Mercy Ships

Mercy Ships
The largest NGO hospital ship in the world providing free medical care to the forgotten poor

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Reflections on Turning 40

It's my birthday. A milestone such as turning 40 definitely deserves a blog post. Here is my attempt to look back on the last decade.

First, a little comparison between my 20's and my 30's...

Despite our society's general aversion to aging, I am grateful for each additional year of life and the changes that come with age. I cherish the lessons I have learned and the increasing peace & wisdom that come from living out the ups and downs of life with the Lord. The past decade has been full of the highest highs and the lowest lows and everything in between. 

It was at the beginning of my 30's that I finally found my dream job. After wrestling with many questions about my calling and vocation during my 20's, I found my niche as a high school instructional specialist. I loved dividing my time between teaching students and mentoring teachers.  I was challenged when my school assigned me to teach Advanced Placement Statistics (the only class I said I wouldn't be comfortable teaching).  Statistics quickly became my favorite course to teach and I will never forget the joy when over 50% of my class passed the AP test at the end of the year, earning college credit in high school. One of the highlights of my years at Sharpstown was the annual camping trip I took with my students. I figured the best way to get my students to study for their AP exam was to take them out to the woods and make them study! Of course we also canoed on the lake, slept in tents, and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over a campfire, all firsts for many of my students. 

It was also in my early 30's that I experienced 15 months of depression, a season in which I was unable to feel happy. During depression I hated my life and I hated that I felt that way, because I still believed life was a precious gift from God.  Much of my depression stemmed from despair over being single and the certainty that loneliness could be the only possible outcome for someone without a spouse and kids. I found relief from depression when God healed me through a miraculous prayer session with my college roommates and a few others. Counseling and medication has helped keep me depression free ever since. 

Even after God healed me, I was still sad about being single. It was hard watching all my friends have the life I wished for as they married and started having children. Despite having a job I loved, I felt increasingly sure I needed to leave Houston. I needed to focus on what I could do rather than on what I didn't have.  I needed some serious community and if 400 people all living in a metal box couldn't do it, then nothing could. 

So the adventure with Mercy Ships began (that is, of course, a longer story, but you can read all about how I decided to serve with Mercy Ships in the very first posts of this blog)!  On the ship I became a braver person, more content with who I am.  I changed the narrative about myself from "loser who is still single," to "courageous woman walking with God on a difficult life path."  It took a lot of wrestling with God, and there's been plenty of tears, bitterness, and anger along the way, but as I say good-bye to my 30's I've finally made some peace with being single. Ironically, allowing myself to grieve deeply and being honest about my discontentment is what finally enabled me to receive joy and find contentment and gratitude for the life that I have.

I used to look at the future and only see loneliness. But these days I am able to look at the future with excitement, wondering what it holds.Will I settle permanently in Minnesota and become a foster and adoptive mom? Will God take me on another adventure somewhere around the world? Will I live in community housing through my church? Will I start my own business? Maybe all of these. But whatever happens, I will trust God. And this is my favorite thing about getting older. The more I experience God, the more my trust in Him grows.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Minnesota Girl

After 3 months of "wandering," I finally settled down in Minnesota two weeks ago in a small suburb outside of Minneapolis. Here I am sharing a home with my long time friends Ryan & Shelby and their 5 kids. My heart is happy and full. Leaving the ship, I had many questions about if I could be happy living back in the United States. I knew I would miss the ship community terribly and I do. But living with a family of 7 is, in many ways, quite similar to the ship. There are always kids to read books to or play games with, people to make tea for and chat about the day, daily meals together, and limited time alone. This kind of life feels sustainable and good, unlike living by myself.

Learning how to play Pandemic

Before my 3 years on the ship, I don't think I would have considered living with a family. It was only through experiencing such close relationships with families on the ship that I realized how life-giving it could be.

Thank you Barki's, Borrow's, & Dunne's for loving me so well!

So it's with great joy and gratitude that I start with life here, including celebrating some major differences from the ship: my closet is about 8 times larger than my closet on the ship (I'm not even exaggerating), a plethora of windows all around the house (I will never take windows for granted again!), eating as much raw spinach as I want, and my precious new dog!

Eleanor Autumn

I adopted Eleanor Autumn (Ellie for short) from a rescue just last week. She is a cockapoo, about 10 years old, and about the sweetest dog I've ever met. I picked her name because this is the first true autumn I have experienced in 14 years and because Eleanor has so much nickname potential: Ellie, Ellie Belly, Ellie Bell, Jelly Belly, Jelly Bean...

Can you tell I'm really happy to have a dog?
Introducing Ellie to the family

Speaking of autumn, the fall colors take my breath away. I've been tempted to stop the car while I'm driving just to stare at the trees. I love this aspect of my new home. A few days ago, we had a blizzard and I freaked out! All I could think was, "I left West Africa where it never gets below 80 for this? For snow in the first half of October? What was I thinking?"  Now that the snow has melted, I'm hoping for at least a few more weeks of fall. The item I've had to stock up on the most since coming home is socks! I realized that I've worn sandals almost every day for the last 3 years. But those days are over!

In other news, I'm really excited about my new church, a small Presbyterian church called Church of All Nations. As the name suggests, its fairly diverse and I love it already. In fact, I got my first job lead from someone at the church and now I have a job as a high school math teacher at an alternative school providing extra academic support and smaller class sizes for at risk youth. The job will start in November at the beginning of the 2nd trimester. The job is ideal for me as it is close to where I live and is only part time which gives me time to focus on some other goals, like writing and selling math curriculum and possibly doing free-lance teacher development. 

I've been thinking about what to do with this blog now that my time on the ship is over. I've thought about continuing it with a focus on "math teacher" rather than "on a ship." I have lots of thoughts about teaching math that I might like to share with the world. But for now, I want to continue to blog about my transition home after the ship.  I see lots of blogs about preparations for going overseas, but not as many about returning home well.

This summer I was able to visit two friends in Europe who left the ship a year before me. It was really helpful to see them successfully doing life and to see first hand that there is life after the ship (thank you Myriam and Floor!).  I hope reflecting on my transition will help me do it well and maybe even be helpful for those of you still on the ship, possible thinking about your own upcoming transition.

Coming soon - a blog about Intermissionary, the debriefing retreat I attended last month in Montana.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The End

The end of the year was a whirlwind of activity: final exams, end of the year celebrations, graduation, securing the ship for sailing, and saying good-bye to many crew members. We set sail right after the school year ended.  We were blessed with good weather, calm seas, and many dolphin sightings. The sail is a time of both rest and wrap up. The pace of life is much slower on the sail as the hospital and the school are both closed. I used the time to organize math resources and curriculum for the next math teacher. After teaching many of the same students for 3 years in a row, I am hesitant to hand them over to a new teacher. But I'm sure the new teacher, a young man from Germany, will do a great job.

Getting Ready to Sail
Last Day of School Pool Party

2018 Mercy Ships Academy Graduates: Jessica (Australia) & Elliot (UK)
Last Night in Cameroon
After 9 days of sailing, we docked in Dakar, Senegal for a short visit. While Senegalese officials toured the ship, I was able to get off the ship and explore Senegal. I was especially excited to visit a baobab forest, as baobab trees only grow in a few places around the world (mainland Africa, Madagascar, and Australia). 

Leaving Senegal was bittersweet; I'm not sure if or when I might return to Africa.

Docking in Dakar

Senegalese Sand Artist

Baobab Forest

We found a ropes course in the baobab forest!

Ziplining Among the Baobabs

Our summer maintenance period started when we arrived in the Canary Islands. Upon arrival, I said more good-byes, but also a hello to a special visitor: my sister! My sister traveled all the way from Wisconsin to visit me and see my home on the ship. It was really special for me to have someone from home see the ship. We also took some time to enjoy the island of Gran Canaria. 
My sister came all the way to the Canary Islands to see the ship!

We spent a morning learning to surf...or trying to anyway!

On Saturday, June 30, I finished packing, said a few last goodbyes, and cried all the way down the gangway. This ship is a hard place to leave.

Some of the Things I Will Miss (in no particular order):

1. The people
2. Cabin 4331 and my roommates
3. My students and teaching small classes
4. My classroom with windows
5. Living and working alongside people from all over the world
6. Being a part of a life changing ministry
7. The spiritual community
8. My small group
9. Starbucks drinks that cost less than $1
10. Lots of people to play board games with
11. Learning about and experiencing the culture of different African countries
12. Living on the ocean
13. The weather (I got used to the heat and humidity; I'm going to freeze in Minnesota!)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Highlights and Goodbyes

The Academy teachers did an informal teacher photo shoot! What a fun group to teach with!

We are ready for an adventure!

The iconic Mercy Ships picture with the orange life ring...we had to do it!

Another  Mercy Ships must have: the jumping photo!

Check out these other highlights from the last few months on the ship.

Cabin 4331: Best cabin ever even if the only communal space is the hallway!

My own Cameroonian style head wrap courtesy of one of our local day crew

My lovely small group (minus 2 who have left the ship already)

With such amazing African fabric all around, how can sewing not become a weekly hobby?

My running buddy Rachel - she has kept me running consistently this year!

Service project for pharmacy department with the 11th/12th graders.

Hanging out with kids at a local orphanage

Getting ready for Wacky Tacky Day 
Academy Wacky Tacky Day

The fuel trucks are finally here! 
Good-bye Tam - my very first bunkmate on the ship in Madagascar

I'm going to miss this view!

This is the season of goodbyes; as the field service winds down this month, every week more people depart - some for good, others for a much needed break before returning for the next field service in Guinea.  Even though I'm not leaving until the end of June, my emotional season of good-byes started in April when Anne, one of my cabinmates left. It was a hard goodbye because Anne, Steffi, and I have shared the same cabin since Benin.  Having the same roommates for 2 field services is quite unusual on the ship where many crew members are constantly coming and going.

In 2 weeks, the school year will end and I will say goodbye to about half of the teachers who will leave before we sail. The rest will stay for the sail and depart from the Canary Islands. All the emotions of saying goodbye are drawn out over these 3 months. It's like a band-aid that needs ripping off, but you can't take it off any faster.

The pain of goodbyes is intense but I remind myself of these wise words:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Going Home

Last month marked the 3 years anniversary of this blog! At this time in 2015 I started making plans to quit my job, sell my stuff, and move to Africa. Now three years later, I find myself again in a period of transition, making plans to return home in August. With 4 months still ahead of me on the ship it feels early to blog about the conclusion of my time with Mercy Ships; however, it is often on my mind.

I can't believe I've been blogging for 3 years!

In June, I will enjoy one last sail with the ship as we travel from Cameroon to the Canary Islands for our annual period of maintenance. On the way, we will stop in Senegal, where plans are being made to host the ship for the 2019-2020 field service. After a bit of traveling on the way home, I will return to the States at the end of July. I am excited to spend time reconnecting with friends and family all around the US and then settle in the Minneapolis area. I chose Minneapolis because I like the big city (thank you Houston) and it's only 1.5 hours from where I grew up and I'm ready to be near family.

I alternate between sadness about leaving my community and excitement for what lies ahead. The ship has been an amazing home; I love the spiritual vibrancy of this place, how easy it is to make friends, and the shared purpose and commitment of the crew. I love the adventures that await in each new country we travel to and the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. For these and so many more reasons, it will be incredibly difficult to leave the ship.

Why am I leaving? There are still dreams and goals I would like to pursue beyond the ship, the most significant being foster care/adoption. And so I am preparing to say good-bye to a place and people I love. To ease the pain of leaving, I'm collecting a list of things I'm looking forward to in this next season of life: being in driving distance of my family, being in the same time zone as my best friend, choosing my own food, getting a dog, living in a neighborhood instead of a port, having more access to nature, cool weather & the 4 seasons, learning to skate ski, not taking malaria medicine, and taking showers that are longer than 2 minutes.

When I first came to the ship, I missed a lot from home. I caught myself thinking, "When I go back to the U.S., then I'll have ________ and then I'll be happy."  This was counter-intuitive, since my decision to come to the ship was based on these thoughts: "When I live in community, then I'll be happy." Maybe one of the best lessons I have learned from living on the ship, is that in every season of life, there will be blessings and challenges, happy times and times of grief. So I try to remind myself, when I feel especially sad about leaving the ship, that there will be wonderful things about going home and hard things too, just as there are on the ship.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Twin Lakes of Mount Muanenguba

Cameroon is often referred to as "Little Africa" due to its diverse geography, climates, and cultures. In Cameroon, you can find tropical rainforests, mountains, active volcanoes, black sand beaches, grasslands, and deserts, all in a country under 200,000 square miles (about the size of California).

I was lucky to see many of these different landscapes on a hike to two craters lakes up in the mountains. The lakes are side by side and separated by a large grassy ridge. The larger lake is considered the female lake. It is considered "gentle" and you can swim in it. The smaller lake is the male lake, which no one swims in.

 At 9000 feet, it was a strenuous hike, but well worth it. The temperatures got quite cold that high up and it was a nice break from the stifling heat of Douala. We hiked through forest, villages, and the wide, grassy slopes of the mountains alongside grazing sheep. Wildflowers and butterflies were abundant.

Female Lake

Male Lake

My hiking buddies Steffi, Des, Missy, and Anne and our 2 guides Aliou and Sebastian

A refreshing swim after our 10 km hike 

We stayed overnight in a small shelter above the lakes.

Relaxing at our shelter

The view around the lakes

While everyone else was enjoying our campfire...

...I was hanging out with s village kids who were fascinated by my "white person" hair.

Good thing I like braids!

Along the way

The forest section of the hike; see the butterflies?

I counted at least 20 different types of wildflowers, after that I lost count.

Hiking with the sheep

I tried to pet the sheep but they kept running away before I could get close enough!

Grazing cattle near the end of our hike