Friday, September 10, 2010

Skydiving- a spiritual exercise

Some of you may remember that back in January, I had the opportunity to speak in chapel. At the end, I challenged everyone to jump off a cliff. Well this past weekend, I didn’t jump off a cliff, but I did have the opportunity to go skydiving, which, is probably higher than a cliff anyway, right??? Leading up to it, people kept asking if I was excited. My simple response was, “Let’s not talk about. I’m trying to not think about it.” And as I told my best friend, “I’m looking at this not as something fun and exciting, but as a spiritual exercise. That honestly was my mindset the whole time, even as I was flying up in the plane before I jumped. I want to elaborate on my experience and how this perfectly correlates into my “Cliff jumping” (now skydiving) chapel speech:

Throughout our lives as Christians, we tell ourselves (and God too) that we are being faithful to Him. We tell Him that we’ll do anything He wants us to and go anywhere He takes us (but in our heads we’re thinking, “But I really do prefer where I’m at right now, and look at all the ministry needs right here! God, it’s probably best for me to stay here.”). So, we walk the walk and we talk the talk.

But what happens when we suddenly realize that God has taken us to the edge of a cliff (or opened up the airplane door) and He says, “Thank you for submitting yourself to Me and telling Me how faithful you are. But now I want you to show Me. Now, if your faith is in Me, I want you to jump.” Is it possible to turn back and not jump? Yeah, we can always say no to God because He gives us the freedom to choose; to say yes or no; to be obedient or disobedient; to be faithful or not; to choose His ways or our ways. But we want to choose His ways, and in our hearts, we really do want to be faithful. So we look out the plane door and realize, the only thing left to do is jump, trusting that God won’t let us fall to our death, but instead, that He’ll give us new life we’ve never experienced before!

But then we start to think again: “But if I really jump, I’m going to have to sacrifice so much. Up until this point, I’ve been able to carry my securities in my luggage- family, support, money, practicality, a job, familiar territory- but now I’m there, inches from falling out of the plane, and I can’t take any of that with me, I have to drop it all, leave it, and jump. All I have is God’s faithfulness to me.” But in the midst of all our fear and doubt, we know that God’s faithfulness is all we need. And while we’re waiting there, feeling the cold gust of wind in our faces, seeing the clouds below without a window in between, the thousands of feet below us, and everything inside of us screaming how insane, dumb, and crazy this is, we get this little sense of peace. We know that not only will the Lord of lords catch us, but He is going to be strapped onto our backs jumping with us. In fact, He’s the one with the parachute. Even if we forget everything we’ve learned along the way and we do everything wrong, His grace for us can’t stop the chute from opening. And so, He says, “Are you ready?”

And we say, “Is it time?”

And He says, “It’s time.” And we go; we jump. We jump! We’re freefalling and it’s CRAZY! But after a couple short seconds, we realize that even though we’re freefalling, it’s not scary anymore. It’s exhilarating! It’s freeing! Our screaming has turned to uncontrollable laughter in the freedom we feel in falling, knowing that everything is going to be fine. And then, after a short time, He pulls the chute. And we stop falling so fast; now we’re just joyously floating down. And we look around at the beautiful view, and are just overwhelmed with goodness at what just happened and what is happening. Just for fun, He soars us around a little; because he’s in control, and He can steer us too.

As soon as we touch the ground, we can’t help but think, “I can’t wait to do that again! I’m ready this second to go back up and jump again!” We realize that the scariest part was the few minutes leading up to it. The jump itself was awesome (after the first couple seconds in which we’re still realizing what we actually did). It was the buildup, the hype, the thoughts that almost made us turn back. But, we did it. And we have no regrets.

When God takes you to the edge, the questions and doubt will come (I’m not old enough, I can’t do it alone, I don’t have enough money and I have students loans, everyone will think I’m crazy and foolish, I don’t have a backup plan, let alone a plan…). But if God clearly takes you up and opens the door to the plane, will you jump? Will I jump? I dare us to, because I’m pretty sure once we land, we’ll have no regrets and want to do it all over again.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Overwhelmed with so many thoughts I have no words

All summer long, we’ve been telling our work teams on their last night in Haiti that when they go home, they need to have a 3 minute speech prepared to tell when people ask, “How was Haiti?” I’ve put that off because I had all summer. But now I’m home, and people are asking, and I’m struggling with my answer. I have so many thoughts, saw God in so many (every) ways, learned so much, and was stretched beyond what I ever thought. So many thoughts but few words to express them (or more words than necessary to try and describe what’s going on in my head =). Here’s my attempt:

  • There is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is based on our circumstances, but joy comes from the Lord and is renewed each morning. Life after the earthquake for the people of Haiti did not bring happiness. Each day is still a struggle for most everyone. To say that there is great need in Haiti is an understatement. The people there are hungry, need a safe place to live, healthcare, and education. Life is burdensome, onerous, and unyielding. But this is not the end of the story! Despite these things that are true, for basically everyone, the people that know Jesus have so much joy and put me to shame with my lack of joy. They find their joy and their strength in the Lord each day. With every right to complain, they don’t; they praise. Gaston, one of the masons who can work endless hours nonstop mixing concrete recites over 40 verses and passages from scripture by memory. Madame Therese who lost her sister a few weeks ago to malaria continues to dance and sing for the Lord with joy radiating on her face and cares for numerous people in her house beyond her family. The little kids from Jeanty church sing in church from the bottom of their hearts at the top of their lungs, eyes closed, hands raised to the heavens, all praise to Jesus. The adults from the church meet five days a week at 4:30 in the morning to pray, study and memorize scripture, and sing for over an hour. The teens meet at 5:30 in the morning on their own to pray and sing.
    Joy does not come from circumstances. It comes from the Lord. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.” Psalms 86:3
  • You can’t save everyone. This was a hard lesson, especially as I did therapy. You can’t come to Haiti and not be overwhelmed by the need and devastation. It would be so easy to walk away from it feeling hopeless because even if you could do something, it wouldn’t even seem to make a dent in the problems. But I heard a story this summer that stuck with me and showed me the approach we [I] need to have (in Haiti and everywhere). There was a grandfather who saw his grandson off in the distance along the beach throwing starfish who had been brought on the shore by the tide back in the water to try and save them. The grandfather went to his grandson and told him he might as well quit because he could walk forever along the shore throwing starfish back in the ocean and he’d never save them all. The grandson picked up another starfish and said, “But to this one, it does matter because his life has been saved,” and he threw it back in the ocean.
    I wanted to save everyone, but I couldn’t. But God didn’t send me to Haiti to save everyone. He just wanted me to love the people he put in my path every day because to that one person, I could make a difference and touch a life.
  • We’re really the same. Every other time I’ve gone to Haiti, I’ve been hesitant to do certain things because I realized I was the foreigner and felt the need to just watch, observe, and learn from them. I did not want to impose my American ways on them or offend them because of my cultural ignorance. However, after being there three months this time, I began to feel a part of the community. I saw the cultural differences, but those seemed to be just that- cultural. At the heart of most things, we really are more similar than different. One way I saw this was in the example of beauty. The beginning of the summer, I had my hair braided by some girlfriends of mine. When they were done, I had twelve random braids sticking ridiculously out of my head. But, oh, it was so beautiful they told me. I wasn’t sure I saw that beauty. Cultural difference: what they think is pretty in Haiti isn’t necessarily pretty in the U.S. and visa versa. However, in my last weeks in Haiti, I had the opportunity to meet with my group of teenage girls. As we talked, I learned that girls everywhere desire the same thing- to feel beautiful and know they are loved. This is not cultural; this is the way God made us.

To my dearest family and friends in Haiti and at Lifeline: I love and miss you so much. I’m realizing more and more that home is not where four walls meet and a bed lies within those walls. Home is where the people you love are. The U.S. is my home because I have many people I love here. But Haiti, you are my home too. Thank you for welcoming me in as one of your own. I cannot wait for the day when the Lord presents me with the opportunity to return to you. Until then, know you are constantly on my heart and mind and in my prayers.

The hardest thing You've asked of me

I think the first time I really ever felt out of my element in Haiti was the first day I was in clinic this summer. I felt so unqualified to do what God wanted me to do. But as you know, God worked through that whole experience and taught me a lot. However, two weeks ago, I experienced something else that was even more challenging in some ways.

With each team that came to Haiti this summer, we took them to Jeanty church one night (Jeanty is the name of a nearby community). It is a small but thriving and growing church. I LOVE going there; they are the most welcoming and loving people, and every service is full of heartfelt, lively worship. Pastor Julio’s wife works at Lifeline, and she asked me one day the end of July if I was going to sing the next time I came to Jeanty. I responded with, “Maybe I can do that,” thinking I was going to be leaving Haiti before I would be returning to Jeanty so I would be off the hook. Well, as it turned out, I stayed another month and had two more opportunities to return to Jeanty. It was on the back of my mind that first week that they may ask me to sing (in Haiti, there’s not a lot of warning about these type of things. It would probably be something like the Pastor seeing me from the pulpit and calling me out in front of the congregation to come up and sing.). There was a woman, Weena, on the workteam who I had become friends with and asked her if she would want to quickly learn a song and sing it with me in case they called me up. She has a beautiful voice and a heart for music so she quickly learned the Creole song. We got to church, worshiped with them, but they never called me up. Whew; got past that easy enough.

Well, a couple weeks later we returned to Jeanty; this was my last time going before I was really coming home to the States. I had kind of forgotten about the song thing until a couple hours before we left. I knew there was a chance they’d call me up, but they didn’t last time, so they probably wouldn’t this time. We got to church, and as I sat down, I realized I was sitting next to Pastor Julio’s wife. A few minutes later, she leaned over and, of course, asked if I was going to sing. I panicked a little…I didn’t have a partner to sing with me this time. I also get a lot of attention from the Haitian people because they know me from being there so long, and I didn’t want to put myself on a pedestal in front of the Americans to show off my relationships with the Haitians or how well I knew Creole. I tried to come up with every excuse possible to not, but she just was not buying any of it. After a few minutes of this, she said, “So can you sing?” I clutched my camera case so hard. See the problem was not singing in front of the Haitian people; it was singing in front of the Americans.

One thing that I love about Haiti each time I come is their heart for worship. They understand that when they worship, it’s not about a show or impressing the other people sitting next to them. They don’t debate in their heads if it’s okay to stand up, clap their hands, or raise their hands, because, it doesn’t matter what other people think. They’re not there to worship or please men, but God. I think most Christians in the States, myself included, so easily miss the point of worship in our churches because we are so concerned by these things and our appearance before men. I don’t consider myself to be a singer. I can sing in a choir, but I’m no soloist. But in Haiti, that doesn’t matter. There are Haitians who can’t sing a pitch, but they will stand up in front of a congregation and sing a solo to the Lord, and everyone just encourages them. I knew if I sang, it would mean so much to my Haitian brothers and sisters. This was no longer about attention for myself, but obedience and worship to my Lord.

I told her I could. A couple minutes later, I got called up front to sing. All my fears and inhibitions escaped me as I said, “I want to sing a song tonight, but I want to sing it to the Lord. I think it’s a song many of you know, so if you know it, sing with me.” And I began my favorite song in Creole: You’re holy, You’re good, You’re able, You’re mighty, You’re powerful, Lord. Everywhere on the earth people are singing You’re holy, good, able, mighty, and powerful.

It's a Revival!

(I'm trying to get caught up with a few entries since I last blogged. This is from around August 15th.)

Lifeline has been in Haiti for 30 years, and 2 ½ weeks ago, Lifeline’s church in Grand Goave celebrated their first church service 30 years ago with a revival that lasted all weekend. Lifeline has numerous churches all over Haiti and so people came from all the churches to celebrate and praise together. It was fantastic to see so many people there. Probably over 2000 people! There were people cooking out of the school kitchen to feed the masses- spaghetti one night (Haitian spaghetti), Haitian bread with a homemade hot chocolate-like drink for breakfast, rice and beans, beef (I didn’t try that one, but I saw the carcass☺). The worship began in the early morning at 4:00 or earlier and went until 10:00 p.m. or later each night. It was continuous singing, dancing, praying, preaching, and teaching. People were camped all over Lifeline’s compound, in the school, and in the clinic for this event. There were tap-taps (Haitian taxis) and vehicles parked everywhere and coming and going with people. It was incredible!

A highlight of the weekend was that a group of kids from the children’s home came to stay at Lifeline for the weekend (since they are located near Port au Prince). There were about 20 girls and they all stayed up in the dorm with me and two other girls who were at Lifeline throughout August. It was so much fun to live with these girls for 3 days and see how they live- their morning and night routines. I’m sure they were just as curious about us. In fact, I know they were as they would stare at us get ready in the morning (contact lenses are quite foreign to them), watch us do our hair, or put makeup on. One of the funniest things happened to Kelsi, one of the other Americans. She forgot to put her (electric) toothbrush away one night and noticed it was moved the next morning. Fearing it may have been used by someone else, she opted not to brush her teeth. She went to the bathroom, and while in the stall, heard the sound of her electric toothbrush turn on. She peaked her head above the door to see what was going on, and caught a couple of the girls using her toothbrush to brush their eyebrows! HAHAHA, too funny. I think the girls dropped the toothbrush and ran. Toothbrush, eyebrow brush, I guess it could be used for both. (Note: Kelsi got a new toothbrush to use for her remaining days in Haiti.)