Two Podcasts and an Essay

I’m pumped to share two podcast episodes with y’all and an essay.

Maybe we need a break from COVID-19 news?

Maybe we need to be thankful for things like podcasts and reading essays – things we can do while in isolation or quarantine to pass the time?

I know what it is like to be in isolation and it can be lonely or boring (though I almost never get bored!) and so maybe these things can help pass the time.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay kind, stay compassionate, stay generous.

Here you go:

Creating Community in Djibouti, with Kristin Schell of The Turquoise Table podcast and book and community. She has such a lovely vision of creating space in our lives and physical areas to build community. I loved talking, she had wonderful questions focused on what it has been like to find and build community while living in a foreign country.

“Rachel’s story takes us on a beautiful journey from a high rise apartment complex in Minneapolis to a school in The Horn of Africa. Rachel’s story of creating community and connection is one of the most inspiring yet. Relationships that started in her own backyard led her family across the globe to Djibouti.

When she was just twenty-two years old and a new mother of twins, Rachel received hospitality from complete strangers, her Somali neighbors. Her immigrant neighbors befriended her — bringing her food and even offering to clean her house while she rested with the twins. Rachel was overwhelmed by their incredible friendship and a curiosity to know more about their home East Africa was born.

What transpires next is remarkable. Rachel and her family move from urban Minneapolis to a rural part of Somalia. Then to Djibouti. Kristin and Rachel talk about what it’s like to be a Christian in a country that is 99% Muslim and the incredible relationships she’s made with her neighbors. Rachel gives us a brief overview of the Muslim religion and piques our curiosity to learn more. After all, loving your Muslim neighbor is the same as loving your non-Muslim neighbor.”

Life at the Crossroads of Faith and Culture, with Amber McCullough at the Grace Enough Podcast. We dug deep into faith and and how I’m learning to love the stranger primarily through being the stranger. Amber was insightful and her questions made me think! Really enjoyed our conversation and I hope you do, too.

Today, Rachel talks about how living as a minority has increased her empathy toward the stranger and has ceased to label someone different as “NON.”

We talk about loving the stranger.

We talk about what she has learned from Muslim practices.

We talk about faith conversations and a deepening faith that is more about being with God and less about right theology and dogma

This conversation is one that will stretch you. It will lead you to ask questions of how and when and where to step into the uncomfortable places and stop assuming.

Pleasure and Pain, in The Smart Set, a magazine of Drexel University. This essay slightly terrifies me. It gets pretty vulnerable and personal. But I’m also kinda proud of it (if writers are allowed to say that). It shows how I’ve changed and grown, things I’ve learned, while living in the Horn of Africa. Specifically, things about the body, embodiment, contentment, strength, and being kind to our bodies. Here’s an excerpt, starting with the easier body parts…

Body: The organized physical substance of an animal or plant either living or dead, fullness and richness of flavor (as of wine), a mass of matter distinct from other masses (a body of water).


I’ve thought a lot about my legs. I pinched the cottage cheesy bulge that oozed out from my shorts on sticky summer evenings when I sat on the pews in my childhood Baptist church sanctuary. I watched my legs swell during pregnancy. I flexed in front of the mirror when I became a runner and double-checked race photos to stare at my muscle definition. I’m slightly knock-kneed and the fourth toe of my right foot is slowly curling beneath my third toe. If I live to 90, they might meld together.

I’ve thought a lot about my nose. It is big and straight with a slight hook on the end. It is my maternal grandfather’s nose. I’ve picked it, pierced it twice, and broken it once. I needed surgery to fix the break and asked the doctor if, while in there, he could give me a cute little upturn at the end or maybe decrease the overall size. He laughed and put me under. I woke with two black eyes and a cast. Yes, a cast on my face. In high school. My friends in Djibouti tell me I have a beautiful, Arab nose, and this is one of my favorite things about being an expatriate. Not the appreciation for what I considered my worst feature, but the way culture offers fresh perspectives. Now that my grandfather has died, I’m thankful the doctor didn’t change my nose. I see my grandfather every time I look in the mirror.

I’ve thought a lot about my hair. Curly and blond. Perfect in the 1980s when I merely had to run a round brush through my bangs and voila, the frizzy poof my sisters spent hours trying to achieve. Not so perfect when I lived in Somalia and my hair was too slippery to hold a headscarf in place. When the scarf slipped, my curls sprang out, unruly and bold. My hair is neither perfect nor imperfect for Djibouti, next door to Somalia and where I live now. I’ve learned how to tie it up and I’ve learned to be comfortable with it flowing down. The trouble with hair in Djibouti is that mine falls out in handfuls, from the salty water in the shower, from the stress, from the extreme temperatures, constant sweat and sun, and from cancer.

I’ve thought about my breasts. I tried to hide them, tried to accentuate them, used them to feed children, wondered if they will eventually develop cancer and kill me. I was wrong about my breasts. It was my thyroid that got the cancer. It hasn’t killed me, yet.

The body as I saw it, called into question the premise I was raised to believe; that God saw what he had created and called it very good.

The body is weak, prone to breakdown and damage. It is vulnerable. It smells weird and makes awkward noises and doesn’t always look the way I want it to in skinny jeans, or any jeans. The body is infinitely varied among humans and all of us have hair and moles, sometimes hairy moles. We have crooked teeth and lopsided earlobes and butts that sag, jiggle, or form shelves behind us. Is this breakable vessel truly something sacred? Can this thing, capable of murder, theft, lying, abuse, lust, greed, pride, and cruelty be good?

There are other body parts I never gave much thought to until I lived in the Horn of Africa. Parts I earned, ignored, damaged, lost, and neglected. Parts I couldn’t imagine having a role in the deep, creative, beautiful goodness of being human.

But life here, in community with Muslim friends, in the steamy desert, in a world upside down from the world of my childhood, changed the way I look at and think about my body parts. It changed the way I thought about goodness, about the intricate handiwork implicit in the way we live and move and have our being…

The essay goes on to cover everything from hemorrhoids to uvulas, thyroids to skin, and even more personal parts, all of them good. Enjoy!

The Coronavirus, Zombies, and Africa, and Maybe I’ll Eat My Words Later

We all know that zombies are really just misunderstood creatures who want their own kind to be safe and healed as badly as we want that (I Am Legend) and if we could only cure them, the world would be safe (though we might all be zombies by the time we figure out the cure). Also zombies only like darkness and cold weather and are scared off by dogs. So here in Djibouti, we’re safe. We have walls around our houses, perpetually sunny days, hot weather, and loads of wild dogs that haven’t had their barks or their meanness trained out of them. We’re good.

We also all know that zombies only really want to devour the healthy and turn them into zombies (World War Z) so if we can just get collectively sick, kill the zombies, and then get cured, the world would be safe. So here in Djibouti, we’re safe already because most of us have malaria or dengue dormant in our blood, or parasites in our intestines. We’re good.

And, we all know that zombies really only attack people in New York City or maybe L.A. or Tokyo. So those of us in tiny countries, especially tiny countries in Africa (which zombies have either never heard of or think is a single country without any value), are safe during zombie apocalypses. Unless said apocalypse starts in “Africa” because that’s where monkeys live, but in order to make the disaster appear serious enough, the disease or monkeys need to get out of Africa and into New York City because who really cares about people in Africa dying from disease or zombies (Outbreak). Again, here in Djibouti, we’re good.

To reiterate, in Djibouti, we’re safe.

Zombies don’t care about us and people here are creative, resilient, and used to trouble, invasion, and disease. People here aren’t so surprised that the elderly who were already sick might die from a virus. They’re sad, of course. Death sucks. But they aren’t so shocked by deaths thousands of miles away that they empty store shelves, wear masks, and refuse to go to work.

I feel reasonably confident that the coronavirus is in Africa. Zombies may or may not be here, they just haven’t made the big screen in Hollywood yet. Heck, coronavirus and zombies are probably in Djibouti, too. I’m saying this with absolutely no evidence or reason, other than common sense in terms of infectious disease and travel and human movement. I don’t think there is much capacity for testing for it and in general, people seem much calmer than they were in the USA when I was there just last week. Possibly because of the lack of evidence. Or maybe because they are already worried about their loved ones with chikungunya. Or maybe because they are working hard to provide food and shelter and can’t be distracted by a flu-like illness. Even if it is a specific strain they haven’t had before.

Maybe we’re being foolish and stupid. Maybe the zombies are just hovering, waiting for their moment. Maybe the coronavirus is going to take us all. I’m not trying to be cold or cruel about people being sick and even dying. I don’t want anyone I know and love (or anyone at all) to get sick or to die. God forbid. I don’t want them to get cancer or TB or the flu or dementia, either. Maybe I will eat my words, along with a big dose of medicine.

I’m just saying Syria is on fire, men and women and children are being slaughtered en masse, starving and freezing to death.

I’m saying the billions of dollars lost by economies or spent by sports organizations to move and reschedule events could be spent on helping refugees, on curing malaria and tuberculosis, on solving our climate issues.

I’m saying what the world does not need right now is one more fear-induced and panic-inspiring reason to divide ourselves along ethnic, national, or racial lines.

Maybe I’ll write something else as the situation evolves. And I’ll apologize for being ignorant about epidemiology and a jerk.

Maybe I need to run out and stock up on toilet paper. Though, bonus tip: toilet paper isn’t really a necessity. There are other kinds of paper, hands, water, towels. You could shake it off or air dry. Maybe I need to buy a lot of food. Not because people in Djibouti will freak out but because the rest of the world has freaked out and what if our supply chains get blocked?

I’m more concerned about global fear than a virus.

More concerned that someone else’s fear might mean I can’t access my medication.

More concerned that someone else’s fear might mean a diabetic friend can’t get insulin.

More concerned that someone else’s fear means we forget how to take care of each other.

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Travel Shame

I’m going to list my own travel shames and then I’m going to cast a whole lot of shame-blame. Won’t this be fun?

Here’s me when I fly

I pick my nose. All those painful crusty boogers? They have got to go. I use a Kleenex but I gotta get them out.

If there is gas, it will be passed. Sorry. Doesn’t happen often. Helps save time in the bathroom (see below: don’t take too long in the bathroom).

I pack too much in my carry-on bag sometimes. Not every time, but often it is way too heavy. Books. I’m an author and a reader. Its all books.

I get anxious. I try not to let it show and I sincerely think it is decreasing, finally. Anxious about making my connections, or about being on time for the very first flight. This means I am an early-arriver at the airport. I hate the stress of rushing. I also get anxious about finding a space for my roller-bag. I think this is because of Kenya. Anything you check runs a high, very high risk of being stolen. I do not trust the employees to leave my stuff alone. They won’t. They don’t. Experience speaking here. I get anxious about using the bathroom so I dehydrate myself. For this, I blame small, sketchy airlines and their terrifyingly filthy bathrooms. Anxious about getting hungry (ever since cancer my hunger is always a hangry and it gets scary, fast) so I bring way too much food in my bag.

No talking. I sit down and plug in, even if there’s nothing playing in my earbuds. I know soon the plane will get really loud and it will be hard to hear, I know I’m exhausted, or will be soon, and I’ve been looking forward to this long haul flight as a chance to finish a book or two. Exception, and perhaps lesson learned, the one time I did chat with the woman next to me, we hit it off so well that we got coffee a few week later, in Minnesota, and we’re still in touch. (shout out to Cathy P!)

And here’s my tips to avoid your own travel shame. (Though part of me feels like: as long as we are civil to others, kind and externally patient, a little nose-picking and farting shame aren’t so bad. We’re traveling. We’re exhausted and stinky and can’t remember what country we’re in, we don’t need to be classy or composed. Maybe that’s just me. If you run into me on an airplane, I will not be my best self.)


Judge parents of young children. They aren’t pinching them to make them cry. They didn’t give them speed to make them hyper. They also would like to sleep in peace and eat without spilling. They are more tired than you and carry the burden of loving the crying child while also carrying the burden of judgment and guilt. They are generally doing a really good job and getting small children across the planet is a serious accomplishment. If you have the chance, tell them they are doing a good job, even if the baby cried the whole flight and the toddlers block the aisle with a temper tantrum. They deserve medals, not rude stares.

Take too long in the bathroom. I don’t know what some people do in there. Well, okay, I can imagine what they are doing and we can all smell it when they come out. But if it is at all possible, do the big ones before or after your flight. I know it isn’t always possible. I know traveler’s diarrhea is a real thing. But if you can help it, hold it. You know its been a while when the passengers start making smirky eyes at each other. Well, you don’t know that, because you’re in there doing your thing, but rest assured, we’re out here making smirky eyes at each other.

Change into pajamas. I don’t know, I guess you can, if you want. But do you need to? Do you really need to change clothes (see: don’t take too long in the bathroom) in order to get a horrible sleep? It feels weird, like we’re strangers sharing a king-size bed in a hotel or something.

Overflow your carry-ons. Totally, totally overfill them. Fill them, fill them! But hide it, hide it. Pretend that 2-ton carry-on is lightweight. This is to spare yourself the judgment others might cast upon you, who probably have just as much in their carry-ons, they just packed it better. Don’t have three plastic bags stacked on top of your carry on, a backpack, and a pillow the size of a toddler. Okay, again to be honest, go ahead, have all that stuff. I don’t really care, but you will get some snarky looks and side comments behind your back. Who cares, we’re all strangers. You do you.

Barefeet. Stocking feet, questionable. Bare? Gross. I’m telling this to my very own precious and gross family, so there’s that. Seriously. There is never a good reason to go into a public bathroom in bare feet and I dare say it is problematic even in socks. Have you ever looked, I mean really looked at the floor in an airplane bathroom? Have you thought about what is likely down there? Plus, your feet stink. I know mine do after hours and hours on a plane. If you don’t have stinky feet and if you put your shoes back on to go to the bathroom, fine, take ‘em off while in your seat.

Snore. Not only is this loud and sounds painful, it reminds the rest of us that you are soundly asleep while we toss and turn. How do people manage to fall asleep so deeply on planes that they actually snore? On our most recent epic flight which took 72 hours, I slept maybe 4 hours. My husband thought I was going to lose it and I nearly did, and then he started snoring.

Take out your frustration or anger on the airline employees who are not the ones who broke your plane, lost your luggage, and do not have stinky bare feet. They are doing the best they can.


Don’t listen to me.

Do what you need to do to get through the flights as happily as you can. Its hard and you’re about to land and experience culture shock. Brace yourself. Pick, fart, stink, snore, overpack, and just get there in one piece.

What are some of your best travel tips?


What is Ethanol Ablation for Thyroid Cancer?

(at the end of this post, check out the downloadable I made for anyone with “good cancer.”)

This week I had two treatments of ethanol ablation for my thyroid cancer. What, you might ask, is ethanol ablation?

Good question. I didn’t know, either, and had a hard time finding information about it other than medical journals and academic papers online. I wanted stories, examples, personal perspectives, and there just aren’t many.

Quick overview: I was diagnosed in September 2018 with thyroid cancer (thyca). In November, I had a total thyroidectomy (TT) but no neck dissection. The tumor was big but didn’t involve any margins so we assumed the doc got it all.

In January 2019, I took the next step of treatment, radioactive iodine (RAI). This involved taking a radioactive pill and going into isolation until my body stopped being nuclear. This also seemed to work.

In July 2019, I had a follow-up ultrasound which revealed a suspicious lymph node. This was biopsied and proved malignant. Cancer was back, or rather, still there and now exposing itself. In January, another lymph node popped up.

Enter, ethanol ablation.

This is a procedure that isn’t done in very many places in the USA, but is done at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. It is only an option if there are three or fewer involved lymph nodes, if they are of a certain size and type of cancer, and if they are in locations amenable to the procedure. If these requirements are not met, surgery is the way to go.

After several consultations with multiple endocrinologists, a surgeon, a radiologist, blood work, ultrasounds, etc, we concluded that my cancer was a good candidate for the ablation treatment.

This certainly sounded better to me than another surgery. Though the first surgery, the one that removed the thyroid, was a much bigger deal since it removed a vital organ, a second one has risks involved, would mean more complicated future surgeries should thyca continue to poke up its head in my neck (which is pretty likely with this kind of cancer that is quite literally, a pain in the neck), and would require a much longer recovery time. It would also leave a scar from my neck to my ear, but I don’t care about scars. I kind of like them, even, in a dark and morbid way.

Ethanol Ablation could be sort of compared to a biopsy, or maybe a biopsy on steroids. Only instead of taking something (tissue) out, the doc puts something in (alcohol, or ethanol).

Under ultrasound guidance and with loads of lidocaine numbing up the area, and numbing it way down deep, the doctor very carefully injects the affected lymph nodes with small amounts of ethanol. The amount varies, depending on the size of the node. It needs to be done very carefully because should the ethanol leak onto nearby structures, they would be damaged.

It is done while the patient (ie, me) is awake and trying desperately to not move and to not think about what is going on in the neck. This is both to avoid general anesthesia and to enable the doctor to check in with the patient. For example, she had me talk to her a couple of times to make sure my vocal chords weren’t being impacted.

Depending on location, size, number, etc, the procedure can take between 30-60 minutes.

Of course the lidocaine helps but of course the lidocaine burns going in and isn’t 100% effective in masking all pain.

How to describe the pain?

For me, filling the first node was fine. Well, not fine, but with deep breathing, I got through it. The second one? DANG. I actually cried, it hurt so bad. And I have given birth to two of my three children without any pain medication (the other one was a c-section, so bring on the drugs).

Burning pressure are two words I could use, though “pressure” doesn’t sound all that bad. It was bad. It was all I could do to not jerk my head away but to stay still and tell myself, this is healing me, this is good for me.

Then it was over. Take an ice pack, load up on Tylenol, go watch a movie or take a nap.

And in the morning, go do it again. Twice, to give the darn cancer a one-two punch. To check on what was going on in the nodes and to fill them up again.

Only this time, the neck is already tender and bruised and my mind knew what was coming. I’m not sure that was helpful or not. It made me nervous but it also helped me brace myself.

After the first treatment, I felt a little nausea though I’m sure that was more nerves and emotions than due to the treatment. After the second one, I suddenly got the shakes. I had to sit down on a ledge at the hospital and cry for a second before being ready to go home. I’m sure that was also emotion and not from the procedure.

In the car, I fell asleep. Then I slept another 9 hours and woke up with a swollen, bruised neck, but no other side effects.

I ran an errand that next day and thought, “Oh, I feel good.” But then the next thought was, “I had cancer treatment yesterday.” And I almost had to sit down. It still just seems bizarre, like another world, that I have cancer. Or maybe I don’t now. Maybe it is gone.

Ethanol ablation requires follow-up in 3-6 months. There is a decent chance that I’ll need to do the whole thing again. And there is always the chance another lymph node will pop up. Thyroid cancer apparently has a habit of not really going away, especially once it has acted like mine.

All in all, not a bad way to treat cancer. Not good either, the only comfortable thing about all of it was the warm blanket they wrapped me up in for the procedure (life hack: when someone asks if you want a heated blanket, the answer is always, “yes”).

I think the emotional and internal work of all this since September 2018 has been harder than the physical. But, for now, I’m putting it behind me and moving forward. There’s nothing else to do besides schedule the next appointments and take my medication every day.


New Hymn Ideas Like, “Tender Mother Hen”

A question:

Why don’t we ever sing songs about God, our Tender Mother Hen? (Luke 13:34)

I heard a song a few months ago that was about going out and bringing home the head of my enemy. I know the “enemy” was sin. I get it. But it wasn’t an image that inspired worship. At least, it didn’t inspire worship in that moment. Maybe it is just me, but the image of myself holding a bloody head, separated from its body, while useful in appreciating how serious I should take the fight against sin, wasn’t one I wanted to summon while singing in church.

So I wondered if we could have some songs with different kinds of imagery? This made me consider various passage of scripture that present God in unconventional ways. By unconventional, I mean ways in which God is not commonly thought about in our current culture. I do know that there are some lovely songs out there. Just making suggestions for more.

Maybe a song-writer would like to write a song about God, our tender mother hen.

Or God, Glorious in Breastfeeding? (Isaiah 49:15)

Or God, holy in giving birth? (Deuteronomy 32:18)

God, beautiful in bearing the people? (Isaiah 42:14)

God, strong as a mother bear? (Hosea 13:8)

God, tender as a comforting mother? (Isaiah 66:13)

God, like a poor widow persistent in pursuit? (Luke 15:8-10)

I’m not a singer or a song-writer. I have zero musical talent. But I’m sending a call out to those with talents in this realm. Please write us a song about God, our warrior mother hen, gathering up the chicks and sheltering us, providing for us, loving us.


By |February 17th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments