So, how was Nigeria?


That is the first question I came home to:

So... how was Nigeria?! Life-changing?!
And rightly so. What else are you going to ask a person who leaves on a medical mission trip to Africa? How was the food? No. (I mean, that may be your third question cause I know I'd be curious about that. One word: plantains.)

But let me tell you - I wrestled with this question. I needed time when I came home because I wasn't ready to talk about it. I was overwhelmed and I didn't realize that I would need to process what happened. Mainly because Jose came home and was like "ok, back to work!" - meanwhile, these emotions are stirring in me and I'm wondering: um, does anyone else from the trip need a moment?!

Turns out I wasn't the only one. Phew. Thank God for debriefing meetings. Let's just say those dang tears came out. Because this is how Nigeria was: incredible and incredibly hard. No - I was never in the midst of a moment where I felt: wow, that changed my life. In fact, I really struggled on the first day to connect with the mission! This was a medical mission trip where we would be providing medical attention to thousands of Nigerians who's only chance for medical attention is the one WE bring.
The first day, we pull up in vans and we see hundreds and hundreds of people standing, waiting for us. I gripped my camera and thought: how will I work the nerve to photograph this? Let's be real. I was supposed to slip into these moments that are happening around me, unnoticed. Yeah right. Unnoticed?! And I get SUPER self-conscious/nervous when I have HUNDREDS of eyes on just me. I thought to myself, ok - I'm just going to get out there and DO THIS. I was all Rocky-chanting in my head - ignore the stares, just shoot. And I did that until...


.. I realized I was doing it all wrong. As people waited in lines outside, they started to sing to pass the time. Some even swayed side-to-side to the music their voices created, dancing. I looked up from my camera (i.e. stopped hiding behind it) to look at them and smile. To say with my eyes: I love your singing - this is beautiful. And when I smiled and started to sway side to side with them, they laughed and smiled with me. Lesson learned. Give them value by acknowledging them. I was so scared and overwhelmed by the masses that I didn't see the power of simply engaging with them.
This was Nigeria...
This was what served as the operating room and table.
Huge shout-out to my husband for assisting me with photography and allowing me time to serve along with taking photos. 
I adore this little girl. The day before she was at the hospital and came over to talk to me. The following day she was in the midst of the boys who were swarming to get a soccer ball and as I was photographing them, I realized she was there - in the middle of the chaos - looking right at me!
The best part? She ended up being one of the ones who won the ball :) Genius idea by one of the volunteers, Max, who had friends donate soccer balls for him to give to the kids. That smile!

Ok. Here goes. Something that shook me was this photo right here:
Just hours before, I had taken a previous photo of this same girl in her 20's. What I had no idea was that this girl had AIDs and only hours after I photographed her, she had to be resuscitated and put on an IV to perhaps only prolong her life a few days more.

This. This was just hours before...
I was on the phone with my cousin, telling her about the photo I had taken of this AIDs patient and how I smiled at her right before I took her photo - letting her know what I was about to do and she smiled back. My cousin then exclaimed through the phone: "Don't you see that?! Don't you see the gift that you have?! You made this girl, who is dying feel acknowledged and maybe even beautiful because you smiled at her and wanted to take her photo." I was in silence. I hadn't seen that. And when we had our debrief meeting and I shared this moment, that's when I got so emotional. How can I capture death and life within hours of each other?! I can not grasp that. How did this brand element of my business - of giving women a place to feel beautiful follow me to Nigeria?

Those are the moments that haunted me and I needed to process when we returned. Every day was go-go-go, get as many patients as possible, that when it all slowed back down in the States - my heart needed time.
But I'll remember these smiles. The in between moments as we laughed, not understanding anything but the grins on our faces...

And that special girl on the right. Mary. One of the MANY volunteers who made this trip what it was - life changing. I chose that photo because it highlights the relationship we created. These are the stories I will always carry with me - to know that life is meant to be celebrated and that it is so much bigger than death. That in the midst of life, God has counted our days.
"But in your hearts worship Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." 1 Peter 3:15