Tag Archives: non profit

Joy. And how to use both faucets

A couple of months ago, my friend Misha asked me to write a guest post on J.O.Y.

So it’s been in the forefront of my mind, each day, since then.  Looking for it. Feeling it.

And since then, life has happened. Some little pleasures. Some little sadness’s. Some big delights and thrills. And some deep sorrows and heartache too. And, in between, all the beige when life is just ordinary.

I used to think that joy would pour into, or out of, me (not sure how that works) like British water taps (faucets).

ALL.  Or,  NONE.

Hot and scalding joy on the left.

Or FREEZING to the point of numbing whatever body part was unfortunate enough to be under the spout, from the negative emotions out of the tap on the right.

But in my life’s journey, joy isn’t usually that all-encompassing.  Like mixed taps in the rest of the world, I find joy usually blends in with whatever else is going on, across a whole range of my emotions.

 And although the Brits are probably right that separate taps are character building, I don’t find it particularly pleasant. And, I’d much rather my life, and its impact on others, lean towards the pleasant!

 When Misha asked me to write on joy, all sorts of examples jumped into my mind, immediately.  Most of them small, everyday delights. Much of mine felt through my senses, as though sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, are receptors of joy.  There’s a physical component, whether it’s savoring a glass of wine on a Friday afternoon on my patio, sensing the Divine as I watch the sun set in a cacophony of orange and red, making love on a lazy Saturday morning, catching sight of my kids sleeping peacefully in the twilight, or the rush of seeing my ‘sent’ folder ping with the deliverable I just completed. My senses help me realize when joy is happening.

I think joy can quickly turn from the warm glow of pleasure as you visit with a friend, to all-encompassing ecstasy, when that visit turns into laughing from so deep within, for so hard and so long, that someone ends up wetting themselves. And then you laugh even harder as your joy somehow expands even a little more (especially if it’s not you that did the wetting. That might have the opposite effect.) And finally there’s tears streaming down your cheeks and no room for much of any emotion, but blissful joy. (Of course the memory might have a touch of embarrassment too. For their sake.)

But, even when it’s a milestone JOY, like delivering your first speech as a Vice President, the emotions can be mixed. After all, we really are complicated creatures.  What if the technology failed on you?  Or your boss, or spouse, didn’t make it?  But, I venture a guess that your overarching feeling on that day, and the memories afterwards, are painted with big, wide, brush strokes of joy, with only smaller strokes of irritation or sadness.

The opposite extreme is true too.  I’ve sat with friends whose precious six-month-old has died. And with friends whose parents are gone, much, much, too soon. The sadness is almost unbearable. And the grief palpable. But, there is still a trace of joy. From sharing sweet memories. From silly pictures. From simply showing up–being together and helping to shoulder the pain.  From the shared love.

I guess what I’m saying is, there is room for joy in the mundane, to extreme pain.  Joy can be found each day. In the routine. In the grey.  Our job is to look for it. Acknowledge it.

But I also think that for both faucets to operate together, you have to allow it. No, even stronger, you have to WILL it.

For some unknown reason, which I find sad, we humans see the pain quite easily.  That faucets seems to always work well. All the time.

But, in the extreme moments of pain, I have to make a choice that the event doesn’t, and won’t, define me.  That I am more than the event of my suffering. Sometimes good days are hard to come by, and I have to look for the joy.

I am not the victim of abuse. I am not the spouse who was cheated on. I am not the mother of boy who was hit by a women who had been drinking, and forever changed the trajectory of his life. And the list could go on, of events that have happened in my past. Not one of which defines me. And honestly, none of which I carry with me.  I have chosen to turn on my joy-faucet.

The same is true in the everyday, where joy is not obvious. Where sometimes it is harder to remember to turn on the joy-faucet.  When I’m heads-down, lost in Excel-induced torture, and under the gun for a deadline, there is joy in my accomplishment and expertise.  Joy in the logic and organization of each formula I finally get right (believe me, I celebrate each one).  Or how about when it’s grey and rainy, with nothing but organizing and cleaning on the day’s agenda?  I find joy in the completed accomplishments as I check of my to-do list, but I also revel in my health and physical abilities while decimating spider-webs in those hard to reach places.  And then I celebrate the day is done with a glass of robust, red, wine. That tickles my tongue.

Happiness and joy are not inherently found in my job. No corporation or boss is going to give me joy. Even if it’s the company I founded.  Joy is found, or rather, made, by who I am. By my passions.  This  has been a new revelation for me. I thought this year of travel and experiences we’ve just completed would translate into THE job.  The dream job. The one that would help to change the world.

It hasn’t.

And I’ve had to re-evaluate why I work, and how to find joy in what I do. Because I’m not doing my dream job (and one day, hopefully soon, when I am that fortunate, it won’t bring me joy either). So, I look for joy in things that bring me fulfillment–like the joy I give others when I fix what was driving them crazy. When I create process where there was chaos. I find joy in the skills that I use. In the quality of my work. In the expertise I share. And of course, in seeing the paycheck hit my account.

Many of us intuitively look for, and experience, joy. For others, it is a learned experience. I think joy can be a favorite viewpoint, a way of life, a habit that becomes a discipline.

Because you know what, joy builds a foundation for me to be strong. For me to have hope. For me to dream big. For me to love well.

Here are some steps I follow, to awaken my life, and turn my joy-faucet on full-force:

  1. Know myself. Stick to it. Don’t let someone else’s behavior (or poor choice) make me feel inept or get lost in self-doubt.
  2. Make a conscious choice about what matters to me, things or experiences, without apologizing for it. And then spend my time and money there. And find others with the same values.
  3. Be honest. Life is hard. It’s not all rainbows. Admit how I’m feeling. Both positive and negative. Don’t live in denial. Personal and professional transformation happens when I look inside and ask the hard questions and face up to what I’m feeling.
  4. Be a friend. To myself. To my  Dreamboat. To my friends. Not just when there’s drama. When things are ‘normal’/beige/boring.  Have a conversation with someone who really knows me, when there is NOTHING to      catch up on. That’s when I get to the good stuff. When we have to share from the heart. Or sit in silence. Either way.  Be. Together.  Just show up.
  5. Be brave. Trust my heart. Change the atmosphere around me by stepping out. Bravery is contagious.
  6. Be vulnerable. (Read anything by Brene Brown on joy and vulnerability.)

So I challenge myself, and each of you, to turn on the joy-faucet and make it a habit, to infuse our lives’ paintings with joy. And therefore not make others’ interactions with us, an opportunity to build their character :-)

BE joyful!

 

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Filed under July 2014

Not so gracefully

Dreamboat says I’ve a tendency to be a martyr.

I’m not saying he’s right. (But, he may be right.)

I need to give a disclaimer here that this post is going to be shallow. Maybe even vapid. There’s no excuse. But, I took a vow of honesty, so here goes a spotlight into that part of my personality.

Getting older sucks.

I’ve watched my grandparents this week. (We’re gearing up for Grandpa’s 90th birthday party this weekend!) The amazing and beautiful legacy they have created will last for many, many, many, many generations to come. But, still, they’re old. And they know it. And it’s hard.

Peanut getting kisses from Gigi (his great-grandma).

Because people treat them differently.

People don’t automatically see the nearly 70 years they’ve been dedicated to each other. Or the businesses they’ve created. Or the children they’ve reared (and the hundreds of thousands of lives changed by those offspring and their spouses). Or the grandchildren who are continuing with their lives’ work, to impact those less fortunate. Or their brilliance. Or their kindness. Or their wisdom. Or even their inner-teenager-troublemaker-at-a-moment’s-notice.

People see them as old.

Grandma Janice, Grandpa Charlie, and me.

 

And I’m getting old. (See how I made this is about me?)

Before 40, I didn’t have a single grey hair. In the teeny bit of time since then, I’m stunned by the number of non-blond hairs (ok. Some should be DARK blond too. That’s all I’m admitting here.)  And the lines on my face. And that the skin on my neck is sagging. And that when I caught sight of my reflection in one of the very few full-length mirrors we’ve had during our travels, I thought I saw an old woman!

I have to tell you how much I looked forward to turning 40. I truly did. I felt like finally, I had achieved the proper age number to support my experience. That I would not be disqualified for executive roles for being too young. That my age was a badge of honor and long-awaited entrance to the ‘inner circle of the wise’.

That lasted 5 minutes. (Or two years, if you’re being literal.)

But as the international portion of our year of travel started to wind down, and I started to think about going back to work, the more I became aware of the downsides of getting older.

I’m no longer the ‘young hire’ with the fresh, new ideas. I’m no longer the cheap hire. I’m no longer at a place where I want, or am able, to try new things ‘just because’.

And that’s just the work-related issues.

It doesn’t matter that I feel (and sometimes act) twenty-two-years-old. I’ve just turned forty-three. And it’s caused me to take stock of where I am in life. To evaluate my contribution.

And I’ve come up lacking.

I understand why many of those I know are divorcing. Moving. Buying mansions and sports cars. Writing books (which I totally want to do).

I am getting a first-hand-look at the motivators behind a mid-life-crisis. I get it. I feel it.

I want my life to count. I want meaning and fulfillment in, and from, my relationships. I want my internal beauty to make an indelible impact. For me, it’s for those less fortunate, for the downtrodden. And I feel like I’ve not made a dent. There’s so. Much. More. To. Be. Done.

And, of course I’m being honest here, so I have to admit I want my external beauty to last, too.  I want the men who ogle to stop getting older (well, sort-of. At least stay in the thirty to fifty year-old-range. I draw the line when they’re young enough to be my offspring. Ewww.) But, why is it my eyelashes need to thin and break? (Who are the nasty little elves that yank them off my sleeping lids each night and give them to my Littles??) Are the sun spots really necessary? Does the skin under my arms have to loosen up and swing back and forth when I wave? Do the pores on my nose really need to be big enough to welcome the family dog into their crevices?

I feel like I could write the book “What to Expect When You’re Aging,” except no-one would buy it. No-one wants to know what the downhill slide really looks like. I don’t.

Getting older, and doing it gracefully, is hard.

By the way, what does “age gracefully” really mean? Every time Dreamboat objects to a (costly) spa treatment I would like, he says that to me. Does it mean, hush up, don’t mention what’s going on, and pretend not to notice? Does it mean stand proud and smile through the lines? Does it mean fall on every Botox-filled needed you can find?  Does it mean cover up the damage as best you can with lotions, spackling (some might call it make-up), push-up bras, and long sleeves?

I’ve no idea what ‘gracefully’ looks like for me, as I age.  So far, every day has a different answer. But, I see the ageism in our society. I watch people interact with my grandparents. I see HR folks’ reaction to my resume.

But, I am going to identify with my inner twenty-two-year-old, who convinces me, on a daily basis, to work at being healthy, inside and out. And I’m going to throw ‘mature’ caution to the wind. I will continue to dream. To achieve. To try new things. To look for learning and wisdom. To nurture existing, and build new, meaningful relationships. To (hopefully) one day, adopt more children. To try new bleaching solutions for my grey hair.

So, whether Dreamboat is right or wrong about me being a martyr, I don’t know (or won’t admit). But, in regards to getting older, I will not lie down and take it (unless it’s under an aesthetician’s lamp).

I will not be a martyr.

I want to change the world. Enlarged pores and all.

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Filed under August 2013

My boyfriend is no girlfriend

This is a long one. I plannned to divide it in two, but couldn’t find a way to make it work. So, grab some coffee and settle in, or read it in parts. As you wish.

———-

Before I was ready to hit ‘publish’ on the previous post, I asked Dreamboat (my legally permanent boyfriend) to give me his input. His response: “I got bored half-way through.”

I laughed out loud. Love that man.

But, he’s no girlfriend.

And, he got me thinking.

One of the secrets to getting through the circus that is my life, as graciously as possible, is having and keeping friends. Good, wonderful friends.

Being so far away from home, and unable to speak the local language, makes me miss my friends, themselves scattered all over the globe, even more. I’ve spent a lot of time this last month thinking about how wonderful they are and how much they mean to me.

It wasn’t always that way.

My first seventeen years were mostly lonely. Difficult. Painful.

Thank God for family – the people who become your first friends, and are stuck with you, while you figure out how to be a friend too.

I was watching “The Bachelor” today, when in one of the girls said in her cameo, “all of the girls are going to be so jealous of me.” She meant it. When asked what she has to offer the Bachelor, instead of talking about her unique qualities, she was thinking about the other girls. And how to make them jealous.

Why is that?

Why is it that girls are known for being intentionally mean to other girls? Why do we so often compete with each other instead of support and encourage each other?

It made me sad. (But, to Dreamboat’s huge embarrassment, the show, I find hilarious.  I think we should make a drinking game for every time someone cries. Or for every time there’s a kiss.)

But, back to my point. I think girls being mean stems from insecurity.

We think that deep down, we’re not good enough. (Not pretty enough. Not kind enough. Not lovable. You fill in your insecurity…)

For me, it’s more personal than watching a reality show on TV (well, VPN’d into a US IP address, and watched on my laptop with ear buds so as not to irritate Dreamboat unnecessarily. I save that for other times). I know what it looks and feels like first-hand.

Growing up on a ship limited my pool of friends. There were many wonderful people who lived on board for a short time, whom I loved. But then they left. And I felt like I was in constant mourning—saying goodbye to friend after friend, after friend.

Of the other families that lived on board long-term, like we did, there were two other girls my age (WHY is it that when you’re young, age makes SO much difference?). They were six months older than I was, and in the grade above. Not always, but most of the time, I was the odd-man out. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it got so ugly, that for a while we met weekly with our moms and were refereed by the school principal, to sort out our regular ‘misunderstandings’.

It was hurtful. And I blamed them.

Looking back, I’m not sure I was any less catty, or petty, or mean. I do know that I was insecure and trying to find my place.

What happened when I was twelve didn’t help. There was a boy whom I admired more than anyone else in school (as did most of the kids onboard) for his kindness, ability to have fun in any situation (and we were in some doozies in various countries), and athletic skill. We didn’t have much opportunity to play sports, but he seemed born an expert at them all. One Saturday morning, while he was talking in the hall outside my cabin, he was asked whom he thought was the prettiest girl onboard. After being badgered a bit, he answered, “Heidi. But, I’d NEVER date her.”

I could feel my insides shrivel up.

HIM saying it, made it so much worse. I was completely blindsided. For weeks it hurt, even to breathe.  You may think I should have been grateful for the compliment on my looks, but appearances you can’t help (at least not much at twelve). You’re born that way. But, I took what he said to mean that who I was—ME—wasn’t good enough.

Now, I can’t blame overhearing that conversation, and its impact on me, for all my insecurities. Or for my part in the cattiness with the other girls. But, it took me a long time to know that I’m beautiful inside.

When I was seventeen, the older two graduated, a new influx of long-term people moved onboard, and my world changed. Brightened. Friendships with other women blossomed. Especially with Susan. She helped turn the tide. It sounds like a weird womance (since ‘bromance’ is out there, we should have a word too, right?), but I remember when I first saw her. She became a loyal, fierce friend. In fact, a few miserable months into my first marriage, when I finally was able to whisper the painful mess I was in, I called Susan. We haven’t had much time together in these last many years (more years than I want to say), but the last three months in Guinea, while we were volunteering on the Africa Mercy, she was there too. We laughed, cried, laughed some more.

Here we are with another friend, who also meant the world to me. I wish she’d lived onboard more than those few months our senior year!

Here we are at Miss O’s birthday party a couple months ago. Susan showed up to do the set up and the entire cleanup.

Susan, and the many, many wonderful friends that have followed, yes, including friends I’ve grown to love and appreciate from those lonely years onboard, have been a source of strength, wisdom, comfort, support, and lots and lots of fun.

I don’t want to consider where I’d be without those feelings of being whole and known, sometimes, too close for comfort.

They’re from many different languages and cultures, with strongly opposing views and faiths. My Facebook newsfeed is an education in juxtapositions, which I find highly entertaining and also thought-provoking (that’s a good thing).These friends who help provide me with a sense of ‘home’, no matter where I am, are old and young. Many are ‘unique’ and ‘quirky’. I like them. I need them. I learn from them.

Yes, because I move around so much, home is not always a place. For me, home is an experience of belonging. To create that with new people, takes physical and emotional presence. It’s intentional. While I’ve watched some of my friends chose to emotionally distance themselves from the hurt of potential goodbyes, I’ve chosen the other path. To continually open myself to new people. To see them as adding to my life’s riches, and taking them with me as I go.

Staying close to those who are far away—yes, it’s painful. It means leaving pieces of my heart with people and places—requires nourishing and treasuring them when I no longer have the physical proximity. I keep them in my heart, wherever I may go.

Here’s my group of girls who joined a little ‘bon voyage’ party as we left Seattle.

If I could go back, and talk to my twelve-year-old-self, in an effort to avoid ‘the lonely years’, I’d start off with reprimanding her for being myopic. For being overly focused on myself. Selfish. (I know it’s the usual tween affliction and necessary to grow into an independent adult, but really, it’s soooo not attractive. Or helpful.) If she would just take the time to really look at others, she would see them absorbed in the same struggle to become their best selves. I would tell her that eventually, she would learn to turn her sensitivity outward. To be empathetic to others. To be a source of strength when they feel insecure and in need of encouragement. Then, I would tell her that the world is a big place. Without limitation. And that she should celebrate all her successes, AND her friends’ successes. That life is not a zero-sum-game (pulled from my ever-reducing vocabulary from global econ class). Our life is not reduced by the successes of others. There is no limitation and need to compete. If anything, my life now (and could have been true for my life at twelve) is enriched by others’ successes.  I would tell her that there is limitless satisfaction in being part of others blossoming. Sharing in their joy as they grow into their talents.

I would also tell her to start speaking her mind a LOT sooner. She has some great insights to give her friends, and the wisdom is wasted when she’s silent. Those truly worthy of her friendship want the wisdom. (Such a simple thing to say now, but if she could do it, she might sidestep that abusive first marriage).

Another life-lesson that has saved me in countless ways, and that Dreamboat and I taught in our management training workshop, is MRI—Most Respectful Interpretation—which basically means to think the best of people. Assume if someone’s acting strange, that unless they say otherwise, then the problem is with them (an issue at home, late night, work disappointment, etc.). Dale Carnegie, who coined the term, explains it much more eloquently, for a management setting. But, the basic principal is it’s not all about me. Don’t assume it is.

One of my dreams is to make a difference. For my life to count by being part of something bigger than myself. I got to do that in a really big way, by volunteering on a hospital ship. But, I also try to do that in small ways. Everyday. No matter where I am. Everyone needs relationship and intimacy. It’s beautiful to be known and loved.  And, as I give of my heart and my time to others, I receive in return the strength I need, to help keep my vision, passion and courage alive.

While Dreamboat is my lifetime friend (thank God for his honesty. I need it.) and I’ve lots of male friends whom I love, including my brothers…

One of my brothers may love me just a little bit less after posting this pic of him, but I just couldn’t resist.

 …sometimes a girl craves time with her girlfriends!

 

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Filed under February 2013

God is great. God is good. Let us pray.

While I perused my book this afternoon, and soaked in the tub, ignoring the eighteen, yes EIGHTEEN, attempts to open or unlock the door, I was also mulling over whether to write this post, about some comparisons between Muslims and Christians, and how they challenged me.

You see I’m more comfortable with my public self being seen as funny and kind. And a bit shallow. I’m very new to blogging, and I’ve seen vitriolic comments on friends’ posts, where they voiced an opinion on something deeper than soapsuds. But, I can’t stop thinking about this, and this year is about doing what’s right and what my heart is telling me.

And, I took a vow of honestly when I started writing. So, here goes.

As you may know, we spent the first three months of our year ‘off’, volunteering in Guinea with Mercy Ships Then we went to Morocco, for the two weeks over Christmas. Both these impacted our family in countless ways, which I won’t go into now. Travel isn’t new to me—I’ve spent time in over sixty countries. But, I was continually surprised by Morocco. The people that I met, the countryside I observed, the customs that I learned–in fact, the entire experience was amazing. Inspirational.  (And, I’m still in awe of their abundant, delicious produce).

Morocco is a majority Muslim country. Their two main tenets or “wings” are: 1) love God, and 2) do good deeds to benefit yourself, your family, the community, and mankind.

They have a beautiful saying that ‘No bird can fly conveniently with only one wing or with one wing weaker than the other.’ And, a Muslim can’t be welcomed in Heaven unless he is keeping a good balance of the two Islam wings.

Because of my American passport (the whole ‘One Nation Under God’ thing), most Muslims associate me with ‘Christians’.  What may be news to you, is that includes all things “Hollywood”. Including your worst-nightmare-styled-cheap porn (as opposed to the quality, expensive variety. But, I digress). And, right-wing Teaparty politics. And, blowing up an occasional doctor who works at an abortion clinic.

I find it fascinating, and sad, that pornography and political extremism and murder are synonymous with Christianity, to much of the Muslim world.

(I know this is completely off-topic, and not at all important, but I’m dealing with my aging skin as well right now. I also find it fascinating, and sad, that the not-so-fine lines, are becoming a permanent part of my reflection in the mirror.)

I had all that knowledge in the back of my head upon arriving in Morocco, where Moulay, our ‘Guest Liaison’, asked me to not let the ‘call to prayer’ disturb us in the early mornings, but to be “overwhelmed by feelings of blessings and prayers for our good health”.

(Isn’t it crazy that we had a ‘Guest Liaison’? I know!  It sounds so fancy and sassy at the same time.) If you want someone to buy amazing, Moroccan treasures, and then ship them to you, let me know. Moulay’s your man.

And, as Moulay forewarned, each morning, and an additional four times throughout the day, the call to prayer is sung by each mosque’s Imam (leader), and amplified through their loudspeakers. Did you know there are mosques on most corners? At least one per block of every village, town, and city in Morocco? They’re hard to miss during the call to prayer, FIVE times a day. Especially when you’re warm and snuggled with your love under a duvet in the early morning. And when you’re trying to have a conversation, or keep a train of thought, during the other times throughout the day.  But, I guess that’s the point…

The sound wasn’t pleasant to me at first. It was foreign and a bit frightening. And, very off key. But, that may have been because I could hear six different Imam’s singing. And their timing was more than a little off. Not even One Direction would sound good with that many harmonies going on at one time. Or at close to the same time.

I found out the Imam’s are all saying, “God is great. God is good. Let us pray.” And pray, they do. Even in the really fancy, western mall, there’s a prayer room. So Muslims can take a break during their shopping, to stop and worship God.

Even more glaring than the call to prayer, were the cats and the beggars.

There are stray cats all over Morocco, (OK. So the 3 cities and a couple little villages I got to know). Not really many dogs to be found, as in other parts of the globe. But cats. Lots of cats. Miss O, who is 10, was all set to be dramatic and upset that the cats go hungry and are unloved. (Currently, her tears are saved for the imagined misfortunes of animals, and of course, if she feels slighted by me or Dreamboat.) But, NONE of the cats we saw in Morocco were skittish, worried of mistreatment. The cats there aren’t afraid of people.  None of them are scary skinny. All seemed fed and sleek. On NUMEROUS occasions, I saw people dropping off scraps for the neighborhood felines. As a result, and another one of my many side-notes, Morocco doesn’t seem to have a rodent problem. Anywhere.

You may not be interested in cat care, but our curiosity grew until the kids volunteered me to ask someone. I learned the second Muslim tenet applies to animals too. So, they’re treated WELL. And the same tenet spells out that it applies to all ‘mankind’. That’s why, when we were stopped at red lights, and there were beggars, the taxi drivers would roll down their windows, kiss the cheeks of whomever was asking for food or money, and hand some over. The first time it happened, I thought the beggar was a dear friend or relative of our taxi-man.

The locals didn’t shun the homeless. Or look the other way. In fact, people called out blessings to them, asked about their health, and prayed for them.

I was in awe. And kept looking for signs that it was just a mirage. But, as far as I could tell, Morocco is a country that reminds its people to pray five times a day, remembering that God is good and great. Whose inhabitants believe, and demonstrate, that beggars and strays are to be cared for, and who are kind and welcoming to people of other faiths—even the violent, pornography-loving kind (‘me’). And, it’s clean. Pristine. Without any apparent graffiti problems.

I find it fascinating, and sad, that terrorism and political extremism and murder are synonymous with Muslims, to much of the western world.

I’ve been around the block enough to know nothing is really that black and white. Or, that simple. Dear me. Not even my feelings for my precious kiddo’s, for whom I’d give my life, are that simple—they are children, after all.  And, there are ongoing Muslim riots in France. Last week was the terrible hostage crisis in Algeria, led by Muslims, where the death toll still isn’t final. And the killer in the Aurora mass shootings was a Christian. As was the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary.

I guess what I’m saying is, let’s all be inspired by Morocco to not just ‘talk our faith’ (whatever your faith may be). Let’s show it. Let’s make time to pray. Let’s do good deeds to benefit ourselves. Let’s do good deeds to benefit our friends and families. Let’s do good deeds to benefit our planet. And all mankind.  And I’m also saying that what looks different, can be frightening. But, if we look a little closer, we might see more similarities than differences.

My visit to Morocco is going to be the fodder of life-lessons to my kiddo’s and my inner-Heidi, for years to come. I’m going to remind us that we have choices to make as we live out our faith. And no matter what, we can do what’s right. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said; “The time is always right to do what is right”.  I often forget this. I procrastinate. I justify.

Our time in Guinea was focused on helping those less fortunate. Which I loooooved. But, in many ways, I learned more, and was challenged more, and received more wisdom, from our ‘vacation’ to Morocco.

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Filed under January 2013

Warriors

Some say we’re crazy. Some say we’re brave.

We’re probably a mix of both.

But really, we’re battling for our children’s hearts, souls, attention, innocence, education and memories. And we’re doing it through travel.

The dream of taking a year ‘off’ to travel and volunteer in global development has been brewing for many years. And is driven by numerous factors, all of which seem to come back to the Little’s. Our kiddo’s. These little people we’ve been trusted to grow.

I don’t want to hope I raise children who are kind, grateful, and honest. I want to model it. I want to require it. I want them to be impacted so deeply by the people, sights, experiences, smells and sounds of this year, that they have no choice but to respond with overflowing love. Because that’s what love is, right?

Life isn’t easy. And we decided to start this year in Guinea, whereby the location of a child’s birth dictates, if they survive, that their life will be difficult. I want my children to not expect life to be fair, but to be deeply grateful for all the little things they previously took for granted. I can already tell you my G-ster will forever be grateful every time he turns on the tap and has clean, abundant, warm, water.

Life is filled with beauty and joy, and I want to teach the kiddo’s to always look for them. To see and appreciate them.  To relish the pleasure of seeing a mamma when her baby girl comes out of surgery with her cleft repaired, and is no longer a ‘devil-child’. To stop and enjoy the majesty of a sunset over the horizon. To sit and linger over a family dinner, savoring every bite and moment.

No matter where we live, we are surrounded by those less fortunate. There are endless ways to help, if we only look. I am modeling for my kids, in big ways and small, that having a heart for others is good. And, being driven to find a way to make a difference, is great. I want one of the major take-aways for this year, lodged deep down inside each of them so they can never forget, to be an expectation that it’s their job to love their neighbor. Tangibly.

‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ and ‘The American Dream’ don’t provide meaning. Being involved in something bigger than ourselves does. I want our kids to see that quitting our jobs at the height of our earning potential (so ‘they’ say), getting rid of the house, and the cars, and the stuff, in order to experience the world, has been the bigger dream for us. Because, we as a family, value experience and learning above possessions. That nonconformity and the courage to follow our dreams have already delivered us a lifetime of meaning, and life lessons, and joy. And we’re only three months in!

Life can be scary and overwhelming. But having, and keeping, quality friends is one of the secrets to getting through graciously. Miss O is one of those private girls, who before we left, shared her deepest thoughts and hopes with only one girl. And Dreamboat and I want her to open up to us. To allow us in as trusted friends. And for the boys too. We want to spend the quality time with each child, available to them, focused on them, getting to know them, so that they know and trust us. And share their thoughts and hearts with us. Even when they’re grown. But, especially, when they’re teenagers.

I want to teach the kids to delight in their accomplishments. To mark their triumphs, knowing that they’re fleeting. To participate with us as we extravagantly ‘waste’ money we’ve saved.

Most of all, deep down and without doubt, I want each child to know that we treasure them. That our love for them means we have taken this year to focus on them.

Many people plan and work towards traveling when they retire. We decided to make time now, while our kids are still at home, and Dreamboat and I are in great health, to introduce the world to them. To open their eyes and hearts, and instill in them a curiosity for learning. Even if it means not retiring.

So, people may look past us, unaware. But we’re warriors. Fighting for our kids. For their futures. For our legacy.

5 Comments

Filed under December 2012

Dreamboat

I used to think that with time, I got smart, and picked a great husband. I’ve since come to realize I had nothing to do with it…God was indulgent and generous and gifted me this wonderful man.

Sunday was our twelve-year-wedding-anniversary.

I think our anniversary is the highlight of my year. More than birthdays. More than Halloween. (Maybe not more than Christmas, but that’s not really comparing apples to apples, as that holiday has a huge spiritual component for me.)

But, the anniversaries we share, although wonderful, are not more wonderful than any other day together. Really. In fact he’s one of those anti-Hallmark-induced-celebrations-kind of people.  He mostly avoids to-do’s on Valentine’s Day. His proposal was over crepes one nondescript Saturday. But he brings home flowers, and chocolate, out of the blue. All the time. (Well, he did. And I’m sure he will again. After we leave Guinea).  And more importantly than flowers, and yes, even chocolate, is, he is kind to me. Every day. Always.

I’m not sure how or where he learned it, but he never loses sight of his goal: To have a great relationship. With me.

So, he doesn’t say things he’ll regret.

He doesn’t do things that will hurt me (at least not intentionally).

I always know, no matter how frustrated, angry, or sad he may feel, that he loves me. That he’s in this forever. As Elvis sang to me, walking me down the aisle in the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chappel, to marry Dreamboat;

All that I want is to be near to you,

To spend my life making it clear to you,

You are my heart, my soul, my dream come true.

Dreamboat LIVES that. Every day.

People often say marriage is hard work. Work? Yes, it can be. Hard? Nope. Dreamboat is living proof it doesn’t have to be.

 

Renewing our vows, for our 10th anniversary, at the same Vegas chapel where we got married.

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Filed under November 2012

Abu

There are two men I’ve seen, in the halls of the hospital ward downstairs, that each have a very large, benign tumor growing out of the right side of their neck and face.  Today, and every day, they tie hankies over them, to keep others from being too shocked and horrified at their appearance.  But still, seeing their right eye grossly misshapen, and pushed up to the side, a good 6 inches away from where they should be, is shocking.

I had prepared myself today, with a smile on my face, ready to look them in the eyes and offer what I hoped would be solidarity, courage, understanding, empathy. But, as I walked around the corner and saw Abu (not really his name–I can’t spell it, and would like to give him some anonymity to share his story when and if he chooses), our eyes locked, and I’m ashamed to say, I recoiled. Hopefully it was only inside, and that my smile stayed in place on the outside. And then I looked at his mamma, sitting, tired and scared, by his side. And my heart broke for her. And I smiled, deeply. Warmly. With empathy and understanding. Because being a mamma, with a hurting child, whom others look at strangely, wondering what all is wrong, is something I understand.  I recognized in her eyes the look of exhaustion, tinged with hope, of someone who has prayed and begged and bargained for the life of her son, while sitting by helplessly as he suffered.

I bet his mamma was thinking about this Wednesday.  Abu is no longer the emaciated 64Kilo/103lb man that arrived onboard. He has gained over 10Kilos/22lbs. I’ve wondered what on earth is in those IV’s: Guinness? Ensure?  Whatever it is, it’s working.  Abut is now strong enough for surgery.

Abu used to be strong, and handsome, representing Guinea as one of their elite football/soccer players. Think tall, dark, David Beckham. But five years ago, a small lump began to grow on the right side of his neck. And for the last two years, he’s been unable to eat solid food. He had a few weeks left to live.

You’d think my vanity would stop me from admitting this, but injustice drives me to do some crazy stuff…A few days before leaving on our epic year of adventure, a mole on my neck got red. I called my doc and was irritated at the two-day wait to get an appointment.  But, as soon as she had a look at my mole (which until then, had been quite cute, but if I’m totally honest, may have been camouflaging a zit), she cut it off. Without even asking.  Now how is that fair?  Why is it that I received the pinnacle of science and medical care? And Abu has lived FIVE years with a tumor that is killing him? I’m not sure who to be angry at…but I am angry. Abu was, is, dying. And his mamma’s heart is broken.

His surgery on Wednesday offers hope. Without it, he will die.  Soon.  But, the surgery is not a guarantee that he will live. In addition to the usual risks of general anesthesia, Abu’s tumor has grown through the vital nerves and arteries in the back of his neck.

Because of the tumor and his misshapen face, Abu is hard to understand.  But, he, and his mamma, have talked with several people about the risks. About the risk of death. Or a stroke. And you know what Abu said?

“This isn’t living.”

“I want to take the risk.”

If Abu and his mamma have the courage to take the risk, what about me?  What about you? Where are we letting fear stop us from living?

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, you better believe I will be praying for Abu. For the doctors. For his mamma.  For his life.

I know that life isn’t fair. And I know that Abu may not live beyond Wednesday, and that he didn’t receive medical care that would have prevented this crossroads. And on Wednesday I will go and visit Abu’s mamma, and sit with her during his surgery.

But, I am also going to use this opportunity (that I wouldn’t wish on any mamma or daddy or elite soccer player or any person, in the world) to examine my life to see how I can make a difference in the wellbeing of other people’s lives, and in what areas I am not living. Where I need to take a risk.

Will you make the same choice as Abu?  And please pray for him too?

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Filed under November 2012

Flashbacks

“It’s difficult to explain what it’s like for me to be here.  I naturally want to say “back here”, but that’s not really true. I guess because I grew up on the Anastasis, Mercy Ships’ first floating hospital, it’s very much like coming home.  Even though this is a different ship, and the majority of the people are new to me.  I think being here is the closest thing to ‘home’ that I have. Most of the time that’s a good thing. A great thing.  Occasionally, not so much.

When we arrived at the airport in Conakry, there was a man there, also headed to the Africa Mercy (AFM) who looked JUST like my first husband. Same build. Same hair. Same swagger. Same outgoing personality that won over everyone he met. And even the same first name. Hopefully he didn’t see my shock (and horror) as he came over and introduced himself.

You see, the last time I was in West Africa, with Mercy Ships, I was engaged to be married. Our relationship progressed through each port of call to which the ship sailed. There weren’t many red flags. But, in retrospect, I can clearly see two. Neither were make-or-break issues. But a big one showed up as we were driving away from the wedding, when he coolly stated.

“I’m not going to do any of those things I promised.”

Thinking he meant he didn’t want to be the first up each morning, to make coffee as we’d agreed during our pre-marital counseling, I figured it was no big deal.  Little did I know he meant that he would not be living out our VOWS… At all… By ANY stretch of the imagination.  Which he did a good job of clarifying for the four years we were married.

The unfaithfulness was not the most painful part. Not even close. Neither was the physical abuse.  Neither was the loss of trust in what was supposed to be my best friend. The hardest part was the emotional abuse. The brainwashing. We’re all gifted with plenty of natural ability for self-doubt, without someone else coming in to confirm, and even increase, our belief in those lies. He called me;

“Fat, ugly, bitch.”

And, the sad part is, I answered to it.

And through it all, I smiled. No-one, NO-ONE knew the depths of my pain and confusion and depression. Not even me.

After we separated, some friends of ours invited me to dinner.  The husband asked me;

“What did you do to make him leave you?”

You see, this man and everyone else was fooled into believing his lies. Even the girlfriend that called and asked me for his new phone number, had fallen for his lies.  And the other new girlfriend whom he took to Europe on my credit card.

People thought of me as a strong person. I had thought of myself as capable. Intuitive. Wise.

That was the hardest part.

I was broken.

And it took me years to rebuild.

But, rebuild I did. And I have to say, that I like the new and improved me even better. And the lessons I learned.

And you know what? My pain was nothing like his, which drove him to such terrible choices. I’m whole. In fact, I’m better for it. (You know the saying, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’? Well, it’s true). And believe it or not, I would do it all again. The exact same. To be who I am. To be married to Dreamboat and have our three precious kiddo’s. And be spending this amazing year together, living out our dreams.

So, when we arrived in Conakry, Guinea, to begin this adventure of a lifetime, and teach our kids the importance of making our lives count, of aligning our priorities with making a positive impact in other people’s lives, I was also being reminded of a ghost from my past. Multiple times a day. I saw him at coffee break morning and afternoon, during meals, during meetings, ashore, and what feels like, around each corner.   And, I’ve realized that that chapter is long closed. The scar is healed over.

And I’m softer, wrapped in the joy and reality of my life now. And, West Africa, which I truly-deeply-madly love, is mine again.

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Filed under November 2012

Diving into the deep end

Yesterday was my first Dental Screening. I volunteered to work security. It’s kind of like overseeing, with a team of other people, hundreds of starving people lined up for a free soup kitchen that is their only hope for a meal. Ever. But this was for people who need to see a Dentist. And most of whom didn’t speak English.

I had in the back of my mind the seriousness of the endeavor, as Dreamboat had been to an Eye Screening (for double cataracts) last week, where the crowd had gotten out of hand. When the door they were pushing against began to buckle, the screening was quickly cancelled.

We left the ship at 07:00 (we use nautical time here) and were instructed what to do, how to use our radios, and outfitted with bright orange vests. No piece of clothing has ever given me such authority before. Loved it.  (I’m thinking of wearing one daily to increase the respect I get from the family.)

It was a short drive to where the offshore dental team works, and when we arrived there were already hundreds of people lined up in mostly orderly rows divided by: men, women, and children.  After tucking some cash into the back of my pants (next time I’ll wear something with pockets!), I walked down the three lines and chatted with people. Greeting old and young men, holding babies, and talking with the women. And grateful my French was coming back.

They were beautiful. Colorful (I LOVE the fabrics here). Faces full of hope. Most were full of smiles. Those that weren’t smiling were holding hands to swollen cheeks, some with tears streaming down them, with obvious infection and lots and lots of pain.

Ever had a toothache? I can venture to say it HURT. My ability to consider other peoples’ feelings goes out the window when something really hurts.  But maybe that’s just me…

Hordes of other people, those in need of non-dental medical care, milled about. Waiting. Hoping. Fathers brought their sons to me and showed me disfigured legs. Mothers brought their daughters to me and peeled back their little fingers to show webbed hands from burn accidents. A man brought his blind father. A woman raised her shirt to show me growths in her breast. The need was heartbreaking and overwhelming. I was starting to regret the vest. Many of these beautiful, hurting people I sent away with a “Je suis desolee” [ I am sorry]…

…But, I am not a Doctor. Today is for teeth problems only. For those who need a dentist.  Watch and read The Journal for news if there is another General Screening.

Those I turned away thanked me for my time. Thanked me. One father said a blessing for me as I walked him and his young son away. I was stunned. That probably wouldn’t be my first response if one of my kids was turned away. I was humbled, amazed, and inspired by him. By the beauty I have encountered in the people here. Warm. Gracious. Kind. Honoring. Even in the face of incredible suffering.

Some of these, whose ailments were operable, we were able to quietly lead away from the crowds and behind security, to a medical screener, who took their contact information, to reach out to them in a couple of days.

I planted myself at the front of the line, just to the side of a very large puddle. I thought it was safer there. Less emotional land mines for me.

As the sun began beating down full-force, some of the little children began to fidget and cry.  One mama brought over a piece of cardboard, so her kids could rest their legs and sit for a while.

The adults explained to me that many had spent the night on the street (strong word for the dirt-packed, trash-littered, grass & mud-lined place that it was).  Some had been there since 02:00.  All were tired. Most were hungry.

As surreptitiously as I could, I pulled a sweaty 10,000 GFN ($1.42 USD) from my yoga pants and asked the security guard (a handful of whom Mercy Ships hires to secure their off-shore sites) to negotiate and buy bread rolls from a woman carrying them, in true African fashion, on top of her head.  She lowered her metal pail, and forked, hopefully fresh, rolls to the children.

Snapped with my phone to not attract the military protecting adjoining buildings from photographs.

Most of the women had obviously rotten teeth. They explained that they brush regularly.  But difficult pregnancies, with lots of vomiting, eats away the enamel. It’s one of the hordes of unpleasant reasons I stopped having babies. I would be waiting in line right there with them if I didn’t have access to the dentists I saw regularly through each pregnancy. And if I were born here, to similar circumstances.

As time wore on, the sweat beading on my upper lip began to bother me. Instinctively I brushed it off. And then thought of the disease. The cholera epidemic here. The germs I must have on my hands from all whom I’d touched. And then transferred to my face. And then I was ashamed for thinking of myself. For worrying about keeping my hands sanitized, when these women with whom I deeply identified, were facing such bigger issues. And would continue to face, long after the few hours I volunteered.

I’d like to say the dental team arrived and all ended well, and eventually it did. I was truly amazed. But, it didn’t end without bringing to light corruption and sadness.

The security guard at the front of the line, against Mercy Ships direction, had been making a list, and probably taking money, to secure places at the front of the line.  Him moving people around almost started several uprisings. He messed with the wrong mama’s! But, he’s lost his job, the waiting people were calmed, and then eventually screened by the dental team. Those with urgent needs were seen immediately. Many were given appointments for today.  Many were also told to come back Monday and Thursday of each week, until all are seen.

When my radio cackled it was time to leave, I wasn’t prepared to go. Not ready to leave. If it weren’t for the meetings waiting for me back on board, I would have stayed all day, sharing in the hurts and celebrating the joys with these inspiring people.

Physically, it was a tiring day.

Emotionally, it was exhausting.

And rewarding.

And, why I’m here.

8 Comments

Filed under September 2012

The adventure has begun

Rather than simply change planes in Brussels, we decided to spend a few days there, to adjust a bit to the time difference, and have a family break before starting life in Guinea. This picture sums up our five days in Brussels.

We had such a wonderful family time, to decompress, eat, drink, and be silly.

The flight to Conakry, was a deep (and LOUD) dive into local culture! The man a few rows ahead, traveling with his two young daughters, had his hands full. When he couldn’t get one of them to shush, either someone sitting within the sound barrier (eight rows front, back, and either side), or someone within arm’s reach, would take one of the girls.

Sometimes the man would raise a daughter up over his seat and hand her to an unwitting (but apparently not unwilling) passenger.  Sometimes it was initiated by the fellow passenger.  All of these were strangers.

And, strangely enough, each of them tried their hand at quieting the child.  Some were men, some were women.  They each succeeded in getting the girls to sleep. And then they would quietly pass the angelic, and finally quiet, girls back to their dad.

I think Peanut knew he was going to be handed over if he fussed, and was suspiciously quiet the entire seven hours. 

Our cabin on board the Africa Mercy has been a pleasant surprise!  It’s 10% of the size of our house, (it’s still our house–the sale fell through) but much bigger than we anticipated.  We’ve got Peanut’s stroller and backpack shoved behind the end of the couch, but we’re in!

The kids’ room has a bunk bed for the older two, and Peanut sleeps in a pack n’ play at the foot of their bed.  The room is just wide enough for him to reach over the side of his crib, open either of his siblings’ closets, and dump all their contents on the floor.  He’s greatly amused.  They’re campaigning for me to pay them in TV-time, every time they have to clean up one of his messes. I like the idea of paying for chores with something other than cash, but not sure TV-time is the winning currency.

Our “Master Bedroom” (had to say that - it makes me snort and giggle) is cozy. I love that Dreamboat and I literally brush past each other a dozen times an hour. Small spaces make for lots of contact. Can’t beat that.

Hmmm…I’m thinking that in the next house, we should switch the master bedroom with the closet. That’s a much better use of space.

Speaking of closets, I brought ALL the wrong clothes. This is a Moslem part of Africa. No ‘kneevage’ allowed. I’m looking at my knees with new eyes!

During breakfast, early one morning, (and, I do mean EARLY.  There are mandatory meetings that start at 7:45 am, and Dreamboat had left at 4:00am for a screening of potential patients with DOUBLE cataracts.) Miss O was telling me that I don’t understand how hard it is to be my daughter. Had I shown more sympathy to her plight, we might have avoided the incident that followed. But, I didn’t. And here’s what did.

Miss O, quite dramatically left to use the restroom. When closing the bathroom door, which is about three inches from the kitchen sink,  she was making a point. Firmly. And she locked it.

Now, the room we’re staying in isn’t used often. And, it was once the showcase cabin while the ship was being retrofit. And the keys to the rest of the ship don’t work here. And our doors are solid metal.

Without knowing any of this, Miss O shortly tried to leave the bathroom. The door would not unlock.  I have to admit I wasn’t feeling my MOST charitable, so I let G try to help her for a minute. Then, I tried pulling the door while she tried the lock. Then pushing the door. Then we tried passing things like coins under the door, to see if she could use them to unscrew something. Anything.  G tried passing his math under the door.  I think perhaps he had ulterior motives for that one.  But, I didn’t think it was serious. For Pete’s sake, if she locked the door, she could eventually unlock it. Right? So, while I tidied up from breakfast, we continued to encourage her through the locked door, and her voice stopped quivering and took on more of an annoyed tone. Again. I chalked it up to all the adjusting we’re doing, and continued trying to help.

After thirty minutes, I sheepishly called Reception, told them of our situation, and asked if there’s a master key.  Within minutes the Duty Officer arrived.  He called the First Officer. Who called the Captain. They worked for TWO AND A HALF HOURS.

While we waited, I took advantage of the forced halt to the day, ran Peanut up to Preschool (a thirty-second-commute), and made coffee to share with the Captain. We had a great chat and the officers provided emotional support to Miss O, asking her how she was doing every minute or two. I kept her supplied with reading material.

Finally, several drill bits later, and after trying several other options, including a crowbar to the frame, they drilled through the lock.

I’m grateful for the perceived lack of my empathy, as there was a great life-lesson for my girl.

I will also be grateful when a blank plate is placed over the gaping hole in the bathroom door.

There’s not enough bandwidth to upload the fifteen pictures I had planned to include. You can use your imaginations.

 

We all, truly, love the adventure so far.

 

 

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Filed under September 2012