I cleared out my things from the office yesterday. The water filter will help Geerten stay hydrated, the tea set goes to Doreen, the remaining blank gold-framed cardstock certificates will wait until there’s a chance to print a “Thank You” or a “Congratulations” in a new context. I sit next to our recycle box and sift through papers one by one. Frist are the schedules, printed in blue and black with marks from where they were pinned to the office bulletin board every month. Pristine printouts from September 2019 transition to overwhelming scribbles by December 2019, with something re-arranged or squeezed in every day. I think of how my life ebbed on the edge of burnout during that time. I see it in the crossing out, re-allocating, and re-drafting of my job description. I see it in the colorful printed sheet of my mission focus areas and boundaries. I think of the people who helped me stay strong during those times. I can see them, in fact, in printed photos from our ward Christmas party and smiles from our happier moments. I kept them prominent on my wall all year, long after many of the friends and colleagues featured in them had moved on. That color printer which I carried over in my suitcase 18 months ago was a mainstay of ward motivation and organization, a “game changer” as my colleague called it. Safely back home now, I wonder how it will prove its usefulness next.
By May 2020, my schedules start reflecting the effects of COVID – no more visitors, not much teaching, just meetings and Disaster Preparedness contingency planning for the pandemic day after day. I rummage through sheets of PPE guidelines, COVID treatment protocols, and community education pamphlets. It’s bittersweet with reminders of policies which never had a final version because national best practice and local colleague concerns changed so rapidly. I sift through fliers about community interventions that started with so much promise and expired for reasons that still make my heart ache. Some papers I stuff into my plastic organizer for later use – printouts from presentations about “What is Preventive Medicine” and patient diet education sheets. Others are hard to let go of even as I acknowledge it is time: the sheet of plans for hospital employee wellness, a resident’s goals for work-life balance, a list of priority projects to start next as soon as someone showed interest in championing them. It’s cathartic, perhaps, an unloading of burdens I couldn’t carry. But there’s a disappointing emptiness as well, and end of plans and hope that I can bring improvements at this hospital.
And then that’s the end of the papers, the end of the 2-dimensional summaries of my time at Nkhoma. The recycled sheets will be turned into briquettes and bring a warm fire to someone when the nights get colder. But how will my life be repurposed? What will our ministry look like outside the walls of a Mission Hospital? Can we really make a difference in community health and working with pastors? My time at Nkhoma has really ended; I’ve said my goodbyes and we move back to Lilongwe in days. There are no schedules printed for any of 2021. I don’t even know what comes next week, much less next month. I don’t think I’ve ever stepped out in faith like this before, leaving space in my schedule even though I didn’t have a set program to pick up next. I’m not even sure I have a safety net in place in terms of employment permits, clinical work, or full-time ministry. There are so many promising opportunities, but lots of waiting to see what is really possible. I wonder what I will be sifting through and reflecting on a month and a year from now. Things will present themselves soon. But for now, it’s time to stand up, shake off the dust, and start moving.