We are a family of three; Andrew, Jodie and Jessica (aged 18) from Tasmania, Australia who are currently serving in Douala, Cameroon, Central Africa on the M/V Africa Mercy, the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, through Mercy Ships International. God has called us on a journey that has been many years in the making. For this season we call Africa home, as we seek to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ruined for the Ordinary

This is just a collection of random thoughts that I wrote a while back that I have now undated a bit, but resonates more so now, as we are about a month away from walking down the gangway for the last time, for this season.

Tears threaten to overflow at any given moment, over the silliest of things and anxiety floods through my veins. I can’t do it. How can I leave this place? That is how I feel one day. The next, anger and frustration bubble up inside me and I secretly hate being here and cannot wait to be anywhere else. What is this paradox?

I don’t think it really hit me, the beginning of the end, until we began to slowly sail away from our berth in Las Palmas, back in August last year, and I thought to myself, “This is it, I will never do this again”. As the soulful strains of Theodore, a long time friend of Mercy Ships, standing on the edge of the breakwater, playing “Amazing Grace” on his trumpet,  reached my ears, I nearly lost it right there and then. How does one do this anyway? Nobody told me that the transitioning would begin almost a year before we even left. One by one, those “lasts” seem to be stacking up like a pile of Jenga bricks, threatening to topple over at any given moment, just like my emotions. 

It hits me at the most unpredictable of times. Standing in my “kitchen” in the place I have lived the longest of anywhere in my whole life, watching a little ortho patients at the Hope Centre with a “Tom Hopper”, a special frame made by our friend Tom who went to be with Jesus last shipyard, sharing ice-cream with new friends in favourite city haunts, the sales staff who know my coffee order off by heart, walking the familiar hallways and staring out at the twinkling port lights from the pool deck. 

It hits me like a freight train at those time when you would expect, remembering to say goodbye to alumni crew because next time they come back, it will be me who has left. Walking out of the library for the last time, a place I have poured my heart and soul into, watching the dockside tents come down and the wards empty out. Saying goodbye to Dolf Kevin, the patient through whose veins flow life giving blood from my daughter, when the Operations Managers plan a special dinner for Andrew and each say nice things about him, watching Jessica try on her graduation cap and gown, the tassel she picked swinging wildly about and knowing that very soon the haze of Africa will be in the rear view mirror. I can barely stand it.

But part of me yearns to live without having to remember to sign up for a laundry slot or to book out a car for my four hour slot on a weekend. I can’t wait to not be awoken by the shrieking sounds of a 6:00 am fire drill alarm, I long to be able to get specialist medical attention, to be able to eat what I want, whenever I want, to sleep in an adult size bed, to go to a shopping centre, to drive my own car, have winter, to be there to celebrate with my family, to have Christmas in Australia and to be understood when I speak-ALL the time, But then I realise the great contradiction is, that if I no longer yearn for these things, then I am no longer living on the ship. Wherever I am, my heart will yearn for the other. It’s my reality. I am ruined for the ordinary.

Once we have said our goodbyes, finished our travels, arrived back to Australia and reunited with our family again, moved into our own place and the dust has settled. Then what? When will I get used to my new normal that was my old normal but somehow slipped away to be replaced with bent legs, globetrotting, miracles, dry ladies, a four room house, greeting royalty, drums beats, AK47’s, dolphins and whales, head size tumours, sidewalk shopping, spoken French, coke in glass bottles, dinner with the Governor, coconuts, needlegunning, pirate drills, stowaways, living in community, dental screenings, slow internet, landrovers, plantains, thunderstorms and cyclones, containers, African fabric, lining up for food, markets, 1000 goodbyes, blackouts, watching the blind see, giving blood to patient and listing to their heartfelt thanks, Christmas cookie bakes, ward worship, chicken fingers, baby chimps, dockside tents, gridlocked traffic, things carried on heads, moto taxis, scrubs, $1.00 lattes, cleft lip babies, flotsam and jetsam outside my window,  …..the list goes on and on. This is our normal. And I don’t know how to live like that…back in the “ordinary”.

Watching our Douala berth appear through the mist in what seems like both an eternity and five minutes ago, I struggled to remember each and every little detail, fully aware this was our last arrival into a host nation. My senses were heightened, as the beat of the drums cut through the fog, the advance team cheered wildly on the dock in their matching, blood red African fabric outfits. The excitement in the air was palpable, the humidity like a cloak, as I stood on the deck, perilously close to tears running down my cheeks. I swallowed the lump in my throat, as big as an apple and felt blessed, as I have a thousand times before, that despite all the odds stacked against us, when most people had given up on us, we never let go of our dream to serve on the Africa Mercy and God made a way. He never gave up on us!

Now we walk the fine line between living with “two feet on deck” and planning for our future. It is a difficult thing. My mind feels like it is being pulled in a thousand different directions and sometimes I have trouble sleeping. My brain is constantly buzzing.I long to feel at peace, as I know that the time is right for us to leave Mercy Ships for this season and we are very tired. But my heart breaks when I think about that moment when we walk down the gangway for the very last time. I know that part of me will want to turn around and run right back up to complain about what is for dinner that night. But another part of me wants to run into the arms of my mum and dad, knowing I don’t have to say goodbye in a few weeks time, to smell the sweet smells of eucalyptus and listen to the cackle of cockatoos, to have our own space at last and to be in my own culture.

This song comes to my mind right now…

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing remains,
Yes, one thing remains.

Your love never fails,
It never gives up
It never runs out on me

Because on and on, and on, and on it goes
Before it overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never ever have to be afraid
One thing remains
So, this one thing remains.

Your love never fails,
It never gives up
It never runs out on me

In death, in life I'm confident and covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid.
There's nothing that can separate my heart from Your great love...
(“One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture)

I need to drum these lyrics into my mind and soul. His love NEVER fails and it NEVER gives up on me! His love is higher than the mountains we will face in the next year, it will be constant through the trial and the change and I NEVER have to be afraid! In the quite of the night, about two months ago, as I cried out to God when I lay awake, yet again, I felt a still small voice whisper, like a balm over my soul, "Trust Me". I cling to that truth when the anxiety take hold and fear clamps like a vice!

Also a couple of quotes that have spoken to me....

"Then I think that maybe courage is not at all about the absence of fear, but about obedience even when we are afraid. Maybe courage is trusting when we don't know what is next, leaning into the hard and knowing that it will be hard, but more, God will be near. He is the God Who Will Provide. He will provide His presence, His strength, or whatever He decides we most need. Maybe bravery is just looking fear in the face and telling it that it does not win because we have known the Lord here. We have known the Lord in the long dark night. " 

(Katie Davis Majors in Daring to Hope: Finding God's Goodness in the Broken and Beautiful)

And lastly who can forget this gem.......

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