My Story

A Lost Cause

HIV/AIDS support group in Kitgum, Uganda When I was in high school, I was voted most likely to devote my life to a lost cause. I was mildly offended, but ultimately took it as a compliment.

Because sometimes the most important work in the world looks like a lost cause.

Day-in and day-out, a commitment to a person or an ideal can certainly feel like a lost cause, too.

Yesterday, Reuters reported that seven African countries have cut child HIV infections by half.

It's a remarkable piece of news, and a tell-tale reminder that the fight against HIV/AIDS is not a lost cause. Twenty years ago, we couldn't have dreamt of such a concept, and now it is within our reach.

In fact, it's so close that hundreds of thousands of us are committed to live in a world where there will be no baby born with HIV by 2015.

We still have a LONG way to go, but the end of HIV/AIDS is also within the reach of our lifetime.

It's why we can't wait.

It's why we can't slow down.

It's why we can't get distracted by naysayers or by complacency.

It's why, one community at a time, we walk alongside Africans in their commitment to ending HIV in their home villages.

You can consider it a lost cause if you want. I consider it a cause worth waking up every day to fight for.

What Helplessness Sounds Like

SONY DSC I couldn't sleep last night. I lay awake in my bed on top of the covers with the windows open on a warm night in the village. Tucked beneath the mosquito net, I listened to the bloodcurdling screams of a child in pain. The ward is just a few hundred feet from us, and you don't have to listen too closely to know what helplessness sounds like.

A two-year-old boy in desperate need of an IV had severe dehydration. It was nearly impossible to find intravenous access on his body. Baby Alfred wailed as multiple attempts were made on his tiny little hands. Eventually, the clinicians succeeded and breathed a sigh of relief, and they moved on to the next patient. Our over-worked and exhausted clinicians served through the night as the hours eked by. Every bed was full. Patients continued to come through the night, whether on the back of a motorcycle as it hastily passed along the dirt path to the hospital doors or on one of the multiple runs of the hospital ambulance.

Earlier in the day, a 25-year-old woman had been found unconscious in her cornfield and was carried nearly lifeless to the hospital. Upon seeing her lab results, one of our Vanderbilt medical students reflected that this woman's condition was the kind of case that might have come by helicopter and immediately given attention by an entire medical team in the US. But here, there is no such resource, no such protocol, no such expert team.

On most days, the noises here in Lwala are the songs of small triumphs, murmurs of hope through the daily work of transforming this community toward health and healing. But last night, staring into the darkness, through the sounds of rushing vehicles, crying babies, and colleagues shuffling through the dorm to grab juice and bread for the overwhelmed nurses, I could only hear the deep, dark voices in my heart that spoke about defeat and injustice and inadequacy.

The infuriating reality is that there are angels here. In the form of more than a hundred committed Kenyans who are trying to tear away a corner of darkness through clinical care, community health outreach, economic empowerment, nutrition and education - but their limitations, our limitations, are severe. We do what we can with what we have. We often hear the voice that reminds us that it just isn't enough. Nine children under 5 died here last month alone.

Baby Alfred's father left the room, and the baby ripped that IV right out. So the nurses tried again and again and again, without success. More deafening screams.

And then the sound of weeping. My own. This is what helplessness sounds like.

For baby Alfred, for the unconscious woman, for the clinical officers, for the nurses, for the community health workers, for the patients on motorcycles, for the parents who worry about the fate of their children, for you, for me, for James, this is the voice that ultimately spoke to me last night:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. - Isaiah 43

The waters here are deep and murky. The fire, impassable. And yet, there is a promise given to us here. I yearn to believe it.


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I turned thirty-one on the thirty-first of January. The golden birthday, as many call it. I've had to wait the longest, being born on the final day of the month. Maybe like having a last name at the end of the alphabet. I don't know what a golden birthday represents beyond the clever age and date connection, but regardless, this birthday was special.

I spent the day in the Lwala hospital, shadowing my friend Japolo as he served patients with precision and care. As we traveled through the crowded ward, I was reminded that we are not guaranteed any breath beyond the one we have just taken, and to live past each breath is a miracle.

As we made the rounds, I met a man with a severe case of malaria which causes a bit of a psychosis along with horrible pain. His groans of physical suffering were small compared to the ones he had wailed just two weeks ago when his one-year-old son died of anemia.

A malaria outbreak. An increase in anemia deaths. We are full here, all beds in the ward occupied. Non-contagious babies sharing beds together. Two babies born this morning. Four born here through the night.

We each have one precious life, one light to shine in the world. Some burn steadily through the years until the wick is no more. Others are gone with a breath. For thirty-one years on this thirty-first of January, I give thanks.


This is post 1 of 10 in the Broken:Beautiful series.                              James and I live this interesting life that straddles the worlds of America and Africa. We actually met because of our common callings to Africa, in fact, on an airplane that we both happened to be taking to Kenya. We got to know each other as we sat together for nearly 6 hours, flying from Europe, over the Sahara desert of North Africa, and ending our conversation in Nairobi, Kenya. Unbeknownst to us, we would be married within the year and eventually, our marriage would include the stewardship of two separate organizations specializing in healthcare and community development in Africa.

Over the last five years, we have journeyed together as partners in mission, and have experienced the undulating ups and downs of living life in the middle lane, shifting from one continent to another. In it, we have seen unbearable brokenness juxtaposed with overwhelming beauty. It is the witness to a world that is not yet right, and the longing for the one that is promised to come. It is why I have named my blog Broken:Beautiful because they often come together, brokenness and beauty. That is the lens through which I see the world.

I have asked James to join me as a guest blogger for a series I am calling Broken:Beautiful. We will post one every week for the next month or so. It all stems from the words of Isaiah below as well as the compilation of our shared stories. Join us as we honestly delve into the broken and the beautiful parts of the world we know and love.

Isaiah 65: 17-25

“See, I will create
 a new heavens and a new earth. 
The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever
 in what I will create, 
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
 and its people a joy.

I will rejoice over Jerusalem
 and take delight in my people;
 the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

“Never again will there be in it
 an infant who lives but a few days,
 or an old man who does not live out his years; 
the one who dies at a hundred
 will be thought a mere child; 
the one who fails to reach a hundred
 will be considered accursed.

They will build houses and dwell in them;
 they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

No longer will they build houses and others live in them, 
or plant and others eat.
 For as the days of a tree, 
so will be the days of my people; 
my chosen ones will long enjoy
 the work of their hands.

They will not labor in vain, 
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; 
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
 they and their descendants with them.

Before they call I will answer; 
while they are still speaking I will hear.

The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
 and the lion will eat straw like the ox, 
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
 They will neither harm nor destroy
 on all my holy mountain,” 
says the Lord.

My college journal: New York City

An excerpt from my college journal about my first trip to New York City in 2002. Reading back - from this entry to my blog post just a few days ago - I see how my journey into the mosaic of the world has transformed and shaped my life. Then, I was just beginning to be "enlightened" by the diversity of a great city and a bit unsure of how to take steps out of my own story in Spokane, Washington and into a world full of stories different from my own. Now, this desire to see the diversity of life has taken me from Spokane to Nashville; to a dozen different communities in Africa and into thousands of different stories. Just as I suspected in my journal almost ten years ago, these stories change me everyday.