Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Come and Listen.

Come and listen,
Come and listen to what He's done.

My heart bursts as I meditate on the lyrics of this song from David Crowder Band.
I know the words will not suffice, but I simply can not contain it in this moment.
As I reflect on the joys I've had the past few days, I am filled with gratitude... The celebration of 100 days of school and more, the 'louwanj' (praise) that has been testified by so many through the services at church, the view from my new favourite spot in the mountains, laughter that has been shared on a dusty ride up the mission hill, plaintains sizzling on my stovetop, the heart to hearts on my velvet couch, the sound of an acoustic guitar in the distance... These are just snippets of string that God has woven Himself through. Each provision, each blessing, each miracle.
My cup is full.
It's become apparent to me lately how His presence has accompanied me so closely these days.
My life can be scattered with worries. There are daily let downs. There are moments when I am lonely and afraid. Moments where I want to throw in the towel. But He has taken me from the darkness, and He has hidden me in His hand. He has taken my turbulent wanderings, and given me meaning. He has not abandoned me when everything else crumbles. Each and every time, He covers me with the whisper of His presence and shows me that He is enough.
Where would I be without this love?

And it's not just me.
I see it in the testimonies and lives of those around me.
Stories of provision and favour being poured out. Stories of love. Stories of hope.

This week I had my juniors go back to their memories from the earthquake.
A friend from Canada is developing French curriculum for Christian schools - She sent me an e-mail recently, requesting some testimonies from my kids as input for the Haiti unit she is working on.
My kids journalled about what the earthquake felt like, how their lives have changed since January, and how God has helped them through this time.
My heart swelled when I read Sammy's response.

God was like a big blanket that wraps around you when you are cold, except He wrapped around me to keep me safe.

I find it hard to express how much my heart connects with these words. The reason is, they aren't just words. This is the experience that has been felt by the millions in this country. God's warmth wrapping us up and holding us close and securing our safety. Sammy expressed it beautifully, but it's even more beautiful when you experience it in your life.
This feeling of love and comfort can not be suppressed. It has to be shared. It has to be celebrated.

This Sunday morning, a crowd that will gather before dawn around a bonfire in my Wainfleet church parking lot for Easter and commemorate the empty tomb. Lawn chairs will be filled with people young and old, bundled in hats and blankets, and Tim Hortons coffee and donuts will be served in abundance. It's a tradition that has carried on for years.
This year, I won't sit in the chilly morning air. I won't depart from the service smelling like a smokestack. I won't enjoy a sour cream glazed donut by the fire.
But I will watch the sun rise. The same sun that rises up from the pine trees bordering the church property will appear from behind the Haitian mountains. I will rise early and sit in the stillness as the sun scatters the darkness. I will think about that first Easter morning and the glory that was found. I will rejoice in the love that conquered the grave.

He has risen indeed!
He has saved me from myself.

As Riley quotes from his memorized verse... He pulled me out of the mud and mire, He set my feet on a rock, and He put a new song in my mouth. (Psalm 40)

He gave us the victory. Freedom. Life to the full.
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
You took the fall, and thought of me.
Oh, how He loves us.
Here I am to worship.

Come and listen.
Come and listen to what He's done.
I am grateful today that we will never stop listening to the things He has done. From the beginning of time until the glory of heaven, we will not cease to hear and witness the splendor of His love.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

No pain, no gain.

Last night, I had a date with some Grade 5 math textbooks, a Confederation unit, and some June beetles - the June beetles weren't really invited, so there were consequences... Let's just say the textbooks came in handy for more than school work.
I left the Hope House movie early, and spend the rest of the evening confined in my sweltering apartment planning for the weeks ahead... Not my most ideal way to kick off the weekend to say the least, but before you start giving me pity, keep reading.

It's been said that if there's no pain, there's no gain.
The reason for my unfortunate evening of overtime weekend hours was only to make the following day possible, and thus begins my awesome Saturday:
The morning began with french toast sizzling in my frying pan and friends from Mesaye (a village past Cabaret) climbing the mission hill with their twelve adorable orphan boys to spend the morning on the playground. Since the earthquake, we have lost touch with other missionary friends around the island... A lot of them were led to evacuate and there haven't been many social outings over the past few months if you know what I mean. 3 good friends of Rachel and I who are the American directors of their mission organization flew back about 2 weeks ago, so it was great to see them and catch up, as well as hang out with their adorable kids.

Following the morning playtime, I hopped in Rachel's hot new truck (okay, it's not really new, but she took the back cap off a few weeks ago transforming it from a simple 'work truck' to a seriously sharp ride). Rachel took me along to go shopping with her for a gift for Patris' birthday which is tomorrow. We rode in style all the way to Cabaret market and spent the next hour and a half meandering through the tarps in search of a few pairs of 'unblinged' jeans (which surprisingly can be a challenge), while consistently being caught up in our own shopping lists. ;)
The trip was a success and we headed back towards the mission shortly after lunch when I got dropped off at Gwopapapou to meet up with Sadrac and Wicky. We enjoyed our rice and beans and then proceeded to their house - which was just been repaired with cement and paint this week. As is tradition, we broke out the guitar and jammed... Missed you cheri!
The next thing on the agenda was to get palm leaves for the big story at kids church in the morning. As you know, tomorrow is the big 'Palm Sunday' and I was determined this year to take advantage of the local horticulture. Last year was pure embarrassment as I remembered a little too late that it was Palm Sunday and ended up scrounging some bush branches to illustrate the action. But this year I was SERIOUS about palm leaves!!! Shortly before we took off, Leeann and Michelle popped over and joined us on our expedition out into the Haitian farm fields. Sadrac and Wicky were pretty confident about where we would find top notch branches so we trekked beyond the residential area of Sourcematelas, machete in hand. Sure enough, we found what we were looking for and thanks to some monkey-like interpreters with skill to climb the trunks, we headed back to the mission with some giant, and I mean giant palm leaves. I know for certain I'm going to have to select some pretty buff kids to be the 'crowd'!

Upon our return, I took a quick shower to rinse off the Haiti heat and dust, and prepped for girls night which is happening in the here and now. We've got Walk to Remember on the big screen (not literally, but in Haiti, anything bigger than a portable DVD player counts) and the girls are soaking it in like sponges... We just had to rewind the proposal so that nobody missed it. We've got 3 fans blowing on high, but it's not doing much for the nail polish fumes nor the 100 degree weather. Oh well... It's been a great day from start to finish.

I think you can probably gather from my post tonight that I'm willing to pay in another Friday night for another day like today... Hope you enjoyed my evening schpeal, and I appreciate your prayers for the kids church story tomorrow!

Monday, March 22, 2010

My church home.

I have fallen in love with the Church of Hope.

Maybe it was last night's service.
I stood amongst a sea of dancing, clapping and waving singers as the bongo drums, guitars and keyboards played vivaciously on. Young mothers swayed back and forth as the heads of their newborn bobbled on their shoulders. Children and teens left their seats and moved to the aisles where they jumped and held hands. Seniors raised their arms and clapped to the rhythm. And I couldn't get the smile off my face.
The pace of the song in Creole was far too fast for me to catch onto, but it didn't matter. The sound and view from where I was standing was heavenly.
I crouched down to Senson who was standing beside me. I grinned at him and happy wrinkles formed around his soft eyes. My heart swelled.

Maybe it's Sunday morning kids church. The way that the attendance explodes every week causing kids to pack in like sardines on the picnic tables. They don't seem to mind. Volcy, Emanuel and Erta chant out jingles like 'Let me see your funky chicken' and 'Father Abraham' with an echo of hundreds of screaming kids. We sing, laugh and dance until the sweat kicks in, and then they sit like angels for the story. Lately we've been memorizing scripture as well, which the kids have blown me away. There is no chalkboard or enough bibles for everyone to follow along with, but they echo the verse from the leader and within a few repeats, they've got it nailed. It's exciting for me to witness these blessed children reciting promises from the bible that they will carry home with them.

Maybe it's the words of the songs that I've learned in Creole that have now become more than just different sound blends, but words that connect with my heart. I used to have to be so concentrated on singing the words in the right order and not losing my spot on the page, but now that I'm catching on, the songs that have been taught to me echo deep into my soul. Words like, Adoration is all that I have to give, My heart is yours, Surround me oh Lord, He is always there, He is my faithful God. These lines sound a lot different in creole. Usually, the first thing that I did was interpret them into english so I could understand. Lately I find that this hasn't been my priority. I'm realizing I like the words better just as they are.

Maybe it was the youth service on Sunday afternoon. Between sporadic bursts of music blaring from the speakers, the youth committee director led the group in the singing of some familiar classics including 'Deep and Wide' (in creole of course), followed by a round of Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah. The only issue was that the pair who led the song had some issues, and brought the second group of singers in on a completely different key than the first. I think this goes without saying that it creating some very wonky harmony. The youth sang their hearts out despite it. I sang along with a chuckle in my throat.

Maybe it's the familiar faces of Hope House kids and cooing babies that smile at me when they catch my eye, and the gardener and cook who work at the guesthouse who grab my hand and pull me into a hug at the end of a service.

Or maybe it's the chance to walk back up the hill in the dark when the service ends at night. Sometimes I get to hold the hands of my mountain kids and we stroll hand in hand down the path with the light of my cellphone guiding the way. I've often thought to myself that I should capture a photo of the shadows before us as we walk. The beam of the flashlight creates an outline of our bodies walking side by side... My tall silhouette surrounded by little bobbing heads as we climb the road. When we reach their footpath back to their tent, I kiss them all goodnight and then they scamper away into the darkness, whispering and giggling until they are out of sight.

I think part of the purpose of writing this blog is the fact that I haven't always had this feeling when I come to church. Often times since September 2008, I have showed up for a service and tried my best to be a part of the people, but felt a lingering emptiness inside. I would so often long for my Wainfleet congregation... A place full of 'my people'. It was easy to compare churches and usually I felt like a foreigner in Haiti.
But lately, these scenarios I've listed have meshed into my longings for a place of familiarity. More than just connecting to a sermon or a song, I connect with God's people. I connect with His presence. I connect with His love. And it's there that He whispers, I am home.

I am so grateful for this place to join with the Lord's people, His body. I know it's only through Him that I have a chance to belong.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Heatwave of Heroes

This week we've reached over 100 degrees on the heat index every day.
I like to think I've climatized to the heat by only requiring a ceiling fan going in the kitchen during the day and an occasional oscillating fan circulating the air after supper, but this week I've had all 4 of my fans blowing on high non stop. Something about the lack of breeze and sun intensity has caused me to sweat from sun up to sun down (and then some). The cement guesthouse that we are all living in has somewhat of an absorption effect as well, which turns the spaces between our brick walls into solar ovens... The other morning I was convinced that it would be possible to fry an egg on my tile floor... Okay, okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the picture. The heat has also created some very warm mornings in the classroom, but the kids have definitely been troopers. Despite needing a few extra excuses to refill their cups with ice, they have been plugging away consistently through their work, which makes me feel increasingly confident that we will reach our school end by June. After the earthquake, we pretty much had to write off the entire month of January coverage, which left me worried that we wouldn't get through everything in time. But with the Lord's help, the kids are progressing very well. Thank you for your continual prayers are we work through our final months of the year. To God be the glory for getting us to the end!
In addition to the extra hot weather, our beach day couldn't come at a better time. The kids have been working up towards a total of 50 bells (which they receive for coming to school on time both first thing in the morning and after recess). At last we have reached our total, so we are all looking forward to taking a day out of the classroom to the sunny Carribean shores on Friday. It can't come soon enough!
An additional highlight to our week happened today. A few days ago Grayden informed me that 2 NFL players would be visiting the Mission to see for themselves what action has been taking place here, as well as evaluating the needs around the villages and how they can get involved (check out the news report here). Without much thought, I suggested that we should get them to come to our class, and I immediately set myself up for some high expectations... The kids were all over it. Now it was just a matter of me finding a way to make it happen...
When the NFL players arrived this past Monday, I peeked sheepishly out into the guesthouse area where Winston Justice and Quintin Demps lounged with their entourage of camera crew guys and fellow football friends. Somehow I had to find a way to ask them to take time out of their busy 4-day schedule to come and say hello to my students. It sounded so easy in my mind when I told the kids that I would ask them myself, but I was easily intimidated by the reality. Luckily, I found my way in through Otis, who is one of the Mission staff who works alongside Brad on the State side. He has toured many pastors groups over the years and had come to guide the NFL players during their time in Haiti. When he walked into the side room that I was hiding in, I presented my request, and it wasn't long after that until word spread throughout the players and it was confirmed that they would make a stop in to our classroom.
I could hardly wait to tell the kids, and we anxiously awaited their arrival this afternoon.
I have to admit, I am not much for watching football, but after today I have definitely become a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Winston and Quintin totally stole the show for the kids and I. They gave their testimonies, answered questions that the kids had prepared, and passed out autographed footballs with their team emblem.

I was so thankful to the Lord for allowing these two gifted athletes to see the value in taking time to come to our classroom. It truly meant the world to the boys, and I think I can speak for the girls in saying they were pretty impressed too! ;)
To hear them speak about the importance of living out a real faith everyday, and trusting the Lord as a guide through each step of life was a wonderful testament and impact on all of us. In the world's eyes, they are heroes, but sitting across from them today, they pointed us all to the true Hero in all of our lives. I praise the Lord for the way He uses each of His children as vessels to point others to Him, including big, beefy, 6-footers who like football. I can't wait to de-brief with my kids tomorrow!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A story worth sharing.

I finally got my hands on Donald Miller's latest book, 'A Million Miles in a Thousand Years'. Despite his scattered writing style, I have resonated a lot with parts of his other published works, so I've really been anticipating this read.

Yesterday afternoon I left the stack of textbooks on my kitchen table and opted for some couch time with the book. So far, it's hard to say where he is going (do you ever know with Donald?), but what he writes on the cover is what he learned while editing his life (narrows it down doesn't it? haha). The book is introduced around his experience collaborating with film directors about making a movie about one of his previous books, which essentially means that he gets to go back and 'tweak' the story he already lived.
The time spent with the movie writers makes him think more about stories, what makes a good story, why some stories don't make the cut, and how we all long for our lives to become stories... Stories that are significant. Stories worth sharing.

One statement that had me reach for my pen was this - Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than the master storyteller.

I thought about the truth of that phrase, based on the my own favourite stories...
The best stories always have great challenge and impossibility woven into them. Great stories aren't predictable. Stories that are told again have lessons to be learned. And of course, stories are always celebrated for the 'happily ever after'. No one likes an ending of heartbreak.

But a story isn't just a story for the happy ending... It's the fight and the tears and the strength of the character that builds the story up to an ending that is worth watching. So I agree with the idea that conflict and pain are necessary to build a 'real' story. And I want my life to be a good one.

The issue is when I go back to my own story, I'd like to skip over the day by day conflicts. The disappointments, the hurts, the pain, the fears, the struggles... When hard times come, I wish them away. I pity myself and look for a way out. I pray for a painless life, and yet in doing this I am going against the exact thing that I want in the end. A story worth telling. A legacy.
I fight against the storyteller... I deny His 'bigger picture'... I reach for His pen and insist on my way. To name a few: I tell Him that the whole earthquake-aftershock scenario was better left unwritten. I make suggestions that He should heal my eyes so that I do have to wear glasses anymore. I critique the romantic plotline of my life and doubt His promise of giving me the desires of my heart. I could go on about all of the changes that I would make to the story He is writing in my life. It would be so much easier if He did it MY way. But with a painless life, all I would end up with is another dusty book on the shelf. I can hear God saying, 'take your pick'.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about God's purpose in pain. He has lived in the impoverished village of Sourcematelas all his life. A year and a half ago, his father passed away suddenly, leaving him as the 'man of the house' for his mother and 9 other brothers and sisters. He continued to press on, going to university in the city of Port-au-Prince and believing that someday God would raise him up as a leader in the country. When the earthquake hit, though his family members were spared, he lost his home, he lost many friends, and his hope of graduating with a degree in a year in a half was left hanging in the balance.
My problems look like a walk in the park compared to the pain that he has experienced so far in his life. And yet through it all, he looked at me confidently and said, 'God is still good'. Although he may never understand all of the pain that he has lived through on this earth, he chooses to trust that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and that He is good.

I want a faith like that.
I want a story like that.
I want to believe that God is good, and that He is telling a story of our lives that is so much bigger than where I sit today. Not for my sake, but for His sake.

As Donald Miller writes, God is the master storyteller. The Academy Award winners and Blockbuster hits are nothing compared to the plot line that he has designed for each of our lives. No doubt, His story will involve heartbreak, it will involve struggle and impossibility, but only to make our ending all the sweeter and His glory all the greater. As my youth pastor once said to me, I have a feeling that the journey has very little to do with our dreams and plans. God is going to wreck you and when there is nothing left... there's Jesus!

Isn't that what it's all about? Our story is about redemption and beauty and healing and grace and salvation and love. It takes all the blood, guts and tears inside of me to believe that there is a bigger story being told, but in moments like this it's undeniable:
I stood in church holding baby Hannah this morning... The same baby Hannah that came to the mission last June weighing less than 4 pounds and fit perfectly between my wrist and elbow. She now takes all the muscle in my two arms plus an arch in my back to hold for the duration of 2 songs, but she leaned in snugly as I sang along with the congregation, 'Senye ou bon e lanmou'w ap dire pou tout tan' (Lord you are good and your mercy endureth forever).
It was one of those moments where you wish time would stand still. The Lord's presence was so evident to me as I reflected on the beauty of the reality I was standing in. Another page of blessing that I never want to forget.

God is love and truth and goodness, and in faith He will bring us to the end of a story that will leave us breathless and abandoned to His presence. Someday I hope to collapse at His feet, and hear the celebration song of angels. And it will be the only beginning of a new story that starts with 'happily ever after'.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

All things new.

I think it's safe to say that I've been broken back into 'Haiti' life.
Last night I rode up the hill in the dark backwards on an ATV, between Lindsay and Michelle, with Leeann on the throttle. It was a pure dust bath to say the least, making a second cold shower absolutely essential before I changed into my pyjamas.
After landing in Haiti first thing yesterday, I spent the remainder of the day unpacking, visiting friends, getting my head in gear for school which started today, celebrating Bridgely's 8th birthday party (seriously 8!?), and attending the evening worship service. It's great to be back.

As most of you know, over the past week I have been in Florida with my parents. They met me at the Fort Lauderdale airport early last week and we spent the past 7 days hitting up the beach in the morning, eating an incredible lineup of food daily, and stuffing my hockey duffel bags with treasures found between Ross, Target and the Salvation Army Superstore. I can't put into words how thankful I was for the chance to be with my mom and dad, and for the countless cards, gifts, and words of encouragement that they passed along to me from home. I know my thanks will never be enough to express how much your support means to me, but I can try. I am always overwhelmed by the love that comes from my Wainfleet congregation, and the sequence of events that have taken place since December has exposed so many others who have been tracking with my blog and lifting me up to the Lord. Thank you all.

Now that I am back in Haiti, I still find a lump in my throat in certain moments. As much as I know that this is where I am called to be, it's a struggle leaving the loving arms of family and going on alone.
It's a different feeling than I expected coming back this time. I had psyched myself up for a week of 'therapeutic crying', a chance to come away and let out all of the emotions that I've had to contain during these weeks in Haiti. And yet, I come back without feeling that significant 'release' that I expected. Don't get me wrong, I'm not an emotional time bomb ready to explode... The time in Florida was just what I needed to refuel and be ready for 4 more months of school, but the meltdown that I was gearing up for never happened. I am beginning to understand that my recovery from the earthquake is something that can be confined into a week of therapy. I can't cry on command. I can't express the pain. It's not just something that I can step through and be done with. I think I will carry this experience and the burden of trauma with me for the rest of my life. It's not something I can simply let go of because it's a part of who I am now. And it's okay.
It's been almost 2 months, but I'm still absorbing it all. Flying over the island and seeing the bright blue tarps spotted over mountains and villages was another reminder of the loss, and day by day I come to grips a little more with the effects. I appreciate your prayers as I continue to process everything. Pray that my heart would not be hardened in fear of too much pain or accustomed to the devastation, but that I may be repeatedly softened by what I see.

It was somewhat of a struggle for me to justify a week in Florida after witnessing such a loss in Haiti. I couldn't fully understand why I was the one that got to go away. This country is full of broken people... People who have nothing, and people who have nowhere to go. I felt a sense of guilt as I departed, thinking about all of the people who deserved this vacation so much more that I did. How I wish that they could ALL come along. And yet, I know I can't wish for things that I can't change right now. The only thing that I can do is pray that these abundant blessings that have been bestowed upon me would be in turn used to bless others. It's my human nature to hoard and chock the wealth up as if I'm entitled, but that's not God's idea. I want to choose to accept the beautiful blessings He has given me and pour myself out to others. Thank you for your prayers as I use my week away to give back to those around me, not just with material things, but with time, and with hands to hold, and with a heart of love.

I believe in the Lord's time, He will bring healing in my heart. He will bring peace to the nation. He will restore this island. 'He makes all things new' is a promise we are all holding onto. And step by step, day by day, we will be held fast in His arms.