I’m a Christian, but…

“You’re a Christian?” he asked me. “Are you an evangelical?” Although the dimly lit bar buzzed around us with late-night conversation, I was certain that no other discussion resembled ours.

“I’m a Christian, but not that kind of Christian,” I replied quickly, hoping to claim my ground before any stereotypes did. He looked relieved, but I felt weird.  

During the weeks that followed, my response lurked in the corners of my mind. When I differentiated between myself and “that kind,” my words created a hierarchy that inherently positioned myself at the top–as better–and I’m not.

I know I’m not the only one who has responded to this question, “I’m a Christian, but…” I’ve talked with friends about this issue. There is so much to be said, but we don’t know how to say it. To offer an understanding of how complicated this question is, let’s look at my own story.

When I was younger, I loved Jesus, but my love was convenient. I only asked Christ to change me for my own gain; I didn’t ask God to challenge my social framework. Because of this, my faith lacked important insight about social justice. I thought that people were poor because they didn’t work hard enough. Working with vulnerable and marginalized patients taught me how wrong I was. Laziness isn’t the problem. Unjust and oppressive social structures and policies are the problem. To understand this, I needed proximity to the poor to change my mindset.

When I returned to the States from Mercy Ships (Benin) 18 months ago, I was shocked at the palpable turbulence and division among Christians. Although there were people on the ship who had vastly different perspectives about the Bible, we set them aside in order to prioritize healing and justice. When I returned to my motherland, the air felt different, tense.

Over the past six months, as my understanding of oppressive policies and systems deepened, I felt my attitude towards Christianity gravitate towards bitterness. I browsed the news in the morning, absorbing stories about Christians who made decisions that perpetuated injustice. In the afternoon, I attended “secular” classes and was filled with passion for change. Focusing only on the negative stories I read in the media, I felt embittered toward Christians in general. Eventually, I stopped reading the Bible. I still identified as a Christian but I needed to maintain a distinction from those I read about in the news, so I added, “I’m a Christian, but….”

In November, a single conversation with a new acquaintance (who I met on a dating app, of all places!) challenged me. Basically, I was called out on my bitterness. I realized that if I truly loved Jesus (like I say I do) then I also need to choose the church, my brothers and sisters. Following Jesus’ example of love for me, I have to love others–even those I would rather not love. I must check myself for my own prejudice towards, well…everyone. And, most importantly, I have to read the Bible again.

Receiving this criticism wasn’t easy for me. Attending Urbana (a Christian conference) at the end of December helped me navigate the process. The opening session blew me away. The leadership team reflected the demographics of the students attending the conference: different colors, sexes, and cultures. Prior to the conference, Intervarsity (the organizing body) had met with the local Native American/First Nations tribe leader. The Osage tribe used to live in the area that later became St. Louis. In the 1800s, after living in the region for over a thousand years, the tribe was forced to surrender their lands to the American government. Recognizing the injustice that prevailed against this group of people, the staff approached the tribe’s leader and asked for his blessing. In front of 13,000 students, the leader offered a blessing over the conference in his native tongue.

I was moved to tears.

From seminars to plenary speakers, the theme of justice prevailed. Speakers discussed mass incarceration, the misuse and abuse of the environment, racism, and oppressive systems. We had the opportunity to reflect and repent from the “Babylon that lives in our hearts,” which refers to the mainstream American culture of excess, comfort, and image. Each day felt heavy, but simultaneously filled with hope. Specifically, living among a generation of Jesus followers who are committed to fighting for justice gives me hope.

When I consider my own struggle, I see myself in two ends of a spectrum. I want to share them because I think they could be helpful for others.

The first pattern I’ve noticed is marked by denial. Sometimes, in our depths, we fear that acknowledging our role in oppression will undermine our past or present way of life. Instead of promoting empathy and advocacy for marginalized groups, we believe that society’s most vulnerable and weak are our greatest threats. I think that people who succumb to denial ultimately fear two things: change and blame. We put up defenses to protect ourselves.

The second pattern I’ve noticed is marked by bitterness. I think that some of us have distanced ourselves from our faith because we don’t know what else to do with bitterness we have towards the church. We have reason to be critical of the church, but fear of association prevents us from spiritual reconciliation and growth. I think that people stuck in this trap are often on the offensive, and quick to blame others without humility or grace.

My participation in both extremes has taught me that remaining too far on one side of the spectrum inhibits the church from its primary role: to be an extension of Jesus. They perpetuate false stereotypes, ignore ignorance, and shunt blame–all of which slow down healing that could otherwise occur.

I want to be a person who is both passionate about social justice and committed to redeeming the church. I will not walk away; instead, I will pray, “God, break my heart for what breaks yours, even if that includes me–when my unkindness and fear and criticism break your heart, open my eyes and help me change.”

Since we understand the “church” to be comprised of imperfect, broken people and not merely buildings, it makes sense that fear, blame, prejudice, and bitterness would be rampant. We all think and say dumb things, some more than others. But that doesn’t mean we should divide ourselves, like I attempted to do. We should identify where we are on the spectrum and move away from the extremes. By God’s grace, I believe that we all can change–not once, but continuously. Even today, at this moment, God is working to restore all things through Christ.

 

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Harvard love @ Urbana
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I’m so thankful for these people.
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Happy New Year from me and Veronique!

The Beginning and End of Harvard

Yesterday evening was a historic night for students at the School of Public Health. You wouldn’t have ever guessed though, because if you peered into the Countway Library of Medicine at 4 pm you would have seen me dozing off in a chair. My professor didn’t warn me that our reading assignment entitled “Health Systems” is basically a written lullaby. Its enchantment caught me by surprise at a vulnerable moment. Fortunately, I wasn’t representative of the student sample. There were plenty of other students in the library who were more disciplined than I was.

Five hours later we quarantined ourselves in the upper room of a local bar to unwind through dancing and libations. We had much to celebrate, from surviving our first week of graduate classes to successfully (but inefficiently) navigating Boston streets. Truthfully, there is no efficient way to navigate Boston unless you use your bike. If you do choose to cycle, remember to leave a signed will at your residence before you depart.

Another tip for outsiders: if you visit Boston and you would like to take the train around the city, call it the T. If you refer to this train as the metro or the subway or the underground or the tube or ANY word other than the letter T, worry not. You will only make this mistake once. A local will correct you before you can finish the second syllable of me-tro with a tone of voice that I’ve only ever heard from a parent correcting the derogatory language of a middle-schooler. “It’s the T. We don’t call it the metro.” We, of course, includes not only the locals, but also you, even if you haven’t yet conceded. They are conceding on your behalf. Any person who demonstrates defiance will be drawn and quartered on the Boston Commons.*

I haven’t encountered many locals in my program at Harvard. There are a couple from the state of Massachusetts, but none that I can think of from the city of Boston. There are people from over fifty countries in my program. At any given moment I am surrounded by friends from far and wide. In this way, the environment reminds me of Mercy Ships.

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Beautiful, joy-filled friends: Monica (Indonesia), Mariam (Egypt), and Isaac (Ghana)

In no way does the environment remind me of western Michigan. Yesterday in a class of eighty students I counted only four people with blond hair. Todo, I turned to my imaginary dog, we’re not in Grand Rapids/Calvin/Holland anymore! HallelujahI love the rich diversity at this school and the perspectives and experiences each student shares. (I also love the aforementioned communities. The love is not mutually exclusive).

Speaking of Grand Rapids, yesterday a peer told me that it’s obvious that I am from the Midwest.

“Really? How?” I pressed.

“Unabashed friendliness.”

Apparently common courtesy is called “unabashed friendliness” everywhere else. Because there are worse reputations for which one could be remembered, you won’t hear me complaining about this.

The only complaint I have is that my program is only nine months long. The program is just beginning and yet we are already preparing for the end. Each decision we make now is impacting our education and careers in some way.

An overwhelming amount of opportunities exists at this school. A professor worded the situation perfectly. He said, “It’s as if you were invited to a lavish banquet and were told you can only eat two items.” We are limited to 27.5 credits each semester; a portion of those can be audited or taken pass/fail instead of a letter grade. We are juggling work applications, practicum ideas, classes, career workshops, social engagements, and professional talks from renowned writers and speakers. I feel as if I have been making decisions constantly since I stepped foot onto campus. If you know me at all, you know that I tend to change my mind.

A change that I’ve made in the past week is that I have added a concentration in Humanitarian Studies, Ethics, and Human Rights (HuSEHR). The focus on Disaster Response and Emergency Preparedness falls under this umbrella. Originally, I wasn’t thinking of pursuing my MPH for this career path, but let’s be real: I gravitate towards crises and emergencies. Adrenaline should have been my middle name.

One of my required courses this autumn is Societal Response to Disaster. I am also taking classes in Economics, Critical Thinking for Public Health Professionals, Ethics, Fundamentals of Global Health, and Biostats/Epidemiology. Economics was a bit of a melter until I remembered that I have a Canadian relative who was a renowned Economist in the mid-twentieth century. Innis College at the University of Toronto was named after Harold Adams Innis. I encourage my befuddled mind by repeating to myself, you can do this! It’s in your genes!

I know that I am not the only one befuddled and surprised  by all that Harvard has to offer. One of my friends is a dentist from Indonesia. She has spent some time in the USA but this is her first time living here. She told me that she noticed a plastic case in the bathroom labeled “Dental Dam.” Curiosity got the best of her. What kind of dental products are in the bathrooms at the school?  she wondered. One glance taught her everything–and more than–she wanted to know.

Needless to say, Harvard is more than I could have imagined. I will struggle as I transition again to a new place, new home, and new role as a student. I appreciate the loving and encouraging phone calls and texts from each one of you. Thank you for your support!

*I may have exaggerated about the punishment.

Addendum: My parents visited Boston in August. We completed the tourist checklist: freedom walking trail, Paul Revere’s house, Boston Commons, Boston Public Garden, Cape Cod, Harvard Walking Tour, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Tea Party Museum and the Boston Duck Tour. They were CHAMPS. Leighanne Sturgis (a Boston native) met us in the Public Gardens and snapped some family photos. Her magic is below:

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(featured image and family photos taken by Leighanne Sturgis)

The Moment I’ve Avoided

I haven’t logged into this website since May. In fact, I haven’t even looked at my blog since May. This delay is not accidental; I have pondered blog topics nearly every day, yet I’ve avoided writing at all costs.

You would think that a tumultuous and uncertain season, like my past five months, would render more blogs, more funny stories filled with hiccups and doubt.

But, no.

Here’s why I haven’t written: I like to have things…. okay, everything… figured out before I share it with the world. With you.

I think I can blame pride for this one. My pride instructs, only share your insecurities once they’re behind you or once you’re ahead of the problem. I believed pride. And I waited and wanted desperately to write but I feared what the outcome would be if I didn’t have my issues sorted through. I was waiting for my sudoku-life to have all the numbers filled in perfectly one-to-nine. But my timeline wasn’t exactly realistic.

Finally, I gave up. Now I am attempting a different approach. Instead of waiting, I’m writing before I have everything figured out.

I will admit that I can’t take full credit for realizing that perfection does not exist as a minimum standard. Fortunately, I can thank my therapist, Todd, for that. Todd is the best. If I ever were to forget that he’s worth the money (which I don’t), I only have to glance at the clock at the end of a forty-five minute session to remember that he’s worth every penny. Our vulnerable conversations pass as naturally as a slight breeze, only tangible for a second but the refreshment lingers for days.

The world needs more Todds. And the citizens of our world need better access to the Todds out there. Alas, to avoid picking favorites, cheers to the many empathetic and hard-working counselors out there. We love you.

Speaking of love, I am going to love you better by being vulnerable. Here’s the messy update on my life: some days I feel rejuvenated and encouraged, sort of how you feel when you’ve worked a long stretch of early mornings and then you don’t have to set your alarm clock for the next day. I feel accomplished and satisfied. But most days I feel more like a math equation that cannot be solved easily. I plug in a few numbers thinking the new value will yield the correct result. Nope. Try again. Cross multiply? Factor the quadratic equation? Does that even make sense? You say, yes, it makes sense. Okay, we’re getting close. Nope. Wrong answer.

Against my will, I carry my wrong answers with me wherever I go. My favorite spot to dump them (besides Todd’s office) is at church. A few weeks ago my pastor asked the congregation to stand to read a prayer together aloud. I like when he asks us to stand together. There’s something supernatural about disciplining myself to do something that isn’t a comfortable proclivity. Actually, I’ll sit this one out. Oh, that’s right, I sat through the earlier part of the service. Yup. I can stand. Sometimes I find freedom empowering, but there are moments that I feel discipline even more empowering, like my soul has control over my impulses. This is why I love mornings. I would prefer to laze in bed but when I toss my jelly-legs onto the carpet (and feel slightly light-headed because I shot up like a bullet) to greet a dewy sunrise, my soul wins out. If I had listened to that misleading inclination, I would have missed the day’s first beauty.

Back to church. I’m standing.

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Credit attributed to Sir Francis Drake

The prayer’s words resonate with my soul. It seems odd to me to ask for disturbance, especially during a year when I feel discouragement every day, as if it were my middle name. But there is something freeing about this prayer. Perhaps disturbance isn’t so ill-received when we ask for it. In the process of asking, we’re letting go of our personal outcome.

This is what I learn and re-learn and practice only to forget and to try again: care about injustice passionately, but do not tug-of-war for control of things that do not belong to me. Maintain healthy boundaries. Do my best. Ask for help.

Hopefully, you can learn from my lessons even though they are not yet fully learned.

Love,

Kayla

A special thank-you to the beloved friends who supported me over the past year, specifically, my last few months on the M/V Africa Mercy. You know who you are, but other people don’t. Ria, Rachel, Nate, Andrea, David, Dianne, Kelsey, Michele, Scott, and *insert your name*. You are dear to me.

The Fear of Vanilla

“Why don’t you go out with him?” My mom asked me over breakfast.

I replied without hesitation. “He’s way too vanilla.”

“What exactly does that mean?” She looked confused.

I straightened, confident. “It means he’s too boring, settled, and plain. You know, like vanilla.”

My mom tried to suppress a chuckle. “So it has absolutely nothing to do with his ice cream flavor preferences? It’s a judgment about who he is?”

I nodded my head as she gave me a look. You know, one of those looks that screams, I’m-your-mom-so-I-love-you-but-sometimes-you-drive-me-crazy. “You’re ridiculous,” she said, and turned back to her breakfast.

Our brief conversation alluded to a deep flaw that I have: I tend to view matters black or white or, in this case, chocolate or vanilla. Analogies aside, I’m learning something new. Each of us has a Choose Your Own Adventure book of life, which contains vanilla fragments on different pages, in various settings and disguises. What is vanilla for me might be a flashy flavor for someone else or vice versa. Life is not black or white. There is beauty in the mundane and disappointment in the seemingly perfect. It’s all mixed up and in, and I cannot categorize everything.

Unfortunately, my categorizing has affected my friendships. A few weeks ago I attended church with my friend, Bekah. She’s my shopping cohort, neighborhood walking partner, bantering buddy, and happy hour comrade. It also helps (or *doesn’t* help) that we both enjoy binge-watching “Jane the Virgin”–you just don’t let friendships like that fade. As we exited the church service together, I posed a question:

“Can we talk about something?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Of course,” Bekah replied.

I kicked an unruly pebble, wishing that I could punt it across the parking lot. “I feel like you’re frustrated with me. True or false?”

“What? I thought you were frustrated with me!”

We stopped, looked at each other momentarily, and then laughed. A few minutes later we had unraveled misunderstandings, poor communication, and harmful assumptions. She confessed that she thought that I was disappointed in her “because she’s getting married” and “buying a house in Grand Rapids.” Essentially, she assumed that I thought she’s settling, boring, life over, i.e. too vanilla.

Aghast, I had to convince her that this isn’t true. I am giddy for her wedding and proud of her commitment to her awesome fiancé. “You’re starting a new adventure that no one has embarked on before,” I pointed out. “No one has married Matt–at least, not that we know of.” I winked, and the conversation ended. But my thoughts didn’t.

I felt uneasy that one of my best friends believed I am disappointed in her. Just because I am choosing differently from her (I am returning to Mercy Ships) doesn’t mean that her journey is less valuable.

The thing is, we feel strengthened and supported when people choose the same as us (this is how peer pressure works, yea?). So how do we go about our own business confidently and boldly without feeling insecure when no one strives for the same?

I wish for a simple, easy answer but at least for me, it’s not. When I embark on a unique path I suddenly think that no one can relate to me or no one is bold enough to try. This mentality manifested itself recently.

Memorial Day is one of my favorite holidays of the year. My extended family spends the weekend at my family’s cottage, which entails 25-30 humans living in a small house for four days, sharing meals and jokes, playing volleyball game after card game after board game. This year, though, I dedicated nearly eight solitary hours to a 1,000 piece puzzle. EIGHT. HOURS. Am I an introvert now? I wondered. God, help me. I played one or two games but mostly I kept to my puzzle and Sudoku book.

While it’s true living on the Africa Mercy has influenced my personality, it is more true that I felt (and still feel) dissociated from people in my hometown. I can’t relate to how the emergency department is functioning because I haven’t been there in eight months. I can’t understand the significance of which paint color to choose for the living room or which school to send my children to because (surprise!) I don’t have children to educate or a living room to decorate. I don’t even have a dog to care for. My heart is stretched and divided across the world; between blood and non-blood families; among African, mariner, Catholic and Protestant communities. My heart and brain are worldwide, so I feel exhausted if I try to share my thoughts and feelings.

But it’s important to keep trying. When I feel I can’t relate to others, I withdraw from social interaction. Instead of investing energy into conversations, I seek isolation. But guess what isolation does: it makes you feel isolated, which is not helpful. I am about to leave for ten months. Isn’t this the time to laugh, build experiences and memories with my loved ones?

I’m sorry if you tried to spend time with me and I withdrew. I hope I didn’t make you feel uninteresting or unimportant. I’m sorry if I made you feel like your life choices are less significant. They’re not. Raising a child appears overwhelming. Marrying your significant other is  courageous. Buying a house is bold. Applying to a new job is ambitious. Enrolling in graduate school is admirable. And just being yourself is enough.

You are enough. I am enough. Vanilla ice cream is delicious, especially with sprinkles.

Cheers!

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Maybe my disconnect is a blessing to society. I have weird friends. Sometimes I wear a turban.
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Ice cream with fellow Mercy Ships volunteers in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I ordered “donut” and they ordered “vegan peanut butter.” Vanilla was allowed, though.
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Once, my friend Lauren attempted to eat an ice cream cone. Lest we forget.

 

Warm Beer and Grimy Chacos

I’m seated inside the Toamasina port drinking a lukewarm beer that cost less than $1, staring at striped fish in transparent waters beneath my feet. The quiet moment invites contemplation; thoughts swarm my mind, tugging about, and I continue to stare.

My gaze focuses on my sandals–Chacos, to be exact. They’re great, aren’t they? If you’re from the United States, you’re probably nodding your head. If you’re from Michigan, it’s likely that the word “Chacos” itself causes you to salivate.

Most Chaco owners invested in the sandals because they are particularly nifty for walking, traveling, hiking, and water activities. They are sturdy and dry easily. I don’t typically wear mine to work or to run errands (clarification: they’re so comfortable that I want to wear them everywhere. Sometimes I do wear them to the grocery store). But more often than not, if I don my Chacos I’m probably headed for something slightly out of the ordinary. These sandals are, inevitably, tied to fond memories. And weird tanlines.

Right now I am especially grateful for footwear that has accompanied me around the globe, across and through nine countries and many more to come. I am astounded that slabs of brilliantly-shaped rubber could last for many years and graze a variety of terrains.

If I didn’t clean my Chacos they would smell like bus floors, rotten soil, stale sweat, and animal shit. The cleansing and refitting of these sandals, my favorite job, is 100% necessary in order to keep using them.

But you know what? I swear that as soon as I clean them, they dirty again.

Alas, my fondness for the footwear urges me to scrub again and again. I’m happy to do it because they are worth investing in. If I take care of them they can endure many years (that’s what my parents always taught me about owning quality items. I didn’t actually start listening to this advice until I turned 24).

I take another sip of beer, glance at my feet, and pause.

I’m basically a dirty Chaco sandal.

Come again?

I think God treats me like a Chaco sandal.

That seems a bit odd, but the analogy holds truth. God leads me on journeys I would never tread if I were alone. When he (or she?) cleanses me, a lazy scratch at the surface doesn’t suffice. A deep clean, often with some sort of uncomfortable, wiry brush, is necessary to release and rid the grime.

Because I am human, I also will “dirty” again, but the best thing about love is that it never ceases. God’s love for me is unending and given generously. He will never give up on me even though I mess up repeatedly. In fact, I will probably screw up before I finish writing this. I’ll probably drink way too much beer (just kidding, it’s too warm for that. I also don’t think God would be upset with me–he probably has far more to worry about than my beer consumption in Madagascar). Regardless, it won’t be long before I do something stupid or hurt someone.

The whole point of Jesus’ teachings, I think, is to never give up and always persevere. God didn’t give up on me and if I claim to follow Christ, I also cannot give up on God’s promises. He promises in the Bible to fight for me, redeem me, give me hope and a life that never ends.

Damn.

So don’t give up! Even if a person or situation feels dirty, hopeless, or useless. Refuse to give up on your marriage, your children, each other, or yourself.

If you do, come to Madagascar, sit by the Indian waters and drink a lukewarm beer. I promise that you will gain the strength to continue. I might even feel inspired to buy you your own Chacos*, if that’s what it would take to prove my point.

Cheers!

*let’s discuss this offer after I start earning an income again

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Have Yourself A Merry Little Pity Party

Yesterday marked my first Christmas away from home, in a warm climate, and aboard a ship. Rough life, huh? In all sincerity, I wasn’t particularly excited to celebrate this year. Since I arrived on the Africa Mercy five weeks ago I have battled a severe case of “scrambled egg brain.” This self-diagnosis reflects the ever-changing emotions and tired, mushy state of mind I now possess. Anyway, Christmas:

At 0640 an abrupt alarm unkindly reminded me I had to work. After a mostly sleepless night, I rolled out of bed with a scowl on my heart.

I arrived on the ward and took report from the night shift nurse. As I planned out my shift I grew more and more annoyed. Every task and assessment felt unnecessary and too involved. I convinced myself that the job requirements today were too taxing because it was Christmas. I sat down anyway and created my schedule.

My co-workers and I soon discovered a slight problem. Three of the nursing staff wanted to eat brunch at 1130 but only two could attend. We had signed up for time slots with our friends. I planned to meet three close friends and eat our Christmas meal together.

Guess who drew the short straw.

In addition to the morning excitement, I’d get to eat my holiday meal alone. It was only 0737 and I was already fighting back tears. Every muscle in my body wanted to fight the injustice. I felt sorry for my poor self.

I’m away from home. I’m tired. I have to work on Christmas. I can’t eat brunch with my friends. I have to measure urine and clean vaginas and take care of a diabetic and convince a child to exercise and…

Thankfully, these depressing thoughts prompted me to take a break early. I walked to the cafe to collect a coffee and croissant. My already sad heart almost broke when I saw the length of the line. I didn’t have to check my watch to calculate I would not have enough time to even place an order.

I asked an acquaintance if I could jump ahead. Almost immediately I was at the front. My friend, Krystal (also the holiday barista), asked me what I wanted.

“Uh, something peppermint?” I muttered.

The man in line ahead of me turned to face me. I had met him before. The spunky Aussie was the principal of the school. He spoke.

“Oh, dont worry, yours is already being made then! There, set your mug down.”

“What?” Confusion contorted my face into a funny expression.

“My wife and I had another drink made to give away. It’s peppermint and coffee. You take it! It’s for you. On us. Merry Christmas!”

I smiled, thanked him, took the coffee and sat down at a nearby table. I knew the coffee was cheap, if not free today. Why was I so touched by his kindness?

I returned to work feeling slightly more grateful. I smiled at my patients. I provided better care. I began to see all the blessings that followed in the day.

This Christmas I am thankful for different things. I appreciate the British stranger who served as a delightful brunch companion. I am thankful for the fellow Midwesterner who stopped by the ward on her Christmas to bring me delicious coffee. For the first time in a month I tasted coffee so smooth that I could drink it black. I will never forget the sweet, motherly pharmacist who spoiled me with a back massage after I told her I missed my touchy family. I am thankful for the drizzly evening weather and a close friend who sang beneath the moon with me.

It’s amazing, you know, just how much simple kindness can change your perspective. Open your eyes. Reset your mind. The feeling that comes from knowing someone is taking care of you can gently force you to start thinking of someone other than yourself.

I think God’s love works in me quite the same way. After I have spent time praying and praising in whatever form (singing, writing, taking a quiet walk) my heart transforms, shifting my gaze. The Lord’s peace, grace, and mercy cleanse my mind. They remind me of my responsibility to look after others.

What would have happened without that peppermint coffee? Sure, things could have turned around. But it would have taken longer. My endangered spirit would have stayed tucked beneath self pity, lying to people, “I’m good. I’m okay.” All for the sake of preserving a stupid sorry-for-myself attitude.

I hope this resonates with you somehow. If not, learn from my mess. Do something kind for a stranger. Pause. Share a little love. You never know what could follow.

Left: the lovely Fifaliana, who rocked her exercises on Christmas

Right: two patients from our ortho program ambulate with candy cane assistive devices

Don’t Envy Me

I left Grand Rapids in a whirlwind and didn’t get a chance to tell loved ones my thoughts. Or perhaps I just hadn’t yet articulated my goodbyes. Either way, during my 13 hour flight across the Atlantic I finally had time to process–shortly after the middle-aged Ethiopian passenger convinced me (quite easily) to ask the flight attendant for wine, and sometime before I fell into REM sleep.

I’m extending a ginormous THANK YOU to everyone who went out of their way to see me and/or bid farewell. I couldn’t see all of you but I so appreciate the thought behind your efforts. For those who I did have the opportunity to see, I carry those heartfelt and intermittently tearful conversations with me.

The final, face-to-face (because I’m certainly not dead) conversations were decorated with various words, but almost all contained the same one: “Have so much fun on your adventure!” I felt a little guilty when I heard this over and over again. I felt like a real life quitter who decided to pursue my generation’s chronic  disease known as wanderlust. But, really, I think I felt guilty because you are absolutely right: my seven month journey through Africa is, undoubtedly, an adventure.

But why are these seven months, specifically, an adventure? Because I’m in Africa? I think it has to be more than that. For the Malagasy people “going to Africa” might not be an adventure, and I know plenty of folks who live adventurously without stepping across a foreign border.

These months are an adventure because I chose risk.  I quit my job and willingly entered the unknown. I am surrounded by new faces, smells, sights, and sounds. I got electrocuted by a shower faucet. I have to reconnect to wifi at least a dozen times just to have a short conversation with a friend. I didn’t pack enough underwear (Kelsey, I should’ve listened to you). All of these mishaps are what construct said adventure.

You, also, have the capability to live adventurously. Maybe you’ve hesitated to spend money on that seemingly irresponsible vacation. Go now. Maybe you’ve thought about accepting the new job offer but you’re afraid you will like it less than what you have now. Dare to hope a little! Perhaps you’ve always wanted to talk with the teary-eyed woman you see at mass every week. Why not ask her how she’s feeling? Why not treat the homeless man to pizza instead of walking away with a full pocket and a guilty heart? Why not visit the local restaurant even if it’s not as cheap as Applebees after 9 pm? Why not ask that girl out? For crying out loud, WEAR the purple lipstick you bought months ago and stop worrying what people will think.

Adventure is all around you. You just need to choose it.

On a related note, I want to share that my days leading up to my depature were exhausting and challenging. I experienced every emotion and feeling possible during the last two weeks: pain, loss, heartache, fear, anger, joy, surprise, love, disgust, fatigue, excitement. I left like a hurricane and secretly expected that all the kinks would even out once my chacos greeted new soil. That hasn’t exactly been the case.

I’m struggling to be fully present here because I am still so connected to home. But I think it’s okay to have this struggle, and I don’t think it’ll go away anytime soon because these connections (people, really) are incredibly meaningful to me.

I miss my roommates. I miss Bekah’s word puns, Brittney’s palpable energy, Sarah’s laugh, and Christina’s passion for Chuck. I miss hospital banter with Ashley and Andrea and encountering those ridiculous RAZ moms. I miss my brothers’ hugs, my parents’ advice, and my sister’s sense of humor. I miss my pastor’s quirky sermons and the rowdy priest from mass at St. Andrews. I miss long happy hours and late night conversations and spontaneous salsa dancing lessons and Paddy’s irish accent when he reads out loud.

AND IT’S ONLY BEEN FOUR DAYS. Good things are to come, but not without sacrifice.

That’s what I ask you to remember. You can wish me well on my adventure but ONLY if you promise to see your own potential for adventure, right where you are. Sacrifice some comfort for the unknown. Start small and see where you end up. And, of course, tell me all about it!

Cheers to YOU! I love you all.
P.S. I realize that I used the word “adventure” a million times in this post, and I actually thought about using my friend, the thesaurus, to mix it up. But I thought it’d be better to use it as many times as I heard it before I left!