when leaving is harder


I never doubted that God was calling me to leave the ship.  I knew if I stayed it would only be out of fear of what was next.   The ship was comfortable and known.   The ship was family.   The ship was home.   But I knew I had to choose faith, not fear, in response to the unknown and leave even though I had no idea what I was heading into.

I am almost 30 and for the first time I do not know what is next.   In the past, even if the path was a little uncertain, I always had a plan or goal or something that I was moving towards but not this time.  For the last few months I’ve been mostly excited for the unknown; the adventure of open possibilities that were going to be in front of me.

Who am I freaking kidding?

I am almost 30, unemployed and essentially just moved in with my parents.  I’m still in denial on that last one.  If I don’t unpack my bags am I really living here? No, right?  So instead I’m continuing to live out of a heap of wrinkled clothing strewn about my brothers old room so I don’t have to see it in mine – that is if I can muster enough motivation to even get dressed in the morning.

It’s hard to not just stay in pj’s when there is nothing I need to get dressed for.  It’s hard to get out of bed when there is nothing to get up for.  It is hard to get out of the darkness when I can’t see the light.

For the first time home doesn’t feel like home.  It feels like a prison reminding me that I have no idea what is next, how long I’ll be here, and that I’m alone and apart from community.  For the first time I was not excited to be flying into Boston because I didn’t know when I’d be flying back out again.

I’ve always known I was meant to live and serve overseas.   So why am I back in the US, God?

That is a question only he can answer and only in his time.   I know all I can do is trust.  He has gotten me this far and he won’t fail now.

I knew I wasn’t supposed to stay on the AFM.  God called me into the next stage of life, whatever that stage is.  My heart was completely sown into community and life there but it was time to go.  There is nothing drawing me to this home.  Nowhere feels like home.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” C.S.  Lewis

I am made for another world but I am here, now.   So I will sit and wait and pray myself into truth and light.   I will get up in the morning.   I will get dressed.  I may even unpack one of these days.   And I will trust.  Trust that God has already written my future.   Trust there is a reason I’m back in Maine.  Trust there is community here even if it doesn’t look like what I think it should.   Trust that no matter where I end up, it is temporary, for my home is in heaven.   And trust that all he wants from me is an obedient heart.

Here’s to the next step in this journey.



Dark Days/Light Days


dark days

  • Tired
  • Exhausted
  • Drained
  • Overwhelmed
  • Stressed
  • Pager
  • Missed laundry slots
  • Sick of a tiny bed and an 8 week menu
  • Can’t sleep

Bad Days

  • Shawarmas
  • Move nights
  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Depth
  • New songs
  • Ice cream
  • Community
  • Laughter
  • Good conversation with good people at any hour of the day or night

Good days

  • New friends
  • Goodbyes
  • Joy
  • Heartache
  • Don’t want to leave
  • Ready to go home
  • Being supported by community
  • Being trapped by community


I don’t know where to begin to process these emotions.  All of these things can be felt and experienced at any time on any given day.  In less than five weeks I will be back in the US with a completely blank future staring me in the face.  I truly am in love with this ship and this community but I know I cannot stay.  I know God is telling me to leave.  I know it is time to “go home” but where is home?   What is home?

I have spent the last three years calling this pressure cooker of an environment home.  Here we experience emotions to the max and sheer proximity accelerates how often and why we interact with one another.  All that is to say, especially now as I am trying to exit gracefully which I’m beginning to think is impossible, that a good day can turn into a bad day with one brief encounter or vice versa.  Patience is running low, emotions are high and we are all messy, complicated human beings (or in the words of Van Halen – humans being.  Shine on).

However, I have started to look at my days in terms of light and dark instead of good and bad.

A dark day is one lived apart from the light of truth.

A light day is one lived in truth in the midst of hardship and struggles. 

There can be good things in the midst of darkness just like there sometimes has to be bad circumstances in the light.  But more importantly, light is the cure for darkness.  Light shining, truth exposed and gloried in, this is the antidote for the darkness in my life.

Looking back on life, there were plenty of instances when I had a smile on my face, was enjoying life but was secretly enveloped by darkness on the inside.  Now, as I’m nearing the end of what has become “normal life” and am preparing to leave a home which I dearly love, I am being run over with more feelings than I have ever experienced and am desperately trying to stay above the emotionally stable surface.  I’m not going to lie, there have been a lot of dark days recently, but I have to stop and ask myself, why am I not living in the light of truth? 

What is making my dark day dark?

Is it people?  Circumstances?  My perception?  All of the above?  Whatever it is, why am I letting these things shadow my life in darkness when I can run to the source of light?

God never promised this life would be easy.  In fact, more often than not in scripture the opposite is true, but Jesus commands the weary and heavy-laden to go to him for rest.  I am to find shelter in him.  I am to cast my anxiety on him.  I am to trust him.  I am not to be afraid or terrified.  He is my friend.  He is my Father.  He will comfort me.  He will protect me.  He will provide for me.  He will trudge with me through the mess of this life, shining light into the darkest corners of my soul…if I let him.

I am not saying that the goodbyes and the grief and the confusing bits of this transition should not be felt and experienced or that any of it is easy.  I am saying that the difference between my light days and my dark days should be how much I’m living in Christ and not the good or bad events surrounding me.  We will all have bad days, that is the reality of this life, but bad days do not have to be defined by darkness.


I guess the hard part now is actually living in that truth.



You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

Great Are You Lord – All Sons & Daughters



(Matthew 11:28-30; Psalm 91; Philippians 4:6-7; Joshua 1:9; John 15:15; 2 Corinthians 1:3-5; Philippians 4:19; Hebrews 10:23)





Tortillas and Grapes: the nose knows

“Huh.”  Contemplating, that’s all I said when I uncovered the SBA plate. I was overwhelmed by a smell I knew. It was a smell that in all honesty started to make me hungry. It was the smell of tortilla chips. It was Pseudomonas.

Microbiology is the science that deals with microorganism.  It’s an invisible world brought to life where color explodes and smells are amplified.

As a second round of plastics begins here in Benin, the ORs are gearing up for more burn contracture releases and lipoma removals while the lab readies to be hurled into this world of colorful and potent, invisible life.


©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest; Dyllan with Grandmother in B Ward


In the Africa Mercy laboratory we are concerned mainly about aerobic bacteria and there are numerous steps we take to identify all the characters present.  One technique, unofficially, is smell.

So just for fun, here is a list of what my nose knows…


Pseudomonas aeruginosa: grapes or tortilla chips.

This has always perplexed me. In my mind these two things are nothing alike. Since I was 17 years old and taking my first micro class with Mrs. McBrien (shout out!!) I have always smelled grapes. The rich, sugary, children’s Tylenol, icy push-pop on a summer day, artificial grape smell. It overwhelms the incubator when it is growing.

As mentioned earlier, the other day I finally smelled the tortilla chips. I am now convinced that it is not a people smell one or the other sort of thing, but that different strains have different smells. The less colorful, not as impressive strains smell like a boring bowl of corn chips while the iridescent, multicolor strains take on the artificial grape smell – maybe



Proteus species: sweaty socks or chocolate cake.

Again, how is this possible? What kind of chocolate cake are people eating that smells like a boy’s locker room? With this one my theory is the longer you work in micro the less vile some things become, so after a year or so the musky scent of Proteus does begin to smell like a dark chocolate cake. It’s weird, I know, but trust me it does.


Strep viridans and Group F Strep: butter.

This is another one to make your mouth water. When you get a pure plate of Strep viridans, you may as well have walked into a movie theater it smells so much like freshly popped popcorn. You can almost feel the grease as you swipe a colony for more testing.


E. coli: mothballs.

Take a walk through grandma’s closest and you are there. It is that strong, chemical smell that burns your nostrils.


Eikinella corrodens: bleach.clorox

Plain and simple, there is no arguing, everyone is in agreement that this one smells like a bottle of Clorox.


Last, but not least,

Staph aureus: Staph aureus.

I’m not sure there is another way to describe it.  S. aureus has a very specific spell but it does not smell like anything else.  Work long enough in a micro lab and you too will know what this unique smell is, as well as all the others.

Thanks for joining me on this journey into the incubator.




‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…on the AFM


‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the ship,

Not a patient was stirring, no pallets or lips.


The IVs were hung from the ceiling with care,

In hopes Dr. Gary would soon be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of straight legs danced in their heads.


Leeanne in her ‘kerchief, John in his cap,

Had settled their brains for a long sailors nap.

When out on the dock there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bunk To see what was the matter.

Away to my porthole I flew like a flash,

Tore open the curtains, threw up the sash.

The moon on the crest of the ocean below,

Gave a luster of midday to the pollution that glows.


When what to my wondering eyes was in view,

But a flying Land Rover and eight tiny crew.

With a driver so yovo, so southern and quick,

I knew in a moment it was Reverend Nick.

Senior Chaplain Nick Cash leads worship on the bow of the Africa Mercy.

More rapid than zemis his small crew they came,

He whistled and shouted and called them by name,

“Now Eli, now Caroline now Abby and Emma .

On Lucas on Zaiden, on Jack and Hannah.

To the top of the deck, the top of the funnel,

Now dash, away dash away, dash away all.”

As the fronds that before the wild cyclone did fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.

The Africa Mercy during sail from Durban, South Africa to Cotonnou, Benin

So up to deck eight the courses they flew,

With a Rover full of mangos and Reverend Nick too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard up above,

The screeching chatter of children we love.

Down the red stairs and turning around,

Into reception Nick came with a bound.

He was dressed in blue scrubs from head to his toe,

Gave a nod to Jacqui who said, “Mikwabo.”

COM389 Jacqui Saward (AUS) Receptionist at work on the Africa Mercy.

A bundle of toys he had on his back,

He headed to the wards to unload the sack

He spoke not from the Word but went straight to his work,

He filled the children’s shoes then turned with a jerk.


Then laying a hand on the side of his belly,

Up the elevater he rose in a hurry.

Quick to his Rover, to his crew gave a tug,

I think they all caught a GI bug.

I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,

Not, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

But an important phrase we should all keep in mind,

“Use hand sanitizer, so you don’t all die!!!”


The Africa Mercy during sail from Durban, South Africa to Cotonnou, Benin



the journey

The Africa Mercy is in Benin.


This statement means so much more than just a ship arriving in a country.

We have now been in Cotonou, Benin for almost four full months but this blog has been in the works for much longer than that.

Two years ago, when I re-joined the ship as Sr. lab tech, we were supposed to leave the Canary Islands for a quick seven-day sail and arrive in Benin in late August.  Perhaps you remember that things didn’t go as planned.  Nearly two months of collective sail time, multiple trips to South Africa, two years in Madagascar, and one Ebola epidemic later and we are finally in Benin.

As I made the trip back around the tip of Africa, into Cape Town and on to West Africa I was overwhelmed with feelings of nostalgia.  In some ways, it felt as though we had never left.  I still knew Cape Town better than my home cities.  I visited my favorite restaurants, hiked my favorite trails and enjoyed time in a city which captured a piece of my heart in 2014.


But as much as these things all remained unchanged, I am not the same person I was two years ago, and for that, I thank God.

So why has it taken me four months to sit down and write this blog post?  I could say it is because I have been too busy, which in some regard, I have been.  However, the honest-truth is that I haven’t wanted to face it.  I haven’t wanted to process who I am and what I have experienced.  I haven’t wanted to think about what it means to finally be in Benin.

But I cannot run from it any longer so here it goes, my top three lessons learned from the last two plus years…

God calls to this ship who he wants, when he wants, for whatever purpose he wants and I may never see or understand his reasoning but sometimes he shows us a glimpse of his plan and that is a beautiful privilege.


God has called me to this ship to be Snr. Lab tech whether I want the responsibility or not, and with that calling he has equipped me.  It is only by his strength that I survive day to day.  It is only by his equipping that I have managed to lead my team.  However, in all this, he has taught me that being a leader doesn’t mean being the loudest voice or the strongest opinion.  He has taught me that leading is listening and learning.  And leading is confidence in his abilities and plan, not my own.

In that, God has given me confidence.  Confidence in who I am in him.  Confidence in who I am in the hospital.  Confidence in who I am in this community and confidence in my relationships and interactions with others.  This has manifested itself in many ways, the least of which was a drastic hair cut (maybe I’ll share more on that one day).

That seemed easy enough, right?  Well unfortunately, it’s the lesson that has still not sunk in after two years onboard that I don’t want to face.  It is the fact that God is in control of this ship and the patient’s and her crew.  It is not until I relinquish control that he can show me just how powerful he is.  He supplies all that I need to run the lab and he never fails me.  It is not until I can trust him that I can let myself take a break from the stress that is the Africa Mercy and truly live in the grace, mercy and perfect peace that he offers.

I know that without the first three lessons I would not even be close to learning the last and I am thankful for the experiences that shaped those first few years of my time here.  It seems strange to think that it has been years.  It seems strange to think of the transformation I have experienced when I feel like it was just a few weeks ago that I was leaving the States for an unknown adventure.  But I know I am not the same person.


Now that I am finally in Benin, I hope and pray that I am ready to be here.  I pray that I am ready to face the spiritual battle that is so heavily raging in this country.  I pray that I have trust enough to let God be in control.  I pray that I have confidence, not in my ability but his, to lead and lead well.  I pray that when I leave this ship, whenever that may be, that these lessons will stay with me.

It has been a whirlwind.  Let’s keep going.

Welcome to Benin. Mikwabo!

Systemic Sorrow

There is a sorrow welling up in this community that has placed us all on the edge of an emotional cliff and we might just be one goodbye away from becoming an inconsolable puddle of emotions.

In a community where every friendship has an expiration date and every home a lease agreement, we have managed to hold on to Madagascar longer than expected.  God’s provision led us to this country in October of 2014 after months of waiting and delays due to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.  His grace let us stay here an extra year.


The result of this extra year means we are that much more invested into the lives of our patients, our day crew and Tamatave as our home. One can never get used to the aching that occurs when over and over pieces are torn away from the heart.

In the last few weeks we have said goodbye to patients and family members, some of whom spent a good portion of both field services on this ship.


©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest; Dyllan with Grandmother

We are saying goodbye to our local day crew who are some of the hardest workers I have ever seen and who have become cherished friends.  We are saying goodbye to crew members who are finished serving onboard the Africa Mercy after years of service.

We are saying goodbye to home – a place that has our favorite restaurants and hidden beaches to escape the stress of life. It’s a place that has memories both good and bad of two challenging yet rewarding years of life.  It’s a place full of exquisite beauty in nature


and in people.  And it’s a place where God is working and moving even though our time here is done.


©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest; New OBF ladies waiting for surgery at the HOPE Center

Tonight we are also saying goodbye to three rock stars.  We are honoring and saying goodbye to our Mercy Ships Academy graduating Class of 2016. This is a class of three individuals who are going to take this life by storm.  It’s a class that has a vision and perspective of this world far beyond the eighteen years they’ve seen – a class of true world changers.


Photo Credit: Walter Pretorius; Mercy Ships Academy Class of 2016

©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest;

In a community where friends, families, coworkers and counties are constantly circulating around a revolving door I’m not sure I even know how to begin to convey the exhaustion that is brought on by not only an incredibly long and trying field service but also the emotional drain of so much sorrow. In the book “Call of the Wild,” Jack London writes

There was nothing the matter with them except that they were dead tired.  It was not the dead-tiredness that comes through brief and excessive effort, from which recovery is a matter of hours; but it was the dead-tiredness that comes through the slow and prolonged strength drainage of months of toil.  There was no power of recuperation left, no reserve strength to call upon.  It had been all used, the last least bit of it. Every muscle, every fiber, every cell, was tired, dead tired.  And there was reason for it.

“And there was reason for it.”

These words could not be more true. So I ask you to take a minute to pray for our crew that we will find rest and comfort in our Sovereign God who holds all things in his hands and in all things works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest – Matt 11:28