The thoughts of a woman trying to live simply yet abundantly, contentedly yet expectantly, wisely yet adventurously... all for His glory.

9.29.2009

welcome home

On the ship, you end up saying more goodbyes in a month than you usually do in a year or two of regular life. Saying goodbye comes with the territory when people come to serve for just a couple months. Sometimes I will spend multiple evenings a week out on the dock, passing out hugs and well-wishes and waving as the Land Rovers carry friends and coworkers away to the airport.

Each time I wonder how it will feel when my time comes to leave. (I have five weeks to prepare for that eventuality.)

Goodbyes are hard, even though I have only known some of these folks for two months. But when you eat and work and play and cry and talk life with people--which is otherwise known as "living in community"--you can become quickly attached to people you have only known for a month or two.

It's good to remember that for most people, I am not really saying au revoir (goodbye). Rather, I am saying tout à l'heure (see you soon). Because even if I never end up being able to visit South Africa or New Zealand or Australia or Norway or Switzerland or England to see these friends again, I will in fact see them again... and what a grand reunion that will be!

It's also good that every now and then I don't have to say goodbye, but instead I get to say bon arriver! Because that's what you get to say when friends like Maggie come back to the Africa Mercy.

Welcome home.

9.20.2009

lessons in trust

Before I came, I mentally equated coming to work with Mercy Ships to taking a spiritual cliff-dive: step up to the edge, take a deep breath, and plunge off into the unknown. The truth is that God gives of Himself abundantly. He took the tiny amount of faith and trust I had and covered the rest with grace, and when I look back I wonder why it seemed such a trustfall to come to Benin. It turns out to have only been a small step of obedience. Who knows what steps of obedience may be required of me next, but each time His grace will be sufficient.


I wrote that in July after I had been here in Benin for a couple months. Since then I have continued to think about what it means to trust God, really trust Him, not just say I trust Him and continue to try to hold it all together anyway.

In Natitingou, my friends and I went to swim at a waterfall one day. Rainfall the previous day made the waterfall beautifully strong, churning the water in the pool below to a cloudy brown. And it was here that I had the chance to scramble up the side of the waterfall, first holding onto a tree root and then climbing up the rocks themselves. Guided by a friend who had been there before, I bypassed a ledge on the side of the waterfall and plunged under the waterfall itself to climb onto one of several ledges behind the waterfall.

There were three of us total behind the waterfall, and the plan was to jump out all together. At the countdown, the other two jumped, and I remained standing on my ledge with the water pouring over me.

Now I am not afraid of heights, but I don't like falling. So jumping is hard for me...especially when I am standing behind a screen of water that prevents me from seeing my surroundings, how far it is to fall, and what lies below in the water.

I stood there with the water rushing over and around me and thought about how this was a living, breathing picture of exactly what God has been teaching me over the past year about what it means to trust.

Trust requires letting go.

Trust requires moving from the known into the unknown, even when you can't see where you are going.

And trust requires actually stepping off the ledge, not just thinking about it.

Toes gripping the slippery black rock, I stood under the rush of water contemplating the grandness of a God who gives me waterfalls to teach me lessons in trust.

Eyes closed, heart pounding, I jumped.

And loved it, so much so that I proceeded to climb up the waterfall so I could jump off once more, just for good measure.

Trust is a lesson I am trying to learn well, although I'm not sure it will ever be easy. Thankfully God is giving me ample opportunities to practice.



(You can see three ledges or levels in the picture... we jumped from the lowest of the three.)

9.19.2009

Natitingou

Natitingou is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and absolutely the most beautiful place I have been thus far in Benin. Especially when compared to concrete-and-zemi-smoke-saturated Cotonou.

Two weeks ago I left straight from a night shift to sit on a bus for ten hours with some other nurses as we headed up to the far northern part of Benin to stay with some missionaries.

I find I can't really write about the weekend, except to say that it was truly refreshing and rejuvenating. I needed the beauty, the mountains, the streams, the waterfall, the flowers, the hiking, the red dirt roads, and the fresh air.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the weekend. Head on over to facebook to see the rest if you are interested.


This is not what you think of when you think of Africa, is it? Welcome to Benin.


Looking out over the valley the first evening.


Me and Esther, hiking in the hills surrounding the valley.


Driving just to see the sights in Sombaland... so much fun!


Sunset on the last evening, too beautiful for words.

9.08.2009

things I've left unsaid

My blog is more like a journal than a newspaper. In other words, I write more about my thoughts and feelings than the "straight facts" of what is happening here on the Africa Mercy. There's a reason for this.

In my opinion, the things I am learning make for more worthwhile writing than the minutiae of daily life here. I know, I know: unless you live on the Africa Mercy, you have no concept of what passes for normal life onboard, and with a few word pictures you would be better able to picture my life here.

I wrote a while back about some of the things I will never be able to put into words. My experiences here have profoundly impacted how I think and what I value... but I find it near impossible to be able to write about that much. And in addition to those things I can't put into words, I have realized that when I write I am also leaving a great deal unsaid.

I don't blog about specific patients like some nurses do, for example. It's not because I don't want to. It's just that each person's experience living and working on the ship is different, and that includes caring for different patients. Ali, for example, is a pediatric nurse and thus has ample opportunity to write about the adorable little kiddos we take care of on board.

I am not a pediatric nurse, however. In my case, after about five weeks of VVF patients, I had a six or seven week stretch of almost exclusively hernia patients. Hernia repairs are simple and thus the patients would be in one day and out the next, leaving me with little time to learn their names much less hear any of their stories. From a nursing perspective it was a mindless six weeks of work, and I had to often remind myself that although hernia repairs are simple operations, they can be just as life-changing as some of the more specialized surgeries. For example, if a man is unable to work due to a hernia and thus unable to provide for his family, repairing that hernia gives him his livelihood back and keeps his family from going hungry.

In a nice change of pace, I've been working in plastics (surgeries to repair deformities or contractures, often involving skin grafts) for the last couple of weeks. Plastics patients stay at least a week so I have been able to learn their names and listen to some of their stories. Maybe I will write about some of their stories; maybe not. Somehow it seems too personal, too intimate. But I know you are deeply interested in the kinds of patients I care for, and I also know that you have perhaps wondered at the lack of patient stories on my blog.

For the time being I will point you to the writing of some friends who are able to capture much better than I some of the individual stories of beauty, heartache, and healing that we see on a daily basis on the wards.

Naomi from Australia writes a short but good compilation of several stories complete with pictures that are worth more than a thousand words.

Adrienne from Canada writes about some of the VVF ladies that came to us earlier in the outreach.

And Ali from the US writes about a beautiful little baby who came in malnourished and with a tumor as big as her head... and left transformed.

9.04.2009

uncharted waters

I ought to be sleeping before tomorrow's early morning shift. Instead, I am wide wake and pondering the fact that I was supposed to arrive back in Rochester, MN, tonight. Since I extended my time here in Benin, I will instead return in November, just in time for a bitterly cold MN winter. (I timed that well, didn't I?)

It's strange to sit here as the ship sways gently back and forth, thinking about the changes the last three and a half months have wrought in my life.

I never imagined when I signed up for Mercy Ships that I would end up staying nearly six months. Six months! It seems such a long time and yet it is slipping away so quickly.

I did not know that I would cut myself adrift from Mayo without a plan in place for what to do next.

I never dreamed that my options for next year would include the following: moving to the Austin, TX, area to be closer to family, or travel nursing somewhere in the US, or heading to Togo on the Africa Mercy.

I love how God's plans for me are always grander than what I dream for myself.

From here on out, the waters are uncharted.