Where Am I Going?

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So often we are “doing life” and  we fail to ask the  question “where am I going?” We are caught up in our schedules,  families, appointments and even the out of the ordinary vacations, trips, and excursions but aren’t even those pretty much planned?

I remember one time my husband giving me a  book called  Silence and Solitude. If you know me, you are probably laughing like I did when he tried to nicely tell me to stop talking and start listening. Not one of my better qualities to say the least.  I obviously did not read it and have continued to talk, reason and problem solve and have failed to do much internal, God directed listening.  I sometimes stop long enough to hear God whispers but I hear my own  voice way more than I hear His….

At the time I am writing this, I am sitting on the path where I took this picture. Quiet and peaceful…..giving me the time to think. Where am I  and where am I going in life? We need to ask ourselves these questions or we get stuck in those routines and schedules and miss God completely.

Change is hard for me. I like predictability, especially for the sake of my family. It was not something I had so I seek it out like it is always the answer…..but what if it isn’t?  What if it is simply fear that keeps me from seeking change? Or selfishness? Or holding the people I love too tightly?

I fear regret most of all. Change opens me up to the possibility that I could make a mistake, but somehow I don’t see the possibility that not embracing something different might lead to deeper regret.

As I sit in the woods and ask myself these questions, I am praying that you will also take the alone time to seek God’s direction for you. When we get overwhelmed with schedules and everybody else’s needs we lose ourselves and I think that is God’s call for us to sit in silence and reflect. In those precious moments, God will meet us there.

Post Haiti Thoughts: People are Not Projects

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Every time I am in the Ft. Lauderdale or Port au Prince airport, I see a flood of short term mission groups with matching Tshirts. Yes, we have them too because quite honestly, it is the easiest way to keep track of people. But what people will print on their Tshirts baffles me. I can usually filter out the “Bringing Hope to Haiti” and “Jesus is the Answer for Haiti” but yesterday I was stopped in my tracks. I literally came to a halt in the flow of airport traffic of people hustling and bustling and could not move. A lady was sporting a hot pink Tshirt that adorned the words “Heaven’s Helpers 4 Haiti.” WOW.

I need to back up a little here before you think I am hating on the “missionaries.” I am sure that sounds very cute and sweet that she felt she was dropped from heaven to work with the poor people but I want to look at it from the perspective of a Haitian.

First, many Haitians in the city who have gone to high school can read English. They know enough to put  it all together and realize that Haiti has a problem and the person who is wearing the Tshirt has the solution. When did we become so arrogant that we think we even know what the problem in Haiti is in the first place? After 6 years and about 20 trips to Haiti, I don’t know what the problems are and I KNOW for sure that I am not the answer.

Haitians in the village where we work know way more about Jesus and worship than I will ever comprehend. They bring the hope of Jesus to me with their steadfast faith and unrelenting worship. I would never, ever presume that when I am there I am bringing more of Jesus than they already have. If I do offer something of value, GREAT. God had a purpose but not because I have any idea what it means to depend on Him for the rain for my crops so my family can eat or a raging fever to break when there is no doctor or medicine. That kind of perseverance I know nothing about. My Tshirt would read “Thank you, Haiti, for showing me your BIG faith. I now know mine is very small.” Period.

I wonder how Americans would feel if troops of bandana wearing, hair braided, boot sporting Haitians got off the plane wearing shirts that said “Heaven’s Helpers 4 America.” What would be your first reaction? Would you think how arrogant it sounded that Haitians would have any idea where to start to help America? I would.

Short term mission trips are very controversial in fact. There is a growing trend of Americans paying large amounts of money to fly into poor areas and do work that honestly, the locals could easily do themselves. Many of those trips are planned where the group stays in a hotel with running water, electricity, Wifi, hot meals, etc. while the area where they are serving have none of the above. Many organizations include excursions, shopping trips, and extravagant meals so that people will be enticed to come. I have to ask if these trips are really helping anyone. Is the country where they are serving different because the group came and did the group really sacrifice to come besides maybe giving up a little vacay time?

Our organization is in fact asking these very pertinent questions. We don’t have any luxuries and the ride/walk to our village is brutal, but we are pondering if Haiti is changed by our visits. No conclusions yet but we need to continue to ask ourselves if short term mission trips are producing long term change in the country where we serve and in the country in which we live because of what we are doing.

When we first started working in Chauffard, Haiti no one who lived there trusted Americans so we were in for a long road of building bridges with them. We were told by the leaders in the community that Haitians were jaded because most of the time foreigners came in, started a project, went back to their first world problems, and never returned.  The people in the country felt they were projects and when the trip was over so was the help. Haiti is full of half built structures that foreigners never completed because life got in the way.

I think the answer to some (not all) of these problems is that our work needs to be LONG TERM and RELATIONAL. Poor people can paint a building and swing a hammer way better than you and I can. It is insulting that we come in and start fixing things that, with the resources provided, they could do themselves and in turn have dignity and  ownership in their community.  Every single time we have made a plan for clean water, buildings, etc. the Haitians have shown us a better, more effective way to go about it than any of us “professionals” have found. We should find ourselves humbled by the locals’ ingenuity and resourcefulness. We have learned this lesson the hard way.  When we come in and do the work as the “Savior foreigners,” they sit and watch us waste resources and do things inefficiently and inside they begin to resent us. Why? Because we never even asked them how to do what they know in their own country. How sad.

When we go on a trip to a third world country, we need to come home CHANGED. The work when we get home is ever present. Local opportunities to serve are everywhere and contributing to a global organization for education, clean water, and basic necessities is a command God gives us that we cannot ignore. I have to say that I see this kind of external change in people very rarely. They often return to the lives they had before they left and have a few cute Facebook posts and photos but evident life change is a rarity.

My friend from Togo, West Africa came to Haiti with me for 11 days. She said that when missionaries came to her village when she was a little girl and stared at them in their bare feet and filthy clothes, they were ashamed. They felt like a project because the people would see their poverty and begin to hand out “stuff” without knowing anything about them except that they were poor.

When we get to know our friends in poor countries, hear their stories, and offer them our shoes, we are giving because we love. Not because we pity.  How we offer things to people needs to be done in a way that empowers people. Our organization gives backpacks to students who have earned them- so they feel proud to have received something, not ashamed that because they had nothing, we had to come in and “save” them.

We are called to love because He first loved us. Jesus never made us a project. He laid down His life for us and said it was finished. Let’s love like that.

Teaching Our Children to Redefine Success

Children have developed a very narrow view of success and we, as parents, are responsible for it. Most of the time our children think if they are the star athlete, the top of the class, and the first chair in the orchestra then they have achieved success……but what if we have sold them short in how we have defined it? What if it is bigger than that? What if our definition is producing kids who don’t know how to celebrate accomplishment when it looks different than theirs? I think this is an epidemic in our society.

As parents, we want to make sure that our kids are at the top, while we neglect to acknowledge the miracles happening all around us. Our kids know it too. They know we expect close to perfection and often pressure them as much for our own sense of accomplishment as theirs.  They are blind to the world around them because pulling off the high standards of achievement takes all the energy they have. This idea has troubled me for a long time.

So….years ago I decided to take action.  I was determined to expose my kids to others whose definition of “success” was different than theirs.

When I was open to the idea, opportunities just started to come. Cooper joined reading buddies at his school and every time his buddy reached an AR goal, we celebrated- Easter egg hunts, lots of cheeseburgers, and the finale- safety patrol for the day with the bonus of donuts. He learned that his buddy’s accomplishments of going from a pink dot AR book to a light blue dot was worthy of a party.

 

IMG_1928IMG_1678IMG_1769We also started throwing parties for AR goals met in the classes where they did not have an overflow of eager, available homeroom moms. We CELEBRATED! We partied Ellis style with food, games, and balloons (thank you, bestie Shelly Gerber).

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See, we get stuck in our little worlds, our little classrooms, our little neighborhoods, and our little families. We see our children and maybe their classmates, carpooling, soccer, and baseball friends. But do we really SEE the rest of the population? How can our children see them if we don’t?  Have we taught our children to celebrate others’ successes or just their own?

These ideas came to a pinnacle the week before school was out this year. The week was crammed with so many events- fifth grade banquet, awards, parties, etc. and honestly, I was growing weary the first day of the week because of all the planning that had already happened. So the second to the last day, I was dragging myself through the parking lot- camera and snacks in tow. I was dealing with the sadness of my youngest leaving elementary school and going to  middle school and I was in the midst of a little pity party as I said good-bye to this sweet school I loved so much.

As I pulled myself together, I ran into a precious friend. She was beaming. Glowing. My mind was reeling. What had happened? What could possibly bring that much excitement?? Then she starts talking, a million miles an hour. She said, “I just left the awards ceremony for Audrey! She got the 50 point club for AR! She got perfect attendance! SHE GOT ALL E’s FOR CITIZENSHIP!!!!” In that moment, my heart celebrated right along with my friend because I knew that her daughter’s successes were HUGE! As I walked away, my spirit was full. My joy was complete. Audrey had succeeded.

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The next day was 5th grade awards and my son and all his STEM friends would inevitably rack up the certificates and trophies. I knew going into it that there would be the 500 AR point club, PE student of the year, and even 2 community college scholarships for deserving students. Amazing awards and proud moments. My son was even to win the principal’s award and give a speech to the class and parents.  This was one glowing mama!

I was taking pictures of all the students and about ten minutes into the ceremony, the guidance counselor said to me, “You might want to get ready for the next one.” Not knowing what she was alluding to, I moved in close for the picture. Little did I know that his moment would make me completely undone.

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One of the precious students whose successes we had celebrated for all those years  was getting Most Improved Student of the 5th grade. I could barely hold my camera. I was not just crying, I was weeping.  I saw his teachers beaming with pride, jumping to their feet with applause. I could imagine in this moment my son thinking that this could get embarrassing, as I hooped and hollered like a crazy woman. He was a HERO. MY HERO. HIS TEACHERS’ HERO. The WORLD’S HERO. Why? Because he had overcome the obstacles and won. Simple as that.

What are our children missing when they do not get the opportunity to celebrate with the overcomers of this world?  They are not afforded the privilege to see someone whose success is different than theirs and just as significant. This is how children learn to be givers. This is how they learn to have compassion. They don’t learn it in their gifted classrooms and their all-star sports teams. They learn it in the classrooms where 10 AR points, not 100,  are worth a cheeseburger party and where perfect attendance is worthy of celebrating.