the time is now…..

 

The past few days have brought this strange numbness….like I don’t fit wherever I am.  Partially because I never do but it seems more intense lately. Finally I was reminded yesterday that I am in the “between first and third world” transition phase as I am leaving for Haiti in a few days. One would think I would sense when this is coming on because I have been doing this for almost 10 years but it always seems to creep up on me.

I was unloading the dishwasher and my RaceTrac cup caught my eye. I literally looked at it and said in my head, “I will miss you, RaceTrac cup.” WTH???  As I prepare to leave I subconsciously say good bye to ice and air conditioning and it takes me a little while to wean myself from all the conveniences. I am human too. I am not beyond getting my panties in a  wad when I have to clean out my bowl in the bunkhouse in Haiti with a paper towel and hand sanitizer for the hundredth time because water is too important to waste on such things.  I don’t count the days to no shower,  sweat to the point I carry a washcloth with me so my glasses don’t slide down my nose (don’t judge), and sliding on muddy rocks in a long skirt and cursing my “hiking boots” because they aren’t doing a dang thing for me in the middle of a downpour on top of a slippery foot path.  Crackers and canned chicken are not my faves (although Chick-fil-A sauce does wonders for most foods) and I also miss my comfortable car, legitimate roads, and my washing machine. But not enough to stay home. Never enough to stay home.

We are a society of comfort and conveniences. We thrive off quick and easy. But what about the rest of the world? The world where clean water is nonexistent and a pair of shoes is a luxury.

 

I know when we started to go to Haiti there was this lingering question in the minds of the people in the village which was very simple…..”WHY would she leave her comfort to come here?”  At first I had to figure that question out for myself. I wanted to be there for the right reasons and a motivation that is not centered around some philanthropic do-gooder mentality.  And here is my conclusion…..I go because I am called. We are ALL called to somewhere other than our own families and our own little circles. The other reason is a bit selfish but it is because the people in Haiti have something extraordinary that I lack and I just want to be around them because  of it.

Constantly people say to me, “We forget how blessed we are in America” and I always have this uneasy feeling like there was something inherently wrong with that statement. Yes we have drive thrus and electricity. We have faucets and milk in the fridge. But we also have meth and porn. We live very isolated lives from those around us because we need to keep up with the materialistic world we live in. We have free schools yet  most don’t appreciate them anyway. We have a lot of stuff but we remain unsettled most of the time because there is always something more to be attained or accomplished. We know a lot of people but often feel disconnected because of our busyness and  our own selfishness.

And then there is entitlement.  The feeling so many have that the government owes them something. Government assistance should lead to gratitude and humility but most of the time it only breeds dependence and arrogance.  Something needs to change here is the USA. We are not as “blessed” as we want to think we are. There is a huge need for change in our country.  Addiction, crime and sexual exploitation are taking over and most of us don’t even know it is happening.

Being “blessed” to me is doing life with people I love who have learned the value of hard work under the worst conditions. It means spending time together under an avocado tree talking about education and the need for rain so the crops will grow. It means watching children come to school after a 2 hour walk with no mud on their shoes and no victim mentality in their step.  Those are the moments that most bless me. I can deal with frizzy hair and unending mud all day long to get a piece of that.

What keeps us from answering the call? Fear. Comfort. Denial.

The time is now. We have so many opportunities all around us to be avenues of change but it does not happen in our sheltered little worlds and our consumer driven families.  It happens when we put the conveniences aside and embrace the uncomfortable…..what is gained is always greater in those times than what is lost. Relationships win over Netflix and Keurigs.

We were created to be in community. And not our mono ethnic cliques or hobby driven circles.  But the kind of community that stretches us. Makes us wrestle with our prejudices and our self seeking motives. Doing life with people who don’t make us look good to other people and who won’t feed into our egos.

Go answer the call.  Give til you have nothing left. You will come alive.

 

Reflections on Poverty

I feel like I am full of WHYS. The kind that touch the deepest part of my soul. The questions that make me cry out to God- wailing, protesting, begging for answers. If I didn’t admit that I ask them I think it makes me a fraud. How could I not? Maybe the most spiritual person would just accept what does not seem fair and just but I really think that person is just someone who is scared to ask. Scared to be undone because it might require action.

I just left a mountain in Haiti that has no electricity or running water. Disease takes most before the age of 55. Babies have no diapers and women have no sanitary products. Most cannot read. Many are left limping from strokes.  Children walk up to 3 hours to get to school. This short list hardly covers it…. And I came down the mountain before we fly home to stay in the comfortable hotel in the city with delicious nachos, live music at night and air conditioning. I cannot help but ask why I am here and they are there.

So I started writing this blog about 30 minutes ago and got so overwhelmed with the subject that I went to Facebook to distract myself.  A post by Danielle Strickland- one of the heroes of the faith in my opinion-came across my feed and here is what she posted:

WOW. OK…..there is my answer. I can’t add anything to that.

He gave so many of us resources…. and we spend. We hoard. We overindulge. We spoil our kids to make up for not being the parents we should be. We numb ourselves with spending. We sell our souls for the American dollar. Meanwhile, poverty and illiteracy are rampant.

A 25 year old who is like a son told me yesterday that sometimes the hunger is so unbearable that he cries in pain. I have never in my life felt that.

I watch children cling to the cherished pencil and sheet of paper that they bring back and forth to school everyday. I have never known a life without drawers full of paper and pencils.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I watched a little girl gulp down water yesterday like she had never seen it before. I have never known a world without faucets, bottles on shelves, and fountains everywhere.

I watched a father carrying his twins on his shoulders for miles while the 2 year old hiked by herself. I have never known a life without fancy strollers, swings, cribs, slings, and bouncy seats.

Hundreds of people in a remote village in Haiti lost their crops after a horrific hurricane last year. I have no idea what it is like to watch my livelihood get washed away by a storm and have no other way to provide for my family.

A 14 year old lives with his uncle because his parents both died. Before his mom died she owed a debt. The people to whom she owed the money said the debt would be cleared if she gave them the boy. The uncle refused and has been paying the debt for years to keep his nephew safe. He had a stroke and arthritis from an injury from the earthquake but will not stop caring for his nephew. With nothing to eat and hardly a roof over their heads, he honors his commitment to raise this precious boy. In return, the boy works the farm any moment he is not in school because he feels so indebted to his uncle. I will just leave that one right there because it is so hard to comprehend.

3 and 4 year olds know how to work. They carry water, wash clothes,  and haul carrots and green onions on their heads for miles to help the family. They feed the animals before they trek to school. When my children were 3 and 4 they played with cars and dressed up like Buzz Lightyear. They never knew a day of work in their little lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some children cherish a plastic car or a lollipop like they had never seen one before. Because they haven’t. If those were given out on an American playground they would not be given a second thought. I have no idea what it would feel like to have a 10 cent toy make me squeal with joy.

Few people in Haiti have Bibles and when they do they are often worn and falling apart. I have never known a life without a Bible on every shelf and access to a free one everywhere I go.

 

Many children do not start school when they are young because they are needed at home to help the family. Or they start school and have to quit when a parent dies or becomes ill. Some start at 14 or 15 in our preschool class. I will never know an existence where my contribution as a 5 year old is what helps keep my family alive.

So what do I do with that?
I do something.

I can’t tell you what your something is. But the call is not for the super brave and those who have open schedules. It is not for the just the young or just the old. It is for all of us. It is for us when it is inconvenient and it is for us when it’s uncomfortable. We don’t get to sit in our insulated houses and assume someone else will do it. If we believe the Bible to be true than it is a call to us. I don’t have to throw Scripture out to convince you that this is true. You know the verses. You have read them, studied them, talked about them at Bible study…..but is that where it ended?

There are millions of people getting it more right than I am. Ask Kayla, who just went with me to Haiti, and she will tell you I am a hot mess. I slip and slide on the mountain rocks, get my Creole wrong constantly, have lots of not-so-Jesus-like moments, and never can find what I need at that moment. So God certainly does not call the qualified. He uses those of us who know what it is like to be broken and humbled by our unbelief and our insecurities.

For the longest time I worried about what the people in the village thought of me…..maybe it was rich American, white lady, or worse- maybe they gave me some undeserved fancy title. I did not ask til about 6 months ago because I was afraid of what I would find out. Finally I asked. And here is what I was told…..they call me “good mama.” When I found this out, I wept. I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Moms listen and act when they need to. Good moms don’t dominate, they love. They know their children because they pay attention.

Yesterday, as we were leaving the village, an elderly lady came up to me and in Creole said, “You are my mom.” All I could say was “Mesi.” Thank you. My heart was full. I knew my place. As Bob Goff says, God just wants us to go be secretly incredible. We don’t need flashy t-shirts proclaiming that Haiti has a problem and we have an answer. Many organizations who work in poverty are more of the problem than the solution. I have been part of the problem with some decisions I have made and was humbled by my mistakes and have committed to seek humility to serve in a way that empowers people and does not seek to fill my good-deed tank.

I hope you find your “something.” And I hope it lights you up. Brings you life. And that you let it change you from the inside out. Take the risk. Put yourself out there.

Ou dwe brave. Be brave.

Darkness cannot destroy me….

I wanted to get a tattoo that said “WARRIOR” but I decided that it might seem a little too Gladiator or  Braveheart which was NOT what I was going for. In fact, my husband would testify that those are the best movies ever and I would safely say they are awful.

When it comes down to it, here is what I am working with:

I get angry.  I am determined. I am not content to sit and watch the darkness creep in.

I have a creed I live by that goes something like this:

I will fight with those who are in the battle of overcoming. I will walk with those committed to the cause of finding their own freedom. I will not engage with people who want me to work harder at their lives than they do.

If we love by those standards the expectations are set and it simplifies life greatly.

I think of darkness in this way. You know that early morning fog that comes on you while you are driving on the interstate? At first it seems manageable but suddenly you realize you cannot see just feet in front of you? By the time you are in it that deep you don’t know what cars are around you and how long it will be before you get out of it because you are blinded by the fog.  You don’t know how you got there and you aren’t sure how long you will be stuck in it. That is how I see darkness.

When we walk in the light we can easily avoid dealing with the darkness most of the time. We can numb the reality of our own brokenness. We can shop, drink too much, watch tv, scroll through Facebook and never once think about our “stuff.” I know because I do it  too.

How can we give what we don’t have?

So if we are virtually unaware of our own issues of greed, selfishness, pride, lack of faith….we cannot possibly be available for anyone else in their time of need. Think about it- when you are going through something, do you call the person who lives in their own little box- insulated and protected with little insight? Of course not. You call the one who will get real and enter into that pain with you. I am not saying it is easy to do. It is so hard. It is exhausting. It is an opportunity to die to self which is almost impossible for us sometimes. But we are called to push through and dig deep and step into the pain alongside someone else.

I know how difficult it is. Last October I went to Haiti a week after the devastating hurricane. Crops and homes were completely destroyed. People were desperate for shelter and food. I was only there a brief time but what I saw changed me. I came home discouraged, undone. I went into a numb phase that I am barely pulling out of. I remember seeing my friend Courtney right after I got back and she told me she would pray that I could do the next thing.  At that point I was not even sure what that was. It took me a while to figure it out. I decided I did not want to go back to Haiti and have to face that kind of loss ever again. But I leave in a  few days and will have to face my fear of what I will see and how guilty I will feel that we have not done more. Everything in me says run and God says go. So it is a done deal.

When we say YES to God and  reach out to love people well, we make ourselves vulnerable….and then the potential to get hurt is pretty high. Ok let’s face it- pain is inevitable. We get our feelings hurt, we are misunderstood, and we are rejected. That is just reality. So who in their right mind would continue to try? It seems almost crazy to keep going back into the hurt and opening ourselves  up. But….there is a reason. And it’s an amazing reason. It is called fulfilling our PURPOSE. And it will make us come alive.

The “me” a few years ago would have taken about 5 seconds of being misunderstood and tapped out. Run as far away as possible and then be too hurt to put myself back out there.

The “me” now has a totally different understanding. I know without question that I do not serve man. If I did I would be crushed. Done. And the wall around my heart would get thicker and if anyone tried to look in to find me they would see me curled up in the corner. Meanwhile, I would justify why I got that way and begin to insulate my life more and more because that is what people in pain do- they run from anything else that will hurt them.

At least once a day someone asks me WHAT I do or WHY I do it. It really is simple. It is what the Bible calls us to do.
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” Proverbs 19:17

It is not my job to fix anything. God just says to show up and He is sufficient.

We recently took someone into our home, converted my office into a bedroom, threw a baby shower and made her a part of our family. After some time, she began to heap accusations on me that could not even possibly be true and the end of that arrangement came. How did I deal with that? People ask me all the time.  It is  like when Jesus hung on the cross and pronounced “It is finished.” We have to know with our boundaries in place when our role is finished and be ok with it. We cannot carry another person’s brokenness and when it gets to that point we have to lay it down. We can walk with them but  we cannot protect them from the demons that haunt them and their unwillingness to go deep and battle them.

I remind myself that I am not in the business of transforming people and change takes time.

We all want the story of the stripper who loves Jesus and never struggles again or the student who lives in poverty in the third world and makes it to law school. The reality is that those changes come over time, the obstacles are enormous, and learning an entirely new way of life is never easy.

I have watched women struggle and often return to their old ways. Back to the abusive boyfriends and back to the drugs.

I have watched children in Haiti excel in school one year and fail the next. I have seen healthy people get deathly ill with no explanation. I have seen parents pull their teenaged boys out of school to work the farm and we lose them forever.

Most people ask, “Isn’t that discouraging?” and the answer is a resounding YES but it is not an opportunity to quit. See….I am a fighter. A scrapper. I am not ok with injustice and I can’t tolerate people being victimized. I cannot sit and watch darkness take over even the smallest amount of light. The Jesus I serve calls me to be brave. In Creole it is Ou dwe brave- be brave. I live by those words.

In Matthew 25, God talks about the sheep and the goats. All week I have been telling God, “I don’t to be a goat!” This is what Jesus says to the goats (those who did not give to those in need):

“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.’

YIKES!!

So here is the good news…..

There is hope! The Ashleys, the Ambers, the Veronicas. The Willems, the Vilias, the Jelins. God working in the moments when no one is looking. God providing when it all seems hopeless.  The decision to go to school in Haiti when they have not eaten for a day or two. The choice to not darken the door of a strip club and allow men to be abusive to make a few bucks.

As long as there is darkness, we will be called to it.

John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

We have the light. Light in a lit room is not needed.  Face your own brokenness. Dig deep.  You will come alive. And God will give you opportunities to love people and you will never be the same.

 

The Plate, the Healing and the Peace

The home in Willow, NY has been in my paternal family for 5 generations. Five. 5. Yes, five. Since I was a little girl it has been a place of memories, respite, and family connection. I remember throughout my childhood watching my grandmother cooking at the stove wearing her pearl earrings, Lily skirt and apron and thinking I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She was sophisticated and warm, not conceited and stuffy. I loved her parties and outings and of course her dinners on the warmed Blue Willow plates. The plates from England that proudly displayed the willow tree which symbolized for us the home in Willow, NY.

So many memories….I can go back in time and immediately feel like I am sitting there  eating grapefruit halves with the little spoons with the sharp edges and watching my grandfather section out each piece and eat it with his toast and marmalade jelly.  They were the only ones on my father’s side of the family who made me feel safe. Loved. Protected.When they died I lost a really important connection.  My father and I had never been close and my memories were less than favorable  but I tried to have some kind of a relationship with him over the years.  Kenny (my husband) and I started going to Willow when we were newlyweds and  continued to visit during the the summers.  We enjoyed so many walks along the creek and drives through the Catskill Mountains. Fresh mountain air. A home full of heritage and a place that connected me to my grandparents and those before them.

As our children were growing up, they all made memories in Willow as well. Tubing, catching snakes, playing in the field, planting flowers….it was their favorite place to go every summer. Throughout elementary school our 2 older children wrote essays and papers about Willow any time they could  fit it into a writing prompt. My oldest son wrote a heart filled paper in high school about his summer memories that brought his teacher to tears. To them it was the most amazing place on earth.

My father never really interacted with us on these trips and when he did he was often condescending and lashed out but for the sake of the good memories, I tried to smooth things over and ignore the harshness.

One trip years ago I could no longer overlook how he treated us and there was a painful discussion where he looked at me and said, “I don’t even feel like you are my daughter.”  I fell on the ground into the fetal position and have very few memories of that night except getting up and running down a dark road sobbing while my husband ran behind me.

The next day we left the house where we had put down deep roots and never went back. I fell into a deep depression after that trip and began intensive counseling. I had so much healing to do. So much baggage and brokenness. At times I felt the pain would never go away….that it would fester inside me forever. But with a lot of prayer and counsel,  the darkness began to lift and a slow process of mending began. It finally started to feel less like a life sentence and more like a part of my story that was making me stronger, braver, and more compassionate toward other people.

Fast forward to 3 months ago….. I was at a yard sale and a man was selling the same Blue Willow plates I remembered from all those summers ago. The price was right and I bought them. I put them on a shelf in the garage and glanced at them occasionally and usually was flooded with feelings of heartbreak and loss. I could not even bring them in the house because of the painful reminder of the fractured family tree. Even though I had healed a lot, the wounds had left scars and they had left lingering pain.

A few weeks ago I finally picked one of the plates off the shelf as I was headed to Madison for a Light Breaks Through conference. I decided to use one for a demonstration. I honestly wasn’t entirely sure how I would work it in to my talk but my friend had suggested  that I could make the plates into a mosaic so it had me thinking about the mosaic of our lives. While I was speaking at the conference  about the pain and loss I had experienced, I threw the plate down and watched it shatter into many pieces. There was a kind of freedom watching the plate break- as it represented so much hurt and a letting go of what once was.


…our lives may have shattered pieces but when put together they can make the most beautiful mosaic. The pieces will still be broken and the edges sharp. They can never be made back into the original piece but they can be arranged into something that is uniquely stunning.

So when I got home from the conference I took those broken pieces and made my first mosaic. Pieces of the plate, glass beads and grout and a wonderful friend to guide me through the process.  I could feel God healing me from the inside out. I just prayed that I could make peace with the pieces. Could be ok with the reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few days later I picked up my mosaic from my friend and I was so proud! I sat it in the kitchen and  before I knew it  I had knocked it over and it broke into even more pieces all over the floor. The broken pieces of the mosaic were broken still. WHAT? The look on my husband’s face when it happened was priceless. His eyes widened and he immediately said, “ARE YOU OK?” And I was. God had already been working. The symbolism of the pieces no longer defined me or my emotions. The work had been done in the creating.

A few days after the dropping of the mosaic I was at another yard sale (my total happy place picking through other people’s throw aways) and found a box and on top was a Blue Willow plate made into a clock. Underneath it was an entire set of Willow dishes neatly wrapped one by one. I unveiled the first one and wrapped it back up as quickly as possible and headed to put it in my pile of yard sale goodies. I was so ecstatic and walking so fast the lady stopped me because she thought I was stealing them.

My reaction to the dishes this time was total nostalgia. Great memories of hammocks and fireflies. My kids swimming in the creeks and having my friend Kristen and her family over for hat parties and collecting rocks.  God had done the work. I was becoming more free from the pain and the rejection. The dishes now remind me of freshly snapped green beans and my grandmother’s plates of cookies.

  

 

 

 

 

 

The plates are currently in the dishwasher and heading to my shelves. They will be eaten on until my precious family breaks them all and I find another set at a yard sale.  God is setting me free.  I find joy again- embracing the good memories while I realize how I was changed for the better by the harsh edges of the broken places and the loss and grief I have felt.

There is a bush we have that grows flowers that change colors over 3 days. The first day is brilliant purple and then the next is lavender and finally white.  I went to the back porch to write when I noticed the bush and was amazed by the symbolism.

The original  plate and the pieces of the past.  The brilliant purple of the flowers represents the beginning. The process has started.

The mosaic pieces are the beginning of the healing and the bright purple is fading into lavender.

The new plate and the purifying that God has done. White. Cleansing.

There will be more hurt and disappointment but now I will approach it differently. I will be able to come at it  knowing I am not defined by the rejection and the abandonment.

Only God. Only with loved ones around me supporting me while it took place. Only with a therapist who walked with through my darkest days. Only with a husband who has listened to years of sadness and gallons of tears shed.  Only with children who miss Willow terribly but have come to understand.

Maybe we will get to go back one day. Maybe there will be restoration and relationship. Maybe there will be change. That would be amazing…..but I have to say no matter what…..it is well with my soul.

 

 

 

 

Connection

2016 had a lot of moments where I felt like this flamingo….like my color had lots its vibrancy and I just needed to stick my head in my feathers and pretend life wasn’t as hard as it actually was.

Having my second born graduate high school, my 16 year old start driving and working, and my youngest become a teenager felt like walls were closing in on me.  No more taco nights, canned biscuits, and my less-than-famous crock pot specialties. Curfews, girlfriends, and the lack of control were a huge shock to this momma. And at times I did not do well with it. I probably could have qualified for some Ricky Lake episodes if there were cameras up in here. I don’t let go easily and change scares me. There were times I wept over the Buzz Lightyear costume and Cooper’s Mr. Truffles stuffed Easter egg because I just wanted one more day to snuggle and answer all those questions that seemed so exhausting when we were in that stage.

As soon as all that started to happen, opportunities to serve in other capacities began to appear before me. It was a great distraction to help other people when my children were becoming so independent. I welcomed the escape from the loneliness of living with children who didn’t need me very often.

In the process of reaching out and loving women, I began to see there was a  distinction between being a “friend” and being a “resource.” I started to find myself being a resource to almost everyone I was with and had very little time to be a friend.  While it was happening, I felt part of me dying….my soul desperately missed connection but it had been so long that I wondered if I had come into a new normal.

The time with “my people” (friends) all but vanished and I found myself very alone. I was still surrounded by people but I had missed the time where I had mutual interactions- give and take friendships that feed my soul.  A few weeks ago it really hit me that I had found myself giving and giving and I was becoming depleted. As soon as I recognized it, it was time for change. I walked away from a lot of the ways I was volunteering. God arrested my heart and the word I kept hearing was “discipleship.” Helping women one on one walk in faith and having those people who pour into my life too. That is what I feel like this new season holds. Being intentional. Present. And steadfast.

After one night of me crying myself to sleep, Kenny must have talked to the kids and the next day my 16 year old came in and said, “I know we don’t act like it, Mom, but we need you around here.”  My spirit was revived to hear these words.

Today I got an annual pass to Busch Gardens to have an activity I can do with my 13 year old. I hate theme parks and especially ones where the safari costs extra?!?!? But nonetheless, it gives me a way to be with my youngest who still thinks I am pretty fun.  As we sat eating a snack, I asked him what kind of girl he thought he would marry. He thought on it….hesitated and said, “Not to be weird or anything but I would like to marry someone who is kinda like you.” My heart soared. Maybe I got some things right as a mom.

I know there are so many ways I don’t get things right. I know I miss God. I just want to be able to see it, be humble and willing to change ME.  Dying to my own pride and need to be needed is a battle. My heart yearns for connection but sometimes it is my last priority. Not this year. I miss my people. But I am back.