In the Process

I had no intention of running the Shamrock half marathon this year. I was planning to be on a work trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I thought I’d be in the heart of Africa working with patients doing something my heart loves. Plans changed. When my own personal safety came into question, the heart of my family became my priority. These very deserving patients will get treatment even if I’m not there, and my boys don’t have to worry about my safety.

There’s a saying floating around in this world that joy is found in the process not in the finish line. While I won’t be traveling to the DRC, a shift changed inside of me by working on this project. The story of these patients is so closely entwined with my heart. Who I am as a person and the beat of my heart directly connects me to their story. I rediscovered a passion inside of me over the past few months. I’ve found confidence in my own voice and in my own story. I’ve been using my voice to capture my story on paper. I’ve revisited places of shame and guilt that existed within me, and I conquered those doubts. I wanted more than anything to bring strength to these patients. I wanted to bring compassion and courage. In order to bring it to them, I had to find it for myself.

This process has changed me. In some ways it’s been subtle. In other ways it’s been intrusive. Rearranging the components of your soul is messy. It’s chaotic. While some parts have emerged, others have left with a fight. There have been days I’ve felt emotionally unstable as I’ve struggled through this transition: old doubts and insecurities struggling to hold on while new-found strength and courage fought to take over.

Through all this change the one place I’ve been able to sort through all my thoughts is in my running shoes. I’ve worked through it all, celebrated it all, and finished every run feeling like a polished version of my self. Shamrock race weekend feels like the perfect place to shine. This year I’ll be running the Shamrock half marathon instead of traveling to Africa, but I’ll be carrying this entire process with me. The finish line isn’t the one I anticipated, but the process has been the same.

I’ll be running with these patients close to my heart. I’ll be running with the courage and determination I hoped to bring to them. The best way I can honor them and myself is to show up to my life with my heart exposed filled with strength and courage.

When I do board a plane this spring for a different mission site, my heart is going to have nothing to give but love that is rooted in my own strength. My foundation will be built on strength and courage.

 

IMG_5481

Collide

“I would say that the thrust of my life has been initially about getting free, and then realizing that my freedom is not independent of everybody else. Then I am arriving at that circle where one works on oneself as a gift to other people so that one doesn’t create more suffering. I help people as a work on myself and I work on myself to help people.” ~Ram Dass

Last Friday after a week-long global planning conference that I organized and attended for Operation Smile, Christian and I drove to Operation Smile’s founders’ home for a final dinner celebration. As we drove, the pattern of turns was familiar. It was a well-worn path in my memory: to the bridge, to the second bridge, to the fork in the road, to the dead-end. The road to their house was my running route in college. Nearly every day I ran by their house.

I remember the moment well, the moment I abandoned myself during my junior year of college. I wanted nothing more than to be free: free from my past, free from my story, free from the life I had lived up until that point. I wanted to rid myself everything and everyone. I just wanted to be free.

I used to wish I could go back to the moment. I used to wish I could choose differently. I use to wonder what would my life look like if I chose a different path. What if I didn’t get married my senior year? What if I didn’t move to Alabama? What if I didn’t have a baby at 24? What if I could go back and instill all of the lessons I’ve learned since than inside my heart and inside my head. The what ifs have all dissolved away. I no longer want to hold my twenty-one year old self closely. I know longer wish I could whisper in my own ear instilling the lessons I’ve learned in the fourteen years that have followed.

As we drove that familiar running route, I felt myself colliding with my past. I felt the desperation in each run during my final years in college. I felt the rush of independence I used to feel as a plowed down a path in quest of my own freedom. I felt it all, and as I pulled into the driveway and walked in the front door of a place that now feels like home, I held all those emotions close to my heart.

There are moments in life when I collided with myself. These magical moments happen when I’m living from my heart. It happens when who I am as a person is perfectly in sync with my actions. There are the big moments: falling in love and child-birth.  And there are small moments: finish lines, observing my children coming into their own, conversations with best friends, and work dinner celebrations.

This spring I’ll be boarding a plane with my passport in hand. An Operation Smile mission will be my final destination. When I used to ask myself “what-if” my mind always wandered down a road that lead to this place. Instead of whispering in the ear of my twenty-one year old self, I want to remind myself every single day to trust: to trust my choices, to trust my intentions, and to trust my heart. I’ve been on the right path the whole time: to the bridge, to the second bridge, to the fork in the road, to the dead-end. It’s been waiting for me all along.

IMG_5287

Understanding Need

I sit in front of my computer screen starring at medical companies and emails every single day. All of them are filled with potential, but on my side of the screen, I sit feeling needy. The information I need to make things happen doesn’t exist inside my head. I have to ask for help. The resources I need aren’t readily available to me. I have to ask for support. The people I need to reach are not defined. I have to search until I find the right person. My job at Operation Smile, an amazing organization that provides free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate, and other facial deformities for children around the globe, is to ask for Gifts in Kind. I ask companies to donate medical supplies so we don’t have to purchase them for our medical mission.

I have tunnel vision right now. We are spending thousands of dollars on acetaminophen for every mission. No one donates this simple drug. Bottles of Tylenol are in nearly every household in America. There has to be a way to find a donation. I know I can find the right company. While I researched acetaminophen, while I researched companies, and while I reached out to anyone willing to accept my call, I sat in my chair feeling desperate.

“I’m going to have to get used to feeling needy”

This is the thought that kept echoing in my head. Needy is not a comfortable place for me. Needy is not a character trait I strive to embody.

In the middle of a development conference, I sat in a small room with all my coworkers and our co-founder, Dr. Magee. Tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat is a normal part of my work day. Every single story touches my heart. As I whipped away a tear, a realization washed over my body.

“I am not needy. The children, the adults, the families, and the communities that need acetaminophen as a very small piece of what it takes to make a surgery a success, they are in need.”

I can’t perform the surgery that will fix a child’s life forever. I can’t teach them to speak years after most children have muttered their first words. I can’t provide them information on nutrition so their bodies can thrive. There is a lot I can’t do, but there is even more that I can do. I can carry their need for them. I can sit in my chair at work and turn that need into an honor. I have the privilege of asking. I have the privilege of bringing the mission of Operation Smile to corporations around our global. I get to connect these two worlds.

When I started to feel needy, I could feel myself shrinking. If continuous online searching and dozens of asks to unresponsive receivers could make me shrink in my desk chair, imagine living a life where you’re not accepted or received because of the way you look. That is a real need. When I was reminded that I was advocating for an authentic need of an individual, I sat up a little taller in my chair.

“Love by definition is self-sacrifice. Love is a decision to make someone else’s problem your own.” ~ Dr. Bill Magee

Every single day I love what I do. I love the children around the world that are kept hidden from their communities because of their cleft lip and cleft palate. I love the mothers, the fathers, the caregivers who sacrifice so much to give their child a chance at a normal life. I love every single person who makes this possible. What I do each day is an honor. I will find a company that also feels honored to provide acetaminophen to our patients around the world. I will ask and ask and ask again because this is a real need in our world.

This isn’t needy. This is love.

smile