Last month, I was finally reunited with my friend Jesselyn in Haiti. We'd both been in and out of Haiti for the past year or so, but we kept missing one another. We decided to fly out together from Port-Au-Prince and ended up even spending the night in a shut-down Miami awaiting our postponed flights.
We chatted at the bistro upstairs of the boarding area, overlooking the little American Airlines terminal. We moved our tickets around to sit next to one another, not being able to stand the excitement of being around one another. "So much to catch up on," I said to her as we boarded the plane.
Wouldn't you know, there's just something about the hum of an airplane that lulls me to sleep? I fought it, but when Jesselyn ended up putting in her headphones, I dozed off. We woke up in Miami and laughed at how little time we'd spent talking.
Granted, airplanes are loud. And, they are these uncomfortable sort of "in between" spaces. I mean, in this case, we are literally in between two countries, high up in the air. But, it has got me thinking about all the discomfort I feel when I experience an "in between" space. And it feels as if my life has been kind of full of them lately.
Battling several different health issues, needing a new place for us to be based out of for the US side of the non-profit, needing to work on some areas of brokenness in both myself and my marriage...I found myself in quite an "in between" space this year. Somehow all the years of being packed solid with activity and adventure came to a screeching hault for me and it was terrible. Who was I if not the adventures I lived? I came to realize that my discomfort with those in between spaces and long, breathy pauses made me want to crawl out of my own skin.
I kept thinking about how many times I am faced with a pause and what I do with that time. Sometimes resting is good. Sleeping in that plane was great. However, more times than not, I find myself being lulled to sleep by the convenience of the world around me and the lack of energy I have to put forth any effort to love or care for people. I check out. I look at my phone, I stare at the tv, I do anything to avoid the discomfort of just being with that strange and taunting in between space.
It's that whole "I can't adult" culture thing that convinces me that I have a right to check out of my own awkwardness. I have somehow, through all of this, actually convinced myself that it is actually better for me if I don't deal with pain or weird uncomfortable stuff or issues that matter. I have actually convinced myself that the condition of my life and heart could be better off if I spent that awkward time watching the MTV hit "Catfish" and stuffing my face with gluten free chocolate chip cookies. Whoof. That's a lie.
While I have been thinking about all of this since my last plane ride home to the US, it took Haiti to show me this again.
We flew down at this particular time to help out our national partners with their summer camp. We have about 130 kids that come daily to our huge pavilion and it just takes a lot to run. Working with kids, it is obviously very important to have structured time. However, there is just no way to keep 130 kids totally occupied from 8-2:30 every single second of the day. So, we were faced with a lot of awkward pauses. It feels weird for me, the person hosting a team, to see these pauses. It reminds me that we are not in control of the schedule or how the kids will respond to something. It makes me feel somehow ill-equipped and like a sham. Who am I to have thought that I could help host this kind of camp?
But then, I see what actually happens while I am attempting to avoid these awkward pauses.
The people dance.
The people talk.
The people play.
The people argue.
The people embrace their time.
Time is a precious commodity all over the world. But, people in Haiti remind me of this. These pauses, in fact, are not weird or awkward or limiting. They are instead sacred. They are full of the life we make. They are full of the trials we face. They are full of raw emotion and beautiful healing and full stories and facing our fears. They are full of embracing identity- who we are is a gift.
Haiti teaches me new things all the time. But, I am so thankful for this lesson: this gift. The gift of a pause. The gift of remembering how out of control our lives actually are. How we can dance through it all and embrace it. And to think, I had started trading that for cheetos and Modern Family.
It was etched into my mind, but it was hard to remember even still. Like a faded memory, or stretching to see the time on my clock in the morning without my glasses on, it was so blurry. The honesty of Haiti hits me like a brick every time I come back home (here). Nothing hides here, at least not in the same way that we hide in the USA.
The heat does not come on gently, but seems to linger both before the sun rises and after it sets. The sun shines so brightly and brashly; the trees break out harshly from the ground. The kids do not make their feelings hidden, rather expressing them loudly for their interested neighbors to hear. The trash burns, reminding the community of their waste. Each night, everyone faces the incredibly honest fact that it is 2017 and many of them do not have access to electricity.
Haiti is brutally honest. It does not hide itself for others, nor does it pretend to be anything other than what it is: take it or leave it. While many see this as a bad thing, I have really started to welcome it. Because it is in Haiti that I myself have learned to be honest.
In the United States, we can hide from one another, from our fears and our opinions. We can hide even when it looks like participating. We share Facebook posts or sit over coffee and discuss ideas. But, we are hidden. Our lives are hidden from one another; our fears are unknown to each other; our abilities can be stretched or elaborated. Reality is a confusing thing to us in the United States at times. We are unsure of what is right and wrong, for some of us. Unsure of how to fight injustices, we either make excuses or talk them into the ground.
In Haiti, these things laid on my heart are put to the test almost instantaneously. I can no longer speak of a life I long to live, but put my faith and actions to work as I am in the middle of an incredibly honest culture.
I look back on my life experiences here and laugh. I think about how one of the first times I ever really heard this honesty was one of my first months in Haiti in which a woman turned to me, after several attempts at saying it in Creole, said in her broken English “Your butt! …its beautiful…and so big!” The honest parts of this culture challenge me in all ways, for sure.
While it can be hard, it is also enlightening. For me here, there is no stretch between what reality is and what my concept is. I see the reality of people I work with and know and love every day. This is their reality. My reality is that I have chosen to be a part of this life with them for some moments, and even in that never fully understand it. Though my perspective is different, reality doesn’t change.
Haiti reminds me of the importance of putting your actions behind your words. How it might be easy for me to hide in a coffee shop or wonder aloud at the injustices in the world, but it really doesn’t change much. In order to change, we have to put in the work. It can be long and painstaking, it can cause us to suffer. But, man, this honesty that I am met with in Haiti is something I need so desperately. I cannot hide. I am who I am here; I am only capable of what I can bring. I have realized rather quickly that if you bring something without love, it is nothing.
So often we feel badly for nations who are unlike our developed countries. We wonder what it must be like to go to sleep without food or lose someone to a disease with a common cure. While these are worthy reflections, I find myself caught between two realities. There is one that says my life is only good if I have access to all of these things, if I can spend money and do things I need to do, if I can put myself first. The other reality is here and it is honest. It tells me that while our needs are important, that nothing can truly replace our character, our honesty, and the amount of love we give away.
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.
Going through the motions of security checkpoints and checking in for flights came like second nature to me. Even though I had not flown to Haiti since before the summer, my body remembered how to get there via plane, for sure. Upon arrival in Haiti, I was not overwhelmed like I thought I would be. It felt like coming home. The banjos playing in the airport, the chattering Creole, the teams with the matching shirts...it was all there in that airport. When the immigration officer commented on my "good" Creole, I laughed and thanked God I could remember enough to have a conversation with her.
Walking outside, the heat hit me first. But, following soon after were the emotions. So many emotions seeing so many people and knowing how many of them had stories that had changed in some way or another over the last 7 months.
I did not expect memories of the last time I was there, sick as a dog, to come flooding back to me so quickly on the route home. I did not expect to feel so overcome with thanks for the way God protected me in that time, processing that experience as if I were seeing it more clearly. I did not expect to feel so many emotions, reeling in my mind, as I was reunited with the teen mother who we've been praying for and supporting; the cooks for Konbit, who waited in the waiting room of the clinic that night with me; the people I have come to know as family- all who welcomed me with open arms.
I also did not expect to feel so sad. Sad for the woman who had lost her child due to a strange illness or lack of drinking water; sad for the way I made people worry about me there; sad I couldn't do more to help everyone; sad that I am not superwoman and can't do everything I want to do, that I expect myself to do.
Haiti has made me feel a lot of things in my time working and learning there. This short time visiting helped me to see ever so dimly through the veil that stands between the heavenly work God is doing and my miniscule understanding of it all. That in between place, where I have to squint my eyes and think real hard, is usually where I live. Wondering and waiting to "get it," to get the point of whatever it is I am suffering through or learning. This time was no different, but I do feel like I saw through the veil for a moment. Here's what I saw:
1.) Hope abounds. The first thing I felt when I walked into our little community was hope. It was overwhelming, almost tangible. Though people might not know where their meals are coming from or what is happening in their midst, they are hopeful. Flowers were growing, new baby animals were everywhere. It's new. And, it was a reminder that in the middle of everything up in the air, we can still hold onto hope (and hopefully baby animals).
2.) Our lives do not only affect ourselves, no matter how private we tend to be. I kind of sunk into a hole, being away from Haiti so much. I thought to myself that if I didn't share the intricacies of my own pain and life with anyone, that I could only affect myself. However, I realized when we landed in Haiti that that simply wasn't true. Those who love us and whom we love want to know the struggles and issues we are facing. They face them with us and we with them, even if we are far apart.
3.) We will never understand the fullness of the intricate plans God has for us. If there's one thing I learned this trip to Haiti, it was just how veiled our experiences are. The way I experience things in Haiti is different than even how Ryan does, nevermind our Haitian friends. Everyone sees things through their own lenses, their own personal experiences, and depending on what God is actually doing in the lives of the people experiencing things. I noticed that while I hated being gone, there was a lot of good that came out of it, as well.
4.) We can still mourn with those who mourn even when we don't understand. I am just one of those people. I like to tie things up neatly almost before I process them. It is difficult for me to just hear information and not know what to do to tie it up. When we got word that a little girl dear to our hearts (and certainly to the hearts of our friends in Haiti) had passed away suddenly, there was a gnawing at my heart to bury it. I didn't understand it, so I didn't want to deal with it. But, that is not the right way to do things, even in the inbetween time. This is still a painful injustice experienced by far too many parents in the developing world, but we can have a reaction to it: mourning with those who mourn. In that mourning, no matter where you are or what the situation entails, there is something holy that happens in that brokenness. If that's all we experience in this lifetime, then that is enough, too.
5.) There can be (and is) joy in what we don't understand. In the midst of feeling so much and also not knowing what to do with those feelings, I felt it might be best to lock myself away until I could get ahold of myself. However, I quickly realized that wasn't the only thing going on. While we convince ourselves that pain and sorrow are incompatible with joy, this just isn't so. Joy is best when paired with sorrow, I think! I saw and experienced so much deep joy in Haiti because I realized that it is not our circumstances which define us, but the hope withstanding it all. The hope that allows us to mourn collectively, the pain that comes when we the people we love are in pain, the friendship that endures miles and miles. This is what defines us, and this is what gives us joy.
This entire trip reminded me of this verse "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a (wo)man, I set aside childish ways. Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.…" (1 Cor. 13:11-13). I don't understand a lot of the heartache in Haiti (or the world) and how it is presented ever so harshly there, like a slap in the face. But, I do know that I don't see the whole picture. Clinging onto the fact that there is joy in the middle of not knowing and to the Map Maker Himself makes me remember that there is hope springing up in every corner. We see dim reflections in our life now, echoes of hope and joy in this life. We see enough for now, though. Enough to know that faith, hope, and love are intrinsically important to the lives we lead. Enough to know that what we see isn't the full picture, but a glimpse.
I am thankful for each glimpse I get- of heartache and pain, of friendship and long-suffering, and of the overwhelming feelings I have when I think of this crazy life we share as a human race, bound together by our experiences.
A plane flew overhead and I wanted to be on it.
Did the people I was with even know what a plane was like? Did they know where that plane was headed?
It was 2011 and I was working in a tent city in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. It was hot, dusty, and all around unpleasant. The mission we were working with made us hand out dried peach pesh and serve them to people out of 5 gallon white buckets. It seemed like a small gift to these people who had been going through hell.
The bathrooms were disgusting. Like, maggots growing in the toilets.
The water was scarce. Like, turbid and flowing through a canal.
The hope was gone. Like that airplane that went by.
I remember several of my experiences working with these displaced people. I remember learning they were displaced in the first place. Many of the people who were living on one side of the city did not have houses near there that crumbled, but were miles away in another part of town. Many of the people who were living in the tent cities had jobs, lives, family members- a typical life- until their house (and world) crumbled.
People claiming to help exploited them. Those who were helping asked them to consider converting to their religion as they tempted clean drinking water in front of them. They turned to one another for survival, but it was rough.
My experience was nearly 7 years ago and I still remember it well. I remember the shock that went through my system when I realized, truly, what these people had gone through. They'd lost real families and real friends and real jobs and real homes. I remember also knowing that I'd never know the pain like this: my entire world changing in an instant and people not understanding my situation. I remember those planes flying overhead.
I have never been to the Middle East. I have great friends who have worked there, I have friends who have worked with refugees in the USA, and I only have a little experience teaching ESL to some immigrants from this area of the world years ago. I cannot even pretend to imagine what it must be like to be fleeing Syria and wondering where I will go. I can't.
But, now, more than ever, I am beginning to understand that plane overhead. For those people in the Haitian refugee camp, that plane was their connection. Connection to the outside world can mean one of two things: hope or despair; life or death. With each influx of people from the US and other countries, Haitian camp dwellers could either be encouraged and inspired or they could have been taken advantage of- made to sell themselves to a UN worker or to have their pictures taken without their consent, made no better than an object.
While my friends and family might not have been thinking about Haiti and those people in the camps back in 2011, they were there. And, while people not be thinking about them now, many of them are still there. In the same light, while we might not all have the Middle East on our hearts and minds, but people in some of these areas are fighting for their lives. Living in camps with really horrible conditions, wondering if that plane passing by is bringing light or darkness.
We are a part of a global community. We don't get to choose this. In a world where we can email anyone in the bush of Tanzania or the mountains of Haiti, the poor and vulnerable are more accessible than ever. People facing horrible situations globally are able to post about it instantly on Facebook. The reason this is important, and the reason it might make us uncomfortable, is because we realize our own position as Americans.
Things like this begin to flit through our minds "The United States and Europe spent nearly ninety times as much on luxury items as the amount of money that would be needed to provide safe drinking water and basic sanitation for those in our global village who do not have these necessities now"- Groody, Globalization, Spirituality and Justice. Through acknowledging the poverty and bondage of others, we reveal our own poverty of heart- and the riches we also have to give. It changes us. And, that's uncomfortable.
Look, I picked an awkward time to relocate to being based out of the USA. The longest stint I have been in the US in 6 years and we have elected a very controversial president and are in the middle of a lot of complex problems in our world. I can get overwhelmed and upset with the rest of them. But, honestly, I keep remembering that plane.
We choose what kind of things we bring to people in crisis and desperation. We choose what kind of message we want to bring. Is it hope and love? Or is it death and meaninglessness? It is my prayer that in these times we remember who God is- the God who is Love, the God who took the part of a refugee and was incredibly impoverished growing up. I pray we remember that He is on His throne, no matter what chaos ensues. I also pray that He would make us brave- to face the injustices of poverty and war- with hope and change.
overthinker and under-planned; development worker, believer, friend, wife, sister, daughter; learning a lot every day.