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.