Sunday, February 26, 2017

From the Rooftops.

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

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

But I can’t.

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

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

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

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

And I was speechless. 

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

What I’d like to say?

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

~~

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

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

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

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

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

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


Love. K

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Happy.

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, February 10, 2017

Until then.


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

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

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

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

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

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


xxk

Monday, February 6, 2017

The next right thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Friday, February 3, 2017

Transformed people. Transformed nations.

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

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

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

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

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




Krissy