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.

 

Pain, Purpose, and Compassion

 

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Today I have struggled. Struggled with my own insecurities.  Struggled with mean, insensitive remarks from a stranger. Struggled with missing my best friend because we are always busy. Struggled with watching my friends deal with deep pain and hurts. Struggled with a friend who lost her dad. Struggled with feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. So what did I do? Cry all afternoon. Cried by myself and cried with four different people.  I was only awake for 14 hours. How so much pain and suffering?

Why tears?

I am one of those people who often cries at the sight of someone else’s tears. I guess it does not do wonders to make the person feel better when they have to offer ME a tissue. Now keep in mind I live in the land of boys and men….who don’t cry often. We do have the occasional moments of emotion but not like my estrogen infested self.

One of my sons literally walked in my room today while I was curled up in the fetal position boohooing, carried on an entire conversation with me about where one of the cats was, and walked out. REALLY?? No clue.  The others just look at me with a glazed over, what-do-I-do-now expression of helplessness. As baffled as they are about me, I am not sure what to do with dry ice exploding, lizard torturing, snake handling slobs so I guess we are even. Somehow in the crazy world, we make it work. I decided that when they are being crazy I can hide in the bathroom and pretend I know nothing and they can eat a cheeseburger when I am crying at a commercial and we can carry on. Disclaimer: I have very sensitive boys when I let them in on something  sad and tragic and they are very compassionate…but when it is a case of I-am-crying-because-of-the-state-of-the-world they really don’t have a category and I would rather cry into my blanket than explain what I don’t even understand for myself.

So as I try to make some kind of sense about my highly emotional self,  I seek Scripture.

“Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.”

Romans 12:15-16

First God says to embrace our friends’ happiness. That is the easy part. We all want to be around the people whose lives are going well. But what about the friends struggling, wandering, falling, and grieving? The friends who needs love from us when we don’t know if we have it to give? God says, “Share tears when they’re down.” Sometimes we have to engage in a cry fest together and we can’t even determine what are tears for us and what are for the other person.  That is the heart of God-sharing our burdens one to another and to Him.

The next part of that verse that tells us to get along with each other and “don’t be stuck-up.” What is worse than sharing your burdens with someone who acts as if she has it all together? It is horrible! And if I make the mistake of doing it once I certainly don’t do it twice. If we are not in tune with our own brokenness people avoid us and are fake around us. And a lot of people are good with that. Let’s face it- most people don’t want to hear other people’s problems because it might actually remind them that they have problems too. So relationships are then shallow and superficial so that emotions are not felt and both people lose out in that “friendship.”

“Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” That sounds like my new tattoo. But seriously. It is such good, rich words! I am not a theologian and I don’t know any of the Bible in Greek (except the Greek alphabet from being in a sorority) but I do know this:

Make friends with nobodies. Don’t be the great somebody.

Now that I can do. Don’t need a concordance or a theology class to go love somebody who is broken and hurting. I know how to do that because I am broken and hurting.  A lot. If I don’t know my own pain how can I know someone else’s? And the part about not being the great somebody….I think that means we need to stop thinking that we are the answer to people’s problems.  Jesus is. As we lead people to the cross, we lead them to healing. Divine healing.

So this week I may be a slobbering, hot mess and if you are too….call me. We can be real and honest together. If you want a put together friend with all the answers….don’t call me. You will just be disappointed. When we all realize we are broken and learn to love because of it, NOT in spite of it…we will share kindness like we are made of it. I think I stole that from Bob Goff but it’s ok because LOVE DOES.

Pain into purpose and then always comes compassion.

 

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.

When did we decide to JUST SURVIVE?

A Christian radio station has recently aired this sentiment:  “Three keys to surviving fall….” and then they add pumpkin bread or apple crisp as key #1, and then apple cider or pumpkin spice latte as key #2, and lastly the name of the radio station as key #3.  They have played it over and over again and each time the one word that stands out to me is SURVIVING. Why do I want to just survive fall? Why don’t I want to truly LIVE through this beautiful season? (And to think that the key to that journey is a piece of bread or a drink- both of which I like-but are undeserving of occupying the position of helping me through life.  But that is for another blog.)

One definition of the word “survive” is to endure or live through. Endurance is good in seasons that are difficult but what if are overall approach to life is one of just getting through it? We are missing out. On a lot. I have been through times when survive was all I could do. Post partum depression was one long waiting game, hoping I would pull out of it and survive. Literally. That I would still be alive when the anti-depressant started to work. I am thankful I did survive. Survival is understandable when circumstances stretch us to our limits for a time.
But what about when survival has become a way of life? When we check out from our own existence? We numb ourselves with shopping, volunteering, drinking, or traveling just to stay busy enough to not really think about truly living? When we are just going through the motions?
We were all created with PURPOSE. Not the kind the world tries to sell you- being beautiful, fit, and put together. I am talking about real purpose. The kind that calls us to action on someone else’s behalf. We were made to seek God and His best. But we settle for what the world sells us- BUSYNESS. Running in a million directions to meet all the standards of good parents and good spouses and somehow we lose our direction, our purpose. And we succumb to survival. Grin and bear it. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps for one more concert and one more baseball game and one more PTO meeting- none of which are bad things at all- but have we lost our way in the process?
How do we choose LIVING over surviving? I learned it from my friend, Kristen Milligan. She had terminal cancer for almost ten years and could have chosen many ways to spend it. But she understood the importance of being ALIVE even when she was dying. She reached out to everyone around her, loved the one in front of her, and started an amazing nonprofit organization, Inheritance of Hope. I used to tell her that she did more while she was dying than most people will ever do while they are living. 
To really live our lives, we have to stop numbing our pain. We have to get real with our past, our emotions, and our life circumstances and make true peace with them. Facing disappointments and hurts that we have carried like luggage with us everywhere we have gone. Not peace keeping but the kind of peace the Bible talks about- “peace that passes understanding.” And from there we move out into the world in strength.
And then we have to approach life with hope and expectancy. Maybe you feel like there is nothing to be hopeful about. I challenge you to find one thing. Even if it is super small. But please don’t make it a pumpkin spice latte or a piece of banana bread. Something like hope for a great conversation with a friend or a time of worship. God will come through for you.
And from there we need to get outside of our little lives and our little families and our little churches and BE LIGHT where there is darkness. Ask God to take you to the dark and He will. Guaranteed.
Why do we settle for surviving? Maybe because we are scared to step out and be different. Maybe we are too self absorbed. Maybe we just don’t want to. 
The world needs us to leave our comfort zone and stand for justice, goodness, and righteousness but we are too busy standing for status, money, and comfort.
Are you ready for a change?

It is just hair…..to me.

I can look at pictures and know about how old I was by my hairstyle.  Here I am in the 80’s sporting the BIG hair.  All I can say is WOW.

Then college days….

Wedding…..

Babies…..
and NOW……
So much has changed!  It is with great hesitation that I post ANY of those pictures from the younger years and my children would die if they saw them but I do so with a greater purpose- loving people.
I have learned a lot since I turned 40…..and I have been set free by the realization that 
appearances really don’t matter.

The days of hair spray, Sun-in, and perms are OVER!  Now it is a good day if I get out the diffuser on my hair dryer.  I confess that I do color my hair slightly and get it trimmed……if I did not like my hairdresser so much I might not even do that.
So where am I going with this?  IT IS JUST HAIR- TO ME.  But what could it mean to someone else?  Millions of children suffer from hair loss because of cancer treatments or alopecia. Some of them feel like they can rock the bald look or a cute hat but others want to have hair- real hair.  
 That is where we come in.
See, my hairdresser decided I should grow my hair out because it would look better-  I am of the thought process that short hair is less to fool with so the shorter the better.  I told her I would grow it out under one condition….that I donate it when it grows to 12 inches.  There began the journey.
As you can see, I am at about 4 inches now- if it is straightened and pulled.  Ok maybe 3 inches.  I figure that in one year it will be 12 inches if I am nice to it.  But I don’t want to just donate my hair- I want to get enough people together to make at LEAST one wig, which is 12 ponytails and $1500 to subsidize all the costs that go along with providing a child with a wig.
I started doing my research and came across Children With Hair Loss. It is a small non profit organization that makes wigs for children for FREE.  Did you know a lot of other organizations charge for the wigs?  I called them on the phone and had the best chat ever with one of their volunteers.  
It is that simple- 12 ponytails and $1500 and a trip next summer to meet them in person in Michigan. 
Why did I pick this project?  Because long hair drives me crazy and it is one way I can die to self and give it away.  Those who know me understand I do not do this without whining- it is hot, it is frizzy, it is a pain, it is….blah, blah, blah.  This whole experience has been one of God changing how I see things…..thanksgiving that I can grow hair.  That I have a shower to wash it in.  That I have the utmost privilege to give it away.
Children With Hair Loss takes color treated, bleached and gray hair!  I need at least 12 people from anywhere in the world to join me in this cause.  You have a year to grow it out…..and God will take care of the rest of the details.
Will you join me?  Really- it is just hair.  It grows back.  It has noteternal value.  And someone needs it a whole lot more than you do.
Please leave a comment if you are IN and I will get in touch with you.  
12 people. 12 inches.