Saturday, February 27, 2010

Only the Beginning.

Yesterday the kids and I finished reading 'The Last Battle' - the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. I never thought that I would be so sad to see it end. I'm not much for fantasy stories, but since the release of the Narnia movies, I've connected with the symbolism and deep truths of the plot. The books did not disappoint.
Last winter the 3 van der Mark kids and I turned the first page of the Magician's Nephew, and we've plugged away until now (reading about a chapter a day). It's been a memorable journey and it's amazing how the story struck a chord with each of one us. Reading the adventures and lessons learned by the characters, I found myself immersed in the emotions and grander themes of the text. Many times I have to go back and read sections over again, astounded at the way it applies to my own circumstance. C.S. Lewis is truly a gifted writer. Yesterday it was sad to close the cover, knowing that our adventures in Narnia are over, and yet the ending paragraph was so beautifully described and reminded me again of the bigger picture -

" . . .. and as Aslan spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was on the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before."

Happily ever after is what we all hope for at the end of the story... But in this case, there is even more... A story that continues where every chapter is better than the one before.
I took some time to reflect on the ending, and how it applies to my own life. It's a reminder to me of how life 'as I know it' isn't true life. Sure, it's a reality that is passing by moment by moment. But it's only a glimmer of what REAL life is.
Occasionally this world offers me glimpses of what we have yet to see - bright fuschia flowers blooming year round beside the mission gate, the sunset colours dancing on the water, the cooing of babies at the Hope House, fresh squeezed ji zoranj, floating in the crystal Caribbean sea looking towards the mountain heights, the chorus of the church congregation.
There is undeniable beauty around me. Around all of us.
And yet amidst the beauty, there is brokenness. There are elderly people sitting alone on street corners. There are incurable diseases. There is fear in the hearts of children. There are natural disasters that tear down walls and rip families apart. There are bombs and wars and greed.
If only we could break out of the pain in this world. If only our human nature could some day be banished.

What would these days look like if we lived everyday knowing that this is not the end?
Just like the story of Narnia, what would my life look like if I chose to wake up every morning knowing that there is a greater story to be told?
What would our world become if we clung to the hope of a better tomorrow?

With everything in me, I know the promise isn't broken. My faith is but a mustard seed, but I know it's enough to hold onto a greater story. Not just for me, but for my brothers and sisters without a home, for the children starving for food and truth, for the office manager in a high-rise corner office searching for something to fill the void, for the single mom without a paycheck, for the ones who wander and the ones that simply wait.
May we all be aware of the promise of new life. Restoration. Salvation. Rebirth. Joy.
Beyond our wildest hopes and dreams. It's only the beginning.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Still shaking.

It's still not over.
I thought that the worst of the aftershocks were long gone.
I was mistaken.

I almost forgot about how they felt in my house. The constant tension spinning in my brain about when the next one was going to strike. The uncertainty about being inside alone, the need to have a roommate at night, and keeping a towel close by in case of an earthquake during my shower. And yet, my attempt at turning a page has faded in the fears that have quickly rebounded.
Yesterday morning I was awakened by more shaking. I had been in a pretty deep sleep, so when I first sensed movement, I thought I was dreaming (earthquake dreams have been pretty regular over the past month to say the least). I was still dozy when I awoke so by the time I really clicked into reality, the shaking had subsided. Gratefully, I was able to fall back asleep.
Multiple aftershocks kept us on our toes throughout the day yesterday and continued to awaken us last night. It was a bit of a different story than the night before.
For hours I laid awake in my bed, re-living the sensation, reminding myself where my passport and valuables were stored in case I have to run out of my house for the very last time. I overanalyzed the sounds out my window trying to detect if the gust of wind or low rumble of a vehicle was instead an earthquake surfacing. The kids and I refreshed our earthquake evacuation plan again this morning... Something I never thought we would have to do. Memories flood back of panic, insecurity and disaster. The worst part is not knowing when or how bad the next one will be.
At dinner last night I heard stories of people coming into the clinic who were wounded from the earthquake re-occurrence. Not because a building collapsed on them or any village dangers, but because of the way they fled their homes. Deep cuts and sprained ankles that resulted from the way they desperately tried to escape from their makeshift shelters in the pitch blackness.
I think about my own fears and memories from the original shake. The sounds, the sights, the lack of control I had over my own body. But I had it good. I was in my house that miraculously stayed standing. I ran outdoors to the security of other people who took me in their arms and we stayed protected together. The Mission of Hope walls cracked slightly. Nothing fell.
I think about some of the things my friends had to witness... City buildings crashing down around them. Witnessing the screams of a mother losing her child. Breathing in the dust of disaster and the scent of decay. Losing limbs. Seeing the house they spent their whole life building in a heap of rubble. Recounting the memories of the dear friends and family they have lost. I can't imagine the emotions, the fears, the desperation they experience when the earth shakes once more. There are no words.
Please pray for these precious brothers and sisters who are still suffering beyond what any of us can imagine. I wish I could say that it's over. I wish I could assure those around me that they will never have to re-live the trauma again. I wish I had someone to tell me that I could sleep in peace. But there is no guarantee. We have no control. We simply have to lift our hands up in mercy and surrender to the One who is.

In a few days I will be flying to Florida for a week vacation. My parents will be picking me up in Fort Lauderdale and I am counting down the days. Thank you for your continual prayers as I lean heavily on the promises of Psalm 46, and that in the time I am away I will be able to rest. That there will be moments where I can reflect and process the emotions that I haven't had time to face. I trust that I will be able to testify His healing power, and that I will be equipped to face whatever is ahead in the months to come.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ready to Fly

Even though we may not have the channels nor bandwidth to keep up with the Olympic momentum back home, we are still cheering on our home country over here in Haiti. Last Friday we kicked off the opening ceremonies with a torch race, and ever since, Grayden has been keeping our class connected with Canadian achievements each morning. Ana and Mina have been charting our medal accumulation on our Olympic wall that Leeann created. Yes, we've got the spirit! It's kind of ironic to think that as the world joins in Canada (our true north strong and free) to celebrate the winter games, the world also unites in Haiti as more and more countries band together to help with the efforts in bringing relief. In my most recent trip into Port-au-Prince, I continued to marvel at the diversity of flags from all over the world marked on the backs of all-terrain vehicles, flying high from their base in the airport landing field, and scattered throughout medical personnel gear at the city's general hospital. It is so inspiring to know that people are rising up across the globe and sharing the burden. It's enough to believe that across language and culture, we are unified by the belief that hope will come.

The picture above has been on my desktop for a while now. Every time I see it I can't help but get the Mary Poppins tune in my head: Let's go fly a kite, up to the highest height, let's go fly a kite and send it sailing!
It's a snapshot that I took nearby the water source in the village of SourceMatelas. This little boy was completely enthralled in making his makeshift kite fly. He didn't need much to get it going - It's amazing the creations that Haitian children come up with... They find bits and pieces of string, twigs and torn plastic and put them together to catch the air and soar. I watched as the little guy waited for the breeze to come and then slowly he would unreel the string between his fingers letting the air take it higher and higher. Once and a while, the wind would let up and the kite would plummet downward. He would whip his arm around and do his best to recover it enough to stay in the air before the wind would take it again. It was certainly giving him a work out!
The symbolism of this picture has been a bit of an object lesson for my own understanding this week. I've been thinking about how I am the kite... We are all makeshift kites. Bits and pieces of nothing that have been hopelessly abandoned. We're nothing until our Father picks us up and creates us into His design. It's not because of anything we have done, but only His grace to pull us out of the dust and turn us into something beautiful for His glory. It isn't always an easy flight. The winds and tensions may falter our strength, but He doesn't give up on us. He stays faithful. He believes in what we can become even when we don't.
I think about the people of Haiti, and about how easy it is to see hopelessness in these difficult days of starting over. As humans, it's easy to write the country off as an impossible situation. But that doesn't mean God does. He is greater and His ways are higher. High enough to lift His people out of their brokenness and teach them to fly again. That is my prayer for Haiti. That those who feel broken and forgotten will have the faith to believe that they can still fly. I believe that His power is enough to raise His people up and soar on His strength.

But those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall lift their wings and mount up close to God as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. ~ Isaiah 40:31

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Just a Child.

There is a little wall hanging that I have on the back of my front door. It can only be seen when the door is shut completely, and for that reason it's only ever seen by me - due to the Haiti heat, my door is only closed when it has to be - before I go to sleep at night.
Tonight when I shut my door I reminisced about it for a minute. It's a wooden cut out of a little girl on a swing and in the classic olde country print it reads 'Diana's Room'. It was one of the decorations that I used to have in my bedroom in London, Ontario, the city I grew up in for 6 years of my childhood.

Most of you who are reading my blog never knew me at that time, and you may be surprised to know that I was paranoid about security. My parents tell me that I played well with the kids in my neighbourhood, but there was a condition: we always had to be at my house. I would get invited over to play at a friend's I refused to go. I would do everything in my power to stay within the safety of my 'bubble'.
I hated the church nursery. My little brother Broc had to comfort me week after week as I bawled my eyes out when my parents left for the service (His 3 year old words, 'Don't worry Dana, my be with you' is a phrase that still comes up to this day). Babysitters were rare when I grew up, mostly because my parents knew how much I dreaded them. Even the ones who went above and beyond with fancy toys and games from their magic backpacks were kept at a far distance. Usually, I would just hide out in my room until they were gone. Due to my difficult social adjusting (putting it nicely), my parents decided to keep me home for JK, which was music to my ears until SK rolled around. My parents psyched me up for an exciting school year and I even got a Barbie lunchpail, but it wasn't enough to prepare me for the morning school bell. While all of the primary kids giggled and ran around the playground, and then proceeded to dash inside when the buzzer rang, I stood alone and sobbed. It took a parent bringing their child late to school to rescue me.
Yep. Pretty hopeless.

Somehow over the years, I have found myself on a journey that I don't think anyone saw coming, especially myself. People who know me now think I'm this world-traveling adventurer, but the fears that controlled me as a child are still very much a part of me.
Sometimes I feel like my life is portrayed differently than from I really experience.

This is because I've had to be the strong one.
Staying put in a house where cracks run through my ceiling. Maintaining a smiling face to all of the amputees and wounded patients around the mission. Teaching my kids and maintaining structure within the classroom while the rest of the country is in disarray. Reaching the dreaded report card deadline. Staying 'grounded' during aftershocks and helicopter landings as to keep my students calm. Sharing promises of the bible with my Haitian friends and children who have lost everything.
Sure. It may appear that I'm strong and steadfast, but don't forget my childhood nature.

Deep inside I still feel insecure. I feel needy. I feel afraid. I struggle to cope with the state of this nation, and what that really means. February 14th is tomorrow, which leaves a whole bunch of feelings undone. My gumption for planning and marking was left somewhere in a heap of books on January 12th and I haven't been able to find it yet. Within the realm of the mission there have been numerous tasks that have been set before me which I never would have signed up for. And to top it off, just this morning we had another aftershock. Brief enough for me to sit and wait it out. Strong enough for it to rattle my cupboards and my heart.

It's hard for me to fully express these two dimensions of life I'm living, but the other day I listened to a song that says it best... 'The Warrior is a Child', sung by Twila Paris ~

Lately I've been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I'm amazing
Strong beyond my years
But they don't see inside of me
I'm hiding all the tears
And they don't know that I go running home when I fall down
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
'Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child
Unafraid because His armor is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I'm amazing
Never face retreat
But they don't see the enemies
That lay me at His feet
And they don't know that I go running home when I fall down
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
'Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child
And they don't know that I go running home when I fall down
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and look up for a smile
'Cause deep inside this armor
Deep inside this armor
Deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child

As I listened to these words a few days ago, I thought about my blog. I thought about all of the e-mails and comments that I receive, speaking about my courage and strength to press through the storm. Words of admiration are pouring in, and yet I want you all to know tonight that 'the warrior is still a child'. I may be brave in the battle, but when no one is around I drop my sword. The tears fall. I doubt. I hurt. I look up for a smile.
I believe that there is a child in each one of us. No matter how strong or esteemed a person may be, there are moments of utter lostness and fear. The gifted leaders at the Mission of Hope are being recognized across the country by the way we are battling the elements day after day, and yet behind the eyes, we are all breaking.
Everyone has a story. We are all fighting a battle. And we all fall down, but He is the one that can pick us up.

Tonight I want to deem credit to where it is deserved. For all of the times I have seemed strong or amazing isn't because of me. Not one piece. Why? Because I'm the child. I'm the same helpless little girl in thick framed glasses who is afraid to go across the street.
But my Father, He is the warrior. He has the power and skill to defeat the darkness. He is mighty and holy. It's His power in my life that has enabled me to be strong in the battle. It's His strength that I hold onto when the ground falls from under me. He is the one who picks me up and let's me cry in His arms.
I don't know what battles are yet to be fought. I can't see far enough to recognize the clouds forming in the distance, but I am certain they are up there somewhere. Naturally I would cower and hide, but believing that His grace is enough, I will press on. Together, let's press on. With the Lord on our side, we have the victory.
May we believe that greater is He that is in us than who is in the world.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Unlimited bandwidth.

The internet system is a little different in Haiti. Internet usage is measured by the kilobyte (or something like that), and the MOH staff share a pooled amount. When we run out, the system shuts down for 24 hours. For this reason, we all try to be mindful of not loading excessive amounts of pictures, music and videos.
But there is one small exception to the 'no download/upload' rule. There is an unlimited bandwidth pocket of time between 2-7am every day, so it really comes down to how badly you want it. A couple times a month I sacrifice a few hours of sleep to get up early and use the internet for all it's worth. This morning I took some time to select some snapshots from my most recent photo albums, in honour of us nearing the month after the earthquake.
I know that most of you have facebook, but I didn't want to be exclusive to the ones who haven''t quite jumped full force into the world of networking. :)
From what I am hearing about media coverage, by now you are probably quite familiar with the look of the government palace and other sights of the city. For this reason, I chose to feature more 'people' pictures, highlighted throughout the villages and around my life at the Mission. I've included a caption under each photo.

My friend, Sidonie and I standing in the doorway of her house that is no longer livable after the earthquake. She's still smiling.
These are some of the 'homes' that friends from the villages are living in. Using long sticks and bed sheets, they construct shelters to sleep in. Thankfully, it has not yet rained since the earthquake.

Visiting the Louisaint family. The family is safe and 2 of their three shelters still stand. Yesterday during our visit we cleaned their sand filter, a natural water filtration system distributed through HaitiOne.

Baby Fania and sister, Shalyn.

Sunday morning at church. This picture does NOT to justice to the overflow of people, nor the sound of the chorus!

Ahhh... Report cards edited, labelled and sealed. It was a good day for all of us!

Time to celebrate! The junior students are on my couch. Bridgely, Riley, Ana and Mina eating brownies in my kitchen.

Singing 'deep and wide' with Ana and Mina

Recently during our devotional times I have had the kids look up a Psalm that has a promise to remember. They have been challenged to print it out and memorize it.

When I get older, I will be stronger, They'll call be freedom, Just like a wavin' flag.

The lyrics from this song by K'naan remind me that the children of Haiti still have a chance to fly. Haiti may be broken - broken homes, broken bones, broken families, broken hearts, but the dreams of the children have a reason to hold on. The faithfulness of the Lord remains, giving hope for a better tomorrow. I believe that His love is more than enough to cover the trauma. His grace is more than enough to put the broken pieces back together. His strength is more than enough to equip and empower His children to rise up around this country. Indeed, we will see a better day.
To God be the glory.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Haiti was a nation of illiterate, unemployed, impoverished people.
When I first arrived in September 2008, my camera flashed images of dusty tarps sheltering ladies from the sun as they sat on the sidewalk with mangoes for sale. I captured countless barefoot children in dirty side streets. I posted pictures of concrete homes and tin roofs. All expressions of a needy country.

I never thought that I would browse through those pictures and think about how GOOD people had it. And yet, this is reality.

What once was a country of need, has now becoming a country of utter desperation. What I once saw as struggle has now become bitter suffering. The homeless and hungry which represented a majority of the country is now joined by an even larger population of orphans and amputees. What once evoked feelings of sympathy and compassion have now completely broken my heart.
Could it possibly get any worse?
I still haven't been able to fully process the emotions, the questions, the burden that comes from the reality of this broken nation. I don't know if I ever will.
This week Laurens shared a verse in home church from the book of Lamentations. The verses were an expression of suffering and crying out to God. It reminded me that it's okay to express the emotions that we often try to hide.

So hence, my lament.

Of course, I can't avoid the good things that are happening.
Multi-million dollar donations are stacking up from Red Cross, World Vision and countless other humanitarian aid organizations. The US military have their compound established, and the UN soldiers are in full force. Missionaries, doctors, reporters, surgeons, paramedics, therapists, and trauma specialists (to name a few) are coming in by the cargo plane ready to take action. Helicopters encircle the skies carrying basic provisions and airlifting needy patients to hospitals. Even iTunes has caught on, offering songs to benefit Haiti through superstars like Rhianna, Bono and Taylor Swift.

And yet, the lingering visions grip me. The pile of cement that was once a government building. The tent city of bed sheets. The children still searching for parents. Amputees who have no where to go. Pain and loss in the eyes of my friends speak louder than words. We're spiraling downward, and it's hard to watch.

Lamentations 3: 16-32 (The Message)

He ground my face into the gravel. He pounded me into the mud. I gave up on life altogether. I've forgotten what the good life is like. I said to myself, "This is it. I'm finished. God is a lost cause." I'll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I've swallowed.

I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there's one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope.

God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up. They're created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over). He's all I've got left. God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It's a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It's a good thing when you're young to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don't run from trouble. Take it full-face. The "worst" is never the worst. Why? Because the Master won't ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.

Once again the Word of our God trumps any emotion or circumstance. The reminder of hope prevails. Even in the darkest night, the sun still rises at dawn. His love and peace remain even in the fiercest drought and storm. Though the mountains tremble and the oceans roar, His love is steadfast. In this world we will have trouble, but He has overcome.

May these promises be the stronghold.

May the testimonies of survivors be a promise of new beginnings.

And may we look back on this journey as see one set of footprints. He is carrying us through, one day at a time.