Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Greetings from a B.A. Elf

Merry Christmas, everybody!

You know your students love you when they turn you into an elf with a really cool bow.  It's kind of hard to make out, but those big red patches are part of a giant Santa.  Apparently I'm about to fill his leg with arrows and bring him down like a great red woolly mammoth.  I confess that I'm equal parts proud and appalled.

Well, it's Christmas afternoon and I am sitting in my classroom listening to Michael Buble wonder whether he has told me lately that he loves me.  He hasn't, but that's alright.  I mean, we barely know each other.

Christmas on the Africa Mercy is a bittersweet time.  It's not often you get to celebrate such a well-loved holiday with such a tight-knit community.  Last night, the halls were filled with crew members flitting to and fro like overgrown elves as we filled each other's shoes with little gifts and goodies.  There are cookies and chocolates everywhere.  I had some for breakfast this morning as I opened Christmas presents with a few close friends.  (I got a set of magnets called 'Magnetic Monarchs'--portraits of all the kings and queens of England from William the Conqueror to the current Queen mum with her trusty corgy.  Esther, you know me so well!)  Then we all lazed around until it was time for Christmas Brunch, a true Christmas Feast, after which I felt the sudden urge to clean my cabin and do some laundry.  That last bit might seem a little out of place, but the truth is that in the midst of our celebrations we all have little currents of sadness woven in among the waves of joy that are flowing in and out of our hearts today.  At least, most of us grown-ups do.  And doing laundry can be comforting in a practical, getting-something-accomplished sort of way.  So can blogging, now that I think of it.

I guess I'd just like to say Merry Christmas (again) to everyone.  Because Christmas is a beautiful reminder of the heart of God.  Jesus, who had all the power and glory of God before time began, was so moved by love that he gave it all away on a crazy gamble for our hearts.  He looked at the fiery destruction of all our sins and, instead of turning away, ran straight into the flames to burn with us, and for us, and ultimately, to put the fire out.  He was willing to suffer so that he could draw us up to God.  I will spend my whole life trying to understand it.  

But today, I am just glad that he came.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Life is hard... and other thoughts

Have you ever gone through a season when you'd wake up in the morning and look at yourself and think, Who am I?  Is this even my face anymore?  Heavy stuff to be dealing with at 6:30 in the morning.  This is why I run so often.  When I'm running, all I can really think is, right foot/left foot/right foot/lef...somebody's breakfast smells good.  But my little ole body can't run every morning, and existential crises are no respecters of persons.  In any case, that's what's been going on in my head for the last few weeks.  And it's not a good time to be losing your grip.  I don't know about you, but I feel like this year has brought some particularly tough challenges for everyone.  Ebola, school shootings, ISIS nastiness, droughts, mudslides, separations, rejections, failures... Good thing I'm not the type who worries about everything.  Oh, wait, I am that type.  Rats.

The trouble in the middle east is particularly worrying to me because my brother has been deployed to that area.  This is a picture of him with his daughter Zoe.  He's been out there a month, with six months left to go.  While I realize that this is what he's been trained for, that he made the choice to put his life at risk with open eyes and a willing heart, and while I realize further that if he'd chosen instead to pursue a career in accounting he could still get run over by a bread truck walking home from the office, I still feel like my beating heart is being dangled over a pit full of ravenous wolves.  And I get to watch my sister-in-law and my parents suffer the same worry (and worse) from practically the other side of the world.

Life is hard.

Did I tell you I've been made Head of High School?  Technically, I started learning the ropes last year, but this year is when the rubber began hitting the road for reals.  And you know what?  This whole 'leadership' thing is not easy.  Suddenly, all the problems that I used to quite happily let other people take care of have become mine.  It's not that I have to do all the jobs, but I do have to see that they get done, and the mental burden of it all is surprisingly heavy.  Plus, after all the meetings and emails I still have my own teaching responsibilities, and I am not a fast worker, which sometimes puts me in the awkward position of not having finished the things I've been asking my fellow teachers to do on time.  Also, there's that pesky learning curve to consider, and being in leadership means necessarily that other people will suffer when I mess up(!).  I'm not complaining.  Okay, maybe I am.  I don't regret taking on the job, though.  It is an honor and a blessing, and I just know it must be doing some sort of good.  I'm sure we're all building a lot of character, right?

And then there's facebook.  Gaah!  Facebook! I search my feed hungrily for morsels of home, pictures of family, news of friends, anything that will help me feel connected.  But inevitably, I end up looking at a long line of wedding announcements and baby pictures.  Heck, my friends' babies aren't even babies anymore!  Suddenly, I'm crying all over my lesson plans.  Pull it together, woman!  How many of these same friends are feeling just as small because they don't get to live on a ship in Madagascar?  How can I, in good conscience, complain about ANYTHING when not a hundred meters from where I sit, people who have not had one tenth of the opportunities I've been given are just hoping to be able to walk normally, etc.?  Still, I won't deny that it stings.  After all the Huffington Post articles and mom blogs, I feel like a dead tree in a forgotten garden.  But that's how it is, isn't it?  We none of us know what our own paths are leading to, but we're absolutely sure we can see all the good things on other people's paths, just lying there like ripe apples for them to pick up and enjoy.  Never mind that we have no idea how hard it is for them to keep walking.

I don't want my own petty disappointment to get in the way of any of my relationships.  You are all far too valuable, friends, for me to let go of you.  That's why envy is a sin, you know.  It separates people.  As soon as you start comparing someone else's life to your own, you put them on the other side of a sort of mental see-saw, and the higher they get lifted, the lower you sink.  "She doesn't know what it's like," you say to yourself. "She won't understand, so why bother talking about it?"  Before we know it, we're either worshiping them or hating them, probably both.  Isn't that awful?

Listen, there is enough Beauty in this world for every single one of us to lead breath-taking lives. Beauty and Goodness are eternal things, because they are characteristics of an eternal God.  We are not competing for some finite commodity.  The see-saw is a lie.  Lighting a candle doesn't take away the brightness of those that have already been lit.  In the same way, your gifts and blessings, your triumphs and successes, your moments of love and delight can only add to the brightness of my own life, because I know you, and I love you, and that means that the things that bless you also bless me (just as your hurts also become mine).

So bring it on, Facebook!  Show me all your adorable Instagram pics.  Tell me all about those little angels with their sticky faces and quote-worthy sayings.  I love it.

And I love you, dear friends.  All of you.  Thank you for being part of my beautiful life.

PS- I got a haircut!  You can see it here in this photo of us teachers at the Academy's recent Science Fair. (Just for you, Mom.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Out to Sea (at last)!

So here we are sticking our toes out over the rolling Atlantic while our ship sways back and forth, vibrating like one of those massage chairs from Costco.  There's nothing like putting out to sea for slowing the heart and clearing the mind.  I think we're all so very relieved to be finally going somewhere that even those who don't like sailing are breathing a sigh of relief.  The Africa Mercy has spread her wings and flown the coop, so to speak, and the sweet scent of freedom and saltwater permeates the whole ship.  The experienced sailors among us have lined their camp chairs up on deck seven port side and, propping their tired feet on the protective white railing, promptly fallen asleep, while the newbies flit about like giddy kids on Christmas morning.  And it's from here, placidly ensconced in my heavy duty camp chair, that I shall endeavor to outline for you, dear reader, the more salient points of the past six weeks.

On Tuesday, the 29th of July, I said the last of many wrenching goodbyes to friends and family in the US and set my face toward the Canary Islands where my ship home waited to take me on my next African adventure, field service in Benin.  That was six weeks ago.  Four weeks ago, two things happened:  we started school (hooray!), and we realized that we probably weren't going to go to Benin (sigh).  It's a long story, and I certainly don't know all of it, but basically the outbreak of ebola that began in Guinea last winter has turned into a much bigger problem than anyone thought it would be.  Whereas all the previous outbreaks rose and fell relatively quickly, this one has only gained momentum, spreading from Guinea to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, and Senegal.  It is difficult for a ship full of people who have committed their present lives to providing medical relief for the poor in West Africa to sit by and watch the countries we love and sacrifice for face so much fear and death.  But what could we do?  We are not fitted out to deal with infectious diseases.  We do surgeries and education.  If even one person with ebola came to our normally very crowded screening sites, we would actually be responsible for making things much worse.  While there were no confirmed cases in Benin, how easy would it have been for someone from Nigeria, desperate for help, and willing to try anything, to make the journey across the border and bring ebola with them?  It presented a risk both to us and to the Beninois we wanted to help, and it was a risk our leaders were not willing to take.  So we waited.  People made plans.  Plans changed.  We took our students on field trips to the Science Museum (very interesting--all in Spanish) and the beach (definitely a cultural experience).  We waited some more.  Nurses and doctors got tired of cleaning empty wards and moonlighted as cooks, plumbers, and deck hands.  Some people felt called to go home.  Departments shuffled themselves around, put finishing touches on their chain-of-command flowcharts, and generally cleaned house.  I learned how to negotiate taxi fares in Spanish.  Friends returned.  Birthdays were planned and celebrated.  And still, we waited.

Then a possibility began to emerge, an opportunity that had never occurred to me...

And so we're off.  I can't tell you where we're headed yet, as it hasn't been officially announced.  But I can tell you that the excitement here is palpable.  It's a new road for us, and I'm sure it will have its challenges (like anything worth doing), though at the moment we can't help but smile.  We are so ready to be out about our Father's business again.

Update:  It has been announced, so I can tell you after all.  We are headed to


Isn't that exciting?  We'll be sailing all the way around the tip of South Africa, with a stop-off in Cape Town.

Here is the official statement that went out this week.

Everyone is just buzzing with anticipation to see what our next chapter holds.
As for me, well, I am going outside to stare at the sea and enjoy the delicious feeling of finally being on the road again.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer Days

I guess I would be stating the obvious to say I've been 'off the grid' for a while. I went from being Ms. Dunn, Africa Mercy Teacher Extraordinaire, to being plain old Sarah, traveling companion, cousin, daughter, granddaughter, cherished friend, sister, aunt, one of a million unremarkable faces milling around the West. It has been beautiful. All the parched little corners of my heart that thirsted so long for the people and places I call home have received a generous soaking.  Like a cat in the sun, my tired brain has been snoozing luxuriously, while the world spins on without my help.  I read War and Peace.

I know that these summer days are numbered.  Soon I will be boarding a plane headed back across the ocean. I'll have to let go of the people who have made me who I am so I can go and be that person. I don't want to, but I will. Because that's the way I honor all the love they've poured into me. That is what love means. It means filling each other with everything we can, so that they can't help growing into themselves.

So thanks, everyone. I love you, too.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The month of Good Bye...

Well, we made it!  The last day of school has come and gone (at least, for the students it has) and I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle, emerging from the enchanted woods to find that twenty years have gone by while I was mired in the strange fog that teachers inhabit between the end of the third quarter and the end of the year.  I sincerely hope I haven't aged beyond recognition.

While my students and I were going on Retreat, studying for/writing Finals, and just generally counting down the days until 'freedom,' the Africa Mercy has been experiencing her own change of seasons.  Our last surgeries have been performed, and our last few patients have walked down the gangway.  The tents that were such a comforting and dependable feature of our dock space have been taken down and packed away, and pretty soon our trusty fleet of Land Rovers will be hoisted up to deck 8 and tied down.  The Goodbye Season is upon us.

This is what it's like.  It's like someone has opened up your chest, exposing your beating heart, and, slowly, over the course of about a month, fibers of that precious muscle are being ripped out one by one.  Every time, you bleed.  Every time, it hurts.  Your eyes leak.  There's snot all over your sleeves because even though this is the billionth time you've come down to the dock to watch yet another friend and partner in Christ drive away for the last time, you still can't manage to remember to bring kleenex to these morose little shindigs.

Saying goodbye is hard.  This morning, I said goodbye to my Birthday Buddy.  His name's Matthew, and he's just finished 2nd grade.  One of my first clear memories of coming to the ship was racing Matthew and his two brothers down the incredibly long dock in Tenerife.  That was almost two years ago.  It took me a good 6 months to make it onto Matthew's "teachers I hug" list, but my status as friend was cemented when we discovered that we share the same birthday.  (I tried to convince him that we were actually born on the same day, and that I look older because I was born in space whereas he was born in Texas.  It didn't fly.  He knows too much about space travel.)  Matthew and his family were a part of the fabric of my life on this ship.  And now their threads have been ripped out.  I don't know when (or if) I'll ever see them again.  And they're not the only ones.  Every friend we wave out of the port leaves another wound in our hearts.

This year, I am also saying goodbye to several of my students.  This hurts even more.  My students are the closest thing I have to children, and I love them.  A few weeks ago, I wrote this for a friend who wanted to put together a sort of book of memories before she herself went home:

Sarah Dunn (Academy Teacher)
2nd May, 2014

It’s the last night of Junior High/High School Retreat, and we are all waiting for the dinner bell to ring.  We’ve been staying at a Catholic retreat center somewhere on the road between Pointe Noire and Dolisie, about half a mile from some lake.  After a hot, sticky, sleepless night in the dorms, and a full day of running around, I don’t know why we haven’t started snapping at each other.  Instead, there’s a sweet, restful spirit in the common room, where we’ve met to wait.  The sun went down long ago, and the power’s out, so the room’s lit up with tea lights and the long, elegant dinner candles that our hosts brought out.  In one corner, Jordan has got Nick Cash’s guitar, and he’s playing all the worship songs he knows, one after the other.  A little knot of students has formed around him, and their voices echo across the room as they pick up melody after melody.  Other students are quietly writing notes of encouragement that they’ll slip into each other’s “blessing bags” (little paper bags with our names on them, all lined up against the back wall).  There’s a Schwebel boy writing in his journal by candle-light.  Jack Dunne has convinced Robert to go outside with him to try to catch some fireflies. Suddenly, I come face to face with the thought I’ve successfully avoided for months:  things are changing—my kids, a whole lot of them, are leaving the ship.  I won’t be seeing them again in the fall, a little taller, a little more grown up, but essentially their crazy, wonderful selves.  I don’t know when I’ll see them again.  It’s like a punch to the gut.  It’s hard to explain to people, but I didn’t fly all the way out to West Africa to minister to West Africans, at least not directly.  I came to teach a handful of awkward, intelligent, isolated, creative, beautiful, amazing teenagers.  These kids have been mine for so long.  I’ve prayed for them, shed tears for them, laughed with them (sometimes at them—I’m not going to lie—they’re hilarious), and worried over them.  All my best stories are about them.   I don’t want that dinner bell to ever ring!  I just want to freeze time and stay in this moment for a while longer.  Maybe a year or two.  I don’t want to face letting go yet.

But here’s the thing about community:  the people we share our lives with never really leave us.  These precious teenagers and I shared life together for two years.  We’ve picked up each other’s sense of humor and habits of speech.  We shared a lot of moments, comfortable and uncomfortable, awesome and mundane, and there is nothing in the world that can change that.  I will carry these years with me for the rest of my life, and so will they.  And when we meet again in heaven, we’ll have some great stories to share.  

And that really sums up how I feel about this whole Goodbye Season.  Yes, it stinks to have little pieces of your heart ripped out and spread to every corner of the Earth, but you know what would be a whole lot worse?  Feeling nothing.  How blessed am I to have loved and been loved by so many people?  

Sometimes I wonder if all our efforts to eliminate suffering from our lives is really effort well spent, because the only way to really avoid having to say so many goodbyes would be to never say hello.  Much better to embrace the beauty of sharing life, with the heartache that comes with letting go.  This is a hard season, but it is not the last word.  There will be ever so many more hellos for us all.

So here's to the next hello.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Poetry and Zebras

Hello!  (Best photo-bomb to date.  I'm kind of proud of it.)

I was feeling a little poem-ish a while ago.  It happens.  Usually, when it happens, I write something in my journal and that's that. But sometimes I feel compelled to share what I've written, and this is one of those times.  As with most poems, it's pretty sentimental.  Feel free to skip to the bottom if you want.  You're not being graded for this. 

Let's get this straight:
I will never know what it feels like to be you.
I was born in the wrong time and place for that.
I'm not the answer to your questions--
not even close.
You should know that I
can't carry much before my knees begin to buckle,
and I make a pretty useless bodyguard, 
(though not for lack of trying.)
In the heat of battle I am just as likely to be a liability 
as a help.  In other words, I could very well be 
the first to fall.

But if you'd like someone to listen while you're
sorting through your heart,
to hold the world at bay so you can rest,
if you want someone to count your tears,
and add some of their own,
to love the things you love because of you,
if it helps to have a witness of how very much 
you matter,
who still insists "those idiots" matter, too,
if you want a friend to walk with,
and don't mind the occasional curve,
then, friend, look no further.
I'm your man.

I think at the time, I was meditating on what it means to be a good friend.  I've been working on this, lately, although sometimes I wonder what my friends would have to say about my progress.  Anyway, the first few lines popped into my head while I was walking down the beach on a camping trip.  The rest had to be wrestled out, but eventually it came.  It's a nice counter-balance to this little gem that dribbled out of my pen, fully formed, a couple months ago.

We are stars.  
Immeasurable depths of fire and light burn out of our souls—
too beautiful to look at directly—we sustain life and destroy it.  
Our gravity pulls in anything that gets close enough to be caught.

But however big we think we are, space is bigger.

Lonely stars.

Dramatic much?  Sometimes, when I've gone real quiet, and the person I'm with asks me what I'm thinking about, well, this is it.  Only in the moment, the words aren't usually that coherent.  So I just say something plausible, and soothe my conscience by thinking about the plausible thing for a while.
I know.  Weird.
Here's the thing, though: you don't get to choose your weirdness.  You only get to choose whether you're going to lean in and own it, or wander around like a restless spirit, trying to get away from yourself.
It's not a disappointment, really, just a readjusting of expectations and priorities.  I can do that.  I've been doing it for years.

In other news, this happened:

Yes, that is a real wildebeest and those are real zebras behind me.  There were no fences between us or anything!  (See, Dad?  Real live African animals in their own natural habitat!)  My fellow teachers and I had the opportunity to go to a special conference for educators in christian international schools in Africa, and this little game park walkabout was our treat afterwards.  The conference took place at the beautiful Rift Valley Academy in Kijabe, Kenya.  Not only were we able to meet with other teachers who deal with similar situations (like having to wait for a container to pass through customs before you can access your school supplies, etc.), we also got to listen to some really fascinating speakers.  This guy shared a wonderful new perspective on the different ways our own cultural assumptions influence the way we understand and interpret the Bible.  For instance, the whole dichotomy between "natural" and "supernatural" turns out to be a Western construct (gosh darn you, Aristotle!).  Drawing an imaginary line between what we understand (the natural) and what we don't yet understand (the supernatural), and then banishing God to the latter side of the line is something we Westerners do without even thinking about it.  In fact, in the original Hebrew, the word for Angel and the word for Messenger are the same.  From God's perspective, it's probably all "natural."  Isn't that a cool (and yet kind of unnerving) thought?  Teaching in an international setting is guaranteed to stretch your brain.  It was rather a relief to find that at least there are others whose minds are pretzled on a regular basis.

But before we could ever make it to Kenya, we had to raise a heap of money.  First, we had an auction on the ship (we called it "Auction of Dreams," pictured below).  It was a wonderful evening.  It's a beautiful thing when people who are already giving so much to be here can be so very generous (and have so much fun at the same time)!  Still, with all that generosity, we were several thousand dollars shy of being able to go.  It was the plane tickets that really put us back.  Flying across Africa is a complicated thing, friends.  
But then, an anonymous donor agreed to pay the difference for us!  Honestly, I don't know why I even bother to worry about money anymore.  It obviously doesn't stop God from doing what he wants, especially when people are willing to listen to him.  Once again, I am incredibly and undeservedly blessed.

Amazing conferences in beautiful places notwithstanding, I was a happy woman when we got back to our dear old Africa Mercy, to be welcomed back by eager friends and (secretly) eager students.  Even with all the wonderful people I talked to and all the cool places they live and work in, I couldn't find any place that was quite like the AFM.  My community lives here.  My students are here, and right now, I belong here.

Today, this is home.  And it is very good to be home.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Hello, friends.  It's been a while, hasn't it?  Let's see what I can tell you about my life since we last chatted...

We're well into a little thing called "rainy season" here, which means that most days this is the view from my classroom.

The general greyness of things reminds me very much of my own Pacific Northwest, though the effect is ruined as soon as you step outside. (Washington is very rarely this warm unless the sun is shining.)  Those mysterious red smudges are big cargo ships, waiting to be loaded up.  You can see the cranes behind them.  If my student Jack were here, he'd be able to tell you what kind of ships and cranes we're talking about.  He could probably tell you the names of the ships, too.  Jack is an enthusiast when it comes to ships, tugboats, tankers, cranes and anything else having to do with sea-going vessels. I have another student who's the same way, only with planes and airports.  He once gave a 20+ slide presentation on Heathrow International Airport and current plans for the addition of a floating terminal.  I am often struck with the unique lives my students lead.  I pray that they come to see the marvelous gift they're being given as they wrestle with the challenge of growing up on the world's largest civilian hospital ship.  (I have to remember that myself.  The gift and the challenge go together--you can't have the first without the second.)  Maybe someday, I'll eventually get used to hearing things like, "This weekend at our youth camp-out, we got to roast a crocodile for dinner!"  (True story.  They purchased it from a local vendor, killed it, cleaned it, and coated it with crunched-up pringles.)  But it hasn't happened yet.  Ah well, perhaps after another year...  

Speaking of unexpected animals, I saw these beauties mounted on the wall of our mid-ships lounge area just a few days ago.  Don't worry, they're paper mache.  Some of my students have been taking a special art class.  Pretty impressive, don't you think?  I don't remember doing anything like that when I went to high school.  (I'm still waiting for the back half of each animal to show up on the other side of the wall.  Maybe next quarter?  Here's hoping!) 

Last weekend, a couple of friends and I participated in the Africa Mercy version of the Amazing Race.   Basically, we spent the day running all over Pointe Noire completing various challenges and generally making fools of ourselves.  The picture above was taken just prior to our canoe challenge.  (Esther is on the left and Andrea on the right, from England and Holland, respectively.)  Unfortunately, the wind came up and the currents got a little too strong for us to make it all the way out to our goal, but as you can see from the photo below, we did in fact propel the canoe with our oars (which, in my mind, constitutes a real victory).  We may have gone a little faster if that guy on the end hadn't been weighing us down.  Of course, we may also have tipped over, so it's just as well he was there.

Among our other challenges were:  carving a wooden coaster (pictured above--not as easy as it looks, by the way), cooking and selling an egg sandwich from a Congolese food cart on the side of the road, catching some chickens, playing soccer with a few local boys (who very graciously let us win), shining shoes at the airport (I actually earned a dollar doing this!  It's always nice to gain a new marketable skill), trying to cook two fish we bought at the market over a charcoal fire built by ourselves (It's a good thing I know how to shine shoes, because I would never make it in a Congolese kitchen), and a complicated scavenger hunt through a crazy busy market.  My last thoughts before falling asleep that night were 1) I'm so glad we didn't have to eat the fish we "cooked" 2) I am going to be sore tomorrow and 3) I love my life! 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Over or Under?

This happened last week.  I'm the one in the middle.  You can't hear it, but right now I'm murmuring to myself, "Over? Under? Over? Under?..."  I saw the wave begin to swell out of the sea, like the horizon was being slowly sucked up into the sky right in front of me, gathering momentum even as it towered above me, and I knew I needed to do something before that wall of water met my frail girly body.  But I couldn't move because I hadn't quite decided which way I needed to go, over the wave or under it.  I'm no stranger to beaches and waves and suchlike.  I've played in the waves off of California, Florida, Washington (briefly), Kaua'i, and some delightful islands not an hour's boat ride from Conakry, Guinea.  I know that if you time it right, you can jump into the ridge of some very tall waves and be lifted right over them as they pass.  Or, you can dive straight under the base of the wave as it comes and feel its angry power rolling harmlessly over your back and down your legs.  It's only when you just stand there staring that the water can really hurt you.  I know all this, and yet there I am waiting like a fool about to get pummeled, paralyzed by my own indecision.

One of the most depressing things about growing up is realizing that some personal flaws are likely to be with us until we die.  I have never been great at making decisions.  I look at things from every possible angle I can find and make pros and cons lists like a champ, but I'm always haunted by the suspicion that I'm not seeing some key aspect of the problem, so I panic and go with whichever option my gut favors at the time (which would be a fine way to decide things if one's gut were at all consistent).  Then, I spend far too much time cringing because I'm sure I've made the wrong choice and there's no going back.  I'm pretty sure God just looks at me and chuckles, and you know, I don't blame Him one bit.  I am ridiculous.

Some people will argue that God has ordained our steps to such a degree that unless we consciously decide to disobey Him, we will end up where He wants us to be.  Others say that God lets us make our choices and works through those choices to bring about Good in our lives.  If you think about it, we're blessed either way.  Two things I know for sure.  We are flawed and broken people, imperfect in ways that we don't even understand yet.  And we are powerful.  We have influence we don't even see.  Our words, our choices, our character, it all matters more than we can understand.  And so we make messes.  It's inevitable.  The only way I know of avoiding it would be to disengage from living altogether.  Say nothing.  Try nothing.  Risk nothing.  Just keep your head down and don't expect too much.  But even that is a choice--one of the worst choices you can make, I think.

Why all this choice talk, you ask?  Well, it's because I've been struggling to choose whether to go back to the US at the end of this field service or to stay with Mercy Ships for another school year.  My original commitment was for two years, and those two years will be up in May 2014.  However, several people have made it clear to me that I could be a real help to my students and their families if I stayed a little longer.  At the same time, I know that there are plenty of students and families I could help in the United States (or in Europe, or anywhere really).  There are days when I miss my family and friends at home so much that it feels like I'm being stretched all the way back over the Atlantic and across North America, and I can feel the trade winds blowing through spider-silk threads of what used to be my heart.  I'm not going to pretend it isn't hard to walk down the same taupe-colored hallways and climb up the rickety metal ladder that leads to my dark little shelf of a bed every night.  But neither am I going to pretend that this isn't the biggest and most delightfully spicy adventure I've ever been on, or that it hasn't been an absolute honor to be part of the beautiful miracle that is Mercy Ships.  How often do you get to live in a place where, because of the love of Christ, the blind see and the lame walk and the outcast is restored to community?  How often do you get to learn from people who embrace joy and generosity in the midst of crushing poverty?  It's the spiritual and emotional equivalent of being part of one long ever-changing but always breathtaking sunset.

Of course it costs a lot, and I'm not the only one who's had to sacrifice to get me here, both financially and emotionally.  And I'm not saying that God will never call me back to serve Him in the United States (in fact, I kind of suspect He will).  But I'm not ready to be done with this particular adventure yet.  I want to lean in and soak up everything I can here, so that when I do move on, I'm not the same person I was when I left.

And so, dear friends, I've got good news and bad news.  The bad news is that we'll be apart a little longer than we may have planned.  To tell the truth, I don't know when I'll be home again, or even where 'home' is.  But the good news is that you get to be part of this amazing venture for one more year.

I have a feeling it's going to be a Very Good Year.

Love, Sarah