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