One of those people…

Missionary photo
I have no idea who these people are – my apologies if they are your friends or family!

You know them… I know them…. Those “missionary people.”  I remember them growing up.  At first they were just people in photographs.  Hung on billboards in the corners of the church.  Sometimes with a piece of yarn connecting the picture to some random silver thumbtack on a multicolored map of the world.  Some far away place that I’d never heard of and that I was pretty sure I never wanted to visit.  I would think to myself “well that’s nice.  I guess somebody needs to go there and better them than me.”

Then they arrived.  I usually didn’t know ahead of time, but they showed up.  At church.  Sometimes staying at my house.  They seemed a bit awkward.  Well, actually, they seemed really awkward.  Kind of like a new kid in school.  They were usually dressed in clothes at least 10 years out of date, and as an awkward kid myself who wanted to “fit in,” these fashion-challenged people held no appeal. 

No – this is not Lance Armstrong. This is me sporting my first new really cool Schwinn bicycle – an obvious future Ironman and missionary.

And they kind of smelled funny.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe they had either, over time, decided to go with the whole sans-deodorant thing, or maybe they were still using some antiquated deodorant/perfume/cologne from a bygone era.  Either way, they smelled funny.  And they seemed to have no idea about our current pop culture.  About what the popular TV shows were (how could you NOT now what the show ‘The Love Boat’ was??) or who the popular recording artists were (once again, how could you have NOT heard of the Bee Gees?!?!).  Oh, and they wanted “support.”  I wasn’t entirely sure what this “support” meant but I was pretty sure they were looking for more than just high fives and people saying they were going to pray for them, but not entirely meaning it.  They wanted U.S. dollars.  And preferably the ones with Benjamin Franklin.  Not so much Andrew Jackson and for Pete’s sake nothing with Washington or Lincoln.  And as they approached people they seemed unsure of who they were or if they knew them.  When they greeted people they smiled and stuck out their hand with that desperate look of “please, please tell me who you are and if I know you so I don’t have to pretend one way or the other…”  So the idea of hanging out with, let alone “being” one of these goofy maladroit characters held no appeal to me.  At all.  Ever.

Until I actually went to one of those random places on the multicolored map with the silver thumbtack.  Then I got it.  That there’s a whole world out there.  An amazing world with amazing people with extraordinary needs.  Actually their needs are the same as mine and yours.  They need to know the love of Christ, to have healthy relationships with other people, and to have basic human needs met.  Some places just happen to have more challenges doing that than others.  And so as we embark on our journey to Ethiopia to take part in that amazing country and culture, I wonder if I’m about to be one of “those people.”

The truth is that I probably will.  The difference however between “now” and “then” is that I really don’t care.  I know I’m called to this and that all the unique parts of my story have come together to prepare me for that.  We all have a special path that God has placed us on.  This is mine.  What’s yours?

p.s.  If I smell funny when I return please don’t tell me.  I’d just rather not know…  Just make sure to tell me your name.

p.p.s  And thank you for your “support” 🙂     Click here if you’d like to donate :))


Sharing the Vision

Sunday night we had the pleasure of sharing the vision and plans for our move to Ethiopia with a number of friends. Some of you asked about whether we recorded the event and the answer is YES!!!! Amazingly, (after about 8 hours of attempts) Cheryl was able to upload it to YouTube for your viewing pleasure (links at the bottom).


Due to some unknown reason (length, maybe??), we had to break the video into 2 parts: The first is 30 minutes; the second is 15 minutes, plus 15 minutes of Q & A.

Vision for Ethiopia Part 1

Vision Part 2








“Photographs open doors into the past, but they also allow a look into the future.” – Sally Mann


Ethiopia is an amazing place. The countryside is beautiful and the people are warm and hospitable. We had a wonderful visit to Soddo last week and are so excited for our move there in August.  Since Cheryl is a picture taking fool, we thought we’d share some of the scenes with you.

Around the grounds… 


Where we’ll be living…


City views…


The obstetrics department…


And a few more shots, just for fun…

Hundreds (if not thousands) lined the streets waiting on the Wolaita Dicha Football Club to return from their win in Egypt. Auburn and Alabama got nothing on the Wolaita fans!


My gate!
Nearly every night there are soccer and volleyball games on the big field. The goats don’t seem to notice…
The weather is fabulous. Highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s. Perfect for an evening fire!
Amazing soil!
Coffee break for the staff. Did you know coffee was discovered in Ethiopia in the 11th century? It was considered a “magical fruit.”
Patients and their families often sleep on the grounds of the hospital because they have traveled far for medical care.
No matter where you live, you have to take out the trash…


If you live in the Birmingham area, we would love for you to join us the evening of Sunday, April 8th when we share the vision about our move. Click this link to see the invite and RSVP:

Going to the country….




…. gonna eat a lot of peaches (90’s music reference – The Presidents of the United States of America).


Wednesday I had the pleasure of heading to the countryside and went to the town of Bucama.  This is where a lot of patients for whom we perform prolapse surgery (prolapse – everything falling out “down there”) come from.  They have this amazing clinic as well a place for women to deliver and a maternity home for women waiting to go into labor.  Many women live 2 hours or more away and they relocate to be closer to the site of their delivery.  They also have an area that people can be admitted for intravenous fluids and some basic medical care.  It’s not really a hospital- more like a clinic on steroids.


One of the patients who lives 2 hours away waiting for labor… (used with permission)

The clinic is run by a group of Franciscan nuns who are delightful.  There are 4 of them and they help run the clinic, the maternity home, a church,  and a school.  Sister H (I would butcher her name if I tried to spell it) is in charge and showed us around the area.  They also treated us to lunch which would count as my first meal in a convent.  After using the restroom I was pretty sure that a toilet seat goes DOWN in a convent – so I went with that.

The nuns grow their own coffee – and it’s heavenly!

It’s a challenging area for them to work and serve.  If an emergency occurs with a laboring mother it would take at least 1.5 hours to get her to our hospital.  We’re looking forward to continuing our relationship with the nuns and the clinic and finding ways that we can serve together to help provide care for the women in the surrounding region.


The oven that they bake bread in

That’s a WRAP


Around the world, daily life can be challenging for women and girls. As an American woman, I am keenly aware of discrepancies in pay and advancement opportunities between men and women, and recent movements such as #metoo have shown there is still a long way to go to have a safe and equal playing field. At the same time, I count myself blessed to have had many opportunities to be educated, employed, and treated justly throughout my life.

In third world cultures, the situation for women is often much more difficult. In Ethiopia, women face a myriad of struggles. While the Ethiopian government has made intentional strides in promoting women in social, political and economic realms, there is still work to be done. Ethiopian children attend primary school from ages 7 to 14, but only 54% of girls complete this level of education. In the rural areas, where 85% of females reside, the statistics can be even lower. Most of the households in these regions are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Girls are regularly tasked with fetching water for their families – some walking 2-8 hours per day just for water. In addition, 2 in every 5 girls are married before age 18; 14% of girls are married before age 15.  Only 15% of married girls aged 15-19 are enrolled in school, compared to 60% of unmarried girls.

Girls who are enrolled in school are likely to have higher absentee rates than boys for one reason: their menstrual cycle. Almost every girl misses school at some point for this reason, especially in rural areas where 90% of girls have no sanitary pads. Issues of female health are rarely discussed, and there simply are no supplies to buy- nor money to buy them if they were available. As a result, many girls miss up to a week of school each month.

Enter Allison Karnes and WRAPS.  Allison’s husband Mark is the OB-GYN at Soddo Christian Hospital who Nate will be working alongside.


Allison became aware of this troubling issue and caught a God-given vision for a solution: create reusable pads for girls (WRAPS- Washable, Reusable, Affordable Pads) and provide them free in rural areas, while educating girls about their bodies. In the cities, sell the pads for profit to help sustain the business.  The vision grew and she now employs up to 9 Ethiopian women to sew the kits (a pair of underwear, multiple reusable pads, and a small purse to carry them in). They have a beautiful building on a hilltop for creating the WRAPS, which are sewn using beautiful, colorful fabrics.


Ethiopian women are not only gainfully employed through sewing, but Allison is also equipping several of the women to teach the seminars in rural schools. This week I had the opportunity to tag along to a school about 45 minutes outside of Sodo. These were some scenes along the way and at the school…


They joyfully and skillfully interacted with the 5th-7th graders about the importance of staying in school, safety precautions to take, the dangers of STDs, and how to use their WRAPS.


I was amazed at how engaged the girls were. They paid attention the whole time except for when I accidentally made some noise and they turned to stare at me!!

Guess what the ketchup bottle was for…

What a difference Allison, her team, and the WRAPS ministry are making in the lives of girls in Ethiopia. This year they will be going to at least 30 schools. The girls they reach will be able to attend school whenever it’s in session, hopefully leading to completing school all the way through Grade 12!

One woman with a vision and a great team really can bring about change!


If you’d like to learn more about WRAPS, they’re on Facebook at

Working on our 6 pack…

Packing party


Have you ever wondered, truly wondered, how much deodorant you go through in a year?!?!  Well…. we have.  As we now have 6 months until our departure, that question and many more are crossing our minds.

Cheryl doesn’t stink at many things other than actually parking between the lines (this is apparently just not in her wheelhouse of skills) but one thing she DOES stink at is procrastinating.  Hence… the boxes.  The piles.  The lists.  It has begun, and it has begun in earnest.

We’re trying to figure out what do we REALLY need to take over versus buy there.  For instance… Girl Scout Cookies!  TOTALY packing that!  Toilet paper – probably buy that there.  Shampoo for blonde hair – pretty sure we should pack that.  Pictures of our friends and family?  For sure – and that just might include YOU!  You get the idea, figuring out what we really need to take in 6 pieces of luggage.

We’re headed over to Ethiopia next month for a week.  We’ll be bringing a load of stuff over prior to the big move and we’ll be meeting with different people, as well getting some logistics hammered out and just spending some time with our new friends.

Please pray as we head over in mid March.  We will continue to keep everyone updated and “in the loop” as we continue on our Steps to Soddo…



When was the last time you did something for the first time? (Musings by Cheryl)

Almost every year I try to set goals for myself. They’re not really resolutions, more just plans and things to attempt. Usually they’re in one of 4 categories: physical, intellectual, spiritual, or relational. For example, about 25 years ago I had a goal of giving up red meat and pork in the name of good health. All these years later, still no meat, but my 261 cholesterol level hasn’t seemed to notice.

A couple of years ago, the goal was to run at least a mile every day. Turned out to be more challenging than expected when the year began with a stomach bug, but somehow I completed that goal, even with having to run in place in a Nairobi hotel after nearly 24 hours of traveling.

For 2017, in part guided by a question I have always loved, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?,” my goal was to do something new every week. I really wasn’t sure what was ahead with that, but it sounded like a good idea at the time. I kept a weekly log and while I’ll spare you ALL the entries, I thought I’d share a few examples and some insights.  Some of the things I planned, while many actually just happened. Many were positive experiences, but some not as much.

Some of the things I tried…

  • Explored some new Alabama vistas, including its highest point (Mt. Cheaha) and part of the Cahaba River . It’s amazing how much beauty is close by if we’ll just look!
  • Taught a class I’ve never taught and volunteered at some different places, including the Senior Olympics, which was SO inspiring!
  • Attended a coloring night with my friend Lydia at the Vestavia Hills library.
  • Went on my first college tour as an adult, showing my friends Olivia and Kathy around some great Midwestern colleges. Sharing life memories with the special people in your life is really meaningful. (Oh, and I’m very glad I don’t have to do any more formal education!)
  • Started a new position at the college where I’ve taught for more than a decade and then sadly, cleaned out my office on the day the school closed unexpectedly.
  • Began my own business doing leadership training and coaching – and even had some gigs!!
  • Ate at lots of new restaurants, which was my go-to when I couldn’t think of anything else new to do.  Also cooked new dishes (ok, maybe 2), and worked from some fun coffee shops.
  • Watched Amelia, one of our former live-in friends, get married.
  • Attended yoga, pilates, barre, and body flow classes. Found out I stink at most of these activities, but I really enjoy them and decided to keep going. Hopefully I amuse the instructors, rather than frustrate them!!
  • Received a super big hug from the man my husband refers to as my “boyfriend” (For those who don’t know…it was Anderson Cooper!) 
  • Learned more about one of my heroines (Eleanor Roosevelt) by attending a workshop, visiting her homestead, and touring the FDR Presidential Library.
  • Got Invisalign
  • Served as a birth photographer for one of the most important families in our life.
  • Went on a silent retreat at the Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center in Atlanta.
  • Walked thorough a very challenging time with someone I cherish – and joyfully saw them emerge triumphantly!
  • Presented papers  on topics near to my heart at two academic conferences I had never before attended.
  • Took my best bud and running partner, Bart, to the emergency room after my friend Dave pushed him down… (Just kidding, I pushed him down…)
  • Made a couple of new friends after reading an article about how people in mid-life don’t usually make new friends.
  • Planned a 50th Birthday vacation trip and messed up some important details, so planned another trip at the very last minute.

A few insights

To be perfectly honest, my nature is not to be that much of a risk-taker or adventurer. Being married to Nate has brought that out in me,  and also trying to embrace Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to “Do it afraid” has helped. I am continually trying to give things over to God and ask him to give me courage and wisdom.

Many of 2017s happenings I thought and prayed about since I was intentionally being mindful about trying new things.  Others I didn’t see coming, but I tried to be present in them when they occurred.  Sometimes I was, and other times not. I found that without really trying, I hit the 4 goal areas: physical, intellectual, spiritual, and relational.

In the end, I think 2017 was really great preparation for 2018 when our goal is “Sell it all and move to Ethiopia where everything will be new every day!”