(Peru) Screen Day 1

It’s about to begin. I’ve had this thought for so many weeks now. I have carried around so much anticipation knowing this moment was about to arrive, and today is the day it begins. Today is the day I get to observe the magic of a medical mission. Patients are probably waiting already. They are waiting for us to arrive at the hospital.

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I don’t have a lot of words for today. There are only images that will forever be captured in my memory. I spent most of my day observing and learning.  I was just trying to absorb it all. I was just trying to be a friendly smile to settle someone’s nerves. I was just trying to be an extra set of hands to the people who were taking care of every patient. I was just trying to keep a child happy while they waited for hours in the sun not exactly knowing why they were waiting.

It was a long day.

We arrived at the hospital and made our way to the center courtyard where screening would take place. I don’t know what I expected. I found myself taking several deep breaths as we navigated the hallways of the hospital. When we turned the corner and walked outside into the courtyard, the deep breaths got stuck in my chest. There was no visible end to the line of people waiting for us to arrive. Within seconds, people started clapping. I didn’t even realize they were clapping for our arrival until I had walked past the crowd and into the area set up for screening stations.

A Small Glimpse of Screening Day

Every single person standing outside in the sun was waiting to be screened or was waiting for someone they love to be screened. And they were clapping. It didn’t seem fair. It still doesn’t seem fair. We should be clapping for them. Life certainly can’t be easy for them. I can’t imagine the ache in the heart of a parent when the learn that their child is born with a cleft lip or a cleft palate. I can’t imagine the feeling they must having wondering what they can do. If this was my child, surgery would be scheduled and planned before he was ever born. His birth would still be filled with hope knowing help was waiting. We should be clapping for them for showing up today.

At the end of day one, we screened nearly 200 patients. Nearly 200 individuals received a full health screening to see if they are healthy enough for surgery. The had time with a speech pathologist. They had time with a psychologist. They got help with breast feeding or bottle feeding. A nutritionist meet with them all. A dentist spent time with each patient. It’s an amazing thing to observe. It works like a machine. One station to the next. Every team has a specific goal, and every volunteer treated every patient with love and compassion.

Hours and Hours of Fun thanks to a green frog finger puppet and a two year old boy who made me love my boys even more

Tomorrow we will do it all again. There are more patients to screen, more bubbles to blow, more people to love.

“It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince     

Still working hard long after Sunset (or maybe just Jerry!)

  

Race Recap – Chkd 8k

The story of this race really began on Thursday. I set out to run six easy miles on my lunch break. It was a scorcher of a day, and I was running at 1pm. I told myself to run slow and to keep it easy. It felt slow and easy, but it wasn’t. The first two miles were way too fast on days that feel like 100 degrees. When I hit the two mile mark and turned into the sportsplex, I knew I had overdone it. My brain shut down. I didn’t want to run anymore. I slowly made my way back to work.

(9:16, 9:26, 9:39, 9:19, 9:55. Mile 6 didn’t happen.)

Thursday’s run left me defeated and a little scared to “race” on Saturday. It was going to be equally as hot. (It’s summer in the south. I need to stop my whining and embrace the heat!). My plan for the race was to use it as a modified tempo run: start easy and get faster.

My alarm went off, and I desperately wanted to stay in bed. Should I skip the run because of the heat?

Success #1 – I got out of bed

As I ate breakfast, I really wanted to crawl into bed. It was too hot out.

Success #2 – I drove to the race

I picked up my race bib, ran a mile warm up. I was dripping in sweat. I changed my race plan. I decided to aim for a personal worst. Could I keep my ego in check and run slow consistent miles? I have a bad habit of running to fast and burning out. So I lined up in the back behind all the runners. I sat behind pockets of people who run slower than my normal pace.

Success #3 – The first two miles were a piece of cake.

10:25

9:59

I remembered mile 3 and 4 from last year. They were hot. The course doesn’t offer much shade. My next goal was to survive Brambleton Avenue.

Success #5 – I survived

9:49

When we finally made the right hand turn towards the baseball stadium, I was mentally tired. It takes a lot of mental strength to consciously run slow. The first two miles I was telling myself to slow down. The third mile I was telling myself to survive the long stretch in the sun.

11:27

By the time the stadium was in view, I decide I was over it. I stopped to eat my chews. I think I just wanted a mental distraction.

10:27

Still looking for distractions, I decided to walk a water stop.

Official Results: 52:22, 10:32 pace

Success #6 – I crossed the finish line with my second slowest 8k time ever, and I’m incredibly happy with it.


This race delivered everything I need to successfully train for the Chicago Marathon. There are so many valuable lessons tucked in those five miles of racing that are going to make me stronger next October. I’ve got some work to do, but I’m not afraid to do it. Summer training leads to personal bests in the fall.

Race Stats:

Place – 353/931 (37%)

Group – 34/96 (35%)

What’s Next? Time to find some summer 5ks and the Rock n Roll Half Marathon Labor Day Weekend

Uniting a Team

(May 14, 2015)

Most of the volunteers arrived in the middle of the night last night. Airport pickups had me crawling into bed after 2am. It’s all beginning. It is all about to start. The pieces of a successful mission are starting to fall into place.

As we waited for the volunteers to arrive, we guessed who was with Operation Smile. Did they fit the picture we had painted in our head? Did they look like a plastic surgeon? Would I know if they were a nurse? Voices I have become familiar with over the phone became welcoming faces.

Every single volunteer that got of the plane followed the same pattern – recognition that we were waiting for them, realizing I am Kristy, and a huge embrace. No one shook hands. No one awkwardly introduced themselves. We were instantly a family united in Lima.

Day 1 on our mission agenda included a tour of the hospital, reviewing hospital protocol and a team meeting. As we sat on the bus anticipating the one hour drive north along the Pacific coast, our Program Coordinator made an announcement. The hospital tour was cancelled. There was a protest at the hospital that made it unsafe for our visit. Our new destination was the historic district of Lima. We were going to tour a cathedral and catacombs.


The entire day I was amazed by how quickly everyone became friends. We were strangers from over 10 different countries. We spoke different languages. We have different backgrounds. Our differences never mattered. We are all a family connected and united by our common goal to bring hope to families.

Standing outside the Covent of San Francisco, I took a few moments to take it all in. I am in Lima. I am on a medical mission with Operation Smile. Tomorrow we will meet families and children who hope to get surgery, but today we have the chance to embrace this community. While we all learn to love each other more deeply, we get to stand in the middle of a church built in 1535. We get to stand in a library that was once considered the most important library in the South America that dates back to the 17th century and holds 25,000 books. We get to stand in the church’s choir. The pipe organ was built in 1901 and has more than 1000 pipes. We get to walk through the catacombs that is the burial ground to more than three centuries of priests, members of the brotherhood, and citizens of Lima. Surround by over 500 years of history, my presence in the world seems like only a small ripple.

While the Covent of San Francisco made me feel small, there is no denying there is importance in the ripples that Operation Smile will make in the lives of the families we can treat. We all know this. We all know that there is nothing more important than the children we are in Peru to treat.

In this moment, in the historic district of Lima, I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m surrounded by the people I’m supposed to meet. I am where I belong. We are were we belong. We are so much stronger when we are united. Each of us bring our own unique gift to the mission and as a result families can continue to dream for their children.

My heart is so incredibly happy.

Exploring Mira Flores

(May 13, 2015)

Volunteers begin to arrive tonight around 5:30pm. After confirming a few details, the afternoon belonged to me. With no destination in mind, I wandered up and down the streets of Mira Flores, a district in Lima. The air is filled with a surprisingly comforting smell – an odd mixture of salt water and exhaust fumes. The sounds of car horns echo off the buildings. This district in Lima is an amazing blend of city life and beach living.

As I wander up and down the streets, I accept the fact that I’m noticeably a tourist. My eyes are wide as I try to take it all in. I look up and down. My eyes dart to the left and right. I am still not comfortable dodging traffic as I make my way across the busy intersections. I am okay with the label of tourists. I am content trying to absorb the energy of the city.

As I wander I notice a woman handing out balloons to children who walk by. A boy takes one and continues to hit his mom’s backside for the rest of their journey. The mom is unphased by his behavior. It comes with the territory of having a toddler. Chet would approve, and I suspect I’d be unphased too. Another boy walks by with an Angry Birds t-shirt that Cole used to wear. I miss my boys. A man sitting outside eating lunch reminds me so much of my father-in-law I almost ask to take his photo. I see my father-in-law in so many people since we lost him two years ago. A couple walking down the street holding hands makes me wish Christian was with me even if he doesn’t enjoy city life. Everywhere I look, I see something familiar in this city that is still foreign to me.

In this foreign city, I’m finding my connection. I’m finding my comfort in my morning run along a different boardwalk and a different ocean. I see people who remind me of home. Even thought I’m 3351 miles from home, I still find things that feel familiar.

Perhaps that is what this journey, every journey is about. It is about finding comfort. It is about finding the familiar. It is about finding your tribe. It is about connecting to people and life.

I’ve been here for less than 24 hours, and I already see how important it is to be connected. Tonight the volunteers arrive. We are already connected though our passion and our commitment to help. On Friday, patient screening begins. The families we will meet are just another version of ourselves – familiar faces living similar lives in a country that is foreign to me. We are all doing the best we can with our lives – separated by 3351 miles in daily life but always connected.

To Peru

(May 12, 2015)

On May 12, 2014, I started a new chapter in my life. I walked through the front doors of Operation Smile’s Global Headquarters ready to take ownership of my new job: my own personal dream job. I was ready to thrive. Exactly one year ago I began this journey. Today, May 12, 2015, I am sitting on a plane heading to Lima, Peru to participate in my first medical mission.

“She’s seeing things.

She is hearing things.

She’s so sensitive.

Read: She’s irrational.

And this I have internalized. Who am I to trust my body, my senses, my instincts? Who am I to know how to raise my child without consulting parenting books and up-to-date rearing studies? Who am I to try to find God outside of an institutionally approved, fully vetted doctrine? Who am I to think I can pursue impractical dreams? Who am I to be taken seriously? Who am I to think I am capable and worthy? Who am I…who am I?” ~Leigh Ann Henion

This has been my internal dialogue for much of my life. I’ve focused on how I’m not enough – not enough of a wife, not enough of a mother, not enough of a dreamer. I’ve never trusted myself.

As I boarded this plane, tears rolled down my face. Not sure the root of my tears – part homesick and part inspired – I am certain my tears come from a place of gratitude.

I’ve been talking about myself a lot lately. I’ve focused on how this is my dream coming true, but the truth is that this has nothing to do with me at all. It is not about me being enough or capable or worthy. It isn’t about who I am. It is about who they are. It is about the patients we will treat in Peru. It is about the mother who can continue to dream for her child. It is about the father who can exhale knowing his child will be safe and healthy. It is the story of the parents where my heart feels connected.

I have two healthy boys. We have access to safe medical treatment anytime we need it. I am grateful.

This journey is about bringing hope to these communities. It is about healing. I haven’t even touched down in Lima yet, and my heart is already transforming. My old dialogue – Am I enough? Who am I? – is fighting to make its way into this journey. Who am I to think I am worthy? Who am I to think I deserve this dream? By the time this plane touches down in Lima that dialogue is no longer welcome. This isn’t my story.

“It is showing me that I am part of a divine completion, and knowing this somehow makes me feel whole. It is in the spirit of Aloha, oneness, that I intuit divinity. We do not live outside or inside of nature. We are nature. We are not separate from each other – our fates are intertwined, always.” ~Leigh Ann Henion

This journey is about connection. It is about community. It is about hope. It is about spreading love and receiving it – unapologetically and whole heartedly. This is about seeing that fate is always intertwined.

Four more hours until Lima…..

The coastline welcomed me

A Mother’s Story

“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.”   ~Mitch Album

It is Mother’s Day. As I shared breakfast with the most special mothers in my life – my mom, my mother in law, and my sister – the magnitude of their reach wasn’t lost on me. I am my mother’s story. My boys are becoming my story. We are all living through each other every single day.

When I gave birth to Cole when I was twenty four years old, he opened my heart to the world. He inspired me to be my best. He brought all of my dreams to the surface. Everything I have ever wanted to be, I have the courage to pursue because I am his mom. My children our my strength.

As Mother’s Day comes to a sleepy end, I’m writing in an old sketch book my packing list: Packing for Peru. I leave on Tuesday heading to Peru to attend a medical mission with Operation Smile. I can remember the moment this became my dream. I remember sitting next to my mom on an airplane nearly fifteen years ago and reading an article about a group of young adults who carried medical supplies into Cuba to provide relief. I know the moment this dream bubbled to the surface, but I also know this dream has always been a part of me. Perhaps this is my mother’s dream too.

When I stare at Cole and Chet while they sleep, I wonder what they will do with their lives. Will they travel the world? Will the work to find a cure for an incurable disease? Will they transform the world into a peaceful place? I realize now that I see my dreams in them. Does my mom see her dreams in me too?

When I get on that plane on Tuesday I am carrying their hearts with me. I’m carrying my dreams, but I’m doing it for them. I want both generations to know that I’m grateful that I’m the one who gets to do this. Over eight days I have the privilege of helping execute a medical mission, and if that isn’t enough, I get to put a backpack on my back and wander for days after to fill myself back up. I get to hike Machu Picchu mountain. I get to sleep in the Sacred Valley. I get to wander down cobble stone streets. This gets to be part of my story.

“I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.” ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I’ll be back in exactly two weeks richer, more vivid, fuller than before. Another chapter of my story will be written for my boys, my mom and me.

My sister, me and my mama

My sister, me and my mama sharing stories

Chicago Marathon 2015

“Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.” ~Carl Sandburg

On October 11, 2015 my feet will travel 26.2 miles through the city of Chicago. I woke up yesterday morning at 5am feeling the panic that I might not get selected in the lottery process. I hit refresh on my email over and over again. I followed #Chicagomarathon to see if anyone else got an acceptance letter yet. Just after 10am, my status changed from “Pending” to “Accepted”.

On October 11th, my feet will travel 26.2, but it is my heart that will carry me.

“Courage, Dear Heart.” ~C.S. Lewis

Nine days ago I wrote a blog post: See your Magic. Inspired by the birthday of my aunt and the Boston Marathon, I eluded to the fact that I wanted to run another marathon. What I didn’t tell you was that on March 10th I entered my name into the lottery for the Chicago Marathon. I knew my heart was ready to tackle 26.2 miles yet again.

As I look at the direction of my life in the next six months, I’m overwhelmed by gratitude. This year has felt like magic. How did I get so lucky? Every year seems to be punctuated by life events. I know five, ten, twenty years from now when I think back to 2015, it is going to stand out as a magical year for our family.

On Monday, Christian started a new chapter in his professional career. He started a new job that is going to inspire him, challenge him, and allow him to grow in ways we never imagined.

On May 12th, I am boarding a plane for Peru to attend my first ever Operation Smile medical mission. I am exposed to the nature of this work every single day, but to experience it first hand, to live it, to breath it, is something I can’t begin to understand. My heart is prepared to grow.

Over the next six months, my mileage will increase once again. What now feels like a long run will become a short run on my schedule. Saturday mornings will start at sunrise. Over the course of hundreds of miles, my soul will be polished it the best version of myself. This is why I run. This is why I’m ready to run a marathon again. My heart, my head and my body are all working together.

I’m consciously telling myself to slow down, to inhale, to exhale, and to not let the excitement and the whirlwind of life overcome me. I want to enjoy every second of this phase of life.

When I look back on the thirty five years I’ve existed that all began in a tiny hospital tucked in the woods in Lake Forest, Illinois (just north of Chicago), I know what each of those years has meant to me. I’ve lived enough to know just how special this year is for me and my family. Running the Chicago Marathon is the perfect way for me to celebrate the growth that this year has delivered.

There is no better time to let my heart carry me and no better town to welcome me home. It’s time to embrace Chicago!

Photo via Business Weekly

Photo via Business Weekly

Every ounce of gratitude I feel, every gesture of love I feel, I promise to carry it with me during every training run. This marathon is about bringing my best self to surface. It is about running with my heart. It is about embracing life.