state.  The darkness whispers, what if this problem can’t be fixed? What if this is just a side effect of getting older and I’m destined to a life of pain and minimal activity for as long as I remain on earth? I won’t be able to join that running club in Boston I’m excited about, or play Frisbee ever again.  How will I stay healthy?

And then lurking even further back, that biopsy I had a few weeks ago that I haven’t gotten the results of… it’s probably nothing, I’m sure it’s nothing, but the darkness keeps sending me back to the what ifs, what if that’s how this story ends? What if I’m about to take a drastic turn that I’d never considered?

And I lie in bed in the darkness, exhausted all day but suddenly wide awake all night with fear clawing at my chest and tears dampening my pillowcase.  I just need to make it to morning; things are much less scary in the light.

~~

It feels incredibly raw to write and feel… but somehow it seems appropriate to share this, this day. This darkest day.  This day when the light of the world was extinguished.  The hope of a nation… I can only imagine the hopelessness, anguish, fear, desperation that was plaguing the followers of Jesus on this day.  This king that was supposed to come in glory and throw off oppression, who brought hope and healing and life and light to the world, lay dead in a tomb. 

How could God be dead? Is any of this even real? What do we do now?

They didn’t have the privilege I have.  I know what is coming.  And because I believe in the resurrection, I can feel deeply the pain and the sorrow and the separation of this day, knowing it isn’t forever.  And because of the resurrection, I can feel deeply of the pain and the fear of this season, knowing it isn’t forever. 

I’ve been practicing lectio divina throughout this season of lent; meditation and centering prayer focused around a specific piece of scripture each day.  Last weekend the scripture was the story of Lazarus… and what I realized this time was that Jesus knew what was going to happen, what he was going to do, that he would raise Lazarus for His glory, but in the meantime, he still grieved and felt deeply. He still entered in to the depths of pain and despair felt by Mary and Martha, to the point of weeping.  I get hard on myself for feeling deeply sometimes; for being anxious when I know and believe things will work out and all is for good and I trust and blah blah blah.  Emotions, tears, they feel illogical and a waste of time… but Jesus didn’t think so.  He entered in, and felt, and loved, and held, and wept. 

As He did again on the cross. The candle, blown out; the people, hopeless, and fear, and anxiety, and the darkness whispered and taunted and swirled and I am sure, it felt like drowning.

It was a dark day for the followers of Jesus, but light was coming.

It is a dark season for me, but light is coming.  The Hope of Glory. May it be so.




Saturday, April 1, 2017

Found at Sea.

Somehow March got away from me, and here we are, staring down April and suddenly I realize that two months from today I’m scheduled to walk down the gangway the final time. 

In those two months I’ll finish up some big projects.  I’ll teach a few more times.  I’ll travel across a few more countries for a quick visit to a surgical institute in Accra. I’ll write some project reports.  I’ll finish up the paper I’ve been working on. I’ll start my thesis.  I’ll finish recruiting course facilitators for Cameroon and hand it over to my replacement. I’ll write a manual on how to do my job (?) and hand that off, too.  I’ll play Frisbee a few more times and I’ll sit through a few more community meetings and I’ll pay my last monthly crew fees and I’ll stand in line for the last time in the dining room.  I’ll say until next time to old friends and new.

And I’ll say goodbye to the place where I found out who I am, what I’m made of, and what I’ve been created to do. 

I found a shirt at Old Navy of all places, that says it perfectly.



I love it.

I was found at sea. 

I will leave this place standing taller than when I arrived; more confident in who I am, in my gifts and my strengths, and most especially in my calling.  I feel slightly guilty that I’m not desperately sad; I’m excited about what is next and while I know this season is drawing to a close I do think I will be back at sea one day.  I know that I have been put on this earth to serve and to love and to learn and to be an agent of transformation for this continent and all within her. I’m excited to see how that unfolds, as it has already begun; blessings and favor, with a dream job and a place to live sorted long before I even started asking for them.   It’s a roller coaster of emotion; one minute, I’m frustrated and upset at something I wish I could change but I can’t… and a few minutes later, tears of awe and gratitude, because I’m just so darn happy.


It’s crazy, this life I lead.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

xKrissy

p.s. I'm facing some crazy expenses in the coming weeks, as I look at getting there and starting life up mostly from scratch in America.  If you can help, make a tax-deductible donation here.  Thank you, from the depths. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

In the simple.

I spent some time this morning doing laundry.

Laundry here entails big basins of water, a bar of soap, wrinkles in your fingers and a pretty good shoulder and arm workout. And a good chunk of time.

There was something deeply cathartic and meditative, and even restorative, about doing laundry this morning.  To focus all of your energy on that one thing for an extended period of time. The mindfulness that goes in to scrubbing and rinsing and wringing and turning and hanging each piece of clothing; the methodical nature of it, the necessity of getting clean rinse water every so often; the simplicity of focus, the feeling of the different fabrics, the temperature of the water; the feeling of accomplishment at the end, with clean empty basins stacked to dry and my wardrobe free of dust and dirt and stains, fluttering in the breeze.

It reminds me of what I loved about being a Peace Corps volunteer, and living in a small village with no power or running water.  Life was not easy, but it was simple. 

Our lives these days, with every modern convenience, are incredibly complicated.  Busyness and exhaustion is often worn like a badge, a symbol of success.  If you aren’t those things, are you really working hard enough?  The sheer number of things on my to-do list is paralyzing in itself; the tyranny of urgent or necessary things somehow overpowers the divine command to rest on the holy Sabbath. Electronic communication has replaced relationship; my heart is aching after a perceived ‘tone’ of an email has threatened to destroy a friendship, and suddenly something that was supposed to make life easier has instead made it devastatingly complicated as we work to unwind and untwist motives and perceptions and beliefs on both sides. The need I see every single day; the people whose stories grip my heart and bring tears to my eyes, that I have to say I’m so sorry, but we can’t help you leaves me feeling so helpless and tiny in a world crying out for hope and healing, 

I can’t control those things.  I have to lift them up and leave them in the hands of the One who can.  And this morning I sensed deep in my being that the next right thing was not to dwell on those things; the paralysis, the ache, the helplessness, the hopelessness.  The next right thing was to do my laundry, and ended up finding peace in the simple.  The feel of the water, the fabric, the dusty breeze, all reminders from the heavens that I don’t need to carry those things.  I let the tears cleanse my heart while my hands wrung out the last of the soapy water, and as I felt the swell of accomplishment looking at my clothes hanging on the line, I sensed the same in my soul. 

Well done, good and faithful one.




Sunday, February 26, 2017

From the Rooftops.

Someone said something to me last week that I can’t get out of my head.

I keep turning it over and over, trying to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, or analyzing where I might be misunderstanding, or really trying to blow it off.

But I can’t.

Because what he said flies in the face of much that I stand for in my life, and much that I stand up for in others’ lives.  And now, even four days later, I can't shake this need to shout from the rooftops. 

And I don’t think he has any idea.  And maybe by sharing it, someone reading this might stop themselves from making a similar mistake – not with me, because honestly I don’t care, but with those who might not be as confident as me or those for whom the darkness screams so loudly they can’t hear the truth.

We were talking about who knows what, small talk, entertaining but nothing deep or useful, when I mentioned I’ll be moving to Boston.  He asked what I would be doing in Boston and I said I’ll be working on a research project there.  He asked where? I said Harvard.

And then he said.  Wow, you’re a lot more awesome than I thought. You’re the real deal.

And I was speechless. 

And I laughed or moved on or changed the subject or whatever it was I did, but it’s stuck with me.

What I’d like to say?

Harvard does not make me awesome.  The place where someone works does not make them awesome.  And I am the real deal. And it has nothing to do with Harvard.  I’m the real deal because I seek to love and value people no matter where they work, where they are from, what language they speak, what country they come from, what faith they live or don’t live.  I’m surrounded by incredible, awesome people every day, and will be in the future, that give up comforts and family to serve the least of these. I have dear friends who are the real deal, slogging through the long days and short years of raising kids and keeping a family together and committing to love their spouses even when it’s not comfortable or easy.   Another friend who has so many health issues it’s incredible she even keeps on keeping on, when getting out of bed requires everything she has.  She’s the real deal.  It’s the momma down on the wards who prayed for her baby every day, and then trusted enough to hand her most precious gift over to different looking strangers who were speaking in tongues she didn’t understand to fix what no doctor had been able to fix, but trusted us anyway. I’d venture a guess that anyone in my future place of employment would say it isn’t Harvard that makes them awesome, or the real deal. It’s the hours and years of hard work, late nights, studying until you can’t see anymore, practicing your skills, pushing through, hoping to be heard, putting yourself out there and hoping what you think might happen actually happens.  

~~

This guy, I can just blow him off, and I have.  But this is bigger than just this one encounter.  It’s idiot statements like that, statements said in passing or nonchalantly, that stick with people.  It’s statements like that that tell children that they have to work at a certain place or get a certain place in life in order to be awesome. Statements like that make others feel less than, not good enough. 

I didn’t change. I’m not a different, better person two seconds after sharing I will be working there than I was before saying it.  And this was not our first meeting, I’d say we had shared at least 30 minutes of small talk at two different meetings before this.  But suddenly, in that moment, in his eyes, my value went up significantly.  And honestly that makes me so angry, almost sick to my stomach.  

And it makes me wonder – is this what the world is like? I’ve lived in a bubble the last five years, is this what I will face when I return to and start working and living in America in a few months?

I guess I will cross that bridge when I come to it.  But for now, imagine me screaming from the rooftops: 

YOU ARE AWESOME.  YOU ARE THE REAL DEAL.  If you are breathing oxygen, and doing something, whatever your calling is…. YOU ARE AWESOME.  My calling is no greater than your calling, just like her work and calling and life is no greater or more valuable than his. We are all in this together, and it takes all kinds, and we need you right where you are supposed to be. 

Oh, may the truth of those words sink deeply into our souls, mine included.  


Love. K

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Happy.

Last week I spent four days on the road with the Checklist team, and while the days were long and the conditions sometimes less than ideal, we ended the time together still liking each other. That’s a huge win in my book. Even more than that, we had fun. We laughed. We helped each other out sometimes and other times left each other alone.  We made a difference in peoples’ lives and in hospitals across the country.  We really did.  Things are better now than they were a week ago – and that always brings me to my knees. What an honor that I get to be a part of something so incredible. 

I love my work right now. I’ve always loved the work, but through much of the last several years the actual amount of work, the number of projects and people and details and reports and balls in the air was exceptionally high, and I teetered on burnout quite often.  Thanks to a growing team on the ship, less and less is now resting on my shoulders; the workload I am carrying today is reasonable, and I’m so very grateful for that.   This week we had planned to run some very large training days here in the capital, but a few weeks ago it became clear that our original plan wouldn’t work, so that’s been pushed out a few weeks.  I’m so massively thankful; my to-do list is extensive, but the fact that I don’t have to be running teachings this week means it’s manageable.  Fun, even.  I was upset at the time, when we had to cancel this week’s training sessions, but now I’m just so, so grateful that God gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want!  And because I didn't have to work all day today, I was able to spend some time with my dear Beninese family, reveling in the beauty that is that family and their love for me, along with some of the most delicious Beninese food ever made.  My heart is so full. 

I turned in my very last paper of my Master in Public Health today. It was a total grind; a difficult one to get through and it took me nearly all of yesterday to power through it.  It’s not the best paper I’ve written but it will get me the grade I need to finish with merit… and all that remains is my thesis, which I’m looking forward to.  I get to research something I’m passionate about and curious about and really excited about, not something assigned by the instructor that is boring and dry and the reason it took me all day to write those silly 1500 words yesterday.  So grateful for the blessings I’ve been given in this season; the ability to study on top of demanding work and worldwide travel, the financial provision that has meant so far I haven’t had to take out student loans, and the encouragement and love sent from all over to help me get through the rough patches.  The end is in sight.

Time is flying by; I’m excited for what’s next, and sometimes can’t wait for things like Trader Joes and more freedom and getting out of this sweltering heat, but at the same time I wish I could slow down the second hand on the clock as I realize that the time of last things is coming quickly.  I desperately want to squeeze out every last drop of joy from this place; part of why I am so happy, I think, is because knowing I’m leaving soon means the difficult things - the injustices or the difficult people or the policies I wish would change or decisions that I fundamentally disagree with - they can fade to the background and all the fun, good, happy things can just take their place in the forefront of my consciousness.  It’s a relief, really, and such a joy to hear random people saying Krissy, you look happy!

Yes, yes I am.  And for that I am truly grateful.  



Friday, February 10, 2017

Until then.


I’m absolutely overwhelmed and amazed at the outpouring of well wishes, encouragement, contacts, and advice after my last blog.  Thank you, friends, from the depths – I’m so excited, and its infinitely increased as others are as excited as I am, and I especially love all the comments of wow, that’s perfect for you! I think so too!

So I’ll get in touch with contacts in the coming weeks; however, it’s still a bit early, I’m not starting for another (at least) 6 months, and until then, there’s so much to do, to focus on, to love, and to pour myself in to.  So thanks for your patience as I slowly make my way through sorting out Boston details over the next weeks and months; it’s super exciting, but my first priority is to finish well here and then to transition well there and in the midst of that I’ll be writing my thesis and moving my life to a different continent than the one I’ve called home for nearly eight years. 

The next four months, until that last time I walk down the gangway, will disappear before I know it; I’m travelling a lot in the next two months, doing checklist follow up trips that I wrote about two blogs ago.  I’m so grateful my work priorities have ended up sorting themselves out this way, in that I get to focus on what I love most in my final months as a crew member of the Africa Mercy. I also will spend significant time writing out a handover manual, as in the last four years with medical capacity building I’ve managed to turn ideas into really big amazing things that will soon be someone else’s responsibility, and I want to set them up as well as I possibly can for success. 

Beyond the work, I need to squeeze every last drop of joy I can out of this place.  I need to spend time with my Benin family and others that I love here.  I need to spend time with my ship family and embrace the zillions of ‘last things’ that will come in the months ahead.  Admittedly, this doesn’t come naturally; a huge part of me wants to just hole up and start withdrawing myself from community to make that final walk down the gangway a little bit easier.  But I would really regret that.  So I’m trying to say yes (almost) every invitation that I can. 

And after all that? I’m planning to stay in Benin for three to four weeks to complete my research for my thesis.  Then I’ll go somewhere in the world to write my thesis, at least get the analysis and first draft done, before I head back to the states.  I want to visit family and friends, if possible, and start the new adventure in Boston in late summer.  A lot of those details of what that whole time will look like are dependent on my thesis schedule and on money; the former will become clearer after my first discussion with my thesis advisor, the latter is still a walk of faith. 

So thank you again, you incredible amazing people, for your support, encouragement, love, money, trust, contacts, and friends.  I am a rich woman, indeed, and so deeply grateful. 


xxk

Monday, February 6, 2017

The next right thing.

I have a dear friend that keeps reminding me, through this season of unknown and murky waters and foggy futures that all we really need to do is the next right thing.   It’s helpful, in those paralyzing moments of panic or anxiety, to think of doing whatever the next right thing is now, and trusting the rest.

So I have, and trusted, and put one foot in front of the other, and for some reason beyond all human comprehension, I’ve got ridiculously exciting news to share.

I got a job offer from Harvard. I’m moving to Boston in August.

And once again, I shake my head and wonder aloud, how is this my life.

I wasn’t even really looking yet; I had decided not to start looking until February.  But a possibility was presented, and while everything in me was sure there was absolutely no way I will get this I did the next right thing, taking that big scary leap of putting myself out there when inside all I could think was what if they get my resume and just laugh? What if I’m really destined to work at Taco Bell for the rest of my life?

(if you are thinking that’s ridiculous, well, most fears rather irrational and ridiculous.  But they’re still real. But that’s a different blog post for a different day)

And when they started calling my references I opened myself up to the possibility that this might actually be a thing and the more I looked into it and got my questions answered the more I realized that this is actually perfect for me.  And then I got the call and the offer and they are holding the job for me until I am available even though they wanted someone sooner…  And suddenly, long before I even started asking for blessings and favor it was poured out on me, more than I could ask or imagine.

Honestly? I feel a little bit guilty.  It was so easy and painless and it’s seriously my dream job for this next season. I was expecting six grueling months of job hunting and interviews and resume revisions, and I get the first and only job I apply for.  I’m not sure what that’s called.  Blessing, I guess, though that term is overused and improperly applied in much of contemporary discourse.

But sometimes I just have to tell the analyst in me to shut it, and rejoice in the fact that it’s the next right thing, for the next season. I’ll be working as a research assistant in the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change at Harvard; I’ll be working for the Safe Surgery 2020 project, supporting a brilliant team of world changers seeking to keep pushing surgery in to the discussion and on the priority lists of nations across Africa and beyond.  I’ll be based in Boston, a city I have only passed through but never really been to; I will get to travel to various countries in Africa supporting surgical initiatives from time to time.  I’m so excited about the learning potential, I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and to be surrounded by some of the most brilliant people on the planet working in a field I am so passionate about is truly a dream come true.

So, I’ll be starting a new life in Boston in about six months’ time.  I will take any help I can get – if you know people or know people who know people that you trust who might be able to help me out with things like finding a place to live or figuring out how public transit works or just being a friend as I move to a completely new city, please feel free to pass on my email which is the title of my blog at gmail dot com.  Besides my work I’m also really looking forward to exploring the area, the history, learning the east coast culture.  A new adventure, for sure. 


And now? The next right thing for me is to go for a run on the dock.  Cheers. 

I can be a Red Sox fan! 
P.s. I deeply love the work of Mercy Ships and do hope I will have the opportunity to work for/with them again some day! When it's the next right thing...


Friday, February 3, 2017

Transformed people. Transformed nations.

I spent three days this week traveling in the interior of the country; not far, the furthest place we visited was about 3.5 hours away from the ship, but far enough to feel really disconnected from the ship.  As we cruised along, I could feel my blood pressure go down while gazing across green shrub forests and fields as far as the eye can see, occasionally dotted by lone baobab trees and small villages with mammas bending over their open fire cookstoves in front of their red mud huts.  Children barely clothed if at all, running and playing and laughing and stopping and waving when they see the pale faces in the branded vehicle driving past.  I love this country. 

We were visiting some of the hospitals we had visited previously as a part of the Checklist project. I’ve written about this project before; it’s by far my favorite, where we go to hospitals across the country and teach about how teamwork and good communication, along with verifying together that critical steps for patient safety have been completed, and has been shown to dramatically drop death rates and complications in the operating room.  For the most part, the challenge is not the clinical skills; the challenge is convincing people they should talk to each other, and ask for help when needed. It’s convincing them that if they forget something it’s not a terrible reflection on them and something to be ashamed of, in fact, it means they are human, and we all forget things occasionally.  It’s convincing them to adopt something that seems far too simple, that it’s not about fancy drugs or equipment but teamwork and communication that can make their hospital safer and their patients healthier, quicker.  It’s really a challenge in this culture, but I love a good challenge, and our team is incredible.

So they’ve already visited most hospitals across the country that do surgery, and now we’re at the stage of re-visiting them and seeing how they’re getting on.  This is how I will spend much of the next three months, and I’m really excited about that!  This type of visit presents a whole new challenge; they know they should be doing it, they all agree that it’s a good thing and many people try, but behavior change is hard and they are often fighting against hierarchy and egos and difficult working conditions with broken equipment and not enough staff.  So these visits are so much more than just seeing how they are doing; they are for encouragement, for acknowledging that it’s really hard out there, and that we see that and are for them.  We aren’t evaluating them, we’re evaluating our teaching program. We have to break down that wall, that shame that they feel in admitting they aren’t doing as well as they feel they should be and let them know that it’s okay. You’re trying.  And that in itself is wonderful. Well done.

Once they know we are for them, they open up and tell us their frustrations and difficulties, and then the fun part (for me) comes in; finding solutions.  I’m a problem solver, so I want to know the exact problems and work together to find a suitable solution for them.  And then follow through on that immediately.  Maybe they just need a bit more training, which we are happy to offer, right in that moment.  Maybe they need someone else to tell that one difficult person on the team once again why this is really important.  Maybe they need some support from senior administration.  Maybe they just need some encouragement, and to know that it’s not easy anywhere, but it’s still worth trying. I love that we get to have these discussions, and see a difference in them in the course of a few-hour visit.  This is transforming work.  Maybe it’s not as dramatic or as visible as our patient transformations, but nonetheless, the team we wave goodbye to is not the same as the team we first visited; you can feel it and you can see it and it’s an incredible thing to be a part of.

So once again I gush along on my blog about how much I love what I get see and do and give in this place. Knowing I’m leaving in just a few months’ time makes me appreciate these visits all the more.  It might be my last Checklist project, the last opportunity to see this team transformation, the gift of hope and a lasting impact that we have in these small hospitals and teams that are already doing incredible things in their communities.  That does make me tear up a bit, but at the same time, I know we’ve created something that will last, that will make a global impact, that is much bigger than just me and my small team; in that I can trust that regardless of whether or not I ever get to be a part of this again, we have done what we have been called to do, to bring hope to dark places, to be a part of transforming people who can transform nations.  May it be so.




Krissy

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Things that matter.

Torn.

The current social and political climate in America has be feeling torn; between wanting to keep the peace, not ranting, even ignoring it all, and wanting to scream and shout and sob and rally against and for and in general do something.

I am so tired of politics; it’s so tempting to just ignore it, unfollow anyone too entrenched on either side.  I did that for a while, during the elections, and even now usually now shut down political discussion over dinner or elsewhere. 

But these are defining moments, a significant season.   This is not a passing phenomenon, a hot-button topic that will be forgotten in a few months’ time or ‘just a phase’ that we’ll grow out of.  I’ve kept my thoughts to myself, for the most part; but then I read quotes like this and I wonder if I shouldn’t speak up?


And these things really, really matter.  But I don’t think spewing and ranting and screaming on Facebook and blogs is the answer, either.  I know I have a voice, but often the loudest voices are the most divisive ones and I desperately want my voice to remain one of light and truth and hope; a bridge, not a wall. I still hold to my commitment that this place, and my Facebook wall, will not become places of ranting or anger.  No ones’ mind will be changed by any of those things. 

But in real life, what does it mean? What does it look like?


My closest, dearest Beninese friends, whom I call my family, are Muslim.  I can only hope the fact that I love them as extravagantly and openly as I possibly can will show them, in action, that not all Americans hate Muslims.  That the words they hear on the news from my country are not representative of the nation… but then, America doesn’t make much sense, for they know that we are a nation of the people, it is what is taught, that America was formed by immigrants, and the beauty of democracy, and they hold it up like a beacon of what all nations here should aspire to look like.  But our leader clearly distrusts and hates them.  It doesn’t make sense.  

And my heart grieves deeply. 

I’ve said it before; in my previous life, life before Peace Corps, I didn’t really identify much with national pride or anything political.   And then I learned what it was like elsewhere; experienced it, not just read the stories, but met the people affected by decades and centuries of oppression. Where expressing dissent might get you killed. Where opportunities weren’t earned they were bought. Where there is no such thing as a speedy trial or privacy or any of the zillions of other rights we take for granted.  That is the history of this continent; now, things are much better, but the shadows of colonialism and oppression and corruption still hang over this land and her people.  I realized, truly, that I won the lottery of life, being born in America, and what we have is a precious thing.  And heck yes, I’m proud to be an American. 

Until now. Now, I am sad. And ashamed.

~~

The great divide.

I feel paralyzed, because, though I hate labels, I am a feminist who also happens to love Jesus and don’t think those things are mutually exclusive.  I have dear friends deeply entrenched on both sides of this great divide in which I find myself living.  Both labels carry baggage, and usually alienate one from the other.  Sarah Bessey nailed it here.  I often feel like an outsider to both feminism and Christianity, and I know I am not alone in that feeling...

I really want to be able to talk about it and try to understand all sides of all the issues, though for most people a civil conversation and mutual sharing of ideas and open-minded listening are outside the realm of possibility. I simultaneously want to scream and cry and lament and dream about living, I don’t know, anywhere where the primary headlines and topics of conversation don’t include presidential temper tantrums, and houses are only divided by cheering for different sports teams, not whether or not we should care for the downtrodden, the weak, the marginalized, and the oppressed.

America has changed and it is no longer a country I recognize; but then again, I know I’ve changed, too, and maybe it’s me that I don’t recognize, or that isn’t recognized anymore.  I don’t fit in, but then again, I never have; thankfully I don’t need to, in order to make a difference, to leave a legacy of light and truth and love and hope.

Maybe it’s those of us like me, who feel like they have one foot on either side of this great divide; maybe it’s us, by the grace of God, that can pull both sides together. Oh, that it would be so. 

~~

Action.

So what do I do in all of this?  Be the change I want to see in the world. Continue on, as before; putting one foot in front of the other, trying to do the best job I can with what I have been given.  I will not put my head in the sand nor will I shout from the rooftops; but I will consistently love, speak truth in love, serve others, love, be grateful, shine light into dark places, and love some more.  Because we all need that. 

I want to dream for the future, hope for greater things yet to come.  I will also pay attention in a way I haven’t until now; we are a government of the people, of which I am one, and I will have my voice heard. I will call my congressional representatives.  I will support organizations fighting for truth and love.  And I will encourage others to do the same.  Regardless of what you believe or which ‘side’ you land on, the wailing and gnashing of teeth does absolutely no good.  Try to understand all sides of every issue, do something, love someone, speak truth and dream and hope for the future.

~~

I wrote everything above this yesterday, but something kept me from posting it.  Tonight, Nick, our senior chaplain, addressed this very issue from the front of our community gathering.  He said many beautiful, true, life-giving things, but I especially loved an illustration he used…

There’s a difference between a thermometer and a thermostat.  A thermometer gives you the temperature of the room, but a thermostat controls the temperature of the room.  Let social media and news be a thermometer, telling you the temperature of things out there, but not a thermostat.  They don’t determine your emotional state – that is giving them far too much power.  Be a thermostat, change the atmosphere in the room. 

And also this: Divide has the same root word as diversity. 

I don’t want everyone to agree. What a boring world that would be! I want to embrace our diversity – in culture, in theology, in how we approach problems and in the discussion and implementation of solutions.  I want to debate and discuss and disagree, yet still love each other and see the best in each other, bring the best out in each other, and offer grace for the rest.  God, show me how to be the change I want to see in the world. How to wake up and love the world again, every day, and not give up. 

--k


Friday, January 27, 2017

Discovery.


It's been a week of discovery.

My mom's first trip overseas brought her to Benin; the country that almost killed me but actually made me stronger, between the allergic reactions and moto crashes and desperate loneliness that somehow exists at the same time as joyful contentedness, that is the life of a Peace Corps volunteer.  It also brought her to the Africa Mercy, this remarkable place of hope and healing, of life and light and joy and incredible stories and lots and lots of love.  This place, these people, this continent has been my truth and the basis for all of my life choices... and now someone else in my family 'gets it' in a way that you just can't until you have actually discovered the truth for yourself.

It's been a discovery of why I left Microsoft and a salary and stability and life in America to serve on the far side of the sea.  Why I left family and friends and everything familiar to love people in a land I didn't even really know existed.  Why I've stayed this long, and am grieving my departure in a few months.  And why I will never be 'normal' ever again.

It's been a discovery of why I will always choose experiences over things and that the collection of 'stuff' has never really interested me.  And that though life to the full doesn't include much of what America thinks it should, it is still an abundant, extravagant, beautiful, full life.

It's been a discovery of the beauty of Benin, that can be found in even the most dismal conditions.  The smiles of children who have little material wealth but more joy than can be contained.  The colorful fabrics and buildings and foods, the smells and sights and sounds of a busy port, a chaotic market, and the crashing sea.

Once these things are discovered, one can never go back; already, whispers and wonderings of the next trip or the next adventure, and a contented smile as I wave her goodbye on the dock.  It's true, what they say, you know. Once you walk up our gangway, you always leave a different person; it's not just for our patients, but for each one of us, too.

Thank you, Mom, for accepting the invitation, and being brave, and discovering the truth that is my life.  May we never go back to what was, but always look ahead with anticipation to what is yet to come. I love you.

Bon Voyage.

--Kris

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Whirlwind.

It's been a whirlwind of a January; I've hopped across the United States and then across the globe, started my final class as an MPH student, ate dozens of sweet things, shook hundreds of hands, and thought to myself how is this my life a thousand times.

I got to spend a week in Seattle visiting dear friends and supporters.  I love that place, I love the people there, and it's always a treat to sit and sip really good coffee with really good friends and share in doing life together, yet far apart.  Somehow it works, and I am grateful.



I had the incredible privilege of representing Mercy Ships at our first-ever Founder's weekend; an amazing opportunity to share about the people, country, work, and organization I love so very much.  I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity; I met some fascinating people and enjoyed staying at probably the nicest place I will ever stay in my life.

A marble birthday cake.  My 3yo niece was in charge of candles. 

I got to celebrate another year of life.  36 has been good so far!  To make it extra special, I celebrated with family in Minnesota on a quick overnight after finishing up with the Founders event in southern California.  I haven't been able to celebrate my birthday with family in a very long time, so it was a special blessing!

The little bakery with the best rated croissants in all of Paris and it's suburbs.  It's not just me that says that, it's like a real thing. 
 I celebrated my actual birthday in Paris... with my Mom! We did a food tour and ate croissants, cheese, wine, and chocolate; a perfect combination for a great day!  We spent three nights in Paris, it was Mom's first time there so I got to show her the highlights of the city I have come to know quite well.

It was so cold in Paris I have no idea how they kept these looking so beautiful...

Ganvie stilt village in Benin
Then mom came with me to Benin and is with me on the ship this week, experiencing all Benin and Mercy Ships is!  Today we went out to Ganvie, an entire city built on stilts in the middle of a lake!  I didn't take great pictures, but maybe Mom did...

Mom heads out of here on Friday, so I've packed her week full of activities; a hospital tour, trips to the Hope center and children's home, a visit to my Benin family, a day trip to the Ouidah slave route, and of course a trip to the fabric market.  It's been really great to have her here, to show her a glimpse into my life, why I love this place and these people...

It's great to be back, and I'm looking forward with anticipation and gratitude already for my final four months aboard the Africa Mercy.

Love to all - Krissy


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Culture Sadness.

cul·ture shock
[ˈkəlCHər ˌSHäk]

NOUN
1.     the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

I first moved to Benin eight and a half years ago, and it was shocking. The heat, the dirt, the different foods and different languages and colors and habits and traditions were disorienting, to say the least. They warned us about it, that scary unknown thing that might make you cry without warning (or maybe that was just the malaria medication).

Then there’s the reverse.  The first time I returned to the states was after two and a half years in Benin and Sierra Leone. The first time I walked into Target, I cried and walked out.  Grocery stores were overwhelming; why does one need so many different kinds of yogurt?  Slow granny driving on my first time out on American highways, getting absurdly excited over cheese, and wondering about the seemingly sudden obsession with bacon were some of the manifestations of culture shock.  

I’ve traveled back and forth enough times now, that I don’t really feel culture shock.  I can transition and insert myself into the culture without a second thought.  Things don’t really shock me, and I don’t feel disoriented.  But I also don’t feel just alright, either.

I realized on this trip what actually happens now. I no longer experience culture shock.  I experience culture sadness.

My flight to Seattle was delayed for three hours; a minor hassle, in the grand scheme of things.  It could have been so much worse.  But the complaining and the whining and the apparent need for the people waiting to outdo each other’s stories of how hard their life is because they will be arriving three hours later than anticipated nearly caused me to lose it right there in the Minneapolis airport.  Honestly.  But it made me really sad, just seeing and hearing them all interacting; a metaphorical jousting match where the person the most inconvenienced wins, but in reality everyone is losing while simultaneously forgetting that by the sheer fact alone that we are all flying somewhere indicates we are significantly more well off than the majority of the citizens of the world.

It makes me sad that in this country we have the most choices of healthy food in the world and yet we are the most obese we have ever been.  Most dogs in America have better healthcare and diets than most children in Africa.  We sit in the top percentage points of income in the world, but we are the most in debt we have ever been.  I’m disgusted by so much of what I see; from the woman at the clothing store that drops a shirt, looks at it, and walks away leaving it there on the floor, to the blatant racism that has become almost normal in places across this country.  And more. And more. And more.

And in a few more days I’ll get on another plane and head back over the sea, where landing will not bring on culture shock but a different kind of culture sadness; where I feel somewhat guilty and infinitely lucky that I was born in America, the land of opportunity. 

I can’t dwell on it too much or the darkness really threatens to overwhelm me.  Instead, I do the only thing I can do; be the change I want to see in the world, by keeping on, trying to speak life and shine light into dark places. Sometimes that looks like serving, or loving, or smiling, or just biting my tongue and praying a blessing over someone, that somehow they would get their eyes off themselves and God would give them eyes to see. 

That's my prayer for myself, every single day.  May it be so.

Onward. --k



Thursday, January 5, 2017

Transitions.

I'm sitting in the Minneapolis airport, nibbling on a mediocre five dollar muffin.  My flight to Seattle is three hours delayed; better than cancelled, I suppose.  It does give me an opportunity to breathe, to think about what has been an what is to come.   It's an appropriate place to do so, this place that is not a destination in itself but a stop in the transition from one place to another.

I suppose that is one good word to describe what I expect 2017 to be.  As mentioned in my previous blog post, I complete my current commitment with Mercy Ships on June 1.  This has been the date 'on the books' for several years, but suddenly we are in the same year, and it feels real.  I love this organization, I love what we do, I love being a part of it.  I also feel I have taken the medical capacity building programs to a place where it's time to hand over to someone else to continue to grow, build, keep making better and better.  I'm ready for a new challenge, and there isn't another position open that would be a good fit.  

So as I sit in this place of transition, looking ahead to the changes that are to come, I actually feel nothing but gratitude.  I've thankfully already felt and survived the period of grief for what felt like the death of a dream; I've survived the fear that inevitably came, that thief that whispers you will never do anything as cool as this again.  Lies, from the pit. Greater things are always yet to come.

So I look back with gratitude for all I have been able to do, to see, to be a part of; I am grateful for the consistent support I've received up until recently, for the friends and family that have loved and encouraged me through all the transitions, the challenges, the joys.  Thank you, from the depths.

And I look forward with excitement to the road less traveled; the one that might not be the easiest, or it might not make the most sense, or be the most financially beneficial, or the most exotic, or whatever else the darkness might whisper I need to strive for.  Rather, the road that is right for me, for a season or for a lifetime.

I've got one more class in my Masters degree in Public Health before getting to the thesis/dissertation stage; there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.  Part of me is excited to reach the end and get that degree in my hand, while part of me will really miss it.  I have always loved learning.  Thanks to those who have supported this piece of my journey, too.  It's allowed me to do my job even better, to broaden our impact in the countries we serve, to report it more clearly, and help get some of what we have learned out in to the realm of public knowledge.  I'll finish that up somewhere in the middle of 2017.

Whatever I'm doing when 2017 draws to a close, it will certainly be different.  I'm excited.  I plan to keep writing, to keep growing, to keep speaking life and light and truth and joy.  I hope that you will join me.

May 2017 be a year of unfolding goodness, of trust, of truth, and a true experience of life to the full.

xxlove, Krissy


Sunday, January 1, 2017

All the difference.


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.*

Reflecting, as one does at this time of year, has me filled with gratitude for what has been.  I welcomed 2016 in on the beach in Madagascar; I ring it out in the cold, snowy woods of northern Minnesota.  In between I've visited several countries, climbed some mountains (both literal and figurative), grew academically, professionally, and personally, published a few papers, managed some incredible programs and dreamed big dreams for Madagascar, Cameroon, and Benin. 


Every year has the potential for more - more joy, more love, more hope and creativity and adventure.  My commitment with Mercy Ships is finished on June 1, and after five years on the ship and eight years in Africa, it seems a new path will make itself clear in the coming weeks and months.


I am looking forward to the road less traveled.  Happy New Year. 


*The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost