On American Soil

We are back on American soil for a couple of weeks and enjoying our family and friends so much! We are so thankful for the time that we have to maintain those relationships and catch up with everyone. But we miss Haiti…like, we really miss it.

20130607-102701.jpg

Last night we arrived at my aunt and uncle’s lake house and a sense of peace washed over me. This place is so peaceful and so beautiful. And it holds so many amazing memories from my childhood until now. Our family tries to come here at least once a year to get away and enjoy God’s creation. This year means so much more to us than any other year…a much needed time of respite for our souls. Ministry work is incredible, living in Haiti has been amazing (we miss it so much and are ready to go back), and we cling to what the Lord continues to teach us daily. But there are times that we need to refuel, rest, and just relax. The next couple of days is our opportunity and we are so thankful.

20130607-102434.jpg

Thank you God for this beautiful masterpiece. We will not take for granted the beauty of Your creation and the time that you give us to purposely rest and refuel.

Advertisements

They Call Me Mama

In this life that we are living, I am called Manman (mama in Creole) everywhere I go. Mama Blan (white mom), Mama TaTa (don’t ask…yes it is my nickname here in the village and no, it does not have anything to do with boobs), Mama. That’s a lot of pressure, a lot of blessings, a lot of heartache and a lot of love. Why am I here? Whom do I serve? Where am I going? What do these little ones see in me? And what about my own children…what do their hearts understand about the love a mother has for her children.

God is teaching me about family. About marriage. About parenting. What is it that I want these children to gain while our family is here? Am I purposeful enough with my own children that they can be grounded in their identity in Christ and their place in our family? All the while experiencing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?

20130514-222743.jpg

What about the children that we live life with in the village daily? Can they see hope in our eyes and Jesus in our hearts? Specifically, are they yearning to find out who this ‘Jesus’ is that I tell them loves them so much? Am I yearning to tell them about Jesus?

20130514-222928.jpg

Wydline has a story. Her life has not been easy…I can see it in her eyes. She lives with a family that has eleven children. She is not one of theirs, but they agreed to care for her after her parents died. She has come over to play a couple of times at our house. She has even been found digging through our trash (our trash is often treasure to others here). Just yesterday, she busted through our door hoping to play and get some food. Her eyes light up when she sees us and she feels a sense of belonging with us. But what is the rest of her story? Does she remember her mother and father? Does she have other siblings? Does she know who Jesus is?

20130514-223107.jpg

Her little eyes twinkle when she smiles and I tell her that we love her. She often walks through the village barefoot and I let her know that we will bring shoes for her. She has even shown up to our campus for feeding program with only a shirt on. I can get her a shirt…no problem. But when the end of the day comes, can she cry out to the One that can ease her pain and calm her fears? Can she praise the One that gave her life and joy? Does she know that she was created to love and be loved?

20130514-223156.jpg

Now I know. They all call me Mama, and they all know my voice and my smile. They know how it feels to be picked up and hugged by Mama TaTa. But that is only the surface. There is more. I’m here to know them, to be Jesus to them and carry their joys and burdens straight to Him. If there is ever a day that our family leaves this village, my desire is that all of these children will have an imprint on their hearts. Not mine, but the One who made them. Not for my glory, but for His. My prayer is that all of these beautiful little lives will understand who they are, but most importantly whose they are.

20130514-223257.jpg

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue?

The day of love. The anticipated bouquet of flowers. The annual box of chocolates. The date night to a romantic dinner destination. All for the day of love.

IMG_0941

What is love anyway? It sure feels good to know that people love me. And I am one of those people that loves to love others. But love, true love….Christlike love is so different. Take these familiar verses to heart…

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it s not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I want so badly to understand that love. To love beyond my own selfishness and be more like the One who loves me.

All too often, stories of oppression, tragedy, destruction, starvation, and illness dominate headlines and conversations when people talk of Haiti. These tough circumstances are real and we are faced with the reality of them more often than we wish to admit. But, if we open our eyes, choose to see LIFE, and see opportunities to know the hearts of our neighbors, I believe we see LOVE….the real love…genuine, unconditional, Christlike love.

IMG_0943

He is no less than 75 years old. She is close to the same. His body and mind have begun to weaken, and his spirit is often down. But she loves him, even when truly there is no hope for him to physically love her in return. I have asked her if she knows Jesus. Yes, she says. And I say that I can tell. She is my neighbor, my friend, and so much more. Often, we find her in her yard bathing her husband from head to toe, while he uses all of his strength to stand helplessly, allowing her to serve him. They walk slowly to church every Sunday morning…he is holding onto her for support and she is carrying his special chair that he always sits on. I check on them periodically….today he is not feeling well. He can’t get up. She sits near his mattress on the floor and waits….waits to serve him. I ask her if she sleeps next to him as I look at the tattered twin sized mattress. She says no…she sleeps on a sheet on the concrete floor next to him and points to the sheet sitting in the corner of the room. Love bears all things and endures all things. She often tells me thanks for being a missionary and I tell her thank you for being the same.  She is the hands and feet of Christ. Her love is patient, kind, and expects nothing in return. Her selfless love and devotion reminds me of Gods love for us.

IMG_0942

Living in Neply, we are are able to see daily, the beauty of God’s love. There are so many examples that I cannot possibly list them all. I have the luxury of watching my very own children teach me about God’s love everyday. My heart bursts when my two year old says, ‘I love you buddy’ as he hugs on children that are dirty and soiled while walking through the village. Those children see Jesus in him and so do I. I could not be more thankful to know a beautiful woman named FiFi…her health is deteriorating and she struggles to make ends meet. But, her heart for the Lord and for His children is incredible. She cares for a child with medical needs that is not even her own. A village coming together to care for their own…Love is kind and expects nothing in return.  I remember the day we were taking our children to school just two weeks ago. We drove up to a severe motorcycle accident and stopped to help. Cindy, a high school aged student, had a very obvious break to her femur. We took her to the hospital and she was later transferred to another hospital where they knew no one and had no food or drink (yes, hospitals here make you find your own food while receiving medical care). We told the myLIFEspeaks staff that our neighbor had a need…within a few hours, a large basket of food was overflowing because our staff understands the love of Christ. Love is kind and expects nothing in return.

IMG_1099

I think God is teaching me about a different kind of love. He wants me to understand His deep love above all else…for me and for His people and creation. But, the gift of knowing His love is that I have the opportunity to share it. In a place with such great need, where poverty and illness abound, it is beautiful to look beyond the surface and see the LIFE that shines from deep within His people here. Life. Love. Not the temporary day of love…but understanding a LIFE filled with LOVE. Yes, please…that is what I desire.

Jars of Clay

IMG_9785

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.—2 Corinthians 4:7-10

Like pottery, we are the creation of the Potter’s hand. And like jars of clay, we are fragile…but with every detail put into His creation and every creature being unique, He breathes life into what He has made. And it is beautiful. It is His. And it is alive.  There are no flaws in His craftsmanship and there are no mistakes. He created every detail according to His plan. The cracks? More room for His mortar.  The curves? More opportunity to see His beauty. The holes? More space for Him to fill. The crumbles? More opportunity for Him to touch and rebuild.

All too often, we notice the cracks, curves, crumbles, and holes before we see the beauty of the whole creation. We might call them flaws or defects…maybe even abnormalities. But all were made with His hands, with His purpose and glory in mind. How can we doubt the perfection of what He has created?

I see the little boy. I see that his muscles appear to have no tone. I see that he lies practically motionless on the front porch of his house.  I hear the family. He can’t do anything. He can’t walk. He can’t talk. He can’t eat regular food. He doesn’t sleep well. He will never grow up to be anything. He is an embarrassment to us…walking through the village, going to church are not things that we do with him. People talk and humiliate us. His life is not worth anything because he has many problems…he has defects. He will never grow up to be anything. We do not want him…he is flawed.

My heart breaks. Slowly, gently, I search for words. I am able to share my own story. Not only do I have cracks, holes, and plenty of curves myself, but I have a child with different abilities. I know that life is not easy and I know that I also allow questions to run through my head and heart sometimes. My story is different than theirs, but it offers perspective. My prayer is that it offers hope. It offers empathy and understanding. My story of parenting is completely imperfect, especially vulnerable, and not at all what they expected this person from America to say. It begins with, “I hear you and I think I understand”.

Slowly, we move toward understanding the hearts of the parents. Their culture has taught them much of their belief system regarding children with special needs. Providing for a child with special needs in a third world country can feel impossible. He needs special food…they cannot even afford the typical food for the rest of the family. How can they feed him? He goes days without food…I ask myself…do they do this on purpose so that maybe he will no longer be here? His developmental stages have been paralyzed because he doesn’t receive proper nutrition (along with not receiving many other things that contribute to proper development). His survival needs are not being met.

I have learned though. Before I can intervene and minister to the child, I need to minister to the parents.  Their own survival needs are not being met. How can I encourage them to be better parents when their stomachs are growling and they are thirsty? God alone, is the living water…but is that what they need to hear today? My mind is racing…if only I could make this situation go away. God’s gentle whisper gives me peace…I am not here to fix this…I am here to offer hope and walk along side a family that is hurting and in need. His promises give me hope, and I can share those with the family. His love is endless, all-encompassing, unconditional, and it covers a multitude of sins. I want that love…I want to show this family His love. Broken? He is the great Healer. Confused? His life and Word provide answers. Hungry? He is the great provider. Thirsty? Indeed, He is the living water. Weary? He will give you rest.

Another verse comes to mind…

Then Jesus said, “Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” —Matthew 11:28

Hope. Peace. Love.

IMG_0176

Jars of clay.

 

The Good and the Bad…

Now that we have lived in Haiti for over three months and we have had the opportunity to take a trip back to the States, I wanted to ask the kids their opinions on the ‘good and the bad’ of Haiti. So, we sat around the table and each child was asked…”What is your favorite thing about living in Haiti?” and “What is your least favorite thing about living in Haiti?”. What a testimony it was to me as an adult and as their mommy to listen to their answers to those questions. Here are the direct quotes from the kiddos…

Carter (almost 10)-  (Favorite) “It’s easier to live life here than in America. Like people actually do their life together and enjoy life and each other. But people in America are always so busy, they don’t stop to enjoy life. I’m just glad that we are here for our life and sometimes we all need to slow down.” (Least favorite) “Sometimes it is hard that we cannot just hop in the car to go to the grocery store real quick. If we want to go to the grocery store, it can take the whole day.”

Carter playing tag

Carter playing tag and enjoying life with the kids in the village!

Kynlee (7)- (Favorite) “I love walking around and getting a feeling about their (the people in the village) life. They have almost nothing and we have a lot. If I had to, I would give all of my clothes and have nothing so they would have something to wear. I love them so much.” (Least favorite) “I don’t like mosquitos or bug spray.”

Kynlee gave some of her clothes to this beautiful young girl who needed the much more than we did.

Kynlee gave some of her clothes to this beautiful young girl who needed them much more than we did.

Faith (6)- (Favorite) “My favorite part of Haiti is the beach.” (Least favorite) “It’s so hot.”

Faith loves the beach!

Kyler (5)- (Favorite) “I love to play with all the children and to sit and love them.” (Least favorite) “We can’t understand the people at church. We want to like it like we like our Sunday School in America. It doesn’t stress me out though. I just want to have fun.”

Kyler is so good at loving others and helping others...she brings lots of joy to the village of Neply!

Kyler is so good at loving others and helping others…she brings lots of joy to the village of Neply!

Camp (2 1/2)- (Favorite) “Ralph-roni and Jean Jean” (Least Favorite) “(silence)”

Camp and Jean Jean

Camp enjoying one of his favorite people in Haiti, Jean Jean.

From this, I can learn so much. In my own home, the children that I am supposed to be discipling are ministering to me. They are showing me the value of where God has brought us and how we respond to life here in Haiti. It isn’t easy for our children to know about things that they would never see or be allowed to hear about in the States. It is life here…you cannot escape child slavery, pain and hunger beyond our understanding, physical abuse of children and women, and the list goes on and on. Our kids are able to see beyond that…they see with their hearts. They see that with the love that God has instilled in them at such a young age to love beyond their comfort zone. And to love with His love…so much different than the love of our flesh.

My prayer is that our family will continue to listen to God….to listen to His voice so that we can continue to minister to those without a voice here in Haiti. My prayer is that we would continue to take a step back from entitlement and fleshly desires, and live humbly in His will. My prayer is that we would truly slow down long enough to listen to Him and to hear the hearts of His people in a country that needs His grace, peace, love, and LIFE (just like we do). Thank you Haiti for changing my family, but really thank you God for transforming our hearts and lives.

When tears fall…

It seems like almost everyday that I live in Haiti, I am either filled with joy to the point of tears or broken to the point of tears. There are times that I feel overwhelmed. What would God have me do? There is so much pain, hurt, illness, starvation…where do I start? And how can helping ONE person in a sea of need do anything to make a difference in this world?

I have seen children with special needs left alone for hours at a time on the porch of their home because their parents don’t want to be seen with them in public. Or maybe the parents believe the child will never be worth anything. The children rarely get food, often lie down in urine for hours, and have bugs crawling all over them.

I have held a six month old baby that weighed 5 pounds and begged with God to help save the baby. I could see nothing but skin and bones, yet the baby’s life was so beautiful and worth so much. I found out the following day that the baby died.

I have watched children in our village work by cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, and caring for other children just to earn their place to live. Child slaves…something that is accepted in this culture.

I have watched my husband, Chris, and friend, Elizabeth perform CPR on one of the most incredible children I have ever known. I have loaded him into a car to go to the hospital knowing something that my heart couldn’t bare. Jay was dead.

I have watched Jay’s parents overcome with grief, crying out to the great Healer, knowing just how they feel. I had a child die just a few years ago. But, words don’t come easy…we just sat, we cried, we hugged and we held each other.

I have witnessed living conditions that I wouldn’t allow my greatest enemy to live in. Rat infested, crawling with bugs, shacks that someone calls home.

I have watched children get beaten with tree limbs so severely that they have welps to prove it for hours. What exactly can a child do to deserve such beatings? Nothing.

So much pain, so much hunger, so much heartache, so much tragedy, so little to celebrate….or so it seems.

But, then I can’t help but look further into the hearts and lives of the people that I am surrounded by. Unspeakable joy? Yes, I see it. Authentic worship for our Lord? Yes, I hear it. Genuine laughter? Yes, it is contagious. So, once again I am brought to tears by simply experiencing life with this tiny village.

As I walk through the village, I hear my name…lots of little children are hollering and running after me. I pass out hugs and I give away kisses. And I look them in their eyes and say to them, “I love you…you know that, right?” Yes, they know…their smile shows me.

I sit and spend time with families of special needs children on a regular basis. One family wanted to give their son away only three weeks ago. God is working in their family and I get a front row seat in the beauty of it all. Not only has this sweet little boy received better care and nurturing from his family, his brain and muscles are responding rapidly. Three weeks ago, he could hardly move…tonight, he was sitting up all by himself. God is changing their hearts…they are beginning to believe that every life was created by God and EVERY life is worth so much.

My husband, Chris, and I are constantly being watched (which, in a sense, is very scary)…in a foreign land, it is very foreign for couples to show any type of affection to one another publicly. Women are often viewed as objects rather than beautiful women worthy of encouragement, service, and love. But now, couples are beginning to see the value of showing your spouse that you care about them. The husbands enjoy hollering at me just to show me that they are going to hug their wives. They call my name just so that I will watch them kiss their wife on the cheek. Redemption is beautiful…the rebuilding of beautiful and biblical marriages has started.

We have been blessed by so many people that want to love and protect our children. Our family is being served on a daily basis. People are teaching us so much. They are teaching our children so much. Our children are blessed beyond your imagination because they are experiencing life beyond what is comfortable. Real, genuine life does not happen as often as we might think…but, here, it happens every day.

And every day, you can find me moved to tears by the difficulties and challenges of life in Haiti. And at any given moment, you can find me moved to tears by the realization that, in so many ways, these people have it so right….and I have so much to learn. So, if I had to choose the easy life with all the comforts I have ever known or the life that God has chosen for me right now, I would choose life in Haiti. God is here, He is alive, and He is using this land for His glory.