Take a breath.

23 June 2017

It's been five days since I arrived in France, and it's been a glorious time of rest and renewal.

I've slept, I've eaten well, I've hiked and run and went for a bike ride and walked and shopped and explored and relaxed.

What a gift this is, the gift of time; time to take a breath, to drink in the beauty of mountains and green and songbirds and church bells in the distance.  It's different this time, for the first time in many years I have been able to truly relax, with no work to be concerned with, no programs to plan or problems to solve or conference calls to plan around.  I've only got my thesis to write, which is really and truly enjoyable, not stressful for me at all, and I'm way ahead of where most students are just ten weeks in.

But I'm also not one to waste my time; I want every moment to be intentional, on purpose.  Sometimes that purpose is to sleep just a little bit longer.  Sometimes that purpose is to bless others, like taking the time to mow the lawn.  Sometimes it's physical fitness, sometimes it's intentional stillness, listening, feeling, breathing, living.  Sometimes it's kicking back and reading a book that's not a school book. Sometimes it's working on my thesis. It's all important.  I don't want to get to the end of my time here and wonder where it went.  But I do want to bless and to be blessed, to breathe and embrace all the goodness I possibly can.  What a gift this is.

Le départ.

16 June 2017

It’s T-minus-one day until my departure from Benin.

My research has gone incredibly well, and thanks to a string of non-rainy days and hard working translators, I’ve changed my ticket to leave a week earlier than planned. I’m thrilled to be heading to the south of France for some time to breathe, to unwind, to process this transition and some residual baggage that I’d like to have sorted out before tackling the next adventure.  But I’m also sad to be leaving this place, where I’ve spent over three years of my life. 

It’s a different leaving this time; when I waved goodbye to my dear village friends nearly six years ago after two and a half years of life together, I thought it was forever. I remember the leaders of a previous service trip I had done telling everyone to please not tell the kids we were serving that you would see them again, that you’d be back. The last few days together are incredibly emotional, and you might feel with everything you are that you couldn’t possibly continue on in life without coming back here, and the kids are sad and you want to comfort them by saying you will come back, promising you will come back… but nearly always, without fail, you’ll get back to America, to your life there, and things that maybe seemed less important when you were hugging the necks of the needy across the globe feel more important when they are right in front of you, and you have to think of your family, and money, and time, and the zillions of other things that fill our American consciousness… and the promise is forgotten, and the kids are disappointed yet again, and stop believing the promises of the foreigners, and instead grasp on to foreigner visits as what they really turned out to be; not relationships or people who care deeply, but rather people who come to give them things, so they learn to take advantage while they can.  It’s problematic in so many ways, and not easily repaired; but as a start, please don’t promise them anything... especially your return.

It resonated with me deeply, those instructions, and still echo throughout, every time I come to the end of things; which, on this journey of mine, has been more times that I can keep track of.  When I left Benin those years ago, I knew it was possible I might return, in the same way anything is possible for an adventurous nomad like me. But when I said goodbye, in my mind, it was a permanent goodbye. But somehow, in my heart, it never was. I’ve always felt I’ve left a piece of myself here. It’s always been in my head that I need to come back, in a way that I’ve never felt for any other place I’ve visited.  But I held it loosely as I hold most things, and when the journey brought me full circle and I returned, I felt that little bit of myself slip back into place.

I carried a lot of invisible baggage from this place; baggage that doesn’t need to be shared but needed to be sorted out and forgiven and redeemed.  And this last eleven months, it has been everything I needed it to be.  I’ve encountered incredible, beautiful, loving people who have left me feeling nothing but hope and contentment in this place. I can look back on my time here with joy and not with regret. I can remember fondly this place, and not feel as though I have unfinished business here. 

And as I process through this, I realize, I won’t miss it here, the way I don’t really miss any one place.  I remember fondly every place I’ve been, and I would love to return to some of those places once again, but somehow the feeling of ‘missing’, of longing to be elsewhere… I don’t feel that, and I’m glad I don’t feel that.  Because I want to be present completely, in whatever place or whatever company I find myself in.  I don’t want to feel as though I’ve left a part of my heart elsewhere.  My heart is so full; so grateful for the journey, for the players in the story, whether in big roles or small, and I’m looking forward with anticipation that which is to come.

So as I walk through yet another departure, without any guarantee or promise of return, I will squeeze out every drop of glory I can.  Final visits with people I love, filling my face with peanuts and pineapples and other deliciousness that just isn’t the same anywhere else, last photos and smiles and gifts and kisses and treasured moments that last to eternity.  I love this place, I love these people, and I hope and pray I have the opportunity to return one day.


14 June 2017

I can’t sleep.  I can’t her face out of my mind.

She’s beautiful.  She’s 22 years old, her whole life ahead of her, full of possibility and hope and dreams.

Except she’s blind and lives in here. So she doesn’t have any of those things.

So I lay here in bed, inside I’m railing and kicking and screaming and yelling about the injustice of it all, in the way that I do; silently, the tears escaping the corners off my eyes and dampening the pillow. 

It’s not fair. It shouldn’t be like this.

If she was born in America, she probably wouldn’t be blind. And if she was, it wouldn’t stop her from living a full life of possibility and hope and dreams.  But she wasn’t born there, she was born here.  Doctors have passed her around from one clinic to another, taking her money and giving her eye drops or pills and promising they would help.  Empty promises.

This, this is why I do what I do.  This is my thing.  I can’t stand that it’s her reality.  I can’t stomach the injustice of it.  It’s why I’ll keep fighting for her, for them, for the five billion people who lack access to safe, affordable surgical care. It’s why I’m thrilled to be joining the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change at Harvard, it’s why I think I’ll probably be back with Mercy Ships someday, it’s why I can be so confident in my calling that doesn’t include children of my own or roots in the ground somewhere.  Because I’m fighting for her and for the billions like her, and I will not give up.

Upside down.

10 June 2017

Is my life truly meaningless and void of purpose if I don’t ever have children?  Because I haven’t had them, does that mean I’m incomplete, missing out on what is surely to be the most magical experience that will encapsulate all my hopes and dreams and longings forever?  It might seem as though my life is pretty awesome already, but clearly nothing will ever come close to the ecstasy and fulfillment I could feel with a child in my arms, and until that happens, well, I’m really just biding my time and taking up space until this real, true, divine purpose for those of us blessed with two x chromosomes has been achieved.

These phrases and questions probably seem like one of two things to you – either they are completely ridiculous, or you believe they are, to some extent or another, basically true.  I hear a lot of these types of things regularly.  Not always put in such a blunt manner, but it seems especially recently I’ve been around people who seem to adamantly believe I won’t ever be fulfilled, or my life is a waste, unless I’ve reared children.   I’ve written previously here and here about the fact that I’m single and totally okay with it, but it seems it’s time to address this child topic.

I don’t want children. 

Now, did I say I will never have children? Nope. Have I ever said that? Nope.  I’m not interested in putting God in a box.  Might I have children some day? Yep.  Absolutely I might and I’m totally open to that possibility. When will I know when it’s right? When I want them.  When I believe with all my being it’s the next right thing, not just for now but for the rest of my days on earth, to raise children. When that happens, bring it on.  But it isn’t now.

And when the topic comes up at the dinner table and I answer the question I was asked, that’s when the condescending, patronizing, and downright obnoxious comes out of a lot of people’s mouths. 

Oh, you’ll want them.  You’ll regret it someday.  Your work will never be as important as your children.  You don’t realize now what you are missing out on.  They’ll turn your life upside down. Five years from now you’ll be holding your own bundle of joy and wondering how you lived without them.

Sure, that’s a possibility.  Again, maybe someday I will want them, or regret not having them.  But I think it would be far worse to regret having them. Maybe I’m called to this nomadic life, of adventure and of travel and meetings with first ladies and prime ministers. I couldn’t have gotten on the plane to Guinea with three days’ notice if I had a family.  And it’s not actually the words that bother me, it’s the attitude, the condescending, patronizing way in which they are spoken over me, as if I don’t really know what’s really important.  As if I won’t really experience life to the full without being called mama, as if I am somehow incomplete in this life I lead.  

Side note: would anyone ever say that to a man? That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms. Anyway.

I would much rather live a life without children than ever, ever look my child in the eyes and feel regret at having them.  I want to know I was born to be a mother.  One of the big problems of the world today? There are far too many people out there who have no business being parents.  They had children because they were supposed to or because they wanted someone to love them or to try to hold on to a wayward spouse or any one of a million wrong reasons to have a child.  The one reason to have a child? You were born to do this, you have been called and created to raise up this person to be an upstanding citizen of the earth.  And there are millions and billions of amazing parents out there living out that calling on their lives.  You’re amazing, it’s an amazing calling, well done.  But it’s not mine. Not now.

And really, let’s be real.  I want to say sometimes to these type of people, who clearly feel they know much more about the realities of life than I do, that I could go get knocked up if you think I would experience this nirvana you seem to think childrearing is.  I could find someone to marry me, too, if that’s what the world is waiting for.  I could probably be married and pregnant in a matter of weeks – is that really what you want for me? Not at all. I think what people want is really what I want as well, and that is the best God has for me; but they can’t possibly open themselves up to the possibility of imagining God’s best might not include children.

I know there’s an argument that the reason women exist is to have children, to multiply and fill the earth.  I get it, though I completely disagree.  But let me suggest that the earth is already full.  The earth can barely sustain the people we have in it.  But that’s another discussion for another day, a rabbit trail I’m not going to continue down right now.  For now, let’s just maybe consider God’s best for me may not include a spouse or children, and I’m okay with that.  But the rest of the world seems not to be.   



There’s been a lot of talk around the world in the last few years especially about privilege.  White privilege, American privilege, male privilege, upper class privilege, etc.  It’s the idea that one group of people is better off than another.  Some people say it doesn’t exist.  They’re either blind or closed-minded or both, and it seems most of those people are actually the most privileged of them all. 

It’s from a privileged place that I have a choice, and I know it.  I can choose not to have children.  In many, many countries across the globe, this would be a death sentence, to be alone as a woman with no one to care for me later in life.  And it grieves me that so many don’t have the choices and options and opportunities I have.  So they marry for necessity and have babies for security and sometimes there is love and respect but sometimes there isn’t, and there isn’t anything they can do about it.  It breaks my heart and makes me want to rail against the injustice of it all.  I had this conversation just the other day with the guys I’m working with. They asked why I don’t have children. I don’t mind the question, especially from these guys; they work in a place where your very survival is dependent on having children.

But for some reason beyond all human comprehension, I wasn’t born there. I was born in middle class educated America, where my value is not determined by my progeny, although it seems in some eyes it still is.  Where I can work and own land and vote and save for my future and decide where I want to live, things millions of women can’t do.  I recognize it and don’t take that privilege lightly, I’ve been gifted a tremendous amount of favor and desperately want to steward it well.   It’s one of the reasons I do what I do, living this life that is not about me but is about us, this collective race called humanity that is terribly unjust and needs people willing to stand up and speak up against the injustice of it.


It takes a village.

A few years ago I was thinking about this whole mothering thing, wondering if there was something broken in me that made me weird and different, asking God to speak to whatever that was. And it was stunning. 

What first came to my mind were the faces of some of the amazing women who have helped shape me into the person I am today.  My mom is awesome but it truly takes a village; one person cannot raise a child. I think about all the incredible other women who played that role at one time or another in my life; Shirley, Debbie, Cynthia, Kathy, Yvonne, Ruth, Kelly, Kim, Leslie, and many, many others ahead of me in this journey who have offered guidance, wisdom, truth, correction, safety, compassion, and the zillion other virtues who have shaped and guided me to the present.  I still need them and am eternally grateful for being a part of my story.

Then what came to mind were the beautiful faces of some of the young women I’ve had the privilege and honor of mentoring through one season or another.  Incredible girls and women I’ve offered guidance, wisdom, truth, correction, safety, compassion, and the zillion other virtues that shape and guide them into their future.  Some for a short season, some for a longer season, but all of them also a part of my story.  The children of my heart.  It takes a village, it takes incredible women pouring into incredible women, regardless of their genetic makeup and story and struggle. 

One author I love always says there is no such thing as other people’s children.  And I choose to live my life in agreement with that statement. 


Upside down.

Often after telling me in condescending tones that someday I will want children, they will also say something like they’ll turn your life upside down.  And yes, I know this to be true, and believe it wholeheartedly.  And what I’d like to say (and occasionally do) is EXACTLY, why on earth would I want to do that? Because my life is awesome, thanks.  And I’m not eighteen years old making brash statements about a life I can’t imagine. I’m thirty-six and have done pretty well for myself, (no) thanks for your concern.  In the same way God doesn’t call all of us to be married, or to work overseas, or to be mechanics or bankers or teachers or doctors, he doesn’t call all of us to have children, either.

So finally, a public service announcement and I will get off my soapbox: I know you mean well.  I know you just can’t imagine life without children and want me to be as happy as you are.  And I mean well too, when I say, I can imagine life without children and right now it is much more appealing to me than a life with. And that doesn’t diminish my value as a woman, as a sister and aunt and friend and member of the human race, striving to leave this earth a bit better for those who follow in my footsteps and stand on my shoulders and reach greater heights than I could ask or imagine. 

Field research, day 1.

06 June 2017

It was a sunny, steamy morning yesterday; I picked my way around the giant puddles left by the deluge of rain over the weekend, silently thanking the sky for being blue and sunny on this day, my first day in this student-researcher role.  I woke up a ball of nerves, anxious about anything and everything related to this thing I was embarking on.  What if no one would talk to me? What if I actually really suck at this? What if none of the photocopy places were open today and I couldn’t get started? What if... Maybe this was really a big, silly, stupid idea and I would be better doing something that I wasn’t actually responsible for; sometimes being a cog in a wheel sounds like an amazing career choice.  I really felt like a little girl playing dress-up; pretending I belonged here. But then I remember who I am; strong, independent, and smart, among other things, and this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing, I do belong here and I have everything I need.

It’s not always easy, that.  I mean, someone a week or so ago used the term ‘fearless’ to describe me and the coffee I was drinking nearly shot out of my nose.  Fearless? Never.  I’m a big ball of fear and anxiety and nerves much of the time… but I don’t let those things make decisions for me.  I won’t let fear stop me from doing what I need to do. And today, that’s putting one foot in front of the other, trusting my education and experience, and being okay with the possibility of failure.  Because risking failure is worth it, if it means trying. The alternative is to hide in a closet.  

So, having reduced the anxiety level to a nervous quiver in my stomach, I set out of the comforts and confines of the house and out into the world.  Picking my way around those puddles, the hem of my Beninese skirt skimming the surface, the security guards greeting me with a respectful Bonjour Madame, I couldn’t help but smile huge as contentedness filled my whole being.  I love this place.  I love being on land.  I love speaking French and I love that I get to spend my day solving problems and trying new things and collecting stories and spreading my wings.  And I can’t wait to begin, as I take a deep breath and dive into this next project.

It was fantastic.

The guys I am working with are two Beninese translators I worked with on the ship; they are wonderful men of excellence who care for me as their own sister. I feel very safe with them, and together we discussed the project, advising each other on how to best go about collecting the data we need.  The data we need is stories; I’m really a story-collector, and the stories are beautiful.  I can’t share them now, but someday I hope to; these former patients so eager to receive us, so welcoming, so honored that we would come chat to them and willing to share anything that might be helpful.

I felt truly alive, and honored that I get to do this.  I’m thrilled at how things have fallen into place and that I was able to start on the day I had hoped to when the plans started forming several months ago.  I know not every day will be this wonderful, but I’ll warmly receive the gift it is, squeezing out every moment of glory, purpose, joy and fulfilment I can wherever I find myself. 

The other side.

03 June 2017

Day two on the other side of the gangway; it's pouring down rain and I'm doing my best to catch up on a few months' of lost sleep.  Life is good. 

It was a sunny day on Thursday, and I kept my departure time somewhat quiet - I hate long drawn out goodbyes on the dock, preferring to say goodbye and give hugs throughout the day instead.  A few dear friends came to see me off and waved until the car was out of sight; while I didn't think I needed this, my heart argued and was filled with gratitude.  If I'm honest, as irrational as it is, I believe most people are just relieved to see me gone; so to experience the opposite was touching and brought tears to my eyes. 

I'm settled now in my temporary home on land; staying with friends in Cotonou for at least three weeks to do my thesis research.  I'm so excited to get started and that story is one of favor as well.  I officially started the thesis portion of my Masters in Public Health on April 8, and I have ten months to submit the final paper.  I'd be matched with an advisor who would walk me through the whole process of approvals first; proposal approval, ethics approval, etc.  I'd read some horror stories about this part of the process from other students who were five months into it and still didn't have an approved proposal.  I'm staying in country on my own dime, and have a job waiting for me back in the states, so I really pushed hard from day one to make it clear I have no intention of dinking around, and thankfully I got matched with a great, very responsive and encouraging advisor. I had my proposal approved in ten days and just yesterday got my final ethics approval, which can sometimes take months in African countries with less--than-straightforward approval processes. It means I can start contacting participants, our former patients, on Monday and plan to have all the interviews, about their experiences of surgery and perspectives of surgery as a result, done in three weeks' time.  

It's a lovely thing, to be focused on just one thing right now.  I've juggled multiple projects simultaneously plus being a student for the last several years; to be solely a student, to not even have to think about community expectations either, is such a breath of fresh air.  I get bored easily and won't be one to stay in this place for long, but for right now, I'm embracing this season for the blessing it is. 

Thank you, friends and followers, for continuing to read my blog. I've changed the layout about a dozen times, and think I'll leave it like this at least for a little while... let me know if you have any feedback! 

Good night.

31 May 2017

One last walk up to deck 8 to gaze at the beauty that is found there, under cover of darkness and lights.

The port at night

It’s finally here, the last night.  I was thinking about how crazy this life is; I’ve lived five years on board a hospital ship, where I’ve moved a dozen times and never even had to pack. And all my friends came with me. I’ve met presidents and first ladies and prime ministers, and zillions of incredible people serving in one way or another across the globe. It’s been awesome and hard and I’ve cried and I’ve laughed and I’ve wanted to quit and I’ve wanted to stay forever and ever; I’ve loved and I’ve hurt and I’ve forgiven and I’ve learned so much about who I am, what I’m made of, and what makes me feel alive.

Just this afternoon, I felt tears pricking the back of my eyes.  It was almost a relief, as for several months now I’ve just been so excited about what is next I haven’t felt much about leaving. For the final time I’ll be rocked gently to sleep, and tomorrow the rest of my stuff will end up in bags or in the dumpster and I’ll close this chapter entitled Mercy Ships.   Tears remind me what complex creatures we are; they roll down my face while my heart sings with anticipation, with peace, with joy.

I really, really hope my story will bring me back here someday. But until then, I will embrace the season in which I am living; grateful for all the people and places that have brought me to this day, to this place, for the oxygen I breathe and the blood in my veins, for the hope and purpose that propel me to never stop reaching for greater heights in serving, in loving, in living, in life to the full.

I plan to keep writing; expect a few changes on the blog in the coming days, but as long as God gives me words to share I will be obedient in the sharing of them here.  Thanks for reading. Thanks for encouraging.  Thanks for being a part of my story, too. 

Good night, dear loves; sweet ship, home, friends, and family. Good night.

A rousing success.

30 May 2017

It was a beautiful thing to go back to Guinea over these last few days.  

Photo courtesy of Tim Drysdale

We built this playground four and a half years ago, as our Gateway Field Service project (entry training for long-term Mercy Ships volunteers). 

It’s not surprising it's disintegrating; in fact, it’s exactly what I was expecting to see.  But it does cause me to think and to wonder.

Was it ever used as a playground?  Kids here aren’t accustomed to playgrounds. It was in an open area usually baking in the African sun or drenched by the African rains; was it a place of joy, laughter, imagination, freedom? Or was it abandoned shortly after the last photo was taken and the team of foreigners left? Was there questions of what is that thing, anyway? Did we actually meet a need or did we just do something that made for good pictures and kept us busy for two weeks?

These are the questions I ask about many short term missions trips; I think there is a place for them, but I also think we need to be realistic about their supposed impact. I don’t think anyone in our group expected it to have a huge impact; we all, of course, were just two weeks from joining the ship we had all dreamed about and looked forward to for months and years, and I think we were realistically just doing something with our two weeks in country required practicum before getting to the real service, the ship.  It’s a fond memory for me, one of team building and adventure and community and new experiences for many, and I don’t in any way believe the time was wasted.  But it does cause me to wonder if it really was the best use of us, if we could have made a real impact using those two weeks in a different way.

It’s not worth dwelling on, here and now.  It’s worth considering for the future, for short term missions, for projects like this, for bringing playgrounds to kids who don’t play on playgrounds, or who won’t go near the grass for fear of snakes and scorpions, or whose play time is hindered by the scorching sun or soaking rain.  Maybe I’m a pessimist; I hope I’m more of a realist, who wants to learn from experiences such as these; I was created to make a difference, and I want the work of my hands, regardless of time or place or team, to be purposeful, to have meaning, a lasting impact.  

So while I look at the work of our hands disintegrating before me, I recognize and appreciate the lasting impact of this project was not the structure but rather the joy and excitement and sweat and teamwork that went into it; I will always remember fondly the group of people that did this together and the feeling of accomplishment we felt in handing it over to the preschool director.  If our goal was to come together as a team and create something, it was a rousing success.  

Thank you, gateway family, for the love poured out, for the relationships forged through long days in the hot sun, for the collective heart longing to impact the world in some way or another.  That in itself is inspiring and hopeful.  May the impact be more than a structure, some wood and paint that cannot withstand the elements; may it be deep in that place that will not ever be questioned or extinguished, more than we can ask or imagine. 

From Guinea, with love.

25 May 2017

It’s a sweet evening, here in Guinea. The sun is setting behind pastel-tinted clouds as I sit in the humid, warm evening trying to catch a breeze and swatting away the mosquitos’ incessant whine humming around my ears.  I’ve captured my first bit of solitude since Tuesday morning; I passed on dinner out tonight as lingering stomach upset and non-stop extroverting leave me feeling the need to remain behind.  Breathing deep, I finally have a free minute to reflect.

Back on the ship, it’s the big night of goodbyes.  I would have been one of them, except for this trip; I don’t get to be a part of praying out the two dozen or so long-term crewmembers who are walking down the gangway for the final time in the coming weeks.  I’m sad to miss it, but know I’m exactly where I should be. 

It’s been crazy, which is really the only thing you can completely count on in a trip like this.  Plans have changed constantly; my schedule has so many things crossed off and put elsewhere and other appointments added that it’s almost illegible.  We started out with a bang, meeting the Prime Minister, and it’s been one thing after another since then.  Today was a holiday in Guinea but that didn’t stop us from a few hospital tours and a working lunch; the afternoon was filled with report writing and analyzing and figuring out how and where I could squeeze in a few more meetings.

And I love it. This work, telling people about Mercy Ships and explaining what we do and why we do it; the expansion of our training programs since our last visit and how our deepest hope is to leave a lasting impact for every tribe and tongue and life in this beautiful place.  The puzzle of people, the thrill of discovery, the challenges of culture and infrastructure and technology and the unknown, while it can be frustrating, is somehow oddly exciting and invigorating at the same time.  The people have been incredibly welcoming and accommodating and generous, as is the standard for African hospitality.  Most have heard of us, or have visited the ship or know someone who has, but the excitement they show when we explain our return in 2018 is heartwarming and encouraging.  I’m only sad I won’t be sailing in on that big white ship to their welcoming arms.

Some things have changed since our last visit; buckets to rinse your hands in bleach water are everywhere, shaking hands is no longer a regular greeting especially in a hospital setting, and the traffic seems to have only gotten worse.  Some things haven’t changed; the need for healthcare is great, the need for training even more so, the hopefulness in the conversations about our arrival is palpable.  I’m so honored to be here, to bring the news of our return and to start laying the groundwork for what is sure to be an incredible field service.   

To all those who getting their goodbyes tonight, know I'm praying from afar and grateful to have shared this season at sea.  


A sweet goodbye.

23 May 2017

It's tradition aboard the Africa Mercy for long-term crew who have gone through the onboarding (entry training) program to get an all-crew goodbye.   They get a few nice words said about and to them, and then they are prayed for by the community of faith.

I've prayed out hundreds of crew members.  It's such a beautiful thing as a community to send people out with blessings into the next right thing.

After praying thousands of crewmembers out over the last five years, Sunday night was my night.  Thank you, sweet AFM community, especially Kirstie and Dianna, for the kind words and beautiful prayers of blessing and favor over me into the next season.  I'm deeply grateful.

And then there was three.

21 May 2017

A last minute change of plans; there's a need to fill and I can fill it, am pleased and honored and grateful to do so, and suddenly I find myself down to only three days left in my floating home of the last five years.

Tuesday I head to Guinea on an eight-day assessment trip; the person who was supposed to go is not feeling well, so suddenly the twelve days I had left here is three, and I'm simultaneously ridiculously excited and achingly sentimental... such is the time of last things.

I'm thrilled to be able to do assessment; I've done them in several countries and it uses all my skills and abilities and experience and strengths in a way that truly makes me feel alive. I have incredibly fond memories of Guinea; that's where my onboarding class (the entry training for long-term Mercy Ships crew) did our field service, that's where I met some of my closest and dearest friends, that's where I started the journey of finding out who I really am and what I was created to do.

I'm the opposite of a procrastinator, I'm not sure what the word is for that, but in this last week I found myself feeling the same sort of restlessness as I felt the month before I left for the Peace Corps and the month before I left for Mercy Ships the second time; a sense of restless boredom, that I've already completed all my work and I've already grieved my departure and saying goodbye to friends and I'm just ready to get this show on the road.  I was stressed out in April trying to get all my work done because I couldn't stand the thought of panicking the last few weeks trying to get it all done.  But now it's done, and I'm absolutely thrilled to be able to jump into a last minute adventure where I am needed, my skills are useful and I'm really, really excited about it.

But at the same time, suddenly the last things are here; the last frisbee game, the the last community meeting, the last coffee with this friend and meal with that friend.  I don't really consider myself a sentimental person, but walking up to deck 8 this morning I gasped in realization that this view of my backyard, this panorama I've gazed at countless times over the last five years will soon be but a memory; while I am very much looking forward to seeing trees and grass out my window instead of concrete and steel, the water, the sky, the containers, the ships, the birds, even the trash floating in the water is the familiar landscape of my life; a landscape about to dramatically change. I'm thrilled and excited but would be lying if I said not even a little piece of me will miss this and is still grieving the goodbye.

So my days are numbered; filling quickly with friendly tea and hugs and goodbye cards and packing and finishing up the odds and ends here and there that still need to be crossed off the list. Tuesday I'll hop over to Guinea, returning the following Wednesday to one last night in my floating home, walking down the gangway the last time on Thursday to a new season of life on land.

Thank you, treasured friends, both here and there, for being a part of the journey.  I am deeply grateful.

My backyard.


Frisbee Fridays.

20 May 2017

One of my favorite things about this season on the Africa Mercy has been Frisbee Fridays.

Since my first stay on the ship back in 2011, I've played ultimate frisbee with crewmembers from dozens of countries, with varying skill levels and language fluency; on different surfaces including concrete, sandy beaches, and dry and sometimes squishy muddy waterlogged soccer fields.

I remember in Sierra Leone, where we walked up bad-boy lane to the school up the road to play in a dusty field; for some reason I specifically remember one game on someone's birthday, every time that person (DC) caught the frisbee, Ali would yell "Happy Birthday DC".  I remember thinking this community is really remarkable.

So many weeks I planned around the Friday frisbee game, because I knew that getting sweaty and dirty and sprinting around on the field in a competitive yet not too too competitive game was absolutely the best thing I could do for my emotional, mental, and physical health.  I've left anger, frustrations, irritations, blood, sweat, and tears out there on that field.  For me, it's been a healing game; an opportunity to practice patience, teaching others how to play; an opportunity to love this community in a different way and shape and time and place.

Last night was my last frisbee game; I will desperately miss this piece of this season. Thank you, Frisbee players, for welcoming me into the fold; for welcoming everyone into the game, for teaching me patience and how to lessen my competitiveness, at the same time as giving me a socially acceptable place to work out my irritations, aggressions, and still allow my competitive side to show up. I will always remember with fondness the Frisbee Friday sunsets, playing until we can hardly see; the stinky car rides back to the ship, the glorious shower afterwards, and the incredible community represented in the game.


15 May 2017

This photo was snapped at the Congo screening day in 2013. It was the last time that Mercy Ships did a massive one-day screening; I understand why they don't now, of course (infection control, safety, logistics, etc) but there was something incredibly special about how the day was meticulously planned and every single person who wanted to be a part of it had the opportunity to do so.  HR and sales people helped take medical histories; teachers and students played with kids and passed out water to the thousands of patients waiting in line.

I wrote about it here: Well done,  and it will always remain a special memory of my time with Mercy Ships.  I was new in my job but spoke French well enough to be useful (or dangerous, wink) and ran around doing whatever those who had been around much longer than I had been told me to do.

But this moment, the moment this photo was snapped, will always remain high on the list of #howisthismylife moments.  Donovan, our ship managing director at the time, called me over mid morning, tossed me the keys to his personal car and said "can you go pick up Don and Deyon?"

Gulp, no pressure. Those cars are bigger than the usual landrovers we use, and I hadn't ever driven one before.  Donovan hardly knew me, if I scratched his car would it get me sent home? At the very least it would be mortifying and I didn't know if I would outlive the embarrassment.  And even worse, imagine if I did it with Don and Deyon in the car? They're the Mercy Ships President and founders, by the way.  Kind of a big deal and I was admittedly starstruck. I didn't know them and they had no reason whatsoever to trust me driving them around and neither did Donovan trusting me with his car.

And while all those thoughts and fears raced through my head in a millisecond, I calmly said 'sure' and did what I was asked to do.  No scratches, no drama, but I will always remember it; they had no reason to trust me but they did.  There's something powerful about being trusted not for what you have proven you can do... but for who you are.

Thanks Donovan and Don and Deyon for trusting me that day, and all the days and years since then, with little things and big things and everything in between.   I've loved being on your team.


In the arena.

13 May 2017

Things have been off with a friend. For awhile.

Let’s be honest, it would be so much easier to just skirt around and sit on the sidelines; to paste on a fake smile and do everything in my power to disappear, to not take up space or time or energy because heaven forbid it hurts and I’m sick of hurting.   And I’ve done that for a few weeks now.  Trying to avoid conflict because I shouldn’t feel this way, because it’s irrational and illogical and there’s no great win in stirring it up, it will only be ugly and painful and may not end well.  So just clench your teeth in a smile and bear it for just a little bit longer; you’re almost done, for crying out loud stop feeling. 

Because something kept saying stop with the feeling.

But how many times have I said over my own life? I am glad that I can feel, it means I am alive.

And the dissonance between what I believe and what I was doing finally screeched loud enough and painfully enough for me to stop with the hiding and running and take the risk; knowing I’ll probably do it wrong and it was going to be painful and bloody but at least it’s real and not some fake imitation of life, of becoming a non-feeling robot solely focused on the finish line and negating everything that comes with life to the full.

Life to the full includes feeling.  We belong in the arena.

And it was everything I dreaded; it was painful and ugly and bloody and hurt something awful, but it was real.  And we survived.  Stronger because of it; experts will tell you, muscle fibers actually need to be broken down to grow strong.

And I look back and think yeah, it was messy, and I could have done it better or differently but I did the best I could with what little courage I could muster… and I went into the arena.  There is no effort without error and shortcoming. And maybe next time it won’t take so long, it won’t be so painful; the muscle memory of a successful rumble in the arena will point me in that direction sooner.  Because in this journey, it’s not about winning.  It’s not about winning.  It’s about being present, and alive, and feeling… not running from, but into the arena.    

Even when you only have a few days or a few weeks left.  Even when everything in you screams and shouts like a toddler not wanting to go to the dentist.  Success is showing up and feeling and being present and embracing the pain and joy that come with life to the full.   



And I love you.

07 May 2017

I booked the day away months ago, knowing this last sprint to the finish would be challenging, and if I didn’t book in space to breathe I just wouldn’t.  I went to the beach. Salt water is always the remedy.  I sat down on the damp sand, and tears filled my eyes so quickly I actually gasped. What was that about?  My heart longed for peace, and in the crashing waves and salty breezes I knew this was exactly what I needed.  Something about life on this ship is so intense; and lately all the intensity of it seems magnified… I realized the noise of rights and wrongs and shoulds and shouldn’ts had tangled and wrapped themselves so tightly I could hardly even take a deep breath.

I’m doing this all wrong.  I should be at that event today. I’m so selfish.  I can’t do anything right. I’m such a terrible friend. Why can’t I just suck it up and be more generous? Giving? Selfless? I shouldn’t be withdrawing from people, I should be diving deeper into relationship.  I can’t seem to do anything right for that one person. I bet she can’t wait to be rid of me. I’m not feeling enough. I should be desperately sad about leaving this place, what kind of callused, heartless robot am I?  I must be too controlling about that one project.  I’m probably being too hands-off, they’ll accuse me of ‘checking out’.  Where is the line between the two? I can’t seem to find it. I can’t make anyone happy.  I’m doing this all wrong. This weekend is supposed to be a time of refreshing, why can’t I just forget it all and relax? Trust? Find the joy?  What time is it? Is it time for lunch? What if I don’t want lunch? What if she wants lunch? Will lunch now be the wrong choice? What if I’m waiting too long?  Argh, this isn’t what this weekend is supposed to be like…

And that was just the first few minutes.

Once I calmed the crazy and focused on the moment, the breath filling my lungs, the heartbeat that continues on regardless of the crazy in my head thanks to the spark of the divine within, the crashing waves mimicking the pulsing hum of life flowing through my veins, I could hear it.

That still small voice that was shrouded in the cacophonous noise of doubts and fears and worries and anxieties of the past and the future and everything in between...

What if there is no right or wrong? What if you’re just doing it?  You’re okay. And I love you.

I’m doing life. Work. Transition. I am okay.

It doesn’t look like what the books told me it would look like.  Except that one that said expect the unexpected. I’m slowly unplugging from this place, from these people.  It’s not right or wrong… it’s how I’m doing it. Because if I pull out all the plugs at one time on that day I leave? I won’t survive it. My heart can’t withstand that kind of an assault.  So it’s little by little.  Some friendships will last through it. Some won’t.  I’m forever grateful for the season of life I’ve been privileged to carry out in this place and the people who made it what it was.  And just because a friendship or a connection only lasts a season it doesn’t negate the beauty and the richness and the value of the investment – they don’t have to be forever to be successful. They are.  And I’m loved, regardless.

The work I’ve been called to do in this season, I’m closing out and handing over.  I’m doing the best I can to hand it over well; thoroughly, completely, to give every opportunity possible to set up the future stewards for success.  Instead of analyzing every response, every reaction, every facial expression as a verdict on me somehow simultaneously being too controlling and too hands off, that I’m doing it all wrong…  I’m doing it.  And I am loved.

Oh, the relief. The freedom to breathe again and not wonder if it was right or wrong or good or bad. Since when did I care so much about others’ verdicts?  There’s really only one that matters.  You’re okay.  What I needed to hear. What we all need to hear sometimes. 

May the remainder of this season at sea be one of gratitude, of love, of expansive light and life and friendship and humanity and healing and hope.   May it not be wrong or right or good or bad… may it just be what it is. 

You’re okay.  And I love you.

On light.

17 April 2017

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.  

In the meantime.

15 April 2017

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.

Found at Sea.

01 April 2017

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.  


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. 

In the simple.

04 March 2017

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.

From the Rooftops.

26 February 2017

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


19 February 2017

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.  

Until then.

10 February 2017

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. 


The next right thing.

06 February 2017

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...

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