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.

 

Hatred and Hope…..Haiti and Here

Haiti: Port au Prince

Dusty, desperate

Crowded, pungent

Rich getting richer. Poor can’t get any poorer

A day feels like a week

Everyone selling a little something just to make a few gourdes

A rat race to nowhere

……Depressing and exhausting to be a spectator

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Haiti: Chauffard

Mountains, cool air

Farmland stretched for miles

More desperate and yet more alive

Beauty and extreme poverty living on the same land

Do I let myself off the hook by settling for contentment because of the beauty of their souls and

the purity of their soil?

Or do I allow myself to feel their cry for help about their life threatening conditions?

Do I look them in the eye and let my heart feel their pain and their fear for the  future?

How do I reconcile this  as I sit on my fancy mattress, fan blowing, tv blasting, lights illuminating…..

I don’t.

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America

Hatred, animosity

Entitlement

Political nightmare

My stomach turns with each of the ads, the debates, the million dollar mailings

Waste everywhere- drugs, drinking, indulgence

13 million dollar sorority houses? Aren’t we ashamed of ourselves?

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But…..

Generosity exists in our cities, our neighborhoods

Heroes of the faith who give even when they do not have

Kindred spirits of grace and mercy for the forgotten, the lost, the oppressed

I choose joy. I choose my tribe who understand hatred never works. Advocating does.

I choose to stop talking and start doing.

I choose to focus on what I can change and not be angry about what I cannot.

I choose God’s way of the narrow road….and I know who is on it with me.

No time for competition.  Time to enlarge our territory. Reaching beyond our own capabilities. We do it together. No credit needed.

We must be the CHURCH. The one Jesus talked about. Not the one we have created.

Ou dwe brav.

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I AM NOT AN OBJECT- ONE GIRL’S STORY

I learned a lot by going to a strip club every week for over a year.  So much about my view of people and faith changed because of what I saw there. I was no longer able to label strippers as throw aways because of their choices and I learned as  much about my brokenness as they shared theirs.  Instead of being disgusted by the women in the sex industry, I became more compassionate and more determined to get to know them and hear their stories. I say that not to reveal my deeply loving heart but to expose that if a judgmental and  sheltered (by choice) person like me could become aware and eventually an activist then anyone could.

In the midst of going to the strip club, “sex trafficking” became a buzz word. Because I am a skeptic and refuse to jump on the newest and latest social justice train (because they are all equally important), I was not affected much by the new headlines about the industry. Wasn’t it just as serious before we started talking about it and wasn’t third world poverty still an important social issue? During this time I became more determined that I was not called to join a committee to talk about it or go to a banquet to acquire awareness. I felt like I knew enough about the tragedy to go out and do something about it so to the club we went.

All the clubs have their own unique atmospheres but there is one common theme- darkness.

Walking in the door I could  feel the oppression. The greed and the lust. But mysteriously at the same time I felt the presence of God’s light in a mighty way.  It was as if  the room was begging for the light but rebuking it all at the same time.

Within the first hour I spent at a strip club, I began to see a calling….and it was just so simple. Love these women. Show them that there was hope and that they had options. Just BE PRESENT. Listening and encouraging. And for the next year that is what we did.

I did not go in to the club to shut the place down. I never was looking for illegal activity to bring in the police. That was not my job. I was there to look at women in the eye and tell them they were important and their lives mattered. From there I knew God would take care of the rest.

During the time we were going we had some amazing conversations with women about worth and value. We also talked about our families and our struggles. I did not only see their brokenness. I also saw my own….my  insecurities that lead me to destructive behavior. It might not be taking off my clothes for money but I had my own pile of shattered pieces. Over the loud music, the lights and the pole, we had some sacred times sharing our hearts.

One of the women at the club intrigued me. Her name was Jasmine and everyone said that was her real name, not her stage name. There was a softness about her spirit and a humility that baffled me.  Since we went during the day and she often worked nights I did not see her often but her name came up a lot with the women and it always seemed positive.

Here she is on her first day at the club.

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Then a year ago, Jasmine (who is actually Ashley)  showed up at my house, scared, broken and seeking advice. When she came in the door I immediately felt that all those years in the club had led me to this conversation. She wanted out of the industry and was willing  to do what it would take. I have heard this story a lot so we set some goals to see if she was really serious.

She stayed at the club for several more months and was planning her exit strategy. What struck me about her was that she had a plan- cosmetology school, joining an in home business, and getting by on less cash flow. It really caught my attention that she was taking action to get where she wanted to be.

At the time she left the club,  she was pregnant so getting a job was difficult. We spent time together brainstorming money making strategies. We started having yard sales and at 8 months pregnant she would be out in the blazing heat sorting clothes and making deals. She started collecting people’s yard sale leftovers and selling them in Facebook groups. She would walk across town to deliver something and  it would be for $10. Soon people I know started to see her posts and donate more.

Then a realtor friend of mine let us go into homes she had on the market and sell what the previous owners did not take with them. Our first house Ashley helped me clean out was an all day endeavor and she insisted on helping. Her baby was 4 days old. Then the next house she got a cleaning job. They offered her $100. She said she would have done it for $20 because it was so much better than what she had to do at the club.

I saw a strength in her I knew I did not have. It was a fight in her to stay the course and integrate into a different way of life. Even though she had adapted for 8 years  into the lifestyle  in the club, she had come to the conclusion that she did not fit there and there had to be something more for her and her family. I watched as each week she got a little stronger and a little more comfortable in her own skin.

As I got to know her she told me her story. She was 19, working at Zaxby’s, with a 2 year old baby, living with her parents, and a friend from her childhood told her how she could make more money. She went to the club and as she looks back she not only appreciated the money but she said it “was fun.” Hanging out with the other women during day shift and drinking was a whole lot more intriguing than chicken tenders at $8 an hour. For a girl who struggled with anxiety and shame, she suddenly felt like “somebody.”   The club became a “second home.”  She did not have any friends outside the club so her social life revolved around the friends she made there and the excessive partying that took place each day and night.

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The money was great in the beginning because she was the “new girl.”  The older men are often drawn to young  girls who could be their granddaughters. Sad but true. Meanwhile Ashley became an alcoholic and could not raise the 2 children she  had so her parents stepped in and raised them. This lifestyle went on for the next 8 years.

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Last year there was a shift in her. She decided she could not stomach it anymore and began to disconnect. She was pregnant but she could have stayed working there- she worked throughout her last pregnancy.  “It is very dark. Dark world. It’s a whole other world inside those buildings and it starts to feel normal.” Then in February 2016 she walked out the door and has not gone back.

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I always wonder what keeps her from going back when the cupboards are bare and the bills are due and she simply says,  “I see there are better ways. I don’t want to live that lifestyle anymore. For the first time in my adult life I feel  respected.  When you work in a club, you never expect anyone to treat you nice because you feel so low about yourself.”  Her favorite verse which is tattooed on her foot is

2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we live by faith, not by sight.”

 

Ashley often quoted “I am not an object” when she was working in the club but her job required her to be an object for someone else to take advantage of….. but now she says, “I don’t feel like an object anymore. When you are in that industry you are not a person. You are not a girl. Just an object.”

It has not been easy. She has humbled herself to get food from church pantries and sell other people’s throw away stuff to make enough to help pay the bills. She can’t spoil her children anymore or buy expensive make up. But she is doing it. One yard sale item at a time she is  taking care of her children with the help of her boyfriend and parents, who are very supportive of her.  After being in an industry that is all about money, sex and drugs she has discovered that giving back has a much bigger impact on her than anything else ever did. In the midst of her own struggle I have seen her become one of the most generous and giving people I know. She attributes it all to how God has changed her because she could not have done this on her own. He rescued her from darkness and brought her into light.

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I have told Ashley several times that although I keep a healthy distance between me and the women I help, she is different. She and her family have moved from being a friend to someone I consider a part of my own family. Her tenacity and her endurance amaze me and I often think she is teaching me way more than I am her. People like Ashley change those of us who are willing to give them a chance. Our lives are richer because we see a strength that we have never known in ourselves.  It is turning pain into purpose. Shifting from surviving to truly living. You can see it in her face, the way she carries herself, but most of all you can see it in her eyes. She has come alive again.

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The Photographs that Changed Me

domestic violence is never ok

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the gift of a son

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truth

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total acceptance

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I want to be a Marine like you, Dad…..

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The poorest of the poor and she wants to be a missionary

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I can do it too, Grandpa….

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life is complicated

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the beauty of age

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proud mama

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the pain of feeling emotion for the first time

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recognition for being a dreamer

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art brings life

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i will not fear voodoo

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buddy ball might be the best sports event ever

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showing mom what she missed while                                         he was in foster care

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Gifted

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a bond that cannot be broken

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courage to be a Dad….a true Dad

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the mountains are calling and I must go

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losing a 17 year old son will change you forever

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growth can happen in the most unlikely places

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beauty never ceases to be amazing

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you can never have too many sons

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when you cannot afford school you sell potatoes

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needs no explanation….

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a good coach is a one of the truest blessings

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the beauty of a cat thrown away

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leaving the old ways and returning back to them

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To all my friends who struggle with addiction

 

To all my friends who struggle with addiction:

I see you struggle. I mean I really SEE you. I REALLY see you. I really see YOU.

Sometimes I look into your eyes and I sense that you feel invisible. Like you are damaged and not worth a glance or a simple hello. As if you have shut off the part of you that feels because you have deemed yourself unworthy. I want you to know that I KNOW you are worthy of love, second chances, and long conversations where I hear your story. And you know what? Your story makes my head spin- all that you have been through and that you have survived. But you know what else your story does? It gives me compassion. Empathy. It helps me not judge you. It shows me how hard it has been and how brave you are when you surrender to a life of recovery. I think everyday what it would be like to have experienced a drug that makes you feel so free inside and how hard it would be to quit. That is why I never tried it- I was terrified I would not be able to walk away from it. I have an addictive personality too. I am hot or cold. Black or white. I would be an addict if I had been offered it like you have been at 10 or 11 years old. So to this day I have never experimented with any drug but that does not make me any better than you- it just means my rebellion looked different. But no better.

Sometimes you look at me like I have everything and what would I know of man problems, financial problems, parenting problems. I absolutely have dealt with all of these….I am just a little farther down the path of life than you because I am OLD compared to most of you.  I have been through my insecure twenties, my child rearing thirties and somehow in my forties I finally feel like my skin fits and that I am exactly who God created me to be- quite rough around the edges, clumsy, and downright weird but those all feel as if they fit perfectly like a well worn glove. I don’t know what it is like to struggle exactly like you do but I do understand what joblessness, loneliness, and really ugly parenting seasons look like. Boy do I ever.

Sometimes I wonder how you survive recovery. So many meetings, so many rules, and the marks for the messy rooms……yikes! But you are brave and you take it head on. I know you stumble through it and fall back into bad patterns but I also know you wake up every day and face the addiction and the control that the drug has over you at times. I am in awe that you can learn bus routes, day care, housing, funding, job hunts with the cards stacked against you, court, case plans, visitation……it is so much. But you know you have to do it for survival.  You know the stakes are high and you could lose your kids forever so you do it.

Sometimes I watch you slip away into the world of relapse and I feel helpless. I want you to know that you are better than that drug but you do not yet believe it for yourself. So you take one hit and then another and before you realize it you are back in your addiction. I hate that. I hate the drug. But I still love you.  When you are in the midst of it, I won’t come around or give you rides because you are not a safe person to me when you are using…..but when you are ready to face recovery again I will always be there to give you clean clothes and a ride to rehab. I promise.

And when you celebrate your one year anniversary for your sobriety and you want a cake, I will bake one for you or have a friend do it. And when you get your kids back, I will rejoice with you. When you move into your first place after rehab, I will wake up every few hours to pray for you.

I say all of this not to sound like Mother Theresa but to tell you that you matter a whole lot. You are worth fighting for. You and I don’t fit into a pretty perfect box and that is what makes us beautiful and cherished. We all want to be known. I want you to know my struggles and I want to know yours. I want us to know each other when we are old. I hope that if you relapse and I have to say hard things to you, you will one day realize it was all in love and I have not abandoned you.

I see you. And I think you are beautiful and smart and courageous. I know you fight a battle against addiction every day but you are worth the fight. You have to want it or it is too big and will take over your life. But we all want it for you- your kids want it for you. We are here to fight alongside you but you have to be the strongest warrior. God is bigger than the addiction and much more loving than I am or anyone else walking with you through this. He wants to see you win the fight. Light must break through the darkness. God has given you that light to lead you through the dark days. Don’t let that light grow dim. And if it does? Pick up the phone and call us. Hunt us down. You have to be able to ask for help. We want to be there. Will you let us? Or will you assume we will let you down like everyone in your other world did? We are not perfect but we will try. In our own brokenness we will love you the best way we know how if you give us the chance. Don’t assume that because we have not been where you have that we don’t have anything to offer. We have struggled and lost battles and gotten back up to fight it again and again. Some of us are losing battles you don’t even know about. Pray for those of us who you see as “clean” because a lot of us don’t see ourselves that way.

We need you. We need you to keep it real. Tell us how it really is. What to look for in our kids so we will know if they are experimenting with drugs. We need you to show us that the struggle is real and you are not going to let it defeat you.

You are a gift to me. I won’t speak for the whole world because I know a lot of people will never give you a chance….but do not give up. You will rise from these ashes and show them that addiction did not get the best of you and God will get the glory. You keep fighting, girl. And don’t you let your guard down for one day. It is in you to be a conquerer so now it is time to go do it.

 

Journal Entries from Haiti

I have been back from Haiti for 5 days and still have not acclimated to my American life. For some ridiculous reason, I think every time I return that  this will be the trip where it is easier…..but then I have to ask myself the hard questions. If it gets easy, then doesn’t that mean that I have grown numb or uncaring about  poverty, lack of clean water, and the scarcity of free education in Haiti? Doesn’t it mean that I have sold out to the lie as long as I am comfortable I can forget the children with nothing to eat and whose parents are dying of easily cured diseases? I truly believe it can never be a smooth transition….and if it comes to the point that it is not a struggle, the people of Haiti need someone different. Someone who cares enough to come back to the US disillusioned by the excess and the waste of the American culture and the lack of opportunities that exists in Haiti.

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For the first time, I had the opportunity to journal the whole time I was in Haiti. The journal is called  “The Essential Writer’s Notebook” and it has a guide for writing. The portion at the beginning encouraged me to write my “first thoughts.” Not the cleaned up, well-put ones but the ones that come straight from the heart….and here are some pieces of those entries.

Day One

I am headed to Haiti. I miss the smells- open fires with beans and rice cooking. The sights- raw beauty and uncensored reality. The sounds- horns honking in the city and the noise fading farther and farther away the higher we climb the mountain.

Every time I board the plane to leave the US I know I am headed for my destiny.

My calling.

My paradise of purpose.

In the hotel last night we told a lady we were going to Haiti and she asked if we were going snorkeling. The man at the front desk asked if we were going on a cruise. I wanted to sit them both down and tell them from my soul how our trip would be so much more rich and beautiful and tender and true than a ship with lots of food and excursions. I felt that they were being robbed of valuable information by me  not telling them. If only they knew the people! The countryside! As I started to explode with what I wanted to tell them, I kept walking. Maybe they don’t want to know but I felt selfish keeping it to myself.

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Day Two 7:30 am

I sit and watch people walking by constantly carrying everything they have to make a living. A bag of eggs. A bundle of green onions. And I see two things- desperation and peace. How can they exist simultaneously? One exists because of the other? Or the desperation becomes so overwhelming that peace must enter in or there is no hope? I am not sure but their eyes are unsettling. As I sit and think that I MUST be the world’s greatest philanthropist, I am struck immediately with…..this is their life- every minute of every day. And I enter in at a week or two at a time. I don’t know their suffering. Or their struggles to feed their children everyday.  Or the disappointment of the students who graduate from our school in the sixth grade and cannot afford secondary school in the city. Those students who are now working on the farm look at me with such longing to sit in a desk and learn that I become overwhelmed. Burdened. Desperate for answers. My mind begins to reel and then it just becomes a weight I cannot shake.

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Day Three

Today we are headed to the market. I love going there! It is where I get to see friends and meet new ones. It is where I was told that the Haitians call me “good mama” and was the defining moment when I realized that I am exactly where I am supposed to be…but then there is the other side of reality- sometimes I wonder if I can keep doing this work as hard as it. And as I begin to unravel all the reasons why this work is draining and exhausting, I see a smiling face underneath a load of carrots or a uniformed student learning to read and I know this is my calling.

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Day Four

Today we leave to go down the mountain. It is bittersweet. I see in their eyes two things- I appreciate you coming and are you going to leave me here? It is hard and beautiful. Sad and encouraging. Tiring and invigorating. Maddening and settling. My mind feels like chaos and peace. Chaos for what is left to do and peace for what we have already done.

What do the Haitians think when we leave? That we have abandoned them? Do they wonder if we will come back? If we are just part time friends? Or do they know we have given our hearts to them?

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Day Five

Sitting in the airport waiting to go home. Tears are welled up in my eyes. I feel broken. Lost between two worlds. I am leaving so much work unfinished. It is like walking away in the middle of a conversation and wondering how you could have ever aborted the discussion in the midst of something important. In these moments I am not comforted by what we have already accomplished because in this moment they do not cure disease or enroll students in secondary school. Those problems still exist and I go home to the comfort of my home, my over-indulged pets, full pantry, and easy life. Life in the US will never be as difficult as it is in Haiti.

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Truths I lave learned to rely on:

Stay true to the calling.

Never stop telling people about the desperate, beautiful people of Haiti.

A comfortable life is not one well-lived. A sacrificial life will leave a mark.

I must be motivated by purpose.

Many entries were left out of this blog because they were too raw and too honest. I would be glad to share them if anyone is interested.