Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lessons Learned in Haiti

So I came back from my 3rd trip to Haiti about three weeks ago. It was a short trip with a small group of us. And, like the other two times, it was eye opening. There were only 5 of us who went from the states and we were only in the village for 3 1/2 days. I went into the trip a little nervous. I knew that Hurricane Sandy had come through and wiped out crops. I knew that people in Chauffard were affected. I didn't know what they were going to need or whether or not it would feel like we were incapable of helping. But I got there and was amazed (as usual) at the strength and resilience of the people there. What we heard was true - crops were washed out, land was ruined, and food was lost. A people already in the midst of a famine who already eat only once a day had even more hardships thrust upon them. But you wouldn't know it by being with them. They welcomed us with open arms ready to serve and worship. They spent every night praising God. Sure, we were able to cook and feed them meals, but they stayed well past mealtime. My bead-making girls came during the weekend and brought me a ton of necklaces - an average of 40 each! The teachers spent their weekend meeting with us to discuss the progress of the students. And the ladies who cook for us were constantly fetching water, cooking, and cleaning. So, when my friend Jennie and I were called up on the second night of worship to share in the service, we looked at each other dumbfounded. What could we possibly share with these people who grasp living for eternity much more than we do? During my other two trips, we were called up to say hi on the first day and then called up again to say bye on the last day. We had already said hi, so what more was there to say? We are not the pastors. However, during my other two trips, there were male American pastors who would also share. I suppose Jennie and I were called up again because we were the only Blancs (white people) on this trip. There were no male pastors to share the gospel. So, we walked up with our bibles. While Jennie talked I just kept thinking about Matthew 25. That chapter has been penetrating my heart and my life over the past couple of months, specifically verses 31-46:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

I felt God saying that the least of these are His sheep too. We do not feed, quench thirst, invite people in, clothe people, look after the sick, or visit people only for them to stay in a cycle of destitution. We do for the least of these to draw them to Christ and to teach them the truth about His love. And His love does not stop with salvation. It transforms us. It gives us new, everlasting life. We are blessed and we receive His inheritance when we allow Him into our hearts and lives and allow Him to transform us. How could I not speak this truth to these hard working amazing brothers and sister? Aren't I, one of God's sheep, called to lead others to the great Sheppard so that they can have the privilege of leading even more sheep to Him? The good news is not only that Christ died for us but also that He transforms us and gives us a life of meaning filled with sacrifice and partnering with Him in His mission. We have the privilege of dying to self so that we can be released from the chains of our sin and our selfishness and live a life of freedom in Christ. How could I go and help the least of these only to let them become goats rather than sheep following the good Sheppard? So, I shared this passage and I spoke about how we do not come to them simply to bless them, but to share Christ and His truth. I shared that His word says that anyone who knows Him is to go out and share and give. That dying to self is a calling to all Christians and that when we die to self, then we experience life in its fullest glory and are able to take our inheritance. I got some blank stares and a big grin from Jonathan, my pastor friend who was translating for me, so I think it was good.

The next night we were called up again. (Talk about feeling inadequate!) So, once again, I prayed that God would give me something to share and once again He brought me to Matthew 25. This time I read verses 14-30:

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

I shared how I saw most of the village take what God had given them and multiply it. I saw mothers and fathers loving their children well and raising them up in the Lord. I saw teachers giving of their whole lives to the children and the community. I saw children taking care of each other and helping their families while trying to study and learn so that they can finish school. I saw women coming up the mountain with barrels of water at the crack of dawn and cooking food well past 10 o'clock. But, I know that we are human and sinners and that the temptation to care only for self and live a life of fear that leads to hoarding is great. I shared that in America we are fearful of losing anything - our lives, our loved ones, and even our status and our belongings. We are this way because as we acquire more we hold it tight at the expense of our spiritual well being. And then I shared that my prayer is that they will take whatever it is that God has given them and use it to multiply His kingdom. I pray that they will not become a people that acquires more stuff in order to live an easy life that ends up Godless, but instead will be a people who are blessed so that they will bless others. I pray that they will give and love unconditionally and that they will be a light to their community and their country. I know that this was not the typical lesson that is shared to a people who already goes without. But it is the God's truth. We can never acquire anything more precious than God's love - a generous, compassionate, steadfast love.

When I came home from my trip and got thrust into Thanksgiving busyness and the Christmas season, I became antsy to share on here what I shared in Haiti. I scan through facebook posts and listen to people talk and watch commercials and listen to my Christian radio station and talk to family members and I hear a constant theme. I hear people who are turning into goats. I hear people who are so preoccupied with getting presents or holding tight to their comfort or their traditions that they are not even considering the hungry or the thirsty or the naked or the sick or the lonely. I see people who fearfully cling to whatever they have because they can't stand the thought of not giving that perfect gift or their kids being picked on for not having some new toy that they do not dare risk loss in order to multiply God's love. And then I see people who are hungry and thirsty and naked and sick and lonely and are chained to that. They are not released to know the fuller love of Christ that says take whatever you have and multiply it - even if it's just one little penny or 5 minutes of your time or a smile to a stranger or some cookies to your neighbor. See, the fullness of the gospel - that through our salvation and love for Christ, we die to ourselves so that Christ can transform us into His likeness - is a little easier to learn when we are not so preoccupied with so many meaningless things. So, how can I look at my facebook friends or my family who seeks the perfect gift for my kids rather than the richness of Christ or my brothers and sisters who know about God's saving grace, but not His transforming grace and not share these truths?

Maybe you relate and need to change your holiday traditions? Maybe you need to stop buying those perfect gifts and start giving to the least of these? If so, check out this video and consider contributing to this or to another local charity that pulls on your heart string. It's ok to start small, but start somewhere. Our spiritual health is at risk.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Swimming in His Treasures

This particular coffee is very good,
is fair trade, and helps support my
friend's adoption. Buy some here!
I finished my food fast almost a month ago - and it taught me a lot! But before I get into what I learned, I should first confess a few things. A couple of days after writing my first post about my fast, I started drinking coffee again. Yep, I only did my full fast for about 2 weeks. But, in my defense, I suddenly became a temporary single parent (who homeschools and was working a part time job). Our lives took a quick shift due to an immediate need for new employment for my husband, so I decided to not kill myself with my food restrictions. I shifted my fast to giving up sweets (well, really about anything w/ sugar or any other sweetener in it), dairy, and gluten. I know how easy it is for me to use carbs to comfort myself, and I did not want that to happen during this trying time of job change and schedule change and support change. But I also did not want to drive myself crazy fixing 2 different meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I quickly realized that the amount of sleep I was getting was going to diminish and that taking naps were going to be out of the question, so I compromised. I also allowed myself to drink coffee (yes, with cream and sugar - those were my sugar and dairy exceptions).

Check out this organization to
see how you can make your
Christmas more meaningful
So, back to what I learned. I learned that even though I shifted my fast to make life more manageable, God was still teaching me. It didn't matter what I gave up, just that I gave up something so that I could decrease and He could increase. It mattered that I did not go to food or anything else for comfort, but that I went to my heavenly father for comfort and guidance. God is about the relationship, not the rules. I also learned that my culture drives me much more than I would like it to. When I had to refuse food in front of others, I would gloss over the reason why with "I'm on a diet." And then I quickly found myself battling that mentality. See, after about a week of no sugar or other junk, I started dropping pounds. And honestly, that made my fast a little easier. When I would be hungry and without a food item I could eat, I soon started willing myself to not give in because it was nice to fit into some old jeans again. (Yep, I was fully missing the point during those moments.) See the whole point is that we need Christ. We need Him to fill us, to feed us, to nourish us, or we are filled with junk. But so many times, we fill ourselves with meaningless things. We use jobs, status, our homes, our clothes, our cars, our comforts, and even good things like our friends and family to give us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. But those are all things that do not fully quench. We need the living water to satisfy our hearts and give our lives meaning.

But it is so hard to even see that because our culture - especially our American Christian culture that exists in our churches and communities - tells us a different story. We are told that we need safety and security. We need to do something good and prestigious. We need the house and the cars (yes plural) and the new Easter outfits. We need to look out for #1 and make sure we have a nice retirement plan, 4 months worth of income in savings, and a college fund for each child. Our kids need to do music lessons and sports and dancing and scouts. We can't miss out on all this life has to offer. And our kids especially cannot miss out. After all, what kind of parents would we be if we didn't give them the world? But the problem with this way of thinking and living is it is not biblical. Luke 12:22-34 says:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[b]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Did you notice that Christ told us that God will feed us and cloth us better than He does the birds and the flowers and that we will be given His kingdom?! So, we will be well fed, well clothed, well taken care of, and then we will inherit God's kingdom! And why? Just because it pleases our heavenly Dad! And then, did you notice what the kingdom looks like? When we are in God's kingdom - the one where we are infinitely provided for; the one that is owned by our Father who owns this whole world and everything in it - we have the privilege of selling our possessions and giving to the poor! We are given the privilege of sifting through our junk and keeping the treasure! I can picture walking into God's kingdom (the one that I, his adopted daughter did nothing to deserve or build or contribute to. It's just there in all its grandeur and God just invited me in) clinching my sack of stuff that I felt that I had to bring with me because it felt safe and familiar, and my new, perfect Dad saying "Go through it all. It's yours. Take what you'd like." I walk through the rooms and go through the closets and get to keep everything and anything that's of value. And then I look at my bag of stuff and see that I've been holding tight to junk, so I get to toss it. And what am I left with? The most glamorous, eternal gifts! I am left with children who I was able to give my heart to and friends I was able to love and support and mouths I was able to feed and hope I was able to be a part of passing on and lives I was able to save and hearts I was able to speak into and truths I was able to speak over the destitute. When God is blessing us, He is helping us to see our junk for what it is, and is showing us that there is this eternal treasure that we get to swim in! And the saddest thing to me is that so many of us miss this! We are told that God will provide for us plus give us infinitely more than we could ever hope or imagine and we, in our pride and ignorance, say, "Oh, but I've got my treasure here. I'm good. Thanks though, God." And it is a pile of junk. It is an old decrepit house and a rusty car and some career that we think is our purpose in life. And they all looked so new and sparkly and treasure-like when we got them, but it was fools gold because over time, they just needed to be replaced with more junk and more junk until we've accumulated a life lived in a junk yard. And why do we hang on to this pile of junk and miss out on living a rich, luxurious life? Fear. Katie Davis tells the perfect story to illustrate the American Dream (or the American Fear):

  Once there was a people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: "How can we be sure that we will have enough in hard times? We want to survive whatever happens. Let us start collecting food, materials, and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs." So they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that the other peoples protested and said, "You have so much more than you need, while we don't have enough to survive. Give us part of your wealth!" But the fearful hoarders said, "No, no, we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bad for us too, in case our lives are threatened." But the others said, "We are dying now, please give us food and materials and knowledge to survive. We can't wait . . . we need it now!" Then the fearful hoarders became even more fearful, since they became afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. So they said to one another, "Let us build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it from us." They started erecting walls so high that they could not even see anymore whether their enemies were outside the walls or not! As their fear increased they told each other, "Our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. Our walls are not strong enough to keep them away. We need to put bombs at the top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us." But instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison of their own bombs, wondering if they might harm themselves more than their enemy. And gradually they realized their fear of death had brought them closer to it.

She got it. At 18 or 19, Katie Davis got that the junk that we think we need is just a distraction from being able to live a full meaningful life. We believe the lie that we can plan well enough and work hard enough to prevent going through hard times. But while we accumulate this false security, we not only build a wall that enslaves us, we take away from the rest of the world. So, we have to ask ourselves, "Do I want to provide purses for myself that will not wear out and treasures in heaven that will never fail or do I want to spend this one life accumulating junk, enslaving myself into this prison of false security, and ultimately bringing myself closer to eternal death?" The truth is that you can leave your junk yard! You can acquire an exciting, meaningful life filled w/ the richness of Christ!

If this stirs you and if you want to walk out these changes with a community of like-minded people, there are 50 something people starting the 12 x 12 project in less than a week. (This is so exciting!) The 12 x 12 project is a one year endeavor to bring twelve different social justice issues to light through monthly meetings, fundraising campaigns, and by wearing the same outfit from that organization all month long. Come on board now, or whenever you are ready. You can do parts of the project or jump in head first. Remember, it only matters that we decrease so that God might increase. Let God meet you where you are. Check out our facebook page or read my friend Ida's blog to learn more. God is moving! I hope that you choose to enjoy the blessings of being a part of God's mission!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


So, I recently finished a book called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. It was very eye opening. Basically, this lady (Jen Hatmaker) decides to fast 7 different things for a month each. You may be wondering why she decided to do this. One of the main reasons was "to purge the junk and pare down to what is necessary, what is noble. . . [it is] an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God's movement in my life. A fast creates margin for God to move. Temporarily changing our routine of comfort jars us off high center. A fast is not necessarily something we offer God, but it assists us in offering ourselves." I read this and immediately wanted to fast myself.

The first month, she fasts food. Not all food. She only allows herself 7 items to eat throughout the whole month. She went through caffeine withdrawal, had to figure out how to eat while traveling, and experienced lots of moments of intense temptation. So, on August 1st I started my food fast. (It just sounded too fun to pass up!). I changed mine up a bit. We get weekly produce bins, so I decided to allow myself anything from my produce bin + chicken, eggs, and millet bread. I am only using salt and pepper for seasoning and can use olive oil to cook with. Yep, no coffee, no butter, no pastries, no well, no a lot of things. I thought about doing this a different month because this month is my birthday month, but then I realized it would be easier to do something like this right after getting back from Haiti.  And I think that considering my friends on the mountain with no Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, no Yogurt Mountain, no ovens for their grandmas to bake cookies in, no Subway or Chick-fil-A or a cazillion other restaurants to choose from has helped me cope with my food cravings some. They just have their little outside kitchens with a wood pile to cook on. They cook whatever meat or produce they got from their farms or from the nearest market. They butcher their chicken or goats, they cook their dried beans for hours, they harvest and chop and prepare their food all by hand.

Well, by the end of the first couple of days, I decided that I hate this fast. It is not the least bit fun. I have realized a few things about myself. 1. I use food for comfort, especially coffee. 2. When I don't have my comfort food, I am cranky. 3. I get jealous about what other people eat and secretly plot against them when they have the comfort foods I am craving - even if it's my own children. I've gotta say, millet bread with no butter is rather dry and I'm tired of my chicken tenderloins for lunch and dinner every day. I am so incredibly grateful for all the potatoes I have left over from a previous produce bin, or I doubt I'd ever feel full. And my lack of coffee started out great because I so intentionally weaned myself, but after only getting 5 hours of sleep one night, I started hating life. I actually took a nap in the middle of the day that day (I never take naps).

I get tempted to wallow in my self pity, but then, I think of my friends in Haiti who usually only eat one meal a day, and it is usually rice and beans. And then I think of the people in Darfur who sweep up the left overs off the market floor to form mud pies. They are eating just enough to not die of starvation, but they have probably never known what it's like to feel full. And forget about coffee or even clean drinking water. Their water is brown. It doesn't even look clear. It is just filled with all kinds of bacteria and parasites.
So, even though I'm hating my food fast and whining way too much, I am learning a few things about myself and God and this world. I am realizing how much I truly have. Even now while my husbands is in between jobs and we are always uncertain about when we will get money next and how much it will be, we are blessed just by living in this country and having the family and friends that we have. I am realizing how much I lean on my comforts and my desires and my routines rather than on God. I have prayed more and read my bible more these couple of weeks because I am not first curling up with my coffee and a pastry and a book. I was desperately needing to change some of my habits. And finally, I am realizing how important it is for us to obey God's word. We wonder why God allows people to suffer, to starve to death, or to die of curable diseases. Instead, we should wonder why we squander away what God has given us on ourselves and our wants. Matthew 25:41-46  says: Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

As I feel unsatisfied and lust after the Dunkin' Donuts my husband brings home or the banana bread my grandma made, or the cookies my children get at Publix, I will remember that I still have so much more than most of the world. And even though I do not have temporary access to my big mug of coffee, I do have access to my heavenly Father. Purging my junk may not be fun, but it is most definitely necessary if I want to allow God to move more in my life.

Check out this video about the people in Darfur:

Friday, August 3, 2012

My second trip to Haiti

I came back from my 2nd trip to Haiti this past weekend. It felt different this time. When we flew in, I wasn't overwhelmed with it's beauty like the first time. I mean, it was still breathtaking to see the mountains, but I felt like I was coming home. I felt a peace at the familiarity and an eagerness about seeing people who seemed to have a fuller picture of the importance of life. As we flew in, I was not filled with anticipation at whatever may lie ahead, but felt harmony with this place and these people who are not inundated with facebook and tweets and busyness. The trek up the mountain was still a little nerve wracking, but even that gave me a sense of peace because I knew the worse the roads got, the closer we were to our village. We arrived in Chaufford right in the middle of a wedding. There were not glares from guests because we interrupted the ceremony nor were we made to feel that we just ruined the bride's big day. Everyone just rolled with it.

But even in the midst of the peace I felt about being in Chaufford with these friends, I had a hard time. I came with a specific task - to teach some women to make beads. When I got there, I brainstormed with Jennie Ellis, one of the leaders of CPI, and we felt that it would be best to get girls in their late teens/early twenties to make the necklaces. Most of the older ladies have arthritis and a lot of the moms really don't have time to make beads. Plus the girls we were considering are in secondary school in the city, which costs their family a lot of money. We talked with a few girls and asked them to round up a total of 10 girls who would be responsible and would work hard. I told them I would teach them to make the necklaces and then we could sell them in America. They were very excited about it. Things were going in the right direction.

So, you are probably wondering why I had a hard time. I mean, all I had to do was make beads with ten teenage girls. But, if you know me well enough, you would know how much out of my comfort zone I was sitting with these girls. 1. I am not crafty or creative in the slightest. I am an inside the box thinker. I cannot conjure up images or patterns or fashion ideas in my mind. I put my clothes together in a formulaic fashion. I categorize and match colors and have such a hard time doing anything the least bit outside of the box. 2. I am a doer. I do not like to sit still. Laundry and dishes are the last chores I finish. In fact, I'll have vacuumed, mopped, dusted, and cleaned the bathrooms a few times before getting a basket of laundry folded. It's just hard for me to sit still. I always feel like I should be doing something. I've gotten so bad that I feel like I spend a huge chunk of my day walking in circles trying to decide what I should prioritize first. 3. I am not a girly girl. I do not paint my nails on a regular basis or even fix my hair very often. I loathe shopping and wear flip-flops almost every day. I have 3 boys and (aside from the noise) love it. I love watching them wrestle and jumping into tickle fights. I love that their version of dress up involves capes and guns. I love that my sons do not talk about who they will marry when they get older. So, you can see how making beads with ten girls is not my normal activity.

Me and my beautician
The first day I was supposed to meet with the girls, I woke up, went to our team meeting and then went to organize our room and get everything laid out. I "swept" the floor with a rag and had everything separated into piles. The girls were supposed to arrive at 10:00. I was ready by 9:45. (Yes, I was actually early!) By 10:30, I went looking for them. I didn't have to look far. Most of them were at Milo's house (one of the church leaders) right next to the church building. They were still waiting on a few girls to meet them there. So while we waited, they braided my hair and tried to teach me Creole. It was nice. I honestly cannot remember the last time I had someone brush or braid my hair. I could tell how sweet and mature these girls were, but I still felt way out of my comfort zone. Once the other girls got there, we headed to the church and I started our bead-making lesson. They learned quickly. I had to tweak a few of their beads, but they were naturals. However, they quickly began to make the beads their own. I kept handing them "pretty" paper and tried to get them to make beads all the same color and perfectly symmetrical. That did not bode well with them. Some of them made their beads from straight strips of paper instead of long triangles. Most of them used paper that looked plain and bland to me. But as they worked, I noticed how beautiful the beads were turning out. By Tuesday, we were stringing the beads and they did an amazing job combining colors and patterns. They had a knack for this creativity thing. But by Tuesday I was also feeling useless. I had been sitting in a room with teenage girls for 2 days, barely talking to them (because I don't speak Creole), and helping them make beads. The rest of the team was putting up walls to finish the upstairs and healing wounds in the clinic and leading huge groups of kids in English classes and VBS. I just went from girl to girl helping her make beads and not even speaking into her life. By Wednesday, I tried to stop our bead-making early so that I could go "do" something. But they wanted to keep making beads. I was getting so antsy.

My girls hard at work
But then I started to realize that maybe me sitting with these girls and helping them make beads was worthwhile. I think my realization came from the book I was reading. I was reading 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. I was on the chapter about Media. She was talking about how we are so inundated with media that our mental abilities are shifting. We brag about being able to multitask emailing and texting and work and phone calls, but really, we are losing the ability to dig deep and stay focused on long term goals. My girls were perfectly content sitting and talking and singing and making beads. They knew that the end goal is to help their family with their school expenses. They were very content fellowshipping with one another while they worked on their common goal. And I wasn't doing nothing. I was helping them. I was encouraging them and teaching them. When they felt uncertain about their beads or necklaces, they had me there to ask for help. After reading that section in the book, I decided to try to embrace my time with these girls. I couldn't ask them about their school or if they have boys in their lives. I couldn't tell them to stay away from the bad guys and to study hard because an education can make a life or death difference in their lives. But I could encourage them and help them and show them that I value them. Over the next couple of days, I found ways to laugh with them and tried to focus more on how to encourage them than on trying to hurry up so I could get busy.
The finished product!!

The water souce
On Thursday, we had to wrap up early because of the construction that needed to be done in the room we were working in. That morning, I decided to walk down to the water source with some other people, which meant I got back past our 10:00 (which normally meant 11:00) meeting time. I expected that they were going to just start to arrive when I got back, but found that they were already in our room working. When the construction guys told us they were almost ready for our room, the girls diligently finished up the necklaces they were working on. They wanted to have as many necklaces finished as possible. They ended up making over 100 necklaces. In one week! That was more than double what I expected. I was floored. I realized that their 1 week of work would help them pay for about 1/3 of a year of their schooling. That is huge. They each got a bag of supplies so that they could continue to work on the necklaces throughout the year. I am so excited about the skills these young ladies are learning and the ways our project can help their families. And, I ended up being able to "do" something after all. Once the construction was finished, I got to help sweep the upstairs to make it ready for the up and coming school year. I even got blisters!

In addition to our success with the necklaces, the CPI teams finished the upstairs to the school, we had amazing worship services every night (in which the Haitians way outlasted us tired Americans), Bernix (a Haitian-American who lives in Miami and is involved with CPI) provided food so that we could serve meals or pass out food to take home, Troyce (our nurse from Clermont) treated a cazillion patients, we held English classes and VBS every day, Kendall and Kenny (the two pastors) trained pastors, our teachers who went held teacher training workshops, we cuddled lots of sweet children, several of us were able to connect with our sponsor children, and every person on our team walked away impacted from the beautiful people of Chaufford. It was an amazing week.

On the way down the mountain, I noticed several houses not too far from Chaufford that I could totally see my family living in. Wouldn't it be amazing if God opened those doors?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What to do with discontentment

I have a new job - waiting tables. Along with a new job comes new schedules, new expectations, new friends, and more stress. My husband and I knew that it would require more out of both of us, but it's one thing to know something and another to experience it. The stage was set for my heart to get hardened. After all, waiting tables in your 30s when you have a home to manage and children and a husband to tend to is a lot different than waiting tables when you are in your 20s. I started getting frustrated if I would come home at 11 pm to find the kitchen not fully cleaned up or when clutter started to accumulate more. I stopped thinking about my husband working all day to rush home and then deal with dinnertime, bath time, and bed time all by himself.  And then I had a conversation with a fellow co-worker - that was the icing on the cake. I was talking with this guy who is married with daughters. We talk a lot because we are some of the few workers who are not in college and who have kids. He talks about his wife all the time, and it's super sweet. He brags about her cooking and her parenting skills. He boasts that she leaves dinner for him on a plate every night when he gets home from work. He talks about their roles and the things that they joke about. I adore it. Well, one day, he was talking about trimming trees and mentioned how heavy branches can be. I told him I knew because I had some branches almost fall on my head when I was trimming some trees. He asked why my husband was not trimming the trees and I said that I do a lot of our yard work. He joked about it being the man's job and I told him my husband had plenty of roles in our home, but deep down I felt disappointed. I started to envy this guy's marriage. He and his wife seemed to have their roles so clearly understood. Jon and I have struggled with what our roles should be from the beginning of our marriage. I began to fixate on what my husband didn't do. I stopped trying to fix dinner before leaving for work because "he needs to help!" (Yes, sometimes it was just because I am not a super mom and didn't have time, but my heart definitely needed some work!) I forgot about the fact that he would most likely be juggle the kids while finishing up his work and fixing dinner. I began to complain about what didn't get done instead of looking at what did get done. My discontentment began to fester.

But then, I had a conversation with the same guy at work where I saw a glimpse into some imperfections in his life. I don't know that he felt that they are imperfections, but I know that they are. I didn't feel judgmental towards him or anything. It was just a slap in the face reminding me that we are all messed up and that without Christ, none of us do much right. Shoot, with Christ, we still mess up a lot. It's only through Christ that we get glimpses of perfection. I just kept thinking how blessed I am to have a husband who is a Christian man and who is constantly striving to pursue God and His will for our family. He may or may not get everything right, but he never stops trying. We may not have our roles figured out yet, but we are very much equally yoked spiritually.

As I began to realize this, my attitude started to shift. And then I noticed that there were so many other areas in my life where discontentment had been creeping in. I was discontent with our house and with our furniture. I had become discontent with my clothes and even with our healthy diet. How did I let my heart get so consumed with all these wants? Didn't I just get back from Haiti 4 months ago? Hadn't I vowed to not take anything for granted after seeing the joy my Haitian friends had in the midst of their hungry bellies and tiny homes and lack of electricity? But here I was hating my couch - which would not even fit in any of the homes that I saw in Chauffard - and wanted to change my wall decorations and was fixating on the color of my walls! And hadn't I felt convicted not so long ago once I realized that my buying habits enslave people? Yes, the fact that we eat off of paper plates almost every night and that I pick up cute little outfits for the kids (and sometimes me) from Target every couple of weeks causes people to remain in forced labor -some of them children. And here I am complaining that I just want some Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and some cuter accessories for my outfits. (Just a side note - all of this complaining was in my head so that no one could judge. Ha ha) I found out that my buying enslaves 70 something people, but I did nothing to change my life or my habits. I just felt sad but overwhelmed. I tried to comfort myself with lies like: I shop at Target, not Walmart (but still buy the items that are made from 10 year olds working 12 hour days!) And don't I complain about people like me?! Yes, discontentment fuels discontentment and it turns you into someone that is pretty ugly on the inside.

I had these realizations about myself but then went on with my life with a new list of ways I was discontent that centered around wanting to be more Christlike. I read through Judges and 1Samuel - which is all about how the Israelites were constantly discontent, turned away from God, became enslaved, and got rescued again, I cried over videos I would see on Facebook or blogs I would read about people who were sacrificing so much to serve, I watched a movie on child sex trafficking and learned how prevalent it is in my community, and my discontentment began to soar. I had to do something, but what?! And then, I butted in on some friends' conversation on facebook and learned about something called the 12x12 project they are starting - and they told me they would let me jump on board! The project deals with wearing one fair trade item each month for the whole month to help highlight the social issue it supports. During the month, we will raise awareness and funds to help with the issue. Really? Are you kidding me? As I read that first message describing this project, my heart quickened and I felt as if God Himself was speaking through that message. And then when we met about this it shifted and grew into so much more - how could we be bold, but not judgmental? how can we be disciplined in our faith? how can we simplify so that Christ is exalted? We talked about our hearts and the tons of social issues out there and how to not compromise. We did some scheduling and ate some homemade food and prayed. And I could sense that God is bringing at least some of the things in my life full circle. All these faith lessons He's been teaching me, all these convictions that I've had, all these things that break my heart are beginning to turn into action that will glorify Him! I do not need to wallow in my self centered discontentment nor do I need to sit and wonder what to do with my societal discontentment. I can live intentionally and encourage others to do the same. Check this project out on Facebook here or on Pinterest here and maybe you will find some small changes you can make that collectively can make a big difference.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Gift

A couple of weeks ago, I was given a gift. My sweet friend brought me groceries. It may seem like an odd gift, but it was perfect. See, she (unknowingly) cracked this door to allow me to complain, so I let it all out. I vented about how stressful our finances have been and how hard it is to pay the bills and get the groceries when my husband's paycheck is consistently late these days. I complained about having to work my new part time job and whined about being a tired and impatient mommy. I closed with asking for prayer. She decided to pray and then some. She didn't come with a check or a gift card to go get groceries (although that would've been appreciated as well). No, she did my grocery shopping for me. And she didn't just pick up some cereal and Ramen noodles. She got probably at least $200 of gluten free organic yummy goodness that I would've bought for my own family. I'm talking free range chicken, Almond milk, quinoa pasta, and organic fruits and veggies. I did not have to do any grocery shopping for a week and a half and then only had to get a few things for specific recipes. She stocked us up. And it was soooo hard to accept.

See, I know that behind the late paychecks are also nights of just not feeling like cooking or date nights with a little too much splurging or forgetfulness when it comes to paying the bills. Yes, we choose to live paycheck to paycheck so that I can focus on homeschooling our children, and there are a lot of sacrifices we choose to make, but we've had our moments of being irresponsible. I'm sure they are not much worse than the average person's moments, but they exist and here I have my friend (who goes without plenty herself to answer the same calling of homeschooling her kiddos) who just took her kids grocery shopping for me and spent her money doing so. It was humbling to say the least. My first temptation was to pack up the food - most of it at least - and take it to someone who needed it more than we did. I mean, there are people starving. We were certainly not starving. And if we ever ran out of food completely and there was still no paycheck, we have a lot of family members who would help. So, there are people starving and alone. But, I heard this whisper from God saying, "No, just enjoy. I love you."

So, then I thought that this is God's way of teaching me. All of this - the late paychecks, the late fees, the waiting to go grocery shopping and getting creative with meals, the heated discussions about whether or not we should go bankrupt, and now this gift - are all ways that God is trying to teach me to trust Him. I hadn't been fully trusting Him. After all, I had too many nights of just getting pizza or Subway for dinner. I should be able to do better. And if I truly leaned on Christ, I could do better. I began to see the gift as almost a form of correction. I desperately want to help others. My heart aches for all the suffering people in this world. I am supposed to be able to help others, but instead, I needed help. I am supposed to willingly lay down my life for others, but instead, I complained at the first sign of struggle. I should do better. I know Christ and I know His promises. But throughout this thought process, I would faintly hear God whispering, "No, you have it all wrong. I just love you."

I wouldn't really listen to the whispers. I began fixating on why it is that I would need to use God's resources. I kept thinking about our child who we are supposed to be adopting and about the single mom with no one who can't feed her kids dinner and my friends in Haiti who eat one or maybe two meals a day. Guilt began to set in. I should have packed up the food and found someone else to give it to. I am not the destitute. There are others who needed it more than us. My friend didn't know about our splurges or that we have a huge support network here. If she had, surely she would've chosen someone else to bless. I started planning on how I would pay it back. I was calculating how much things cost and what I owed. I would pay it forward - tenfold. Yes, that would reconcile this. But the whispers began getting louder. "I have paid everything. You cannot do this in your own strength. You have not taken away from anyone - everything belongs to me. I create all the food and I just want to love you. Accept my gift."

Sigh. Why is that so hard? Maybe it's because I am such an independent perfectionist. It can really get ridiculous. Yes, this has been a lesson, but not the kind I thought. See, somewhere along the way, I lost sight of the fact that Christ died for me. He died because I would never be able to earn my way to Heaven or be good enough to have the Holy Spirit dwell in me. Acts 2:39 says "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call." I am one who is far off. My family line is not Jewish, it is European. Christ died so that the whole world (including me) would be reconciled to Him. I used to read these verses and think that Paul or Luke or Peter were talking to me, but they were talking about me.  See, I need Christ. Otherwise, I am hopeless. And He loves me enough to do something about my hopelessness. I have to really sit on that, which is a little embarrassing. Isn't this Christianity 101? Christ loves us and died for our sins. Yes, that is where our faith starts. Most Christians accept the Holy Spirit once they realize these truths. That's how it happened for me anyway. I remember listening to my youth pastor sharing his testimony and thinking, "I want to know God that intimately. I want to have a relationship with the God who sacrificed so much for me." I was so moved by the fact that Christ took on my sins. And each time I fell away from God, He would call me back and I would be even more moved that Christ took on even more of my sins.

But that is not where we stay as Christians. We begin to learn more and more about who God is and what truths He embraces. Without moving on to the realization that we are to first love God and then love our neighbors as ourselves, we do not experience the fullness of Christ. We receive His love and grace and mercy, we acknowledge the gifts He has poured out on us, and then we overflow with His love to the point that we have to share it. It's a beautiful thing. But I had left the first two truths behind. I stored them in my brain somewhere and began to focus on the pouring out to others. I knew that God does not want us to have a faith that is self-centered, but rather one that is God-centered. But, instead, I made my faith other-centered. Now, that sounds good, but the problem is that other-centered is not God-centered. My other-centeredness quickly turned to self-righteousness and burn out. Without focusing on God and holding onto the truths that He loves me and died for me, I became judgmental. I began to categorize Christians and look down on anyone who did not embrace my ideas of serving and dying to oneself. That's what happens when you do not exist out of the reality that God loves you and died for you - you become hard and calloused.

See, the gratitude that wells up is huge when you realize that without God's love and sacrifice you would be completely lost and hopeless. And then when you couple that with the knowledge that this God who loves you is the same God who created the universe and who owns the whole earth and everything in it, then you realize how much you will always have to depend on Him, not yourself or your own abilities or your job or your time management skills or anything else. You realize that those things are only God's gifts that could be taken away or that could shift into a different type of gift or whatever. There is no room for judgement or self righteousness when the truths you learn in Christianity 101 are so fresh and real. But when those truths start to fade into a how to guide, then there is room for all kinds of bad heart habits to form. See, if I've moved to the realization that I need to love my neighbor but don't first love God and receive His love and grace, I am acting out of my own will. God's goal is always about drawing our hearts to Him. When I act out of my own will, I do not depend on God and I begin to push Him out of the equation. So, sometimes God wants to use people to do acts of service to reveal himself or to minister to the destitute. But sometimes He just wants to love on His sons and daughters. See, every week, for the past couple of months we have been trying to balance our uncertain income. We tried to focus on God and to be grateful for what we have, but it's been stressful. I started working a part time job to help us get caught up from the financial strain all of this has caused and to help us pay for all the extras that come up when you're homeschooling 3 kids. When my friend brought me groceries, I hadn't seen the financial fruits of my job yet, but that first paycheck was coming soon. We would've been fine if she hadn't served us in that way. We would've just had another week or two of stress before it started to level out. But God chose to speak to her heart and relieve me of that stress. He chose to use this moment to remind me that He is my Abba Father and I am His daughter and all He wants me to do is to curl up with Him and just be. How am I to tell others about God's love and grace if I don't allow Him to lavish it on me? How am I to go and serve others if I have run out into the desert alone away from the living water? How can I love anyone if I do not accept God's perfect love and allow that love to flow out of me? I think the light finally went on when I watched Beth Moore tell this story about a man in an airport. I strongly encourage you to listen to it - whether or not you like Beth Moore. It just captures God's love for us. I am praying that we will all begin to realize how much our heavenly father adores us. Can you just imagine how much more we can spread God's love if we did?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day. I usually have lots of different emotions and expectations. Seems silly and maybe a little petty, but that's usually the case. I guess the biggest emotional difficulty is the reminder that I lost baby #2 around this time 6 years ago. We were right at 12 weeks along and just feeling like we were in the safe zone when I started to miscarry. The emotional implications that spiraled as a result are for another day, but I usually spend a little time thinking about what that baby would be like and what our lives would be like if we hadn't lost our 2nd child. And then there is the juggling of the weekend. I always want to spend some alone time with my mom for Mother's Day, but don't want to neglect my mother-in-law. I end up feeling pulled in a zillion different directions and spend mother's day with a forced smile feeling like someone is getting left out.

But this Mother's Day is a little different. Maybe my priorities have shifted. The beginning of my planning for this weekend started with thinking of possible fundraising opportunities for my trip to Haiti. That's never been a part of the equation. And then I started thinking about how we haven't hung out with our boys at the foster home in a while, so there was another twist. So this year, we hung out with my in-laws last night after picking blueberries yesterday morning (which will be used to sell more jam!), and I will finally watch Hunger Games with my mom this afternoon after eating lunch at the foster home. I think this will be the perfect Mother's Day weekend. And honestly, this is the first time I've thought about our 2nd child who we never got to meet. A small part of me feels a little guilty about this, but God's been teaching me a few things lately. I'm learning that our pain and disappointments are just a blip on the screen of life compared to the bliss of eternity with Him. I'm learning that it's not quite so important that I pick out the right card and spend the perfect brunch or dinner with my mom or mother-in-law on Mother's Day; it's more important how I love them all year long. And I'm learning that it's not the least bit important whether or not my children appreciate me as their mother, rather that I mother them well (oh, that one is still emotional, though).

Now, I definitely don't live out these lessons perfectly. I have my emotional crazy lady moments when  life feels too hard or I get some bad news about something. I'm still learning to make prayer my first response to problems. But prayer and peace comes faster these days. And the days of deciding my parenting based on what I didn't like about my and my husband's parents are slowly making their way to the past. Sure it's good to learn from others' mistakes. I definitely hope and pray that my children will be better parents than my husband and I are. But I would dwell on the mistakes of our parents, which distanced me from my family. I have slowly realized over the past almost 11 years how very much my mother loves me and my siblings. I have these sweet memories of laying on my mom's lap while she stroked my hair when I was a little girl, but my most vivid memories begin when I was around 8 or so. I have a ten year old who is a carbon copy of me, and boy do we have our moments. I've been thinking about how incredibly patient my mom was with me. I had the same know-it-all attitude that my son has, but she did not loose her cool nearly as much as I do. Sure, she wasn't perfect, but she would listen to my drama about my friends and boyfriends and she would hold in the frustrations when I took things out on her. She sacrificed so much to give us a consistent, loving childhood. And she didn't have the life partner that I do. My dad had his strengths and weaknesses, but the hard thing was that they just didn't see things eye to eye. I knew that their marriage was strained growing up, but she never belittled my dad to us. Sure, they argued and we could tell when mom was mad, but it stopped there. It's funny how you don't realize what someone else has walked through until you've experienced some of it yourself. There is so much that I will never completely understand about the difficulties my mom had, but I understand how much she had to die to herself to give us everything she could - safety, love, character, a sense of responsibility, a burden for others, compassion, and empathy. She was such a great model for us. I just hate that I didn't appreciate it as much when I was younger. And this realization helps me to know that I might not be appreciated very much right now either. Like I said, my 10 year old is a carbon copy of me. We butt heads all day long most days. I absolutely cherish the days when we don't have to have twenty conversations about respect and honor and obedience. I love when he can have a whole week without being put on restrictions. But, his hard-headed little self still needs molding. And molding is hard. So, when he doesn't appreciate me and my molding (which sometimes I don't do very well) then that's ok. I just stop and pray that God will take over with the molding and trust that He is creating a beautiful vase. And I do still have my littles who adore their mama. Sure, they might give me mini-strokes throughout the day, but they are the best cuddlers. Now, this has all very slowly translated into a deep appreciation for my mother-in-law. That relationship is a little harder. Not on the surface. She is a super sweet person and very easy to talk with. But, it's been hard to have that deeper trusting relationship with her. See, now as an adult, I can see my mom in me. I can understand why she would get upset about the food being left out or the sibling rivalry with my sister. She was concerned about my character and the woman I would become. But, I don't always understand why my in-laws want to spoil my children or why they get so paranoid about my kids' safety.  That's not really a part of me. But it is a part of my husband.
 And as I get to know them more and get to see the layers peel back, I get to see where that all comes from too. I get to see the unconditional love they have for my husband and my children and (I'm pretty sure) me. I get to see how they want to protect and nurture - even when the hard lessons might be what's best. I get to see how it pains them to see anyone they love in pain and how they, like my mom and now like me and my husband, have sacrificed so much to give us everything they can - coming to a new country, learning a new language while trying to learn how to be a good mom, and providing love, safety, and security to her boys while staying at home with them when they were young, but then working a very hard, demanding job as they got older (which she still works at today!).

So, now, this Mother's Day, I just want to enjoy being a mom. That's it - no more trying to please everyone or wanting some sort of appreciation. I look at the woman my mother is and figure that this molding I am a doing is also molding me. I love the person I'm becoming because of the sacrifices I've made. And honestly, they feel more like blessings than sacrifices. I get to have my hands in raising 3 men! And, maybe more importantly, I get to do it with the love and help and support of my sweet, amazing mom and mother-in-law. I am truly blessed!

Find out about the 1000 Moms Project and how you can bless other moms today!

Monday, May 7, 2012

A lamp for my feet.

"How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws."  - Psalm 119:103-106. These words have been the theme of this season in my life. It started with learning to love God's words. I am so grateful that I decided to dive into His word because now, I daily depend on it to light my path.

See, He lights my path at my feet - with a lamp. I don't get to see very far ahead. So, I depend on that light. I squint and try to see further, but right now, I can't. And that is so hard. It is so very tempting to get anxious and frustrated or to feel inadequate. I wish I could come up with some master plan that would guarantee our family's safety and well-being. But there is no plan. My husband's job is very uncertain right now. We have to take things day by day, week by week. There is never a guarantee that he will even get a paycheck at the end of the week, but there is always a guarantee that our bank account will be close to 0 by the end of the week. I've been looking for a part time job to try to help build some savings, but I haven't had a ton of luck. See, I have been a stay at home mom for almost 5 years. That, evidently, is even a hindrance when trying to work at Starbucks. To add to that, I am not planning on changing my stay at home, homeschooling status, so that greatly limits the type of job I can get. I think I found a job at a restaurant - waiting tables a couple of nights a week. I wouldn't usually be thrilled to get back into the restaurant business, but the thought of money in savings makes me ecstatic.

Now, the really difficult side of this financial uncertainty is that our adoption process has come to a screeching halt. We have not done our home-study yet, but wouldn't pass it if we had. We cannot show that we are able to financially provide for another child at this point. I read blogs and articles and look at websites about the needs in this world. There are children being taken from their homes in Africa, there are 14 year olds in China who are getting put out on the streets because they age out of the system that young. There are babies getting herded into mental hospitals in Russia. There are children in America going from foster home to foster home, never knowing what it's like to be loved unconditionally. And I have felt for at least a year now that we have a child somewhere in one of these circumstances. We have a home and we have love and we have support and we will always figure out a way to meet all of our children's needs, but our hands are tied because things are too up in the air. I understand the system and the reasons why we need to know where our next paycheck will come from, but that doesn't make my heart break any less. I absolutely get sick thinking of one of my children - maybe my little girl, or another son who desperately needs to have a dad teach him about becoming a man, or a child whose soul is dying - living in some horrible condition. And all I can do is pray. I pray for their conditions and their caretakers and their hearts. I pray that they will know that they are loved because they are a son or daughter of a great King who has laid down His life for them. And then I pray that my next step will be one closer to stability so that the step after that will be closer to our child(ren).

Yes, it is hard to squint hard and see nothing. It is hard to trust and have faith. But this season is giving me just that. Faith in a loving, nurturing God. Faith in my Father who has plans for me and my children " plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) It is giving me a faith that is deeper and stronger than I have ever had. And it's all because I have no choice but to take the next step with Christ and to cling to Him rather than to map out my own plan and do it on my own. I guess I could choose to fret and worry and get frustrated, but that would change nothing. So I cover the worry with prayers and cling to my faith in Christ. And that is a beautiful (and difficult) thing.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Haiti - Days 2-5 (Finally!)

Well, it has been way too long since my last post about Haiti! I am so sorry! Life just went into full gear when I got home. Plus it took me a while until I started staying up until 2 am again. I literally wrote this in 4 different sessions because I kept falling asleep. So, here is the condensed version for days 2-5 of my trip to Haiti.

By Tuesday I felt at home in Haiti. I missed my kids and husband, but I was in love with this place. We had more of an agenda on Tuesday. Jennie, Angela, and I got to meet with some of the classes and teach them about what kids in America do. Jennie went to a school in Lakeland and taught them about Haiti. Then, those children wrote about themselves and gave pictures of themselves, their pets, and/or their families. The Haitian children listened to us share about American culture so intently. Then they wrote and drew about their likes and dislikes. We asked them questions that the kids in Lakeland asked. It was neat to hear how similar the kids are, but how different the cultures are. All the classes were so well behaved. After school we met with the teachers and found out that most of the children do not have books. On top of that, most of them also come to school hungry and are only fed 3 out of the 5 school days while at school. They have so many uphill battles, but try so hard. Of course there are the kids who just don't like school (they are kids.), but it was amazing to see how many obstacles some of these kids overcome just to get an education.

That evening we met a boy, Jean Marc, who goes to secondary school in Port Au Prince. He had met Jon back in December, so he was excited to meet me and to hear how Jon is doing. He makes baskets and sculptures and sells them. His mom came a little while later with some that he had for sale and we were able to buy our souvenirs. It was such a sweet time talking with him and learning about his family. He told me that his mom has 12 kids, but only 9 are still living. She helps him find rocks to carve. And she was all smiles. She just warmed my heart. We went down into the church where a movie was being shown. This was such a luxury for the people in Chaufford. Electricity is a luxury. After the movie, we served food, but ran out - as would be the case every night.

The next two days were super busy. We began passing out gifts to the children in the sponsorship program. We used this as a time to motivate the kids. The ones who were working hard got a little extra while the children who were slacking were given only a few items and reminded that being in the sponsorship program is a perk, not an entitlement. I was so glad that Jennie delivered the tough love because for one, she is amazing at it, and secondly, I would've caved. A lot of the kids do not have parents at home encouraging them to do their work and study. Some of the parents would rather have the extra help on the farm, but a lot just don't have the education themselves to know how to push their child. Jennie was definitely skilled at having the perfect balance of love and discipline. In fact, two of the students who were scolded came and sat with her at the worship service Wednesday evening. I think part of that is their culture though. Some of the parents may not know how to push their kids when it comes to school, but they definitely know how to teach their kids to honor adults. The kids know that part of being loved is to be corrected. I never saw any of the kids talk back or try to get out of being reprimanded. After we passed out the gifts to the sponsored children, we then gave clothes and school supplies to the other students and to adults in the community. It was so sweet being able to give our sweet kids their gifts face to face. Both Julien and Maceline were so precious. They did not have an ounce of entitlement, but were so grateful for anything we gave them. In fact, most of the kids were that way. I absolutely loved my role of giving stuff away.

Thursday afternoon, a few of us went on a short hike to Gary's house (one of the boys from the school). He ran in ahead of us to pick up his room. He then took us on a tour of his tiny, but clean and beautiful house. It had two bedrooms and a dining room, complete with a chicken tied to a chair. The kitchen was outside, which is normal since they have to build a fire to cook on. There were plantains cooking. He then took us a little further up the mountain to show us where his dad and 2 sisters are buried. Literally half of his family has died. He, his mom, and another sister are still living. He had me take a picture of him and his dad, well, his dad's grave. He seemed to be at peace with his loss. He has a step-dad and seemed to care for him a lot. People get sick and die often in this little community. It is so heartbreaking that these children know death so well.

When we went back down the mountain, the boys held onto our arms to make sure we didn't lose our footing going down the steep path. I was so impressed with them. Wednesday and Thursday night both consisted of worship services, passing out dinner, and a dance party, but Thursday blew me away. The church was packed Thursday evening. This was probably because we also passed out dry food to send home. An early dinner was served and then another after the dry food was passed out.

And that is when I experienced my first food mob. We didn't have a system for passing out the food, so everyone just came up to get some. When people got to the food, there was no way for them to get out. Everyone was pushing and squeezing their way to the food. I had to brace myself against the crowd to shelter this one little girl who was trying to eat her food. I told her to just stay in front of me and eat instead of trying to get through the crowd. So many people were not able to eat that 2nd meal, but that did not stop them from staying for the dance party. I think some people stayed all night long. We left around midnight to go to bed, but I heard the music playing until at least 2:30 am and then heard people talking around 4 or 5 am. I love how much they embrace life. They work hard and pray hard and worship hard and party hard and know death and loss too often. They live with such an eternal perspective.

We woke up early Friday morning to head out to Port Au Prince and my heart was so heavy. I had this emotional roller coaster going on inside my heart. I hated leaving but couldn't wait to see my family. Still ahead was the trip down the mountain and our stay in this super nice hotel in the city. It was all so surreal. At the hotel, I just sat there looking over the balcony wondering how this could all be. How could we be in this amazing paradise of a hotel when people are starving to death just outside its walls? How could the people who spend their lives farming and providing food for this country die of diseases that we have cures for in America while there are mansions just down the road? I kept thinking that I just have to have an eternal perspective too. Only in eternity will any of this make any sense. I read the beatitudes: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This is what's real. This is what my friends who live on a mountain in Haiti experience. They must know these truths. How else would they be filled with so much joy? How else would they be able to keep moving forward? We think that we have so much to offer, but we have just as much to learn. We are blinded here in America. Most of us live in an illusion. We think we are immune from death and hurt, but we are not. The cross should remind us of that. My prayer is that I will hold tight to the truths that I've seen. Truths like I am a part of a much bigger reality that revolves around Christ's mission, not myself. Christ is not limited by poverty, or disease, or death because He has overcome those things. Hurt does not change who Christ is or what He's done, it just points to how much we all desperately need Him.