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


freedom and redemption

Frankly I don't feel thankful today.

I feel overwhelmed.

The sheer number of items on my to-do list seems to have multiplied in the last week, and my heart says I am tired. Tired of complicated. Tired of mundane but necessary. Tired of planning ahead. Tired of dealing with things that I never anticipated; for example, my CPR certification expires August 2010... but I'll be out of the country at that time, so I'd better take the class (in my "spare time") and renew it now.

All of this logistical quagmire has a beautiful purpose: this is the journey I must walk in order to return to the Africa Mercy in January. I'm exactly where I should be, following God's calling... but I'm tired.

I thought about not posting today (rationalizing that no one would notice the absence), but immediately after that thought occurred to me so did another: thankfulness may sometimes be a feeling, but it is more often a choice.

I've been reading in the Old Testament, in Exodus. I've been underlining just how often God does things "so that you may know there is no one like the Lord your God." It's on every single page, in every single chapter. But is it in my heart and mind?

Consider Moses' question and God's reply, from the last part of chapter 5 and parts of chapter 6:
"O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? have not rescued your people at all."

"I am the Lord. ...I will free you... I will redeem you... I will take you as my own... Then you will know that I am the Lord your God."

So today I will choose to be thankful for a God who frees me, who redeems me, who takes me as His own, and who desires me to know Him.

Today I'm joining in the gratitude community over at Holy Experience.


light in the darkness

Notre Dame, Paris

Lord, you have brought light to my life;
my God, you light up my darkness.
Psalm 18:28 NLT

Entering the hushed stillness of a cathedral always instills in me a sense of wonder. My breathing slows, my mind stills, my eyes widen, my heart responds.

In the darkness hundreds of candles flicker and dance. I've been known to gently drop my coins in the box and light a candle as a way of entering into the holiness of the place.

Something about light captures me, perhaps because I have walked in darkness. But Jesus says:

"the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."
Matthew 4:16, quoting from Isaiah 9:2

So I choose to celebrate the light, especially at this time of year when daylight lessens and nights lengthen.

Light reminds me that though the darkness is black indeed, the Light of the World has already overcome.

Linked to Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky.


Monday morning sunshine

Continuing to list the many gifts that God lavishes so abundantly...

46) bonfires with friends
47) quiet misty mornings
48) bald eagles
49) high ropes courses, challenging both mind and body

(Photo by Amanda Martin)
50) friends who challenge and encourage

(Photo by Amanda Martin)
51) heated floors in the cabin
52) playing Ticket to Ride with friends
53) cold, clear nights perfect for looking at the stars
54) scraping my windshield for the first time in a long time
55) celebrating Rachel's upcoming marriage with friends at her bridal shower
56) game night with old friends... up waaay too late, but we successfully saved the world
57) homemade waffles this morning
58) Monday morning sunshine
59) a quiet house--doubly precious after all my time surrounded by people and noise aboard the Africa Mercy
60) friends who ask questions and really listen to my answers about my time with Mercy Ships
61) being able to speak at Salt and Light church group last week about what God has been doing in my life
62) looking into a week filled with time to figure out details, fresh chances to reconnect with friends, and time to just be present.
63) being underinsured(!)--I was able to receive a vaccine I needed for $12 (usually $200). Thank you Lord for federal grant money!

When you begin looking for the gifts that God gives, you realize just how graciously he gives: beauty, light, warmth, relationships, fresh air, practical provisions.

I challenge you to begin seeing your world through grateful eyes. Awaken wide-eyed with wonder to every little gift. Feel free to join with me in the gratitude community at Holy Experience.

holy experience


ah, Paris... je t'aime

Oh Paris, how I love you (sigh).

As you can tell, I had a lovely time in Paris while en route from Benin back home to Minnesota.

I love Paris even though it rained in the afternoon and I then proceeded to spend a good eight hours wandering around Parisian streets in thoroughly wet and freezing shoes.

It's surprisingly easy to get around in Paris. From the airport, simply hop on the Metro train and it will take you right into the heart of Paris. After I got off the Metro, it was a quick walk to my hostel where I dumped off my luggage, ate breakfast (chocolate hazelnut spread on bread and a cup of tea), and discovered there was a free walking tour that included all the highlights of Paris I'd hoped to see.

We met at the Font St. Michel and proceeded to walk to Notre Dame, along the Seine River, through the courtyard of the Louvre (utterly gorgeous architecture, see photo at left), and through a park which displayed an odd mingling of classic French statues and that kind of modern art which can only be described as "strange and slightly disturbing." We stopped for lunch (salmon and cucumber baguette for me) and coffee... I caved and bought a Starbucks. I know, I know--it's completely un-French to drink cafĂ© au lait (coffee with milk), much less with any flavoring! But it had started to rain, I was freezing cold, and I wanted something hot to hold in my hands, not a tiny little demitasse cup filled with straight espresso.

After lunch we continued bravely on despite the rain, although I must admit I have a hard time remembering what all we toured because I could only think about my coldness and wetness. We ended the tour at the Petit Palais, which like many other old, grand palaces in Paris now housed a museum. We were within walking distance of L'Arc de Triomphe, Napoleon's Tomb, and the Eiffel Tower.

At this point, I had made friends with a couple guys on the tour, and we ducked inside the Petit Palais (see photo at right of a beautiful staircase inside) to warm up and figure out what we wanted to do next.

Now, if you had told me six months ago that I would end up seeing the sights in Paris with a couple of guys I had never met before, I would have told you in no uncertain terms that you were crazy.

But,  it was nice to have someone to take pictures of me at all the landmarks. And they were nice and not at all creepy.

So, the three of us--me, an accountant from India/England, and a Texan student studying in Italy--spent the rest of the day happily getting lost (which can only lead you to interesting doors, churches tucked in small neighborhoods, and great patisseries), exploring inside Notre Dame, and eating dinner at a quaint bistro.

You can't help but be reminded of the grandeur of God when you are in churches like Notre Dame. Everyone is hushed, and the whole place is permeated with a sense of mystery and holiness.

After a leisurely dinner, the three of us took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower. We hoped to be able to climb up to the top--600 some steps--but apparently you are not allowed to after dark, so we settled for riding the elevators up.

After dark the Eiffel Tower puts on a continual light show. When we first walked up it was golden, but within minutes the entire tower was sparkling (perhaps a million little camera flash bulbs?).

The ride up in the glass elevators was well worth the price of the ticket! I am not particularly afraid of heights, but I found myself holding my breath as the elevator kept climbing...climbing...climbing.

But this was the view from the top.

I've decided I could live quite happily in Paris.

After we were safely back on the ground, the three of us walked to the Metro and headed back to our respective hostels. Incidentally, I ended up having a room to myself at the hostel, an unexpected but welcome blessing. After a good night's sleep and another simple-but-decadent breakfast, I wheeled my luggage back to the Metro and headed to the airport... and home.


feeling loved

I have been given two blog awards recently... I'm definitely feeling loved!

Thank you to Angela who writes a lovely literary blog for the Over the Top blog award!

The rules for accepting this award are to copy and change the answers to suit you and pass it on. Answers can only be one word! Pass the award to your favorite bloggers and alert them they have been awarded.

1. Where is your cell phone?  purse
2. Your hair? straightened (for the first time in 6 months)
3. Your mother? lovely
4. Your father? consistent
5. Your favorite food? mac&cheese
6. Your dream last night? none
7. Your favorite drink? tea
8. Your dream/goal? master's?
9. What room are you in? bedroom
10. Your hobby? singing
11. Your fear? loneliness
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? adventure!!
13. Where were you last night? birthday party
14. Something you aren’t? short
15. Muffins? chocolate
16. Wish list item? pedometer
17. Where did you grow up? Idaho
18. Last thing you did? read
19. What are you wearing? pajamas
20. Your TV? unused
21. Your pets? plants
22. Your friends? amazing
23. Your life? blessed
24. Your mood? jittery
25. Missing someone? Mercy Shippers
26. Vehicle? Honda
27. Something you’re not wearing? perfume
28. Your favorite store? TJ Maxx
29. Your favorite color? all
30. When was the last time you laughed? today
31. Last time you cried? unsure
32. Your best friend? my joy
33. One place that I go over and over? library
34. One person who emails me regularly? Eva
35. Favorite place to eat? Panera

I'd like to pass this award on to two blog friends I've recently "met" who have gone out of their way to encourage me:
Tea @ Homemaker's Heart
Michelle @ Shhhh....I'm Thinking!

The second award came courtesy of Tea, who writes a lovely blog about family and faith. Thank you Tea!

Here are the rules that come with the Superior Scribbler award....
1. Each Superior Scribbler that I name today must pass the award on to 5 most-deserving bloggy friends.
2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom she has received the award.
3. Each Superior Scribbler must display the award on her blog, and link to this post, which explains the award.
4. Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit This Post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on her blog.

I'd like to pass this award on to several blogging friends whose blogs are always well-penned:
Eva @ Life and Prime Numbers
Angela @ BusyBees42's Weblog
Roo @ Where Her Feet Land
Deb @ Talk at the Table
Andrea @ One Journey Among Many


my blessings overflow

This past week saw me saying au revoir to friends aboard the Africa Mercy, bonjour to lovely Paris, and je suis la! (I am here!) to my friends as they welcomed me home at the airport.

All in all I am thankful for more things than I can count this past week, but I will at least list the highlights.

24:: Debs, who graciously sewed my duffel bag together in not one, but three(!) places after I discovered holes just moments before I was meant to leave for the airport to fly home

25:: safety pins to reinforce Deb's sewing, and packing tape around the entire duffel bag for added peace of mind

26:: additional packing tape at the hostel in Paris, where I discovered yet another rip in the duffel (oh I wish I had a picture to show you!)

27:: the previously mentioned stitched-pinned-taped duffel bag did NOT explode while in transit home. (Did I mention that I also frequently prayed for this duffel to arrive intact?!)

28:: a free walking tour of all the highlights of Paris

29:: the Paris metro

30:: the Eiffel Tower at night

31:: dear friends meeting me at the airport at home

32:: hugs that left me breathless

33:: my fabulously comfortable bed

34:: glorious fall days just right for a sweater and a scarf

35:: my favorite Stella Mare gardenia candle (a little whiff of heaven)

36:: my houseplants thriving in a sunny windowsill

37:: Paris Romance tea (how fitting!), Earl Grey, chai, and other favorite loose leaf teas

38:: celebrating with friends for Chris' birthday--lots of games and food

39:: freshly mulled apple cider

40:: friends who have asked me about my time in Benin, who listen, who sense the joy in my eyes and voice, and who make me promise to have an open house so I can show pictures and tell stories

41:: friends who mention that they have been reading my blog (so encouraging!)

42:: Eva, who came home early from the cities just so she could see me and give me the. longest. hug. ever.

43:: puttering around the house and chatting with Rachel

44:: Ron offering me an entire SNL night (church young adults' group) to talk about my experiences with Mercy Ships

45:: time to finally reply to comments on my blog from friends old and new

God's gifts are incredibly, overwhelmingly abundant. Please add your voice to the gratitude community found at Holy Experience.

holy experience



This is it: my last day. Today is a day for packing (I have not saved it for the very last second, Mama), goodbyes, and one last walk into Cotonou to buy some cards.

But yesterday? Yesterday was a day for dancing.

Through no fault of anyone in particular, yesterday's shift--my last one in Benin--certainly followed the idea that one should "go out with a bang."

It was one of those shifts where I just couldn't keep up with the myriad changes happening with each of my five VVF patients. Nor could I keep up with the hundreds of little technical things that you have to do with VVF patients to make sure that their surgeries have a good chance of succeeding. All of the nurses who worked yesterday's shift were overwhelmed.

But in the midst of all the catheter problems and opening abdominal incisions and dressing changes, we had another dress ceremony. Four ladies danced yesterday to celebrate being dry and to give testimony to a hope reborn. For once, there were not crowds of crew members or communications people taking pictures of it all. Yesterday was just the VVF ladies, the nurses, and the disciplers. But we still sang and clapped and praised God for the way he works miracles in our lives and in our bodies.

In the middle of a terrible, horrible, very-bad day, I paused to listen to the stories of the women.

I have had this trouble for 12 good years.
I had to travel for several days to come to the ship.
I thought my life was over; I thought it would always be this way.

I listened to the stories of the women--Irene, Animutu, Sekinatu, and Mariama--and it crashed down on me that God is sovereign. I was in the middle of a stressful shift, but I caught my breath as I remembered that God calls each of us by name. He knows each of our stories. He wove each of us together.

And for the first time, I got off the sidelines and joined the ladies dancing in the middle.

(Photo by Mercy Ships communications team)

(When I next blog, it will be from home... see you all then!)


in which I have magical powers

Yesterday I discovered the joy to be found in keeping a little mystery in life.

I was working yet another shift taking care of VVF patients. For a change, I had enough spare moments to unpack and put away our fresh supplies. I was holding a large cardboard box when I noticed Eugenie taking in my every move.

Eugenie watched, completely enthralled, as I took the tape off the box seams, opened the flaps, and began to flatten the box so I could throw it away. As the box collapsed completely, she gasped and her eyes widened in shock. What magic made this large object change shape and almost disappear?

I reopened the box, forming it once again into a rectangle. I showed Eugenie the reassembled box, intending to help her realize that the box simply folded in on itself, no magic required. I slowly opened the flaps again to collapse the box, and Eugenie shook her head in wonder, mouth agape. Louisa, the patient in the bed next to Eugenie, was by this time laughing with us, fully a part of our fun. Apparently this cardboard box phenomenon was nothing new for Louisa!

I shaped the carboard once more into a box and called the other nurses over to share in the moment. I then offered the box to Eugenie so that she too could learn the "mysteries" of flattening boxes. But Eugenie couldn't take the wonder any more and disappeared underneath her covers: this was all just too much.

As we all shared in the joy of the moment, I realized that this is yet another reason why I love working here: I learn to see things from a different perspective. Simple things that I take for granted, like breaking down a box, can be a source of wonder and amazement to someone who has never seen such a thing.

I would never have guessed it, but that simple cardboard box provided the best tears-in-your-eyes, genuine, rollicking bellylaughter I've had in a long time.

Eugenie continues to decline to participate in the wonders of box-flattening. Since no one really speaks her language (there are 52 tribal languages in Benin), I am not sure what she thinks about the whole experience.

But I think that sometimes in life we need to preserve the little mysteries, not rush to explain them, lest we lose our sense of wonder.

Shared as a part of Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky.


what beauty looks like

This is Gnuipanga, or Panga for short. She's one of the VVF ladies I've been taking care of recently. There's another dress ceremony tomorrow, symbolizing the new life and new hope that these women have after a successful VVF surgery.

Isn't she beautiful?

Thing I am thankful for #23: the radiant smile a woman smiles when she has regained hope.

(Both photos taken by the Africa Mercy communications team)

Join us as we count our blessings over at Holy Experience as part of the Gratitude Community.

holy experience


at the setting of the sun

I sat in the dining room yesterday evening watching the sun slide into the waters of the Port du Peche. It's strange to be able to number the times I will be able to do this on one hand.

I fly out of Benin on Wednesday, stopping for 24 hours in Paris before arriving in frozen and wintry Rochester on Friday evening.

Goodbyes are gloomy affairs, especially when I consider the indisputable fact that I will never see some of these people again, at least not in this life. And "let's keep in touch" is at times simply a well-intentioned euphemism for "I hope you have a nice life."

I was reminded by Maggie that the goodbyes are worth it. I'll take the small pain of saying goodbye to someone lovely over the rather large loss of never having known that person.

Even as I prepare to say goodbye to some very dear friends, I am also thrilled beyond words to be going home both to friends close enough to be family and also my "real" family. Knowing that there will be a group of people waiting with open arms at the Rochester airport makes it so much easier to leave behind people I care about here.

Of course, it also helps to know that I will be back on the Africa Mercy in late January, sailing from Tenerife to Togo for the outreach and then sailing down to South Africa. Which, incidentally, requires sailing across the equator and around the Cape of Good Hope--how amazing is that?!

Want to meet me at the airport? I get into Rochester at about 6.30 pm this Friday, November 6th. I imagine my first order of business will be to head home to sleep (in my own bed!), but I would love to see you regardless.

I wonder, when I open my bags at home to unpack, will they smell of Africa?