Laughter

It was the best time of day, the trees casting long shadows as the sun went down. Legs propped up as I sat on the two tires stacked to be the best seat to watch the soccer game in front of me, I talked with Janine as 3-year-old Kiki kept dancing around us. Our neighbor’s home, unlike ours, is directly on the dirt road. A perfect location not only to watch the neighborhood ‘jwe boul’ in the evening but also to sell cookies, matches, sodas and special for this season – little toys and ‘dinomit’ to throw on the ground for December.

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A great place for a cold 7up…
...or balancing on the moto that Mickens parked in a place that he thought no one would mess with it.
…or balancing on the moto that Mickens parked in a place that he thought no one would mess with it.

A prime seating area as people walk from the main road where they just jumped off a tap-tap, or walk from the opposite direction where the fields are tucked away in the back of Bercy and come looking for a Prestige after a long day of work in the unforgiving sun.

Ti Kris walks by and starts talking to me, then Gabriel and Simon walk by after leaving a house where our neighbor Olgie charges 5 gourde to watch soccer on television. Simon is thrilled because Madrid won 4-to-1. Being teenagers, they ask for my phone and start taking pictures with Ti Kris, showing me their favorites and borrowing my sunglasses as a prop.

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Bethsaida & Ti Kris before the boys showed up, as Kiki looked on and asked when he’d get a turn for a picture.
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Just one example from the gallery of the Gabe-Christella-Simon show.

 

Okay, one more.
Okay, one more.

Janine prepares food to sell for after the sun sets and I see a familiar face turning out of her home hear Route Nationale #1 and walking towards the soccer field that her little brothers are glued to like a television. I wave with a big grin, happy to see Bo as the day comes to an end. She always has a smile to share with me and she’s become one of the newest regular attenders at Eglise de Grace (the church in Bercy), singing so loudly that I know she’s at church from my window at home.

She turned sixteen on Friday, this big sister comes off much older than her age.
She turned sixteen on Friday, although this big sister comes off much older than her age! At 15, Bo was selling fried snacks all day in the busy heat of market to help pay for school.

She sits next to me on the tire and I ask about her day, she’s smiling as usual and says it’s been typical. We watch her cousin (Ti Kris) play photobooth with the boys and as it gets darker she turns to me to let me know she’s going to get water before it’s too late. (She was walking to a well about ten minutes away from her house to fetch clean bath water). I smile and tell her I’m glad she walked by, and she smiles with a “mwen menm too”. This gets us talking again about how we’ve missed each other, typical girls, and then she tells me again she’s going to go get water. She also says a passing “mwen grangou” – I’m hungry. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard this just today. And there are many ways it’s said – a little kid who’s repeating what he hears from everyone else, a jeer from an overly confident moto driver who is saying one of the half-dozen typical phrases you yell to mess with a ‘blanc’, sad eyes of a mother who isn’t sure what she’s going to do for herself as she fixes the little that she has for the ones coming home from school. And there are plenty of times that it’s said “in passing” as a heavy hint for me to do something about it. And Bo said it in a way that comes only from those I have a close relationship with – just stating the fact. Not to test me (although it always puts it out there, the option for me to respond), not as a blatant ask, not as a response to how are you….just a passing fact. The way Ohioans find a way to mention the weather in every conversation, or plans for the night are communicated. It just is. “Tonight, I’m hungry. That’s just how it is tonight.”

While this phrase and all that it holds, all the ways that it can be told, may hold more significance to me as someone who hears it all day – here’s the point: God perked my ears to be sensitive to the statement before she even said it.

Like I said, everyone tells me that they’re hungry. This is just one of the reasons why I am constantly in prayer asking for wisdom. In fact, I have a bag of food to give that has been sitting in the freezer for a few days, and I have been praying daily for more wisdom in how to give gifts like this – and to who.

As Bo stood up to leave I touched her arm, getting her attention to look her in the eyes and said, “On your way back, find me. I’m going to give you chicken bones” It had been a while since I had brought a bag to her house, but this was not something new. We buy chicken in market, usually boiling it instead of frying it and making shredded chicken from the meat that we like. We don’t use the bones, marrow, fatty meat, or most of the dark meat. I always put it in the freezer until I know who should get it – because bones and all, no part of the chicken gets wasted here. She laughed and said okay.

Wait.

She laughed?

I had an internal “uh-oh”. This is part of why I don’t just give it out! I could be offensive to the families that DO have food, it could come off as ‘leftovers’, it could be a joke of food because I said ‘bones’. I don’t know! Oh no, I just took ten steps back and grabbed some of Bojouna’s dignity in the process.

I asked her why she laughed and she shook her head, and this only increased my mental dialogue. Crap. She wasn’t even ASKING me, she just said a statement, why did I just say I’d give it to her like that? She’s going to think I just see her as a charity case. Dang it. I asked again, three times, then four. I asked the blatant questions: “Is it the bones?” “Are they not okay to offer?” “Are you offended?” (I wouldn’t interrogate everyone, but Bo is one of my close friends who helps me understand and answer cultural questions)

But she just kept shaking her head, a smile on her face.

She turned to leave without answering why she laughed, then said a statement to herself loud enough that I could hear:

“I don’t have to pray anymore.”

And I got it. Relief, joy, and more than anything THANKFULNESS washed over me. It was my turn to laugh in the same way that she had as I yelled to her while she walked away, “Don’t stop praying, just use it now to praise Him for answering!”

She turned and said “Thank you God, and thank you Steph!” –she knew I’d say that it’s not me but never lets me have my way, instead insisting to thank me as well.

He is so good.

She laughed – the funny way she laughed, I now understand – the same way I do when I realize where God has totally taken care of me. Sometimes in prayers I didn’t really imagine coming true, and I see the answer to them in front of me. Me telling her that I’d hand her a bag of chicken for her family, before she could react to me she was laughing from surprise and joy as she saw God’s answer in front of her. God, you DO hear. God, you MORE than took care of me. God, I had already given up on it! And when you are young in your faith, it’s so fun to see this new dynamic as a child of Christ – you can’t help but laugh!

We cannot imagine praying all day, words exchanged with our Father being the only possible source of food. There is no money to buy it, no pantry to open. We can’t burden our families who are just as hungry, and we have tried every avenue (and as Americans, we can’t imagine the avenues that have been tried in the creativity of this beautiful country). And when He answers, so lovingly, and not as we imagined? Not answered as a friend graciously splitting some rice, but with real meat for the entire family who had resolved to going to sleep feeling empty again?*

And I could not imagine as I asked for wisdom, so completely unaware that God would give it to me while answering my friend’s own prayer. Bewildered and thrown back as I see that I get to be used for a girl growing in her faith. Reminded again that I never know what the prayers of those around me are, reminded that I am here for God to use me – that I must never stop listening to His Spirit. I have tears as I type this, so humbled that I get to be used.

He loves hearing us laugh.

 

 

 

[*Please, please, PLEASE never hear me boasting in myself or what has been done. The only reason I have food is because of where he placed me in life, the only reason I responded was his Holy Spirit nudging me. I did not feed a girl or her family, God did. I did not overly bless her, God did. I have nothing to boast in except for Him.]

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“Nadia”

To write today, I went back to June and read what I wrote the first time I met Nadine (previously spelled Nadia, I now know better). I knew the general idea but wanted to remind myself of the perspective of someone reading this post, someone who doesn’t have Nadine as a daily part of life like me.

I teared up at the difference. There’s something about remembering that interaction, that first evening talking to her and then the weeks afterward. The callous attitude and repeated question (paired with jokes) about when I was going to take her daughter, as she responded that she didn’t want or need Westhalineda.

Because I opened my computer today to tell you about how much this mother is in absolute “I-adore-you” love with her little seven month old. With two new teeth and a gigantic smile to show them off, Westhalineda loves to lean towards her mom from my lap as Nadine coos “Wes…” with this smile and gleam in her eyes that can really only be described as love. She is filled, no matter what the outside situation is, by her daughter. I’ve watched her interrupt a high tension conversation with passionate….let’s be honest, yelling….and turn as she hears a cry that I don’t even pick up and goes to lean down and lovingly swoop up Wes and give exactly whatever it is that her daughter needs in that moment.

It shows on Wes, before you even see her mother. This baby is literally the most content child I know in Haiti, and I know I may be biased but I really can’t remember a child so quick to not just smile but break into giant expressions of joy. She never used to fuss (until she began to teethe), and even now Nadine knows her so well as they interact in the midst of Westhalineda’s little biting on her mother’s finger while Nadine playfully pokes back.

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Have you ever watched a mother and child interact that just…know each other? It’s seen in the unconscious motions, the natural reactions of Nadine towards Westhalineda as she is mid-conversation with her aunts and continues to take care of her daughter or cater to what Wes is attempting to play with. I believe that being a single mother is one of the hardest things that a woman can do and has the definite ability to drive a wedge in the bond of mother and child, but there are also the instances where it draws two people closer together. It naturally happens when the other one is what you’ve got.

Seeing this for months now (Has it been that long? Time flies here!), I’ve been amazed and so full watching Nadine just wholeheartedly love her daughter. I reflect & compare it to the past, to when she used to talk or joke about in getting rid of her baby. How things have changed in such a short time since June, when Wes used to lay in a washbasin most of the day.

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This week Nadine was waiting on me downstairs. I went down and just sat with her, asking how she was. She non-committedly replied she was fine and told me that Wes was sleeping at the house at that moment. She looked worn, like she had a fifty pound weight on each shoulder. This was easy to see and I immediately asked, but like any teenager she replied “I’m fine”. A few more asks from me, some ibuprofen for her headache and a few minutes of heavy silence later, she said something about “her baby’s father”.

This in itself was a flag, as Evans is the name of the father and I know him. There was no reason to use this distant term, not even including Westhalineda’s name. They are not together, but she still has strong feelings for Evans and has that underlying hope that she will be the exception, despite the fact that he has three other children around the Cabaret area – all with different women. I looked over and arranged my body languge to let her know she had my ears fully tuned in to listen to what she was holding inside, “What?”

Using the same terminology, she repeated herself. “My baby’s father told me to put her in an orphanage.”

This is the moment where my insides light up and I don’t know how to describe it or what the ‘details’ of our souls are, but I could swear I felt a burning in my soul. That fire in your chest where a passion is lit and it takes every muscle to hold you in place instead of jumping up and hurling a rock or doing something just as equally pointless that you think may help you feel better, relieving a piece of the high emotion churning your insides all of a sudden.

For context, this wasn’t just a strange or random suggestion. Many children in orphanages here have one or sometimes even both of their parents alive, somewhere in the country. (Or maybe their parents have moved out to Brazil of America for a job by now, years after their child was put somewhere that they were ensured meals and an education). It is not abnormal for a child with parents to be dropped off at the door of an orphanage. Remember, Nadine herself had even suggested this in the past.

I took a slow breath in and prayed that I was speaking with wisdom.

“Nadine, I know that Evans is her father. I know that you love him, because you dated him, and I understand because I have loved someone before too. But Nadine…that was not okay for him to say.”

She silently agreed and I asked why he said it, and she replied that it was his response to her asking for some food for Westhalineda (she’s trying to switch from breast milk to food for Wes, to be a good mother as her daughter develops, and this has created an extra strain. Evans has helped sporadically in the past with milk here or there). I asked if his response was a serious one, in the same defeated manner Nadine just shrugged that she didn’t know.

This was a hard moment for me, with the thoughts I could thankfully not express in Creole and the Holy Spirit knocking on my heart, reminding me that Evans is a cherished son of God too. Okay. Deep breath. Sorry for these thoughts, Father. Keep going. The conversation was slow, with a heavy atmosphere and thought put into my words.

“Nadine…do you want to put her in an orphanage?”

And her vehement “No!” was so quick, so full of real emotion and honesty, my soul on fire started jumping around on a trampoline with a different emotion, reacting to a response so opposite to the girl I had met just months ago. I’m with her every day, and did not think the answer would necessarily be yes, especially with her heavy spirit, but this reaction of no was so strong!

Repeating “I love my little girl” “I love my baby” “I love my daughter” in between sentences talking about the day, her struggles trying to make ends meet, what she felt in the situation.

This is not the same heart of the Nadine I was getting to know back in June. And I know that there are other factors: our growing relationship, mutual trust and honesty, a guard let down….but God, you are so good. Whether or not Nadine is following you or interested at all in the prayer I said with her asking for help – Creator, you designed this bond between mother and child. You created hormones and emotions and bonding and you created the adorable ball of joy that is Westhalineda, smiling in her mother’s strong arms as we translate “This Little Piggie…” into Creole and Nadine cracks up. You are working behind the scenes in ways that I do not even know in a situation where a teenage girl had to leave school and give birth to a little human that she was not planning on or necessarily interested in – you knew that same little human would capture the heart of every person that met her. There is not one person in this community that would deny the invitation to hold Wes, she is adored and her personality shines.

CPR-3 is about breathing life. We are a movement, and we say that it is God’s movement. This is what we mean.

A seventeen-year-old who fell in love, operating by the world’s standards and giving her heart away. There’s no reason to blame her – what reason would she have to act differently? Her hard exterior callously repeated her lack of interest in her accidental child when we met – repeatedly offering to hand the three month old baby over to me and walk away. Jokes of throwing her into the latrine or into the arms of someone who could walk her over to the orphanage were a daily part of conversation. This same, beautiful young woman is fighting for her daughter – working hard each day to provide for her and seen with her daughter dressed up in her arms wherever she is walking in the community on a given day. She is broken hearted at the slight suggestion that her daughter belongs anywhere that is not by her side. In the midst of sickness this weekend she sits up to smile and interact with her daughter, leaving only once I forced her to go lay down and get some of the sleep she had lost to a cough the night before. A mom who knows her daughter’s favorite way to play, her little ‘isms’, her preferences and what each movement means. This is where God is working.

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Nadine knows that when I take a photo of Wes, a copy is getting sent to my mom. She has begun to ask for my phone to choose which picture to send, laughing at the funny ones and flipping through them all with those adoring eyes. She was going through photos yesterday and said “this one”. Then, “this one too”. “No wait, I love this one”. “I love this one too!” And then flipping back, which one was her favorite?! I laughed and told her she liked all of them. She smiled, never taking her eyes off of the pictures. “Yes. I love every photo of Wes. I love my little girl. I love her so much!” And she proceeded to kiss my screen, then scroll and kiss it again, and again!

The past few months have been such a joy to watch and be in the middle of with these two. So much love here.
The past few months have been such a joy to watch and be in the middle of with these two. So much love here.

Learning from Lazarus {John 11}

Imagine Martha & Mary, two sisters who were friends of Jesus, devastated. Surrounded by a community wailing and beating their chests as they mourn, while the sisters mourn as well. Days went by and Jesus didn’t come but what SO CLOSE to what they thought could save their brother Lazarus. (They had even sent word to him, Jesus please come now. He did not. In fact, the book of John says “he stayed” where he was a couple of days.)

And Martha believes in Jesus, yes. She talks with him and she believes yes, you never die as his follower, that Jesus IS life.

Mary comes and repeats in MOURNING, wrapped in grief (and probably not even acknowledging Jesus for who he is or “Hey, thanks for stopping by in an area where people wanted to stone you last week, risking your life here”) and she just repeats in typical human fashion, “Lord, you COULD HAVE….” “If you had just been here” “If you did things differently”….

[This. Is. Us.]

Note how this makes him angry inside.

Troubles his spirit.

I do not believe that this was anger in grief, but more from the reaction of the sisters – women who believed in Jesus!

(You see, this passage screams of a community mourning and two sisters wrapped in the emotions of grief, two sisters questioning why Jesus did not listen to THEIR message to him and now they are drowning in sorrow. I believe that Jesus’ soul is passionately burning as he sees so much focus and emotion without a grasp or idea of the full perspective, the plan, and the light right in front of them)

In this emotion, Jesus wants to open the tomb.

And while Martha questions him… “Jesus, don’t you know that dead people smell?”

Yes, Martha. I think Jesus knows that dead people smell.

…Jesus STILL kept going. (STILL because of her reaction, not the smell. He doesn’t give up on our small perspectives, our minds wrapped up in the emotion of our lives and the moment, where we even question him.)

And here’s the kicker. John 11:40. Jesus responded,

“Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?”

& she did! Now she was the one hearing obvious questions. Um, yes Lord. I’m pretty sure we had that conversation today, so yeah you told me that. He had said this and she had agreed, even spiritually answering of resurrecting one day!

She had said yes but like all believers, she had NO IDEA what Jesus had in store for her. For her family. For her entire community, now surrounding her in mourning and following Jesus to the burial site.

Yes, Jesus could have showed up four days earlier. Lazarus wouldn’t be sick.

Instead, Jesus came in his time & Lazarus was no longer DEAD.

Walking Ahead.

“Today, I will set aside time to hold your hand, instead of walking ahead while you follow.”

I wrote this today as a ‘Practical Application’ after reading in Colossians. The section I was reading had both nothing and everything to do with how I felt I should live it out today. I was reading and reflection on how lost I was, a complete enemy. The specific verse I read referred to how I am alive in Christ – after I was dead.

You know what dead people can’t do? Bring themselves back to life. They can’t even try. It’s an obvious and almost foolish statement, but really think about it. In a way that isn’t meant to be obscene: imagine a corpse. It does nothing but lay there, no life and definitely no mental activity to even let itself know, “Hey, by the way, you’re a corpse.” Do you get that? Do you get where you were, if you’re my brother or sister in faith? Dead. The Bible doesn’t have typos, I was dead. I was a corpse, I did not even realize that I was dead because…I could not do that myself.

And here comes Jesus. Vibrantly alive, strong, without a fault Jesus. God came to my dead self and He “made me alive in Christ”.

I’ve been spending a lot of my past couple of months just falling in love with Christ. I mean, head-over-heels, He-is-the-bridegroom love. He loves me more than I can imagine. I am learning to understand this love in my flesh and love Him back. (Love him back, not work back. Not pray back. But soak in a relationship where the Creator of the universe loves me and calls me His, and He is mine.)

I’ve lost you if you follow this blog for social justice or international stories instead of the why I am here, and I can respect that. I don’t at all think that everyone will understand this post & I promise you that I am not offended if you tune out or go back to your Facebook feed until my next story from a world outside your own.

So in this relationship….there’s a constant, over and over again pattern. Love God, realize how big He is and how much everything goes back to leaning into His strength, all works are nothing when I am not overflowing from a heart full of love from my relationship with Him. He wants me before my works. That’s one side, the good side. And I am constantly creeping back to the over-confident side of the teeter-totter. I’m a lot more controlling than I ever realized. I’ve got lists to check off and people to make sure I love on today. I’ve got a sermon to listen to and the discipline of prayer to work on. Don’t forget to throw up an “I love you, Jesus!” in the middle! ….Oh no. I’m back again. I’m on the wrong end of the teeter-totter, working out of myself with the stamp of “because of You!” at the bottom of each activity of the day. Dang it! Sorry, Dad.

You ever been out shopping with your significant other? You walk in after some great conversation in the car, maybe an awesome meal, and you’ve got butterflies flapping their good feelings all over your insides. You two are strolling hand-in-hand, just enjoying the time together. Maybe you’ll window shop, maybe you’ll pass a store and remember to make a small purchase you’ve been meaning to grab. Doesn’t matter too much what you DO, because it’s about who you’re with.

And then you get a phone call. Or your calendar beeps at you. An ad for an upcoming holiday triggers your thoughts and reminds you of your to do list. Hey, that’s okay! It’s fun doing life with someone, and the love grows as you get things done together. With a little more purpose, you two walk hand in hand around the shopping center and they gives you advice on the best thing to buy for a sick friend and you turn to surprise him with purchasing that perfect candle for their mom – because you love him and you love their family naturally!

You look down at your list, and your phone goes off with a text from your boss. Man, this time has been great, but there’s a lot to do. In fact, it’s really all stuff to do FOR the one you’re with….they’ve inspired you to volunteer, you’ve got a book study with them later to fit in, and then there’s the one on one time that fills up your schedule when you could be accomplishing a to do list. You pick up the pace, looking in a window and your head is spinning with ideas as you walk in the door. Picking through displays, you finish your business and move on. Okay, now it’s time to head back to the first store for some follow up on an earlier conversation. And on the way, it’d be good to stop and check your e-mail. Okay, good, that’s done. Oh, wait! Got another idea, and it’s going to make the one with me so happy! Okay, phone back in it’s pocket, time to keep walking. Well, okay, speed walking. But there’s a lot to get done! I mean, that strolling along was great with….wait. I have one hand full of bags, the other just typed up some e-mails and slid my phone away…when did I let go? And where is –

In that quick stop, they saw what you noticed. You aren’t holding hands anymore, in fact you weren’t even walking together. You let go many ‘stops’ ago as you went ahead and started to pick through items using both hands with your head going over plans. Other shoppers witnessed you on a mission with someone patiently keeping pace with you, a humored expression on their face as they watched you so intent on getting everything done! You were doing it with the best intentions, and the one that you came in with knows that. You letting go said nothing about their worth or strength, they were still right there. They never stopped doing it all with you, but they weren’t even interacted with or really even noticed as you got wrapped up in your own world and started to walk ahead.

And man….are you humbled. Why are they still here? I mean, you were kind of a conceded jerk for a little bit. Really, even the stuff FOR them…was really just you doing stuff and mentally checking off “that’s done for them now”. And actually after all the speed walking, you’re tired. You were kind of short with the last clerk, and you bet that your better half would have given you some sense or perspective to act a little better. Actually, now you feel bad that the clerk had to see you acting that way while you guys were together. And the to-do list has somehow only grown – you thought you’d finish and then slow down again…but it just multiplied with each task. And actually, as it multiplied, you made the decisions yourself and now they aren’t even really what you two imagined the original to-do’s to even be about. And man, do your feet hurt. And you’re really tired. And now that you’ve stopped…you realize you’re feeling pretty lonely. You miss when this trip was just about doing it together, walking hand in hand as you talked about everything and laughed so hard over every little thing. Sometimes it feels like you don’t even know yourself as well when you don’t have their brain to give you perspective, teach you about yourself…so here you are tired, lonely, not even sure where your head is at after all these lists and things have bounced around your head all day. And now your phone is buzzing again – probably with another like on the Instagram photo of your trip.

Instead of picking it up, you slowly turn and smile with a tear in your eye, which is looking down bashfully now as opposed to ahead and focused on your personal mission.

“….Hi.”

They smile back knowingly, “Hey there.”

You don’t even need to explain yourself, even though you want to and you start to talk their ear off. They hold out their hand and you are so glad to take it, overflowing with bubbly emotions as you start right back where you left off, just completely overjoyed on both sides to be spending time together again. So thankful that they are more faithful than you can imagine. There may be a few more things to do, and you can do them together on the way back to the car.

This is what came to mind today, as I decided what I really wanted to do with my day. Time to turn around to the one who eternally pursues me (why, I’ll never fully comprehend) and acknowledge that I haven’t been the greatest to spend time with, trying to just take control in this life again and walk ahead to get stuff done. Man, I love just holding His hand and talking. Spending time together, enjoying some great coffee, and focusing on why I even have stuff to do in the first place.

Now, please don’t misinterpret this and think that we have a passive, weak Bridegroom who falls into the background. This metaphor does not really communicate the relentless pursual of a ridiculously powerful Lord. And God does not ‘accompany’ us on our trip, we are on the trip that he has chosen – that He has DESIGNED –  as we go with HIS plan. WE join HIM – too often we turn this around. We just so easily try to make it ours…which is so silly as we just end up tired, confused about why we even came, missing Him, and working endlessly for…what?

I started writing today in reflection of who I once was – dead. I wrote about how ONLY by Him coming to me (I could not even realize my corpse-like state on my own), I am made alive. He came to me then, he found me then, he pursued me then – and He has never stopped.  Today, in the end, I just wrote over and over – “God….just thank you. Thank you.”