Saturday, November 20, 2010

The peace that transcends all understanding

Whenever I talk to people about how I’m doing, they ask if I’m homesick. My response is, yes, I miss the people at home so much. I think about everyone all the time and can’t wait to see everyone again. But even though I miss them, there’s this peace that I have about being here in Orlando that is totally separate from my sadness of not seeing the people I miss at home. It’s like, I can have a longing for people, but simultaneously have this joy. I’ve had a lot of thoughts swarming through my head, and I’m not sure how many conclusions I’ve come to, but I want to share them anyway.
I think it could be easy for Christians to look at my life and think, “It’s so simple for Sarah. God is blessing her in so many ways, everything is falling into place perfectly, she’s filled with joy, and there’re no hard times. God, I trust You. I’m trying to be faithful. Why am I struggling so much with discerning Your will and seeing the good and everything turning out for the best like us Christians always preach?”

To this question, I don’t have any conclusions. I don’t believe that our God is one of golden stars or stickers. I mean, I don’t think His thoughts are: “She did something good; one golden star for her. 9 more to go, and she will have another blessing!” And I’m not about to say that being married or having a family holds you back from living in God’s will.

But for myself, this is what I do know, and I’m trying to piece it together. I’m not married and don’t have a family (don’t be offended Mom, Dad, and Josh; just stick with me). I don’t have to worry about other people in the decisions I make (I don’t mean that in a selfish way, but in an “ability to serve God” kind-of-way). I know the passions God has placed on my heart, and when a door of opportunity has opened, I haven’t had to think about how it will affect my husband’s job or where my kids will go to school. I mean, I applied for this job, was offered the position, and moved across the country to Orlando and started working within three weeks. It’s definitely a desire of mine to get married some day, but I know it will happen in, yes, “God’s perfect timing” and so until that day comes, I’m determined to keep seeking Him daily.

But the other thing that I believe has made the biggest difference has been moving past just, seeking God. Over the past four years at Northwestern, God continued to teach me over and over about His faithfulness. It has been the theme of my college years and especially this year. Back in January, it was my desire to be in Physical Therapy school this fall; I spent three years preparing for it. But I got to a point in February, where I knelt on my bedroom floor in my Northwestern apartment one Saturday morning and prayed, “Lord, I desire Your heart, not mine. Whatever happens is okay with me. I can let go of my desires because I know that Your plans for me are far better than I could ever plan for myself. So take my life, all of it.”

Then I went to Haiti this summer. It was incredible! But towards the end of the summer, I began to realize that I would soon be re-entering the United States where I wouldn’t be going back to school. I had no idea what would happen. So one night on my bed I was praying. The words that were screaming in my heart came out expressed to the lyrics of Chris Tomlin’s song, “Take My Life.” (Chorus: “Here am I, all of me. Take my life, it's all for Thee.” Look up the verses too- so good!) That song became my theme song. The day after I got back from Haiti, I went on a run and remember praying, “God, this is the first day of I have absolutely no idea what’s next. ‘Here am I, all of me. Take my life, it’s all for Thee.’” One month later, I moved to Orlando.

I know that throughout this year, as I’ve prayed that prayer to God, I have fully, completely, given Him my life- my whole life, holding nothing back. I didn’t want to keep any part of it for myself. And so now, here I am. He up and took me across the country by myself to an unknown territory where I knew one person. At first, I told people I was scared. But then, I realized I wasn’t scared. I knew everything would be okay because I knew the One who was taking me. Was it hard to say goodbye? Most definitely! I cried every day from the time I got offered the job to the time I moved down here. But they weren’t tears of fear. They were tears of sadness knowing that I was having to say goodbye, at least for a little while, to the people that God had put in my life over the past 22 years to so richly bless me.

And so, now I’m here. And yes, I still miss all of you more than you could understand. But those feelings of sadness are so separate from the peace I have about being here. Everyday, God makes it so evident that this is where He has put me and where I need to be. Because of that, I have experienced this “peace that transcends all understanding” that Paul talks about in Philippians 4:7.

And so this is the thought I’ve been pondering (it’s not biblical, just Sarahicle): In order for us to experience the peace that transcends all understanding, we need to give God our whole life, all of us, because it’s all for Him, holding absolutely nothing back. Because I think if there would have been one speck of something I was too afraid to give Him, one thing I would have held back and not laid down before Him, I’m pretty sure that one thing, no matter how minute, would have blocked me from experiencing that complete peace.

And so this is my continued prayer for myself and for you: “Do NOT be anxious about anything, but in EVERYTHING, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, PRESENT your requests TO GOD. And the PEACE of God, which TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4:6-7.

A lot of funny things happen in language translation

So at work, I speak Creole about ¼ of my day and am constantly trying to learn more and speak and understand it better. But, whenever you are learning a language, funny things tend to happen. Here’s one from yesterday:

There are a lot of low back pain issues and for a lot of people, simply stretching the correct muscles will do a lot of good and take a lot of pain away. So the other day I was stretching a Haitian woman’s hamstrings (muscle group on back side of your legs). To give you a visual, she was lying on her back on our treatment table with one leg up in the air. I was kneeling on the table facing her with her elevated leg against my shoulder so I could lean against her to stretch it. The stretch I do is one in which I lean against her to stretch the muscle, then I have her push against my shoulder so that muscle is contracting, then she relaxes and I push, etc. So when I have her push against me, I usually say, “Peze mwen,” which means “press me” or more typically, I say, “Puse mwen, puse mwen,” which means “push me, push me.” After I said this repeatedly, she and another Haitian woman in the room had a little conversation going between them and were laughing. I said, “What, am I saying it wrong?”

Laughing, they said, “No, but it’s funny when you say, ‘Puse, puse,’ because that’s what you say to a woman when she’s in labor and you want her to push.” Haha. I assured them no babies were going to be born in our training room. They assured me I could continue to use that phrase, but I’m also sure if I do, they’ll continue to laugh.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What are the chances? I guess with God, pretty good

June 17, 2009, I was on American Airlines in Port au Prince ready to fly back home to Wisconsin after spending 3 weeks in Haiti interning with Lifeline Christian Mission. I was flying by myself, but the Lord put this sweet Haitian lady in the seat next to me. My Creole wasn’t the best, but I prayed God would give me an opportunity to reach out to this woman, and so I said, “Hello, how are you?” in Creole. It was definitely one of those moments where God opened my ears and mouth to understand and speak Creole better than I normally could. After learning that she’s lived in the U.S. for nine years and was home visiting Haiti, has a son who lives in Boston, and was flying back home to Florida, she handed me her ID, passport, and green customs/immigration form for me to help her fill out. I figured she didn’t read or write, and so I read the form to her and helped her fill the whole thing out. I remember this distinctly because I praised God for the opportunity and prayed that He used me to bless and love this woman.

This morning at work, I walked out of my room, and this Haitian woman approached me. She told me that she knew me and asked if I knew her. She went on to explain to me that she thought I was the girl that sat next to her on an American Airlines flight from Haiti to Miami a year ago and helped her fill out her form! WHAT?!?!?! I laughed because I was speechless and in so much shock and awe of our GOOD God. We shared our memory of the moment from our perspectives and sure enough, this was the woman who’s lived in the U.S. for, now, ten years, and handed me her customs/immigration form so that I could help her fill it out!!!! Together, we laughed, hugged, and praised God together.

Oh, LORD, how good and wonderful are Your ways and Your diving timing! Thank You for confirming, once again, that this is indeed where you want me and have placed me! To You be ALL the glory! May Your name be exalted and lifted up, and may the world come to know Your love and the joy You give as I have been blessed to know!

Lessons from Rosa

I have a friend, Rosa, who works in the custodial department. Rosa is my Gospel-singing, Jesus-loving, “I’m gonna tell you about HIM,” sister! I asked her today, since she’s worked for Disney for many years, the lines between work and Disney policies and being a Christian. She didn’t hesitate in her response and gave me the best sermon I’ve heard since last Sunday! She reminded me of a wonderful story in the Bible (Luke 15:3-7), “The parable of the lost sheep.” When one sheep out of a hundred strays away, the Good Shepherd will leave the ninety-nine to go find the one that’s lost and joyfully bring it home.

In our society, we talk about drug attics, alcoholics, and label people by their addiction or lifestyle. But as Christians, we shouldn’t look at them and call them with those titles as the world does. Instead, we need to look at each of those individuals and see a lost sheep. Unlike Cain in Genesis 4:9, we need to be our brother’s keeper, go find them, love them, look after them, and lead them back home to our Shepherd. We can’t hide from the Lord. He knows where we are at all times, and He will come searching for us. And He will knock on the door of our heart. But He’s not going to make us open it and invite Him in. He wants to pick us up, put us on his shoulder and carry us back home where He can call everyone together to throw a party for us and rejoice in our homecoming (Luke 15:5-6). But He’s only going to do that if we allow Him too.

As Christians, we’ve had that party thrown for us. We know the goodness of it, and the joy and blessing it is. How selfish it is for us to not extend that invitation out to the lost sheep in our world, to be our brother’s keeper. If you (if I) call ourselves Christians, then for goodness sake, let’s live like it! The world where God has placed us is our mission field! Look at it! We live in it, and here, we will find lost sheep all around us. Let’s bring them home for a homecoming party!

My first Haitian church the U.S.A.

I met a Haitian woman at work who invited me to go to church with her because I told her I thought it would help me with my Creole. So, I went last Sunday. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a Haitian service like I knew in Haiti or if it was going to be more of an American service in Creole. I arrived right on time at 10:30, but when the service didn’t start until 11:00, I knew it was definitely going to be a Haitian service. I tried to be comfortable, knowing I was in the presence of a people group God has placed on my heart. But when you know you’re the only white girl and you stick out like a sore thumb, it’s a little hard to relax. I enjoyed the worship and tried to move enough that I wouldn’t stick out as being super uncomfortable, but not too much that I would draw attention to myself. It took a few songs, but when they began singing a song that I recognized from “Chants d’Esperance,” a popular Haitian hymnal, I started dancing more and became more comfortable. It was a song that became very common to me after this summer.

We sat down for announcements, and I thought to myself, “You know, in Haiti at church services, when there is a visitor, they have the visitor stand up in front of everyone and introduce themselves. I wonder if they will do that today. And if they do, do I speak in English, or attempt Creole? Don’t panic; don’t think about it,” I told myself. A woman I recognized from work was ushering up and down the isles monitoring the scene- common Haitian church practice. I caught her eye, and she came over to me and was sure to tell me that when they ask for visitors, I needed to stand up and present myself. “Okay, what do I know in Creole and how fast can I come up with an introduction on the spot?!”

The time came. Everyone in my pew turned their heads toward me, and along with the three other people there, I proudly stood up (trembling inside) waiting for my turn. I wanted to listen to what the other Haitian visitors were saying, but let’s be honest, I was just practicing my introduction over in my head. Then, the pastor looked at me. I took a breath, saw everyone staring at me, and said in my best Creole, hoping my voice wouldn’t crack, “Hello. My name is Sarah, and I just moved to Orlando, and a friend invited me to come to church today.” I think everyone was staring at this white girl in joyful surprise, but I was focused on the pastor. Then he cut me off from the rest of my rehearsed lines and went off on this little tangent. I have absolutely no idea what he said. He was talking too fast, and I was too flustered to understand. I then just saw my whole pew motioning and telling me to sit down. So I plopped down quickly.

I tried to listen to the sermon, but like Haiti, the Pastor spoke with such power, that the speakers were bursting with loudness. Unlike Haiti, the church was inside, enclosed (and air-conditioned) so there was no place for the sound to travel except to pierce my ears. I’m pretty sure I had temporary hearing loss after the service. This kind of distracted me from trying to understand what the Pastor was actually saying, but the nice man next to me tried to translate parts here and there. He was shouting in my ear so I could hear him over the pastor, but it was thoughtful nonetheless. Bless his heart. I’d like to go back sometime, but with my hair down to hide the earplugs that will be in my ears =)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

For such a time as this

It was about week two of work. I was driving in my pargo (aka golf cart) through the resort to check on people. I saw this Haitian woman picking up trash in the parking lot, so I stopped to say hello. She spoke decent English so our conversation was about ½ English, ½ Creole. We were talking about how funny things are said when learning another language. I agreed and told her about a time when I messed up the Creole words for “to eat” and “boyfriend” because in Creole, they sound similar. That led to her asking if I had a boyfriend or was married. “No,” I responded and told her that I was waiting for God’s timing. She smiled so big and looked so relieved with my response. Seeing her expression, I expounded to say that I was waiting to marry a man who loves Jesus more than he loves me and that I need to love Jesus more than I will ever love this man. Now, almost with tears in her eyes, she said, “It’s so good to see young people like you who love the Lord because not enough young people do.” She hugged me so hard and for a while. I could tell she was on the verge of tears. I asked her if she knew why I came to Orlando for this job. I told her it was because I knew I would get to work with Haitians and that I love Haitians so much and wanted to serve them. She thanked me for coming to serve the poor people and told me repeatedly that God would bless me. Then, standing in the middle of the parking lot, I was unprepared for what was next. She stood tall, held her arms out to her side, looked toward heaven and closed her eyes. Now sobbing, she began to pray for me in Creole, thanking God for me, asking God’s blessings over me. I was so blessed by this woman. I knew at that moment, that this is why I picked up and moved across the country. God had a plan and a purpose for me, and it was being lived out.

I was talking with a friend later and told her what had happened. She said, “Sarah, it’s neat. Maybe God brought you to Florida to interact with the Haitian people, love them with the love of Christ, and be a witness. But maybe it was also just so you could be a source of encouragement to the ones there who already know the Lord.” How right she was.

I don’t write this because I’m proud of my decision to move or because I want people to acknowledge some “great ability” I have to connect with the Haitian people. No. I share this because this is a testimony of the Lord working in and through my life. This is about how He is moving and the gifts and abilities He has created. And these things, to HIM be ALL the glory, are the things He is doing in my life, and the gifts He has bestowed upon me. I share this because God is confirming each and every day that this is where I need to be. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but for such a time as this, this is where He has placed me and this is where I need to serve. May we be encouraged together at what the Lord is doing.

Esther 1-9. “And who knows that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

Cultural differences exist in the same country

Mom was with me as we road tripped across country to Orlando, Florida. A two day drive, but it was good time to spend together. I think my favorite seen was when we finally got to Florida, we stopped at the Florida Welcome Center for a couple maps and our free glass of orange juice. But as we pulled up, it was me, mom, and everyone else over the age of 65. My favorite sight: Grandma driving, Grandpa riding shotgun with a flat-brimmed baseball cap on, handicapped sticker hanging on the rearview mirror, and a bird in the birdcage in the backseat. Oh, God bless the Snowbirds!

I’ve noticed a lot of differences in the last month that I’ve been here compared to my Midwest upbringing:

  • The grass is different. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s so full and thick, the blades are wider but not as soft.
  • There’re palm trees- you just don’t see those in the Midwest.
  • Town houses (like what I live in) are everywhere. It must be the way to go in Orlando.
  • Alligators are supposedly the deer of the south- but I still haven’t seen one yet =(
  • An armadillo is the raccoon roadkill of the south. I saw one the other day when I was with my co-worker. I got a little excited- yes, I’m new. She told me to make sure not to hit them with your car, though, because if you’re going fast, they can overturn your car because of their rock-hard shell.
  • Okay, then there’s the road rules. Driving in a city has its own set of rules. On more than one occasion, I’ve come home and drawn out a scenario for my roommate and asked her how you’re really supposed to handle such a situation. For example, if you’re turning right on red, there’s usually a sign posted to say if it’s not allowed. But if there’s no sign, and it’s a red arrow, then doesn’t that imply you shouldn’t turn? I’d think so, but not here. If it’s a red arrow and you yield to oncoming traffic, then go ahead and turn on right…I guess. And if you’re in a turn lane, what’s the point of using your turn signal? Nobody does here, not even the cop I saw yesterday. And U-turns: they are everywhere and are legal; that also requires a learning curve.
  • Along with driving, when mom and I were coming down here driving through some of the major cities, we came across those wacko drivers who are speeding 20+ miles over the limit and weaving in and out between vehicles across multiple lanes. I would see someone make such a move, and say, “Oh my gosh! What an idiot! What’s he doing?!” Well, after only a couple weeks in Orlando, I’ll be driving and when I see such a situation, I’ve noticed my attitude has changed slightly. Instead of being ticked by someone’s stupidity, I find myself in admiration, with a slight chuckle to myself saying, “Hey, nice move man. Impressive.”
  • I’ve also noticed them temptation to fall into the sin of road-rage. I haven’t cursed anyone out yet, and I’m pretty sure that’s not really part of my nature, but I’ve noticed a slight increase in irritation.

Well, more differences and observations to come I’m sure.