Friday, April 29, 2011

Starting again.

I’ve come to know April as ‘decision month’ over the past couple of years. A month to look backwards and forwards and search out where to put new or more roots down. I am excited to share with you all this evening that after much prayer, conversation and journalling, I will be returning to Haiti to teach the 2011-2010 school year!

After being in this boat of decision 3 times before, you would think it would get easier, but it hasn’t. In many ways, remaining in Haiti next year feels like starting again. Even though I know what my teaching job will look like, even though I am settled in my apartment, even though I have Haitian friends and am growing more comfortable with speaking Creole, there are a lot of changes that are unfolding.

For starters, I’ve lived with one of my best friends for the past 10 months here, and she will be returning back to the States in 3 weeks - I’m still in denial. Many other staff on our mission are changing location as well, which is undoubtedly going to create a different kind of community here on the staff side. New families and individuals are also coming on board which brings enthusiasm to positions and programs, but it’s still a new kind of groove to shift into.

When I think about losing my roommate, saying goodbye to the vanderMarks and their kids, or being faraway from some of the bottom-floor residents when they move away, I feel sad and alone. I wonder if it would be easier to leave along with them. I worry that all of these new dynamics, as good as they are, will drown me because of my fixation on what it ‘used to be’.

As I’ve been wrestling with these fears and uncertainties, I stumbled across Philippians 4:12-13 and as it always seems to be, the exact words I needed jumped right off the page.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

I am thankful for the reminder from Paul that the Lord’s strength never falters whether the storm clouds are thick or the sun is shining. He is in Haiti when the flowers are blooming and the fields are lush and green, just as much as He is here in the dry desert heat. He takes me up the mountain and back down again to draw me closer to who He is. And because He is here with me, drawing me closer, I can believe in His goodness, His constancy and His strength in me. I need not be afraid of what I can or cannot see.

I am so thankful for this reminder, and also for all of you who have been praying me through during this time. I have felt them so evidently, and I feel blessed beyond measure for the support that you have faithfully shown. I’m excited for all that’s to come in this new year and the possibilities that will unfold. Thank you Jesus and all of you who are behind me, spurring me on to start again.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Growing up in a Christian home, I have many memories of Bible storytellers from camps, Sunday school and Pioneer girls. There were many impacting moments throughout those growing years, but every Easter season one specific memory comes to mind.
It was in the Sunday school program at Wainfleet BIC during our Easter weekend. After the story of Jesus' crucifixion, the storyteller prayed before we were dismissed into our classrooms and I remember like it was yesterday as she broke down into tears. Tears of repentance and gratitude spilled over. The room sat in silence as she regained her composure, and something inside me switched. I was startled that this story that was told time and time again could have such significance. I wasn't old enough to fully understand the meaning, and yet it struck a chord with me that this sweet lady was affected so deeply. It was something that I was drawn to.

I've never forgotten that moment, and as we merge into a new season of Easter this weekend, the memory once again takes up residence at the forefront of my mind. Times have changed, and now I have a classroom of my own - a collection of amazing kids I get to call my own. It is my deepest prayer this Easter weekend that they would embrace the true meaning of the story. That the message of hope would be evident and new revelations could be understood. The way the Father gave up His Son for the sake of love. The way that Jesus paid the ultimate price so that we may live in freedom and victory over a broken world.

Since Christmas, the kids and I have been working through the gospel of Luke - reading a passage each morning in devotions - and we're in the final chapters just in time for Easter. It's been a great journey for all of us, and my hope is that the words we study would remain on our hearts both now and always.
Please pray along with me that the kids will catch a fresh glimpse of the reason we celebrate Easter, the suffering Jesus went through on our behalf, and the hope we celebrate. May I fade into the background and may He be lifted up.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Class band.

In the past 3 years of teaching, I've tackled some scary subject units.
British history (eek!), metric conversions (sometimes I still have to check with the back of the textbook for verification), French verb conjugation (high school was a long time ago), long division (thank goodness my kids are sharp!), and punctuation and grammar rules (why does the English language have to be so messy!?) to name a few.
But never, ever up to this point have I attempted such a daunting endeavor as... A class band.

You may be surprised, as there are few things I love more than music. But please keep in mind that loving music and TEACHING music are two very different things.

This year however, I've decided to give it a go. As soon as I mentioned it after devotions one morning, my kids were all in - pulling out their instruments from home, ranging all the way from electric guitar amps to harmonicas.
Fortunately, my mom was here to get the ball rolling when she was visiting a few weeks ago. She taught Zach, Noah and Caleb as if her guitar teaching days in London were only yesterday. They tuned their strings, got a feel for a few basic strumming patterns, and then we moved into chords. Since she left and Grayden has returned from vacation, the boys have acquired a solid base of chords and have been jamming out to 'Wavin' Flag', 'Awesome God' and 'Lions' (by Lost and Found).

In the meantime, Ana and Mina have been learning the ropes of playing the recorder (which might I add was one of the best finds I've ever made at the dollar store!). We've nailed out the notes for the 'Here I am to Worship' chorus, with the girls doing the harmony and me holding down the melody (what a sight!). Unfortunately, their little fingers put them at a disadvantage when covering the air holes, which results in frequent high-pitched reverberations, but they don't give up easily. It's currently 6:23pm on Friday night and I can hear them practicing on the porch downstairs. Bless their hearts.

Lastly, we have Bridgely, who initially I had thought could join in with the girls and I in our 'winds section', or learn some basic rhythm patterns on the bongo to compliment our band with percussion. He had some other ideas. This past Christmas, he received a harmonica and sheet music accompaniment, and when I gave him a choice between drums and recorders, he asked to give the harmonica a go instead. Initially I hesitated because I've never even attempted playing the harmonica in my life. I could see in his eyes he was really hoping I would agree, so I resolved that enthusiasm was enough to give it a fair shot. After testing it out a bit myself in the corners of quietness, I wrote down a few patterns on a post-it note and left him to it. I quickly discovered that he's a natural.

All of this to say that even though class band is as chaotic and headache prone as I imagined, it's been such a thrill for me to see my kids take the little I know and run far beyond with the natural talents and determination they possess.

I still spin from one instrument cluster to the next, each producing their own flavour of harmonies. I write out notes and numbers. I clap out rhythms. I count them in. I review finger positions. I raise my voice to be heard above the noise. I start over again. I am very well aware that I am in over my head. But I'm learning that it's okay.

A few days ago while practicing with Ana and Mina, I made a complete fool of myself as I demonstrated the melody and totally messed up the notes. The girls still looked at me like a world-class orchestra conductor. When I moved to the porch where the boys were jamming, they nodded their heads to the rhythm that I played out as if I had years of experience to my name. They may or may not know that I still can't play the B minor chord properly, and I never use a capo because I don't know how it works. They could care less.
Then I move over to Bridgely working faithfully on the harmonica. He can play way better than I ever had, and when I start gushing, Caleb remembers that he's got a harmonica laying around in his room upstairs and decides to get it. Before I know it, Bridgely's teaching him the ropes and they've got their own thing going.

My kids are getting good and clearly it's by no merit to me. And even better, we're learning more than just music notes. We're learning about each other. We're learning about the talents God has given us. We're learning how practice pays off. We're learning that it's okay to laugh. We're learning that it's not only the the sounds we make that can blend and harmonize and benefit each other, but our unique personalities and abilities.

Like when Mina builds so much air pressure blowing her recorder that it comes out her other end and we all bust a gut laughing. When the school day ends and the boys remain in the classroom jamming with each other and playing 'Smoke on the Water' from the low base to the highest pitched string. When Bridgely nudges my jot notes on a post-it closer to Caleb and they play together.

It doesn't matter that I'm not a professional. It doesn't matter that I've never done this before. It doesn't matter that we don't have brass and keys and electrical equipment to put on a professional show. The audiences we perform for will no doubt be enthralled, and the Lord will smile at our joyful noise.

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth:
make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
~ Psalm 98:4

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New normals.

I remember the exact setting when I met Laurens and Cheryl for the very first time. We sat at a corner table in Gateway Niagara and they told me their plans of moving their family of 5 to Haiti for a year or more depending on the Lord's leading. I remember a second meeting a year later, when they sat down with me again, this time on vintage red furniture in my Haitian apartment, and they told me their decision to stay another year. I remember months later the emotional talk I had with Cheryl when she told me their family's plans to adopt twins from Good Samaritan orphanage. I remember that same year another conversation about their plans to continue on staff.
Each one of these conversations brought surprise and searching. A new chapter opening. A collision of questions, fears, uncertainties and a quest for purpose that flooded my mind.

This past Saturday afternoon, I sat down with Laurens and Cheryl on their patio furniture with the Caribbean breeze blowing through and they told me their plans for the coming chapter. Please take time to check out their latest post here if you can. As you will read, the vanderMarks have felt the Lord calling them to return to Canada permanently this summer. As a staff, we are all supportive, but realize how much they will be dearly missed.

To be honest, there was always a tendency for me from the beginning to see myself as a package deal with the vanderMarks, even though they never imposed this position on me. As much as I always made a separate decision from them about my plans to stay or go, I often relied on them for direction (especially in the beginning years). This is partly why their pull toward moving back to Canada puts me at a crossroads. I feel like the ground underneath me has shifted and I don't really know which way is up anymore.
This uncomfortable junction feeling was becoming more and more foreign to me over the most recent months. I had established a good routine between school and other ministries, which has become relatively predictable and my sense of 'normal'. Haiti life wasn't very appealing to me at first, but the more miles I've covered on this track, the more comfortable I've become, and the more it has seized my heart.

I think I should know by now that this comfort zone I get in is an indicator of something new having to happen, and so as much as I know that it's good, it's also a difficult pill to swallow.

In my mind, Haiti is hard to picture without Laurens, Cheryl and their kids, because it's all I ever known. It causes me to question if I will stay in Haiti. It causes me to panic and wonder if God is dropping me off a cliff. It causes me to search for possibilities that haven't yet surfaced. I wonder if losing 4 students will still make my teaching role here necessary. I wonder if I will be leaving Mission of Hope for good this June. I wonder if this means I have to prepare to say goodbye to Haiti in a few short months. I wonder if moving back to Canada is my only option or if there is another place on this globe where I fit.

These are the very honest and painful questions that are spinning in my mind, none that I have the answers to. My determined brain does not want to be defeated in this, and keeps me up long hours sorting through variables and possibilities. The truth that I've known all along though, is that through the meetings with staffers and discernment of different options, my best and only hope in the matter is to simply pray and ask the Lord to guide me along as He always has. Once again, I appreciate your prayers in this season of waiting and discerning and leaning hard on the Lord's guidance in where and how I go from here. It is my prayer that the Lord would continue to shed light on my path one day at a time, and open and close the doors that come along so that I can have peace and clarity about what is next.

Words fail every time, but once again I thank you with my whole heart for staying with me on this journey of embracing hope. I cherish your support and look forward to what the Lord has in store for the new normals that await. Please be in prayer for the vanderMark family as they embark on a new chapter, and for many others living in Haiti during this season, who are searching out answers and nudgings from the Lord. May His whispers become shouts, and His gentle hand pull us through to the next chapter, whatever and wherever that may be.