She wraps her finger around mine and whispers, "Kisa ou ap fe?" She smells of charcoal and clothes that have sat in the sun the day before, drying out in that Haiti heat. Her little raspy voice is adorable and I wonder if it comes from her mother's side or her daddy's...and I am struck by that thought because I don't think she'd know either. "Kisa ou ap fe?" she asks again, begging me to answer the question: What are you going to do?
I am sure she means today. Later this afternoon. After I leave her home. She wants to know the way my life moves outside of this little orphanage with tin roofs and a palm frond school. She wants to know what we do in our house down the street. She jokingly asks me if I am going to make rice and bean sauce, because she knows it's my favorite. I laugh because I cannot even come close to making that amazing meal, but appreciate that she thinks I could.
For me, her words hold a little more weight than the immediate future. What I do when I leave the orphanage, her home for the last 6 years of her 9 years of life. When a little girl with the whole world in her heart, full of dreams and stars and goodness, looks at you with her chipped little front tooth and her adorable braids and asks you, "What are you going to do?" You notice your own location reeeaaall fast.
I am an American born girl, with family and friends who simultaneously worry about the work I do in Haiti and tell us how proud they are. I can afford to go back there if I am in need. I can eat the food I choose and not worry about if I can afford it tomorrow. And, lest I think this is some kind of cosmos-God-is-taking-care-of-me-because-He-loves-me-the-most type situation, I am reminded of the fierce (and real) love of the Father when looking at this sweet Haitian girl's face. When I see her deep concentration and her desire to learn, when I see her get along with her friends here, when they offer to pray for us before we leave...oh yes. I am reminded of a time a few years ago when my friend Sara looked at me during one of these prayers and said, "These are God's favorites." Yes, do I agree.
I have been on the bus to Struggletown since arriving back in the US some 7 months ago. And, honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with this question ringing in my head and these memories that linger. What are you going to do? I am struck with the reality of life in the USA as compared to a life more overseas and I am confused at how to walk in my day to day life. Daily, I work for things happening in Haiti, but I am surrounded by extreme luxury and people who do not seem to know how surrounded they are by this same luxury. It's a paradox that I am not used to and it both frightens and excites me to lean into this pressure of both worlds crashing around me.
If I had a dollar for every time people have asked me about how life has been "back in the real world" I would no longer need to do fundraisers for Konbit (maybe). It has been shocking because I want to twist around, my hair flowing around my head in a sassy way, and say "WHO'S real world?" My reality is not the reality of millions around the globe. They are the people that are on the news and make us feel uncomfortable. They are the people you perhaps read about on facebook or instagram. But, for me some of them have shared their tables with us. They have eaten with us, shared with us, loved with us, mourned with us, and prayed with us. These are not just people far away, these are people I have the extreme pleasure of calling "friends."
This real world that I am a part of for this season in my life is a sweet and difficult mix of two totally different worlds: grit under my fingernails and lunch dates; orphans in Haiti and driving a car; skyping with my friends in Haiti and joining my family for drinks. Nothing is bad, it's just a weird way to view my world lately. The fact is, though, that this is my reality.
But, my reality doesn't change anyone else's. For some, the real world is material wealth and roads and running water where you can drink straight from the tap. For others, it is sharing a home with your entire family, working so you can send your oldest daughter to school, and trying to find a job in your tiny little village. Just because its different does not make it less real. Our privilege is not most people's reality, friends.
While there seems to be more awareness than ever about how others are living across the world, it certainly does not seem to come with solidarity. As a matter of fact, a film clip on a facebook feed or a comment made by someone-who-knows-someone-who-has-been-there seems to drive the lines between "us" and "them" even further apart. It's been confusing. But, also, really enlightening.
I keep thinking about how informed we are, knowing everything. All the time. Being scared of everything. All the time. And, then I remember these kids in a small little village off the coast of a town in Haiti I never thought I would know. I think of these kids in mismatched clothes, wearing onesies as t-shirts and shoes with holes in them and praying fervently for their food and their people, and I remember that this is the kind of kingdom I belong to. This is what I want to pursue. In a place where I have been confused where culture ends and real conviction begins, I have found solace in these memories of people I know in Haiti.
"What are you going to do?" she asks. What are you going to do with this heavy reality of people living in different ways all across the globe? How does this change what you pursue in the United States? How does this change you?
For me, it has been the steady reminder that this is my "reality check," (pun intended). The USA is not the "real world" though everyone would like for me to believe that I am back in reality forever. It has been a call to remember that the things worth pursuing in life are a better world for everyone, not just myself. It has been a check in my Spirit to make sure my convictions represent my beliefs and not just what my culture tells me to do "for Jesus." It's remembering that there are so many important conversations worth having, but we've got to fight for them and fight through the discomfort they give us. It has been a fight, most of all, to think about what I am doing- to be intentional and aware of each thing I put my heart into.
I have become kind of comfortable with the fact that I do not have complete answers. And, that's kind of ok. For me, it seems like part of the answering is more questioning, anyway. I do not have the answers, merely a small scratch in my heart that there is more to the "real world" than what people perceive. Even though I know a few other realities, I do not know them all either. I think that's the whole point. Our kingdom is this kind: of orphans and run-aways, of people struggling and questioning, of people who long for heaven come to earth. We are kind of kingdom that does not turn our backs on people because it disturbs us.
Let us not forget we belong to a kingdom bigger than ourselves and the measure of one's faith in that place is not built on money and health- but on the endurance to run. Let's not forget to take our questions and dig deep and search. Let's not forget to learn from others realities.
A year ago, we experienced some deep tragedies both in the lives of our ministry staff and in our own personal family life. I wrote this reflection after spending some time thinking about it and realizing we could not afford to rush back home to be with our mourning family. What ended up happening brought us closer with our international staff and reminded me of our human family.
This spring could best be compared to one of Haiti’s lingering thunderstorms. It came with little fanfare, but stayed and hung over us for a while. We anticipated it greatly, but it was not what we had expected in almost any arena.
Spring is usually the celebration of something new. And, while we cling to hope that new things are being done, this spring time doled a harsh slap in the face for us and our staff and our families that the seasons outside do not necessarily represent the seasons in our personal spaces. For us, for many of our Haitian and Dominican friends and for many of our family members, this season of spring outside resulted in a winter inside.
It has been a few months since I have even sat down to write, mostly because words wouldn’t come. This season has been incredibly challenging, and while I felt exempt from it at first, I realized that this was just a season to mourn. The book of Ecclesiastes says that there is a season to everything and a purpose for that season- and this truly was a season to be mindful of those mourning around us, to be in solidarity with them and yes, for ourselves to mourn well, too.
In late March, we were sad to hear that a volunteer for Justice Water DR was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was a hard worker, a great man and the brother to one of our leaders in this nation. In Haiti, one of our closest friends watched as her aging father passed. And, should we think we were free from these burdens, we had a shocking death in our family and another family member struggling with his hospital stay. All of this was within a 2 month period. It seemed that when things were supposed to be being made new, we were left with broken hearts and cool air. We were dealing with a sudden, unexpected storm in the middle of what was a season of joy and excitement. We were grieving.
Loss is interesting. As a child, I can recall when some of my grandparents passed, and how I simply wanted to help my parents deal with their grief. It is a place to be stuck: dealing with your own sadness while also wanting to be strong enough to help others deal with theirs. This…struggle, this proof of our own instability and imperfection and inability to be totally there for everyone all the time…it represents a bigger thing that loss shows us. Loss shows us that we are small and not often in control. Loss reminds us of our own mortality. Loss shows us just how shaky (or for some, also, how strong) our faith is to us and how truly we believe our convictions. Loss takes and shakes and makes us mourn.
But mourning does something different. It binds. It binds us closer to one another, closer to the things we believe in, and closer to mortality itself. I remember in the wake of the news of our own familial tragedy, some of the first people to comfort us were our friends Jose and his wife, Alexandria, those who had just lost a family member 2 weeks prior. It was truly humbling to have people we so desperately wanted to help and be present with turn around and comfort us. They hugged us, they met us with tears in their eyes and they mourned with us as we had with them. In Haiti, the same thing happened. We were met with teary eyed staff members who had been through so much, waiting with open arms to be there for us and with us. Though these men and women are our friends and co-workers in development, our season of mourning allowed us to reach a new level of knowing one another as brothers and sisters. It allowed us to reach out to one another in a way that was only in love and humility. We mourned. We didn’t offer simple answers or big explanations. We cried, and eventually we laughed. Our mourning and sorrow was met by a joy in knowing that we were not alone, even though Ryan and I were in different countries than our family during a difficult time. We were not alone, and that seems to be the power of mourning. It doesn’t soften the blow, but it eases the pain.
overthinker and under-planned; development worker, believer, friend, wife, sister, daughter; learning a lot every day.