Saturday.

I took a few of the boys out today to help in the community.

It was originally as a discipline, but as time went by preceding this morning so many of the boys were coming to me saying, “Mami Hope – I was bad too… do I get to go help?” I forgot how much gratitude is at the heart of our children. 

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The boys were so helpful – washing clothes, sweeping and mopping, helping cook food – while I sat and visited with the womanwho we were helping. She sells us mangos each week and her children go to our school, and she was so happy that her Saturday wasn’t spent doing all these things. She felt so special and just kept saying, “I can’t believe you brought the boys to help work.”As if she was in disbelief. She is a good woman and she works hard for her children. Her house is small, but filled with the traditional Haitian decor – silk hanging plants and covers on the table to keep out the flies.

 

All in all it was a great Saturday, and a wonderful reminder of the many blessings that I obtain in this life alone. God is gracious to remind me with such tenderness, as it is so easy to forget.

God is love, and we are his hands and feet. Happy Saturday!

Day 1

My NYE dates: I've seen these girls just about everyday for the 365 days in 2012.
My NYE dates: I’ve seen these girls just about everyday for the 365 days in 2012.

New Year’s Eve.

No fireworks.(Heard them across the river – does that count?)

No sequins covered outfit.(pouting)

No kiss (unless kisses goodnight to the babies counts??!!).

However, another year down and another exciting one ahead – cheers to living the unknown! It’s hard for a type A person such as myself to even choke down a phrase like that – progress people… this is a picture of progress.

It’s just after 12 AM and my thoughts are so consumed with what has been and what is to be.

I started this year in Haiti, at Danita’s Children. 12:00AM – located on the couch of the girl’s orphanage to be exact. So tired from a full-on dance party that it was a feat to even stay up until midnight. When I finally got a moment to stop, a baby in my lap, we were both down for the count pretty quickly.

I remember waking up the next morning, January 1, 2012, feeling like this was a pretty cool place to begin a new year. And that I should cook some black eyed peas. Because you know you’re supposed to eat black eyed peas on the first day of a new year.

Doesn’t everyone do that? Or is that just MY Grandma?

2012 was so full of nothing that I thought, yet so full of everything that God knew that I needed.

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This time last year I was adjusting to a new home. A new country. A new culture. A new lifestyle. I was far away from everything that is secure, and so excited for every day’s new adventure. I’m so grateful for the heartache, the hardships, and the headaches that came along with it.

On a long list of a full year, I can definitely say that this year:

I learned what the true meaning of value is.

The true picture of grace.

The true testament of faithfulness.

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As I look through 2012 photos of tragic stories and beautiful miracles, of lessons that I still don’t understand – that will travel a lifetime with me – and of heroic people who will never be known, I am honored that God trusted me enough to be a part of the story, and overwhelmed at what He has shown me about the character of my God, His faithfulness, and His never ending pursuit of me.

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 Although continually watching suffering and injustice is never easy, seeing God’s beauty in it’s mists is something that I can still never fully describe.

Even in the moments, as right now, where I am just at a blank – on my life, my future, my next 5 minutes – I feel like I continue to remain in such an intense place of gratitude. Gratitude that I continue to walk in God’s presence and mercy every day. That for the past 365 days I have learned more about who God is and how, as much as I want to make my own plans for my life, it’s really not about me at all.

Thank you to those who helped me get here, help me continue here, and help me to remain sane in the middle of my momentary lapses in identity.

WORD to a FRESH 2013! Isaiah 54: I am preparing to stretch! My house… my heart… my spirit… because I want it all! It makes NO rational sense. But who asked for life to make sense?

Happy 2013!

Christmas In Haiti: The Fun Don’t Stop

We don’t stop around here!

 

At the end of another whirl wind day in Haiti – this particular one saturated in Christmas spirit – I am feeling a mix of something like being run over by a truck and completely content after watching over 300 children receive possibly the only gift of their year.

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Each class brought decorations for their classroom  (true Haitian style with those silk plants) and sang Christmas carols, while eating cookies and juice.  There were a few renditions of “Feliz Navidad” for my Spanish folks, one class learned to say “Merry Christmas” in French, English, and Spanish, and one got fancy and build a 3-D model of our school building.

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Although being away from family and friends is always hard, there is something about knowing that although I will not receive presents on December 25, I will see hundreds of children who sleep in dirt and barely eat most days with a huge smile – and that, my friends, is completely satisfying!

PS: Talk about a double take – I discovered a new decoration placed in the boy’s bedroom this holiday season.

 

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Upon further review – uh oh,  wait, do I know them? – oh yes, that would the Holiday card from the Rivera family. Johnson is so excited that “his family in America” sent him photos that he wanted to show them off to all his friends. Thanks, Freddy & Missy – you made his world!

Next up: Christmas for the orphanage!

… and the elves continue! Merry Christmas from the TRUE North Pole! XO

Your Parent’s Were Lying All Along…

They were lying…

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… because either Santa’s workshop was too full and he needed overflow space, or The North Pole isn’t in some land far, far away, inside of a snowflake somewhere – it’s in North East Haiti at Danita’s Children.

And me, just call me your average, everyday elf… or something like that.

… the season is here, folks! RELAX AND BE MERRY – and don’t forget the reason for the season!

Merry Christmas,

Hope

Go To The Well & You Will Thirst No More.

I’ve been in Haiti for almost a year now, and the more I get to know these people, their stories, their families, the more they have become my friends and neighbors, the more my heart is burdened for my home and American society as a whole. We’ve really missed it. And not because we are blessed, because pleasure of this world are from the Lord. But because our hearts are in the wrong position.

These people who have nothing. And yet they have everything. They literally have nothing – no food, no water, no shelter, no education. I can’t imagine the anxiety that wrestles in their daily thoughts. They go to bed every night knowing they will not have enough. Burdened that their children will once again go to bed with hunger pains. And yet they are so full of joy and contentment and faith that Jesus knows right where they are.

This makes it hard for me to see our lives in America and not just be frustrated with all that I deemed so important for so long. We are consumed with what we don’t have. We have all this “stuff”…. just “stuff”, and yet our souls have nothing. What is “stuff”, what is money, what is status, what is a nice car when our souls are longing, day after day, in a silent desperation for something more?

Something deeper. Something to move us, compel us, or drive us to a place of compassion.

This is what Matthew is saying in chapter 10 when he says that we shouldn’t worry about what can kill our flesh, but rather what will kill our souls to hell.

I agree that people’s needs must be met. God provides for His people through us. But if all we give them is food and water, then they will return again tomorrow with an empty plate. However, if we meet the needs of their soul at the same time, then they will find themselves never thirsty again – a hope that remains as an anchor (Hebrews 6:11) in the darkest of days.

It’s really not that deep. When the opportunity presents itself within your circle of influence – take them to the well, and show them the water.

And I’m not referring to those serving in developing countries. I’m talking about at home, where the desperation and darkness is suffocating. IN THE PLACES YOU GO EVERDAY, where so many that you may never suspect are silently desperate.

And then be grateful for all that you have, shifting your heart away from any lack.

Our God is good. And oh, so faithful!

Provision: A birds of the air kind of thing.

Disclosure: So I know that when we give to others our left hand shouldn’t know what our right hand is doing and all, but in light of finding perspective in all sorts of ways this week, this one is worth sharing.

As the year is coming to an end my mind has been dwelling – knowing that God is faithful and my provider and that He will provide ALL my needs in abundance – on raising money for support next year and how it will all work out and just concerned with having enough.

Oh, God’s reassurance is always on time.

So, I was exercising outside, listening to a podcast, and you know, just dying in general. When I say exercising I mean going for an hour in circles around the perimeter of the 6-foot wall that outlines my house. The community isn’t the safest for an American girl who sticks out like a sore thumb to be running around all alone (not that walking to the bank or the store all alone is any different, but that not the topic here, all you safety police out there) so I stick to my little hamster on a wheel routine while my Rottweiler waits until I get around the corner and then tries to race me down the alley/knock me over/run between my legs, or some variety of that sort.

Anywho, as I made my way around I saw Watson, a street kid in my neighborhood, standing at my front gate. Watson is a Haitian kid who now lives in Dajabon after his mother died, leaving him orphaned. I’m not sure a lot about his life, where he sleeps or even how I came to know this kid, but I see him each day in town, buy him food every now and then, a haircut, let him help me walk home with my groceries, talk with him, pray with him or just slap him a high five on my way past his “post” aka begging corner.

I stopped, trying to catch my breath, while Watson became embarrassed, probably wondering why I was running, or really probably more like who I was running from, and in Creole said,

“Hi, Mami. I needed to talk to you and knew I could find you here.”

Okay, so real talk. I’m not gonna lie – in the moment I was thinking how it really wasn’t a great time due to the massive amounts of sweat and dehydration that were taking place, but I pulled my headphones down and walked over.

“Alright, Watson. Why did you need to talk with me?”

And then, almost simultaneously, as I was thinking all of my selfish thoughts about how I couldn’t breathe, I knew I was about to get a heart check:

“Well…. because I’m hungry.”

The thought alone of how many long it has been since his last meal is enough, but not to mention that he came to find me – knowing there was hope if he was successful.

I brought him back $5 USD and told him to get dinner and then save the rest for food the next day, and that before he eats he needs to thank Jesus for this money because He is the one who gave it to him.

It made me wonder how long he had been concerned, in the same way that I have been, about where he would find provision – the amount is irrelevant –  and our Father knew all along.

Matthew 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

Watson looked at me with an unexplainable expression that I know will hold in my heart forever, knowing that he will not go to sleep hungry tonight, and immediately all of my concerns turned into overwhelming, tear filled, gratitude as I watched Watson walk around the corner with $5 in his hand, he and I feeling the exact same way in that moment – completely provided for.

Just another one of those reminders that I am taken care of by my Father and confident that there is always enough to share with someone else.

Beauty In Suffering

Laundry Day.

In Haiti there are greater needs than I can explain. There is poverty and sickness and desperation. There are children without parents, there are parents with no resources and there is extreme need from coast to coast. Some days, as these people become my neighbors and my friends, that I just look around me as I walk through the village and know that there is no way that I could ever understand what this life is like. To only know a life of constant struggle.

For 10 months I have not been able to accurately convey the essence of what remains in this land of suffering that I live in.

Until last month while I was in Texas visiting my family. I was rather anxious, knowing that on Sunday I would be able to visit a church that has remained a significant part of my “story” of walking with Christ.

My family was a part of this community at it’s inception – when service was in a home, and then later when it was in a room that is probably now a nursery or storage closet or something. I hadn’t been there in, gosh, ages… 13 years at least. However, for all those years in between, anytime I was among anything resembling ministry, it always had big shoes to fill, from my warm memories of this gym turned church.

Even when I was in my late teens, moved to Florida, and found the community that changed every piece of who I am, and that I now call my home church, I remember describing this place to my parents as – “It reminds me of Grace.”

Okay, so sorry for the nostalgic rabbit trail, but the point is that more than 13 years later, after I found God to be my own, I was returning to this place that I always identified Christ in, even before I truly knew what I was identifying.

As Steve opened the message, he shared this story about a man who called him merely months into his position as pastor, and told him that a little girl just passed away at five years old and they needed his help. He went on to discuss how, as a new pastor, he had no idea how to handle the situation, but that he has since learned that there is a certain sweetness in these moments of tragedy that are only captivated when compassion is the only answer.

Of all the days for me to visit, it was this day that he shared this story about the man and the little girl and the sweetness. All of it actually ironic because this man, the one in the story, is in fact my family, and the little girl, who died of pneumonia at five years old, is my cousin, and the rest of the message – about the sweetness in moments of tragedy was exactly the words that I have been trying to convey for 10 months, about my life in Haiti.

Junette, one of the children at our orphanage, visiting the elderly community.

Truly, there is something to be said of this poverty and suffering, as there is an emmense beauty that we lose at home when using Jesus only as an option. However, it is in suffering that we have the honor of seeing the hand of our God at work. We see His great compassion through those who labor in His name, His promises are kept to His children and His faithfulness is revealed. Everyday.

In the big things.

In the little things.

Faithfully.

So everyday, as I am surrounded by great suffering, I choose to count it as beautiful, because it is in that suffering that there lies a sweetness of God’s provision, that is so easily overlooked when we have other options.

Remember that next time you come upon a situation of suffering, and you have the opportunity to make it a little more beautiful.

And to anyone looking for a church to call home in East Texas, please visit Grace Community Church in Greenville. Even 13 plus years later, I can still clearly identify God there – among the lights and the smiles and the electric guitars. And thanks Steve, for helping me find my words.

Thoughts For The Night: Capacities of Unknown Love

“It’s your unlimited power to care and to love that can

make the biggest difference in the quality of your life.” – Anthony Robbins

There is this reoccurring comment that I always hear when women have babies – that they knew they would love their baby, but they never knew that they would love them like this.

        

I didn’t exactly “get it” until I moved to Haiti and realized that there is something to be said about this love that allows me to love children who are not my own. Not just love them, but feel a way that I didn’t know possible. I never knew that this capacity of love existed within my heart. I didn’t know that I was capable of it.

I find myself burdened deep in my spirit by the things that burden them.

The big things that changed their lives forever and the small things that seem to be changing their lives for a moment (because to them, it’s all that important).

I know what it feels like for someone to love me that way. By choice. And the impact that it had on my life will never be fully known.

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And most, I am overwhelmed at the fact that this capacity never finds it’s limit.

Just when I think I’m loving a lot, a little Haitian kid comes crawling into my lap and all is right with the world again. I begin to causally pray and I hurt knowing the things that are hurting them.

This is the love that Christ called “unfailing.”

And it is THIS that I never want to forget.

I am 24 years old, I am not married, and I have no children. But I can confidently tell you that in this moment, as my heart is overwhelmed beyond expression, that I am currently experiencing motherhood.

And it is changing my life.

Depths of Gratitude

Whoa, nelly – who has been way blog absent? Yes, I know what you’re thinking – you missed me so much, right?

I’ve been spending every recent moment soaking in all the moments that I can with close friends who have stood the test of time and my wonderful family, who I always feel 17 around again.

Right now I’m preparing to head back to my home – North East Haiti.

Sigh. Life is so funny right now.

I remember the first time that someone told me that my life would change most from the age of 20-25. I was on a tour bus in Israel, and that person has since become an essential part of that process. And, I’ve heard that same statements hundreds of times since then.

During these critical years, full of decisions and adventures and mistakes which I will later blame on “being young”, I continually find myself in moments with God where my heart is just so overwhelmed with gratitude.

He truly spoils me.

When I think of the immense detail that He has orchestrated for me to walk out I can do nothing but cry. Literally. Right now I am sitting on a flight and I put my glasses on – *side note below – to cover my watery eyes and continue to dwell on the power of Christ on the human heart. It has completely changed every desire that I thought was important and brought perspective to every trial that I considered too hard.

As I am continually in this state, and trying to express my heart to my Father, I just can’t get passed “Thank You”.

Thank You.

For my family.

For my life.

For his grace in my humanity.

For the fact that He knows the plan He has for me since before I was born, even when I seem to have forgotten it.

I can never get over the fact that I get to be me. And THAT is something that I find priceless.

His blessings are more than I can ask for. And I’m just so darn grateful.

*Side Note: Yes people – I had to get glasses! I made all my routine medical appointments this time around, and one of them was to the eye doctor. I’ve always had great eye sight (I guess carrots really do work) so you can imagine my surprise (actually, I gasped out loud) when the lady asked me to read the bottom line and I couldn’t even make out the first letter. I acted all cool like I just had a momentary lapse of focus and began to read: “1, 2…” when she interrupted with – “If it helps, they’re all letters.” Oh, no she didn’t. I know exactly what you’re thinking, because it is exactly what I was thinking: RUDE! So, needless to say, I hit up the Lense Crafters special of 50% off frames and sunglasses… what, what!

Also needless to say, I don’t care what the rules are, I will only be wearing these bad boys while working on the computer or late at night. Or apparently when I don’t want people to see my crying. So there – take that stupid eyeglasses!

What Love Is This

I never knew that my heart was capable of this kind of love.

It’s not like how I loved my pets when I was a kid. Or even how I love my family. Shoot, it’s not even the kind of love like when I come across a beautiful pair of shoes that are marked down off an already reduced price.  It is this deep in the stomach, overwhelming, never goes away and never runs out, ultra selfless, do anything to see them smile, burdened by what makes their hearts hurt kind of love.

I’ve never felt anything like it. And once again, shout out to all the parents out there – man, y’all go through it for your children. So worth it.

When I moved to Haiti I was the ultimate Auntie. As a 12-timer, I’m good at the Auntie role. It’s pretty basic really – chocolate after 10pm, toys that make loud noises, stay up past curfew, always go to their school for lunch when in town.

So when I got to Haiti and had to take on a parenting role – implementing rules, changing wet sheets in the middle of the night, disciplining (the worst, but more necessary part – kids definitely crave structure!)  – I was less than prepared, and even less prepared for the overwhelming love that has grown in my heart for 115 of Haiti’s finest.

Literally. Like when I pray for them, my heart is deeply burdened for what plagues their dreams and the insecurities that manifest themselves through their actions (which is the nice way of saying when they’re acting a fool, but I can’t be mad at them because I know it comes from their intense past that I could never imagine). I wonder what they saw before they came to live at Danita’s Children and I desire, more than anything, for them to catch a slight glimpse of who God has planned for them to be.

I am in America this month  and I can’t stop thinking of them, how their doing, what I’m missing out on and wondering if they miss me.

It’s crazy how God has given me this love that makes us all family in Haiti. Not like a group of people who live together so are inevitably close – we are family.

I am so grateful to be at my home church for a few weeks (my word, God had to have known that I was insanely home sick for it) and working in our US offices, in the land of abundance and overwhelming choices. However, no matter where life takes me, my heart will always wonder toward the kids who God is using to change my life. Their insane courage and determination to rise above the statistics that surround them continues to humble me and encourage me to always push for more and to continuously count the blessings around me.

You should do the same – you’ll be surprised at how beautiful your life really is.