Playing God

“We have been waiting here since Monday. We came from Nigeria.”

Our eyes meet. I glance at the four-year-old twins next to him, both struggling to balance on extremely bowed legs. I try to hide my expression from their father, fearing my transparency will only make the situation worse.

“Please. You can help us?” His words feel like fire.

I apologize again. The response doesn’t feel natural at all, but thick and poisonous. My explanation regarding a full orthopedic program cannot dissipate his tangible sadness. Or his continued questions.

“But they have pain. Can you fix it?”

My mind knows the answer is still “no” but my heart cannot support it. I need back up.

“Nate?” I beckon my supervisor. “These twins…they’ve been waiting outside the gate for five days. I know we can’t…but I need your confirmation.”

Nate’s gaze falls on the young girls. “Technically, we can’t,” he says softly.

I turn back to three pairs of desperate eyes. Feigning confidence, I repeat that the program is full.

The father is staring at me. Finally, with a quick nod he motions his family off the cement slab and toward the exit gate. I watch the man shuffle through shifty sand, trying to support his twin daughters. My heart breaks. I feel like a liar.

Our orthopedic program isn’t full.

As a screening team we had decided to allocate the sixty one orthopedic surgery slots. We divided the slots among three weeks, which is how long the screening center is open. The alternative was to take all sixty one patients as they come. First come, first serve. If we had chosen this option our slots would have filled in about three days’ time.

Some team members thought it would be fair to offer surgical opportunities to patients who will journey to Cotonou over the next two weeks. We agreed that we would attempt this approach. This meant that we would take only ten more orthopedic patients this week. We had already found those ten.

 I had thought we made a sound decision. After all, I had turned countless patients away this week. This is difficult; however, “no” is more straightforward and undemanding when the patient doesn’t meet surgical critera. I feel okay when I can shunt the control elsewhere because the disappointment is not my fault. You’re too young to have the surgery. Mercy Ships only offers this to women who are past child-bearing age. Or I’m sorry, but Mercy Ships does not do this kind of surgery. Or unfortunately, surgery could make the problem worse. These conversations are certainly sad, but they’re doable.

This “no” felt completely different. Gone were the external factors. I had no organizational chart to fall back on, no exclusion critera to support my verdict. These Nigerian twins met the requirements for surgery, but there is an overwhelming demand so we had to pick and choose. Our selection system seemed ungrounded and unstable. I don’t even want to make life-changing decisions for myself. How can I make them for other people?

When the decision is mine (or ours, as a team) the responsibility feels sovereign. The power is dreadful and condemning.

I feel like I am playing God.

Speaking of God, I am not sure what Jesus would do in this situation. He faced desperate eyes and crippling ailments. I am willing to bet that he felt overwhelmed. Even though his divine nature had no healing limitations or surgical quotas, I am convinced that as a man he felt aching disappointment and deep discouragement in every breath he took.

I watch the twins approach the exit gate. I want to scream, Come back next week! We have more slots! But what if they are too late? What if they can’t make it through the gate? What if they are the ninth and tenth orthopedic patients in line, and are denied again because we accept the first seven?

I turn back to the weaving line of people, some of them soon-to-be patients. The queue seems more like a maze of fraught individuals eager to come out at the right end. I signal the next man to approach me.

Now I understand what Jesus would do. He would keep meeting with those who are suffering. He would come back to this cement slab every day. He would remain open and continue to offer his heart to the wounded, broken, and downtrodden.

Just because you can’t help everyone does not mean that you don’t try to help anyone.

 

0700 at the screening center. outside the gate nearly a thousand people gather every day .

Disclaimer: This is a personal and private page about my experience aboard. This is not an official Mercy Ships page. The reviews and statements presented here may not reflect the beliefs of the organization.

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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!

I Would Never Do That

“Alright, it’s time!”

No. I close my eyes, pretending to sleep.

“Come on, Kayla, you have to come.” My co-worker, Kim, bounces eagerly, her shoes spitting sand on my face. She knows I’m awake.

I sit up, arms crossed with tension. “If you pressure me then I definitely won’t go. I have to decide on my own terms.”

“Ok, then, just come along and we’ll just…look.”

Kim, my roommate Christina, and I ascend the jagged rock behind my little brother, Jaron, who is leading the way. My skin has already transformed into a bizarre looking layer of bumpy raw chicken. “Guys,” I try one last time. “I’m already freezing cold and I’m DRY right now. I don’t want to jump in the water…” They ignore my dramatic monologue and we continue climbing.

The sun’s warmth is the day’s only redeeming factor. Unfortunately, the trek to the designated point is completely shaded, and the physical discomfort I feel intensifies the emotional dread I’m battling. My eyes widen in awe as we approach the cliff. I can’t move my gaze from the majestic beauty of Michigan’s Pictured Rocks lakeshore. The water is aquamarine and as clear as a glass of water. Powerful swells of Lake Superior assault the rocky peninsula beneath our feet. I shiver.

Jaron stands near the edge, pauses momentarily, and then jumps. I count at least three full seconds before I hear a splash. A moment later he emerges over 40 feet below, grinning at us from icy waters. He sports a stupid grin across his face, waving frantically for a follower. “Come on! IT’S AWESOME!”

Kim and Christina look at Jaron, glance at the shore, and then at each other. It’s clear they’re less concerned about the jump itself and more worried about the hazardous swim to safety. All I can think is that my little brother currently has one up on me.

I walk briskly to the edge, realizing that I don’t actually have a choice. My competitive nature and thirst for adventure win out. Behind me the girls are talking to each other, shocked that I’m even considering the plunge.

I blink. My mind and feet betray me. I jump. Behind me Kim is yelling, “STAY STRAIGHT,” but there’s only one thought on my mind that I can actually vocalize: “Shhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiittttttttttt!!!!!”

Three seconds later someone punches me in the face. Or did I just transform into a sock inside of a washing machine? Hard to say. I try to swim as waves argue with each other, pushing and pulling me in opposite directions. I sputter toward the surface.

Little relief comes after I inhale fresh air. I’m certain an old, fat woman is churning these waters around me, cackling, while I (a small particle of cream) fight desperately to remain afloat. I’m mostly upset that my boobs, which represent 90% of my body fat, aren’t helping me AT ALL. Good for nothin’. I guess I’ll have to use my arms and legs. 

The journey back to shore is both treacherous and tiring. Thankfully, my brother is a strong enough swimmer to support himself and act as my personal lifeguard. I love him for it–but let’s be real: I would’ve loved (even more) to receive first aid and mouth-to-mouth from a shirtless and muscled Coast Guard rescuer. Maybe next time. Right now all I want is food, warmth, and bed.

Several hours later, thanks to northern pasties and subpar coffee, I am thawed from the inside out. The four of us depart the flannel-filled establishment in search of a nearby campsite. No luck. Instead, we decide to make use of our time and drive to St. Ignace, which is over two hours away.

Jaron is navigating us through the darkened world. I peek at the stars, thankful to retreat to reflection. I can’t help but relish the delight of my cliff jump. Yes, it sucked, but I’m so glad I did it. I laugh, thinking of how I initially resisted the idea. Why was I so opposed? More importantly, what inside of me changed at the cliff’s edge? Why did I do it?

I suppose I was opposed because I didn’t consider that other factors (such as competition and adrenaline) would outweigh my fears. I realized at the moment, watching my brother below, that I could handle twenty minutes of bone chilling cold to achieve the satisfaction of a new experience. But those are influences I never considered until I was at the point of decision.

I’m starting to think that this happens more often than I realize. I ponder an opportunity or path and conclude, I would never do that. Or more often, I could never do that. When I finally come to the moment of decision, BAM. I’ve decided to do exactly what I had previously deemed improbable. 

I remember feeling deeply discouraged when I received my midterm grade during my first year of nursing school. Just before that term had started I told my parents that I was going to quit nursing school and move abroad to work with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). They laughed and responded, “no” (I wasn’t laughing). I began my pediatric rotation and suffered through the courses, receiving my worst grade in all of nursing school that term. What did I tell myself, looking at my scores? It doesn’t matter. I would never work with kids anyway.

Three years later I applied for a job at a children’s hospital. When the HR representative called me and offered the position, I still had hesitations even though I had sought them out. I was confused because I had always told myself I would never… But guess what: I did, and I’m so glad I did. 

A few years ago I considered (for a hot second) making a commitment to being single, but the thought actually made me nauseous. Several friends did this during college and all reported good things, saying they pursued healthy friendships, learned about themselves, and invested time in their faith. I, however, abhorred the idea of relinquishing control. I could never do that. What if I meet an awesome guy? Woof. So I said no and concluded I never would. 

Late this summer I sat at Reeds Lake, feeling an unusual craving, almost a burden, to pursue romance. I’ve been single for the last year and a half so this newfound pressure felt unnecessary. Deep down I knew that I didn’t want to start anything before moving to Africa in November. I also don’t want to pour my energy into a relationship while I’m working with Mercy Ships. Frankly, the timing just seemed right and I felt peaceful about it. So I’ve decided that I’ll stay single until I return from my worldwide endeavors–and this time around I haven’t felt nauseous.

Cheers to saying you’ll never do something and then doing it!

   

    
   
 
[yes, I did wear the same outfit for four days. You can see the photos were taken on different days by subtle changes in headband positioning.]

From Michigan to Madagascar

“That sounds so cool. You should totally do it,” I affirmed, cupping my steamy, tea-filled mug.

Kelsey, my dear friend and college comrade, smiled. “You should think about doing it with me.”

I inhaled earl grey steam and pondered. “Mercy Ships? Nah. I’ll do my own thing.” I withheld my genuine reason for declining. Truthfully, my heart yearned to work overseas but I wasn’t interested in volunteering and raising money. I was already paying twice the required monthly payment on my student loans. Even though I tried (so hard) to sweet talk the Chase Bank man during our chats, I was certain those loans weren’t going anywhere. It seemed silly to ask for money when I still owed the bank thousands.

Yet it wasn’t absurd for Kelsey to ask me to join her. For over a decade I have felt a stirring as a living idea grew within me. In college I studied nursing and Spanish and traveled as often as I could: I taught English in Nicaragua, climbed Mayan ruins in Mexico, worked on farms in Cambodia, and visited Buddhist temples in Thailand. I’ve visited Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Hungary, Poland, France, and the UK. Oh, and let’s not forget our friendly neighbor, Canada. All of these excursions have fueled my passion for working overseas.

After college I pursued my international dream by applying for jobs in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Abu Dhabi. None of these came to fruition. Frustrated and discouraged, I harbored bitterness toward God, convinced that I was never going abroad again. I felt trapped in Grand Rapids, but the truth is that I was being unbelievably dramatic and, more importantly, I was actually trapped in my own self-pity and limiting stipulation for working abroad: I still refused to consider volunteer work.

I remember the moment my perspective changed. Six months ago I accompanied a group of Calvin nursing students on a trip to Belize. I recall one morning walk along a dirt road in the western mountains. I had arisen early that morning, grabbed my Bible and notebook, threw on a pair of sandals and tiptoed out the door while my roommates slumbered steadfastly. I headed for the hills before the coffee was brewing.

I’m not sure when the thought came to me. Maybe it happened when the sun illuminated the landscape; or perhaps it was the prior day’s memory of patients at the rural clinic, but a quiet, firm thought whispered, you love being abroad. You love it enough that you can ask people to help you come back.

I couldn’t disagree with this notion. I love international travel because the world wakens me. All five senses are heightened when I’m abroad: I inhale fresh scents and odd smells; I hear sounds of languages and the buzz of traffic; I perceive different faces and rugged landscapes; I taste new cuisine and flavors; I feel harsh climates against my skin. These awarenesses make me feel alive.

After that morning walk in Belize the window to volunteer work opened so I could no longer invent a reason to say no to Mercy Ships. I called Kelsey and asked her to meet with me again.

We sat in a different coffee shop. I told her about my recent Central American experiences and then braced myself to reveal the good news.

“I’m going to apply to Mercy Ships. I think I can raise the money and it’d be ideal to go together.”

She grinned. “Yes!”

I headed for home and filled out the application before I could talk myself out of it.

One week later I logged into my email account and read:

Possible Dates of Service in Madagascar

I blinked, anticipating that the message would change. It didn’t. I read that Mercy Ships had an assignment for me. From November 22, 2015 to May 14, 2016 I would be aboard the Africa Mercy, which is currently anchored in the Indian Ocean off the coast of northeast Madagascar. The position they offered is on a pediatric ward where I’d take care of children after they’re released from surgery.

I didn’t waste any time. Of course I wanted to go! But concerns drowned my mind: Kelsey? Housing until November? Loans?

The Lord addressed all of these concerns within a few days. Unfortunately, I’m gifted at crafting countless worries so I’ve already thought of a thousand more. I’m asking for prayer that I am organized and diligent. I need at least one friend to pray specifically that I don’t lose my passport. I’m asking another to pray I receive my immunizations and don’t contract malaria. Maybe two or three could pray lemurs do not attack me. If these don’t interest you there is another way you can help me.

I’m requesting that some contribute financially to help me raise $7,000. If you’re willing I would deeply appreciate donations to either my Mercy Ships account or to my personal volunteer account. If you donate to Mercy Ships (http://mercyships-us.donorpages.com/crewmates/KaylaInnis/) you’d pay for things like housing and travel costs (and receive a tax deduction). If you donate to my personal account you’d supply me with essentials like deodorant and coffee, which would be an answer to ALL the volunteers’ prayers.

I’m determined to make it to Madagascar but I can’t do this alone. I don’t want to do this alone. So let’s chat. I have much more to tell you!

Peace & Blessings,

          Kayla

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photo credit: Hannah Innis