Friday, March 31, 2017

Haiti: The Unexpected

It's been 3 weeks since returning from our third trip to Haiti. 

By now, I've usually blogged, or journaled my thoughts about the trip because it helps me to process through my thoughts and emotions. 
In some ways returning home gets easier every time. In other ways. It gets harder. 

My love for Haiti, and the people there, grows each time I return. I miss them when I'm not there. I cherish every moment with them when I am there. Leaving can be tough, and at the same time a relief. Coming home is bitter-sweet. The entire process of going to Haiti, being in Haiti, and returning from Haiti has proven to be a blend of emotions. 

This trip was the most difficult of the ones we have taken, for a whole lot of reasons. We had several problems throughout our trip, but through it all we knew that God was in control, and we tried to take each opportunity to remember that this was HIS trip and not ours. 
I have some "technical" posts I want to write, detailing our trip and what we did while we were there, but for today, I'll keep it a bit more about how I've been feeling, and thinking, since returning home. 

Haiti is the first place I've ever traveled for a missions trip (domestically or internationally). I honestly can't remember exactly what I was expecting before my foot stepped off that plane in Port-Au-Prince, but I'm certain it hasn't at all been what I had originally thought it was going to be.

I knew within the first hour of being in Haiti that I was never going to be the same. 
I knew by the time I returned that I was committed to serving Haiti wherever God would find a place for me, and I prayed it would be with Voice of Compassion (the non-profit that I had gone to Haiti with). 
I knew after returning home that the people I had met in that first trip would never leave my heart and that they would always be with me, whether I would ever see them again or not. 

What I didn't realize on my way to Haiti that first time, was that Haiti was about to become a part of me. Forever. And that God was going to use Haiti to do a major work in my life and in my heart. 

From that very first visit, God began knitting my heart with Haiti and the people there, and that work continues even now. There was a lot about Haiti, myself, and the people that I expected that first trip. But there was a whole lot more that I wasn't. So this post is about all the things I didn't expect. 

I never expected to love the people in Haiti the way I do. I knew I would care for them. I expected for the students, their families, and the orphans that we were going to be working with to touch my heart. I expected to meet one or two kids that I couldn't get out of my head. I expected to love Pastor Lavaud, because anyone I know that knows him, loves him. So I expected to care. I didn't expect to walk away after only a week with true Christ-centered friendships and a heart for not only "the people of Haiti" but the individuals I now knew by name; people that I now considered my friends, people that,  (by the world's standards) I "barely knew" but that I genuinely loved.  

I never expected to connect with the people there the way that I have. I think it's partly this connection that explains the unexpected love I have felt. I could go on-and-on about the people I've met in Haiti, namely the believers, who despite a language barrier, I have connected with on a level that I rarely experience here in the U.S. 
It's difficult to explain, but it's as if the language barrier almost helps us to connect with the each other in a way that isn't possible otherwise. It forces us to connect based on other things that unite us, like our love for Jesus. 

Honestly, I haven't had the pleasure of sitting and talking with most of my dear Haitian friends for hours at a time, getting to know their life stories, but I have looked into their eyes and shared moments of understanding, moments of joy, moments of gratefulness, and moments of deep sorrow. And in some of the most emotional of moments, we didn't have to come up with something special or meaningful to say with our words, we were given the opportunity to communicate, rather, with our eyes, our hearts, and our actions. 

I've been able to look at them, and they me, and actually see them, and to feel as though I've truly been seen. It isn't always comfortable (for me at least). It can feel exposing, and vulnerable. 
And in some ways, I believe it's the way that God intends for us to see one another. It's freeing. It's humbling. And it's something that forms a bond I wasn't expecting. 

I never expected to feel sorry for myself. 
I'm not sure if I'm supposed to admit this or not, but if I'm being honest I would tell you that I expected to "feel sorry" for the people in Haiti. Not only did I expect it, I guess I thought that's what I should feel. So I certainly never expected to walk away from my last visit, actually feeling "sorry" for myself and people here in America. 

It is extremely difficult to explain what I mean, especially without coming across as judgmental (and I certainly don't mean it that way), but I'm going to try nonetheless. 
There is something about the believers in Haiti that is very inviting, something I couldn't place right away, but that I knew I wanted for myself. 

I saw it first in the face of the mother of one of our sponsored students during a home visit. We were speaking through a translator, but we managed to keep eye contact most of our conversation. 
This woman, was.... inviting. I couldn't place what it was that made me like her so much and to feel at home by just being near her. 
She was joyful. She was grateful. She was welcoming and humble, but also confident and secure. She had so little, and yet she opened up what she had to us. 

I found out later, after talking to Pastor Lavaud that night at dinner, the woman (and her family) were members of the church, both her and her husband actually sing in the choir, and she has a great love for the Lord. I remember thinking, "Well, that explains it." 

There is a simplicity of life in Haiti that no matter what changes I were to make here in America, I could never replicate here. There are many parts of their culture that are appealing to me (and many parts that are not), but what I'm really hungry for is the "thing" that the Christians there have, that we in the church of America, are often lacking. Despite their financial poverty there is a spiritual richness there among the believers that I would trade for in an instant! 

Their complete dependence on God produces a genuine faith, a faith that I have struggled with most of my Christian walk. Their joy in the Lord is genuine, real, and contagious.  Their love and generosity toward one another (even when they have little to give) is tangible. They share what little they do have with those around them. 
They seem to live their lives with their hands "wide open" fully ready to give to the Lord all that He asks. Their grasp of life and it's frailty far succeeds anything we can comprehend here, and because of that, you don't see them fighting for control over the uncontrollable. There is not this sense of striving and struggle with the Lord that we so often have here in America. 
The life of the Haitians is a difficult one. The church there is far from perfect (as it is everywhere in the world). They are not perfect Christians. I am certain that they have their own list of struggles, but as a Christian American, their lifestyle and the faith and strength of character it produces in them are very desirable, and something that, I wish I had. I wish we all had. 

I never expected to think about Haiti as much as I do. 
I expected to go to Haiti and to return thinking about my trip and all that I saw and experienced there. I didn't expect to think about Haiti to the extent that I do. 
I now volunteer with Voice of Compassion helping to coordinate the Student and Orphan Sponsorship programs, so just in the work that I do, I'm constantly looking at, learning about and working with pictures and profiles of the students, their families and the orphans in Hinche; but even beyond that, I can't remember a day that has passed that I'm not thinking and praying for Haiti and the people there in one way or another. 

My prayer list, as it now should be, is full of requests for Haiti and the people I know there. But even throughout the day, a thought of Haiti will jump up at the most random of moments, like: 
When I turn on hot water, 
or get a clean glass of water. 
When I smell garbage burning. 
When I hear a horn honking. 
When I eat a mango, an avocado,  
or when I drink a coke. 
When I hear children singing. 
When I pass a playground that is hardly being used. 
When I hear music being played too loudly on someone's speakers. 
When I see the color orange. 
When I look up to the sky and see the stars. 
I don't think of Haiti every time I experience one of these things, but my memories and affections for Haiti seem to always be on the cusps of my thoughts and they can be triggered (happily) at the most unexpected moments. 

I never expected to grieve over Haiti the way I do. 
Like I mentioned before, I expected to "feel sorry" for Haiti, but thats not what I feel, or at least that's not how I would describe it. The word I would use is actually more grief. 
I grieve over the history of oppression and slavery that has seemed to dominate this country (and still does). Child slavery, in particular, is a major problem in Haiti. 
I grieve over the injustices of corrupt leadership at nearly every level, and not only that it exists but that it has come to be expected.

I am grieved by the reality that many parents experience a loss of a child, and/or are often faced with decisions as parents that we cannot fathom here in America. There are many parents there that feel their only option is to give up their child to an orphanage (or worse) in hopes of a better life for that child, because of the inability to provide for their basic needs. 
I am grieved by the consistent lack of basic needs for the majority of the people - food, clothing, water, health care, medicine, education, etc. - when so many of these things have been given and provided through humanitarian relief efforts, and yet because of poor planning and corruption they have seemed to do little good. 
I am grieved that in many ways, Haiti just can't seem to "catch a break" - natural disasters, poor leadership, lack of education and resources, and spiritual bondage have all seemed to help create a cycle of struggle for the people in Haiti that is difficult to accept. 

I am grieved by the reality that many orphanages there are ran as a business, rather than a loving environment for the world's "least of these". 
I am grieved by the reality of voodoo and the darkness, pain, false-hope, suffering and struggle that it produces. The primary battle taking place in Haiti (and everywhere in the world) is not against flesh and blood but in the spiritual, and Haiti's open support of voodoo is causing greater harm than perhaps any other source. 
I long for Haiti to be set free. 

Lastly, I didn't expect for God to change me the way that He has through my experiences in Haiti. 
I mean, I expected Him to change me. I wanted Him to change me. But I didn't expect it to be in the ways that it has. 

I went expecting that my eyes would be open to poverty. Whereas what I really found was that my eyes were opened to spiritual wealth and the global Church in a way that I hadn't realized even was possible. 
I don't ever want to go back to seeing God, the Church, and the world the way I saw it before. 

Voice of Compassion's primary purpose isn't to bring some great relief to "fix" the financial problems in Haiti (though they do that as best they can with the gifts that God has given them), their primary purpose is to partner with long term missionaries and believers in other parts of the world, to come along side them, to encourage and support them in the work that they are already doing there. VOC may come for a week or two a year, but the people we are working with spend every day of their lives there.

I knew I was going to Haiti to support and encourage those who were already there, and I walked away after spending a week with Pastor Lavaud and many from his church encouraged and built up. God certainly uses his (global) Church to build and grow one another, and in some ways I feel as though I walked away with the best end of that deal! 

Through watching the believers that I've met there pouring out their lives for the sake of the gospel where they are, I had to ask myself, is this what my life looks like where God has me? I came back from Haiti motivated to change, and I pray even now that God keeps that conviction and challenge alive in my heart.

Before hitting the "publish" button, I just want to be sure to clarify that I by no means think that what I am feeling, thinking or processing through is meant to be everyone's journey. God has chosen to use Haiti in my heart and life. I would assume for most people, Haiti isn't necessarily the tool God will use in their heart. I do, however, believe God has called (ahem, commanded) all of us to serve others through missional-gospel centered living, and that won't mean Haiti (or even international missions) for everyone. But it will mean something. We are all called to be sharing the gospel with others, to be serving the "least of these" both here and around the world, and standing up to advocate for and fight for the rights of those who are unable to do so for themselves. This doesn't mean we will all travel around the world to do the actual "work", but as believers, we should all be supporting (with our prayers, talents, and/or finances) the work that others are doing here at home and around the globe. 
I encourage you to find missional work to plug into, in fact, I would even encourage you to find more than one. If any of you would like to hear more about Voice of Compassion and the work that they are doing, I would be more than happy to talk with you about it... though I'll warn you, you may get more than you bargained for, some tell me I'm a little "wordy"!  :) 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What I've Been Reading {2017} Book List

One of the goals I set for myself this year is to read more. 
I love reading, and the older I get I realize what a blessing it is to actually enjoy and learn from reading. 
We also homeschool and we read aloud a lot together as a part of our school, both fiction and non fiction. Some of the best book discussions I've ever had have been with my kids, and that's just.... awesome. 
In the past, for my personal reading time, I've spent a lot more time reading non-fiction than fiction. I read a lot of homeschool books, christian/Bible based books, books on speech and learning struggles, and other topical books on things that our family is into (Yes, I've actually ready several books on chicken coops). I plan on continuing to read these types of books (of course) but I really wanted to start reading more GOOD fiction. 
A few of my closest friends and I started a book club last year and I think that is really at the foundation of what has gotten me back into reading fiction for myself. 

All of that being said..... I plan on posting more often about the books that I've been reading. Mostly just for my personal records (I can't tell you how many times I've gone back to my own reading lists to find the name of a book). 

So without further delay.... Books I've read so far this year. 


"The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom 
Goodreads Rating = 4.17/5 
My Rating = 8.5/10 
Book Club Selection for January 

Honestly, my rating is probably higher for this book, it's up at the top of my list for favorites, but I struggle with commitment issues, hence, the 8.5 rating. 
I LOVED this book. I mean, loved. It's set in the late 1700s early 1800s in the south. Pre-civil war (for those of you that aren't good with dates). 
Dealing with issues of slavery, family bonds, love, survival, and life on a plantation. I was struck once again by the resolve of  the slaves, the acceptance of their life, and yet their ability to persevere, love fully, endure and to continue, regardless of circumstances, to work hard and push through. 
This was not a fairy tale book, in any sense. It was tough. It was truthful. It wasn't always pretty. But it was also heart-warming at parts. It was eye-opening and a reminder about how far we can stray from the laws of the Bible (and obvious human ethics) and yet think we have the right to do so. 
This was one I could not put down, and well worth reading! 

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett 
Goodread Rating = 4.45/5 
My Rating = 7.5/10 

I read this book after hearing about how it was similar to "The Kitchen House". It was set in the 60s (I believe) and deals with civil rights issues. I feel like most everyone has either read the book or seen the movie but me. I genuinely enjoyed it. It wasn't as "heavy" as "The Kitchen House" but dealt with some pretty real and tough issues. I can see why it was so well received, and then turned into the movie. Like with most books, I'm glad I read the book before I saw the movie, because the book was much better and offered much more insight and detail. I appreciated that there was some humor in this book, even in dealing with the heaviness of the reality of that time. You couldn't help but fall in love with the characters. I mean. Seriously. I wish they were real, and that they were my friends. 

"Small Great Things" by Jodi Picoult 
Goodread Rating = 4.38/5
My Rating = 8.75/10 

I loved this book. The timing was impeccable and "coincidental" having read so many books dealing with race in America. I genuinely loved that the perspective of this book came from a thought-she-wasn't-racist white woman, a hard-working-middle-class black woman, and a white supremacist. The book (as quickly as I can describe it) is about a black nurse on trial for murdering a baby that she had been commanded to not touch (because of her race). Painful, real, raw, eye-opening on so many levels. I always love reading the author's notes and I love the amount of time Picoult put in to studying a subject that was so sensitive and important to our time. 

"Atonement Child" by Francine Rivers 
Goodreads Rating = 4.26/5
My Rating = 6/10 

This was a good book. I just didn't feel like it was a GREAT book, parts of the book seemed somewhat predictable to me. A story about a young girl with, what looks to be, a perfect life in front of her. She's attending Bible college, engaged to a good-looking promising young man, but one night on her way home from work she's raped, and everything changes. She finds out months later that she is pregnant, soon after she's asked to leave the Bible college, and decides to move back in with her parents, where life continues to seem to unravel. I feel like Rivers did a great job handling some difficult topics. Overall, I'm very appreciative of some of the overarching biblical themes/lessons held throughout the book, like that God is sovereign AND good. I'm a big Rivers fan, so that's probably why I rated the book as high as I did. I felt like parts of the story really drug on. I also found parts of the book a little unrealistic. 

"Truly, Madly, Guilty" by Liane Moriarty 
Goodreads Rating = 3.55/5 
My Rating = 2/10 

Would not recommend this book in the slightest. So so so slow. I could NOT get into this book. If it wasn't for my personality of having to finish things, and see them through, there is no way I would have finished this book. Though I will tell you I skipped about 70 pages at one point, and no kidding, didn't seem to miss anything of useful/crucial value to the story. 
I hate to give an outright negative review of a book, honestly, but with so many good books out there.... I have to recommend avoiding this one. 

Young Adult Fiction 

"Wolf Hollow" by Lauren Wolk 
Goodreads Rating = 4.31/5 
My Rating = 8/10 

We read this book as a read aloud for school. We all genuinely enjoyed it. Based after World War 2 (I believe), it reminds me a little of "Little House in the Prairie" without nearly the overly-wordy detail. The kids all enjoy it and I don't think I read it once without them asking me to "read another chapter".  The children loved the suspense of the book, and trying to figure out "who did what" - we always seem to have multiple perspectives and opinions, which makes for great discussion. 
Based in Pennsylvania, it's told from the perspective of a young girl named Annabelle who lives in a quiet town, until Betty shows up, a girl who, from my perspective, is some type of socio/psycopath who takes pleasure in the pain of others. Betty's presence quickly causes Annabelle's (and the entire towns) world to turn upside down. 
My kids and I would certainly recommend this book. 

"The Inquisitors Tale" by Adam Gidwitz 
Goodreads Rating = 4.23/5
My Rating = 3.5/10 

Based in the middle ages about three unlikely (and outcast) children, a giant monk, a small jewish boy, and a peasant girl, becoming friends and joining together on a mission (against the king) that puts their lives in danger. I read this book because Alexa had wanted to read it and I wasn't sure if it would be age-appropriate for her. Throughout most of the book, I was fairly certain I would let her read it. There were a few things that I knew I would want to discuss with her (as you can imagine, the catholic church, saints, "miracles", and the middle ages would provoke a lot of much needed discussion) but nothing that I saw as a "deal breaker". (Side note: I tend to be a parent that wants to discuss these things rather than avoid them, and I can see why other parents would choose a different approach at certain ages and with certain children). 
However, once I got to the end of the book, I did change my mind (without giving too much away) because there are some biblical characters/stories that are brought up at the end as a part of the story..... I tend to avoid writing that attempts to mix biblical history/characters with a fiction story, especially for the kids. I find it to be confusing at this age, and with so many other good options available, I would rather avoid it. 


"The Broken Way" by Ann Voskamp 
Goodreads Rating = 4.46/5 
My Rating = 7/10 

I loved the overall message of the book, but I struggled even more with this book than I did with 1000 Gifts with the poetic writing style of Voskamp. Some of the crucial points she is attempting to convey are hard to dig out of the muck of her musical tone. In many instances I find her writing to be beautiful, but 275 pages worth ended up being a lot for me. 
The book is about sacrifice, and living out of our brokeness, living broken and poured out for the world around us the way the Jesus was an example to us all. True love does not happen without pain and suffering - it's sacrificial by nature. While, I didn't see anything in her writing that is directly heretical, I know many people complain about some of the liberties she takes with scriptures, and I can kind of see their points, but at the same time, the over-arching message was certainly in line with what scripture teaches. 

"Nothing to Prove" by Jennie Allen 
Goodreads Rating = 4.55/5 
My Rating = 8.5/10 

I was genuinely encouraged by this book. Easy to read. Well organized. Powerful message. 
Dealing with the struggle of constantly trying to prove yourself and measure up to people, is one that I have (in spades). and no as I begin to serve in positions of leadership this struggle can feel debilitating at times. Using stories from the book of John Jennie Allen walks through the clear messages of the Bible that while we are not enough, Jesus is, and the freedom that comes from truly understanding this. 
Some of my favorite quotes: 
"We are not defined by our worst or our best: we are defined by our God." 
"It's not my curse that I believe I am not enough; it's my sin that I keep trying to be." 
"When we hide, we diminish ourselves, we diminish our worth, we diminish our belief in God." 
Allen's writing is practical, real, and biblical. I love how honest she is lovingly pointing out some of our (those in the church) ongoing mistakes - like distracting ourself with entertainment (binge watching TV anyone?), distracting ourselves with the work of the mission rather than God himself, allowing our identity to be defined by lies, isolating ourselves from other believers, and more. 
I highly recommend this book.