Sunday, October 28, 2012

God Never Left, but I Did

One of the most difficult things since getting home from Haiti, exactly one week ago, is trying to hold onto that feeling I had when I was there.  This week has been a battle to hold onto the reality of what happened in Haiti, to not lose sight of what God did in me, and in that orphanage, and often it’s felt like a losing battle.

I was surrounded by poverty to such a degree I’d never seen before and yet God had never seemed so present.  I swear there were moments I would be sitting on the roof of the orphanage watching the children get ready for the day or play with their friends and I’d see Jesus walking among them with a smile.  The sun would reach over the horizon in this golden burst of light that spread across mountains and swept into valleys, crawling along the rocky ground of the orphanage and greeting the children with warmth much like an embrace.  How could a God so glorious not intend for such a breathtaking sunrise to be anything less than his smile and loving touch?  When my little shadow, whom I’ll call Pierre for the sake of protecting his privacy, clung to my side gently squeezing the soft back of my arm for comfort, when he smiled up at me and said, “I love you!” with such conviction it nearly broke my heart… God was there.  When seventeen women can share one bedroom and one bathroom without a single complaint for an entire week, in fact smile and laugh about the bucket showers and single toilet, when a young girl I know has been raped and abused and is only seven years old, reaches for the hand of one of my brothers in the faith, God was there.  How could I experience such a journey and not see the face of God?

I’ve been home for a week and I’m inundated with the distractions that accompany a young American woman.  College classes, a job that runs from 24 to 48 hours a week, the responsibility of marketing a book I recently published, going to church three days a week and meeting with people to encourage and spur one another on in d-groups and bible studies two days a week, babysitting children, pressures of media and society to be a certain way, family, somehow shoving in time for a run or at least a long walk… and in all of it there must be Facebook, a cellphone, Twitter, blogging, and, oh yeah, I have a cat to take care of.  In the midst of it all, I long for those truly quiet moments in God’s presence.  Sitting on a rooftop listening to the roosters crow, the turkeys gobble, children laugh, wind rush through the bushes, and the pages of my Bible flip in the breeze… my only concern being to love these children and teach them English was easy.  Being surrounded by disciples who had the same focus made God seem within arms reach.  Being back home at my desk, my computer beckoning me to get back to my homework, my calendar reminding me I have the next six days ahead of me at work, my ministry struggling to have the heart they once had that was so full of love for God after a very difficult year of loss and pain, and my fridge telling me it’s long past due to go grocery shopping… I long for the closeness I felt with God in that orphanage. 

I will go back to Haiti next year, but I refuse to wait for that day in order to feel how I did eight days ago.  I will continue my habit of praying every morning and evening, I will dig into the Word and beg God for insight and to draw nearer to Him, and I will strive to love those around me with the same urgency I had to love those orphans.  Because in all reality, when it comes to spirituality people in America are no different than those orphans in Haiti.  The orphans are actually better off, because they don't have a million distractions preventing them from seeing their need.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The little children came

It’s difficult to believe I was in Haiti less than a week ago.  All too easily I’ve transitioned back into the rich American life.  As much as I love waking up to my cat snuggling with me, I miss being woken up by the sound of 90 Haitian orphans getting ready for the day.  I fell in love with those children.  They were victim to some of the most tragic experiences a human could possibly survive.  These children lost entire families in the January 2010 earthquake.  Some parents simply could no longer afford to take care of their children because of the desperate economy where most people make $1 a day and therefore had to sell their children into a wealthier family where the children worked for their education and a meal.  In most cases, however, the wealthier family was abusive and cruel, which led to the child running away and becoming a street kid before landing in the orphanage.  Despite these circumstances, the smiles on these children’s faces left me awestruck.  How could children who’ve endured so much pain, still have so much love to give?  How could they give it so freely to strangers who ride up on a giant truck singing camp songs about Tarzan at the top of their lungs?

I came to love and serve these children, but when I arrived I discovered this was even more difficult than I thought it’d be, even after becoming more comfortable with my brothers and sisters.  I confessed my insecurities and through consistent prayer, encouragement and a challenge from a brother who helped me see myself the way God see’s me, I discovered I’d forgotten a key element in my relationship with God: honesty.  I experienced a similar abuse these young girls endured and had never allowed myself the freedom of feeling the anger, resentment, and disappointment I felt toward God for allowing it to happen.  I jumped strait to the logic of accepting that he had a plan and would work it all out for my good (Romans 8:28).  Some daughters will yell, “I hate you” to their father and a good dad will come right back and love them anyway.  I never gave God the chance.  That unwillingness to share made it impossible for me to fully experience the realm of God’s unconditional love, and if I couldn’t experience it I certainly couldn’t share it with these orphans.  So I sat on the rooftop of the orphanage with my sister and I finally confessed my hurt, rage and displeasure to God through prayer.  Not just my anger about the circumstances, but my anger toward the God who allowed them to take place.  I said things I didn’t realize I needed to say.  “Sometimes I want to throw rocks at you; I hate that this is part of your love; how cruel do you have to be to just sit there and watch?”  I finished by telling him that though I didn’t understand and didn’t particularly care for him at that moment, I would trust in His Word because I know full well that apart from it there is no life to be lived. 

Once I uttered the words, “Amen,” there was no miraculous healing, no sudden change of heart.  I felt pain, sadness, detachment, but a certain acceptance I hadn’t anticipated.  When I woke the next morning, there was peace that surpassed my understanding.  I wasn’t able to love every child with that unconditional heart, but God blessed me with one boy who continued to seek me out and soon began calling me “maman,” which is a Creole term of endearment for “mother.”  I thought of the woman who grabbed Jesus’ cloak in Matthew 9 and instantaneously she was healed.  Jesus turned to her and said, “Take heart, daughter.  Your faith has made you well.”  I had to have faith in God’s word when he says, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15) otherwise I would’ve never said the things I said.  By being honest and opening my heart I began to experience a deeper relationship with my heavenly Father than I thought I was capable of experiencing.  And that was only the beginning.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I asked and it was given...

I have been transformed by my trip to Haiti. 

As I reflect on my trip, I’m awestruck by the way God led me to Haiti.  I prayed He’d help me to draw nearer to Him, to see myself through His eyes, and then prayed to see Him as He is rather than how I perceive him to be.  A trip to San Antonio, Texas for a three-day conference opened my eyes to this trip to Haiti where I would be challenged to teach orphans English.  I didn’t realize that by filling out those application forms I was actually responding to an invitation from God to join Him on a journey that would answer the prayers I’d been praying, and more. 

Upon arriving in Haiti I was automatically overwhelmed and doubtful of my decision to come.  I didn’t know a soul and I was the only person representing the Pacific Northwest.  The majority of the 65 volunteers were from east coast churches.  There were a few from Chicago and Los Angeles, one from London and one from Sweden.  I was the youngest person on the trip, a ripe 23 years old, and the second youngest spiritually at only 19 months old.  I hated how insecure I felt around everyone.  I hid behind my camera and took pictures of everything I saw, trying to mold into the wall of the bus and then into the scenery of the village of Croix des Bouquet where we were staying overnight.  One of my sisters, who’s been to Haiti four times to serve orphans with HOPE worldwide and serve as a nurse with another organization shortly after the 2010 earthquake, she made an effort to get to know me and I ended up confessing my insecurity.  It wasn’t the country that overwhelmed me; the country was beautiful, the people were beautiful, and the entire situation was tragic.  I was fascinated.  But the mission itself and the maturity of the disciples in age and spirituality intimidated me.  Could I serve?  Do they think I’m too young?  Would I hold everyone back or make things more difficult?  Had I made a mistake by coming?  Sunday morning in church I was miserable.  I faked it well enough on the outside, singing with people on the bus, smiling when something funny was said, trying to get to know people who first made an effort to get to know me – though the conversation was as uncomfortable as chewing nails.  

When I sat among Haitian disciples who spoke nothing but Creole, of which I didn’t understand a word, I finally just closed my eyes in prayer and begged God to change my heart.  I tried forcing joy, I tried to just tough it out until I “got over” whatever it was that was making me so insecure and I couldn’t.  I was there, and I wanted to have fun and I wanted to make the most of the trip.  I asked God to change my heart (Matthew 7:7) so that I could be joyful about being in Haiti, be eager to get to know my brothers and sisters, and be a joy to be around instead of being the sourpuss I know my attitude was projecting.  I wanted to be near to him and with that attitude I felt very far away so my prayer was the only way I knew how to step toward him (James 4:8).  When that service ended, I experienced the first immediate answer to one of my prayers.  I no longer felt bitter and resentful and frustrated and insecure.  I could stand in a crowd of disciples, American or Haitian, and be at ease, even eager to be around my family.  I was amazed to feel the dynamic changing in the group because of the shift in my heart and because I simply asked God for help.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Headed to Haiti

It’s 11:04pm Pacific Standard Time and I’m currently halfway across the country headed for Miami.  Eastern Standard Time it’s a little after 1am and between the dimly lit plane and the stead thrum of air rushing by the window at 37,000 feet I’m struggling to keep my eyes open.  I have a final term paper due on Sunday and less than nine hours to finish writing it and submit it.  Somewhere in that nine hours I need to sleep, because after those nine hours I’ll be in the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti having started work with HOPE worldwide Singles Corps.

It’s been less than 12 weeks since I was first convicted to travel to Haiti to serve with HOPE.  I fasted, I prayed on the 32-hour drive from San Antonio back to Spokane, and God’s answer was, “go.”  I didn’t have the money – in fact I was almost finally out of debt.  I made just enough money each month to go to school full time and pay my bills.  I had food in the fridge and enough cash in my pocket for a cup of coffee should I want one, but I believed myself to be rich compared to many who were swimming in thousands of dollars in student loans.  I don’t know how I was going to come up with the money to go to Haiti but I knew that if God wanted me to go, God would provide a way to get me there.  I wrote a blog and created a paypal account that generated a total of zero dollars – yahoo!  I spoke to my family and friends and wrote on my church Facebook page and asked if anyone was willing to donate money or help me raise money by doing just about any chore they needed done around the house to let me know.  The generosity of my mother and my family within the church, who helped me raise this money, was astounding.  I raised more than the amount I had intended to raise and what money was left over went toward luggage fees, food for the trip that isn’t covered by the program I’m going with, and went right back to the church in tithe.

I woke at 5:30am this morning with a fist of anxiety in my chest.  The day had come to “go” as God had told me to months back.  I hugged my pillow and just soaked up the feeling of lying on a mattress, my mattress, under a warm comforter.  For the next week I would likely be sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag.  I thought about the children I’d come into contact with and how there wouldn’t be any getting away from it.  No fancy hotel room to escape to after spending all day in the same devastation and pain these people live in day after day.  I would be in it, just like them, for a week.  I have no doubt I’m going to take full advantage of my freedom to love up on all of these kids, but my big heart, that wants so badly to fix what’s broken, is going to ache at the sight of so much pain that can’t be healed in the week I’m there.  I believe that will be my challenge on this journey.  To love with my whole heart and not try to fix anything.  To pour myself out like a drink offering without trying to do all the miracles Jesus did, and, like Jesus, go to desolate places to pray and be filled once again; then repeat, every day.

I’m not sure how this will work out, but I have complete confidence in the prayers I know my church family are praying for me, and I trust in my God who led me to this point.  My heart is open, my spirit willing, and though my flesh is weak I have a plan to overcome the weakness and grow a stronger faith.  As anxious as I am about all of the uncertainties, I can’t wait to learn.