Life In the Restoration Business

Did I tell you guys I’m leaving for Africa in ten days? Well technically, I’m leaving for Madagascar – the island nation off the southeast side of the continent, near Mozambique. We’re leading a team of 10 to the Africa Mercy. They’ll stay for years, I’ll be back at the end of March.

Here’s what Madagascar looks like through the lens of our amazing ship photographer Ruben Plomp.

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I know. Torture. Right? Photo Credit: Ruben Plomp

As some of you know, I work for Mercy Ships an organization that runs the largest, non-governmental hospital ship in the world. Since last fall, the ship has been docked in Madagascar providing free surgeries – orthopedics, cleft palate, fistula repair and tumor removal – for people who lack access to such care. We’re in the restoration business and here’s just one of the amazing stories that came off the ship last week.

tumorCan you imagine the shame and rejection that comes with being a little boy with a huge cyst? Zakael can.

A few weeks ago, a guy named Mr. Sambany came to us with a 16 lb. tumor on his head and neck that he’d carried for almost 20 years. He walked three days to get to the ship. While our surgeons reviewed with him the dangers of removing such a large tumor, Mr. Sambany said he knew he might die, but he was already a “dead man” for the way he is treated.

Here he is post surgery.

Sambany We’re in the restoration business.

The surgeons, nurses, cooks, physical therapists, engineers, teachers who work on the ship are not just volunteers, they actually pay Mercy Ships to donate their time and skills. Most ask their communities for financial support to do it. What’s cool about that is, you can stay home and support someone working in Madagascar.  You can bring hope and healing to Mr. Sambany and Zakael from Kansas.

But when Christmas day looks like this in Madagascar, why would you stay in Kansas? If you want to help us in person. You can do that too.

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Crew in Santa hats! Photo Credit: Ruben Plomp

But if you decide to volunteer on the Africa Mercy long term, ten months or more, you get to come to Texas first for training.

And that’s where you will run into me.

They call me The Meddler.

They call me The Meddler.

Because it’s hardly just people with tumors and burns and birth defects that need hope and healing. There is so much broken in all of us, and where else in your life does anybody look you in the face and say:

“Do you realize your mouth is working against you?”

“Are you aware that what you heard as a child, contradicts what Jesus says about you?”

“Don’t you know who you are as a child of God? You are beloved, redeemed, precious, alive, whole, seated with Him, hidden in Him.

As a Jesus follower, I’m staking my life on this information, and the result has been radical and interesting. Stay tuned for the next month or so, and I’ll show you what I mean.

In Haiti last July, one of my team members asked what I get out of being away from Sam so much and traveling to hot, hard, sometimes dirty places with Christians who are in one moment really holy and in another totally freaking out.

“I get to watch God change your lives,” I said. I get to be in the restoration business too.

My Heart is Broken.


Tack  2001 – 2015

I have to put my dog to sleep today, and that is exactly as rotten as it sounds.

Tack is 14. There is cancer and there’s a chance he won’t even make it until the vet arrives at noon. Yes, Sam and I are the people who pay the farm call to have the vet come here. Tack is wrapped in a blanket in front of the fire and Sam has gone out to hire some guys. He needs his barn cleaned, new sand in the stalls and a hole dug behind the shop, right where we always watch the moon rise.

This is terrible.

September 2004 trip to Brookie Lake 036

Colorado high country. Sam, Tyler and Tack.

In a recent post about Christmas, I said that openly inhabiting joy and sorrow at the same time is a courageous gift you can give the people around you. So this morning, I didn’t go to work and Sam and I went out to feed the cows together. Every morning for the last 14 years, Tack has ridden shotgun with Sam to go feed the cows. He’s a cattle dog. It’s his job. Today, I went instead. Sam has hands like anvils, but a heart like goose down – especially when it comes to his animals.

january 2010 048Even though it is raining and cold, or perhaps for that reason, when we got to the far side of the ranch, the calves were running around playing. Watching them, it’s hard not to laugh. When calves run, they stick their tails in the air and they look like monkeys. Ever heard the expression high tailing it? Well, I think this is where it comes from. Sam knew this would make me laugh.

Then he reminded me of the time in Colorado the dogs chased a marmot into a twenty foot culvert. Tack stood at one end and barked into the hole, and was delighted to discover he’d invented a dog megaphone. I swear you could hear him barking for miles. Sam had to take a knee he was laughing so hard. If we’d filmed it, we could have won money on the funny home video show.

Our high country neighbors have equally funny stories because if Sam was ever around for drinks or dinner, Tack, Kota and Gracie were there too. One morning, just after sunrise, neighbor Deann came hauling down our driveway. She had Tack, smiling, ears flapping, in the back of her truck. Evidently he’d stayed over at her house, under her bedroom window, courting her girl dog all night. Of course, Deann thought this was awesome and stopped just long enough to boot his ass out of her truck.

We laughed about that later, after she got some sleep.

Making Hay 2010 270

He can never nap alone.

Flannery O’Connor said, “I write, because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say,” and that’s probably the reason for this post. Also, if you see me a little low tomorrow you’ll already know why. I know some of you are praying for us. We feel it, and we’re grateful.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment … And Regret

Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I’ve been praying for Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll all morning.

Specifically, I pray he resists the urge to turn on the radio, read the news, get on the internet or in any way internalize what I imagine is a ruthless beating from every armchair quarterback on earth – particularly those with the gift of perfect hindsight – who are saying in unison:

“Who throws the ball on second and one, inches from the goal line, with 20 seconds left in the Superbowl – especially when everybody knows Marshawn Lynch can drag six linemen at least five yards?”

Don’t you think he’s playing that same record in his head? People please. There is no pain, like the pain of regret and nobody can possibly feel that more acutely today than Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson.

I don’t even care about football, but I care about mercy and I know something about regret.

Once, years ago, I was riding my horse in a performance. There were 20 of us or so in the arena in front of 1500 people. We were all riding bareback with no bridles, and like we’d rehearsed, we were about to canter around at the same time. If you’ve ever ridden a horse bareback and bridleless in a herd of other horses with no bridles, you know it’s either really impressive or a horrible train wreck.

Well, I was nervous and evidently not listening when the Big Chief changed his mind and picked ONE PERSON to ride his horse around as the rest of us stood still.

So when he said go, off I went, just me and the chosen guy. Big Chief had to stop, correct me and then refocus the crowd on what a wonderful job Chosen Guy was doing.

OMG. I died a thousand deaths in front of that crowd, and for a week I couldn’t look anybody in the eye. Clearly I was showing off, grandstanding and obviously defying the fairly authoritarian Big Chief. Now, all that stuff was kind of true of me at the time, but in this circumstance, I just made a mistake, in front of thousands of people.

Oh how I longed for that 90 seconds back. I ached for it. Regret sets your guts on fire and since there is no time travel, it just burns.

But I know something now, I didn’t then and it’s what I’m praying for Pete Carroll.

I know now I am a complete fool and there’s no sense trying to hide it.

In fact, there is amazing freedom in that. I can make the wrong play call, say something stupid, make a disastrous choice I deeply regret, and I’m still ok, no matter what anybody thinks.

Sure there might be rough consequences and mouthfuls of humble pie, but since I’ve made peace with my fallibility and weakness, I don’t have to drop my eyes in shame. Because I am little and Jesus is big, I can hide in him and recover from my folly, knowing he saw it coming all along, and he loves me anyway.

I am enough because I am hidden in him.

The Apostle Paul struggled with something fierce, he never said what it was, but he asked the Lord to deliver him from it. God didn’t. Instead He said:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Then Paul said,”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” II Cor 12:9

So my boys from Seattle, including you Mr. Carroll, hold your heads up – not because you played your hearts out, not because you are ferocious competitors, but because you are weak, human and beloved by God.

And by Seattle too. im in