Suspension of Disbelief

Suspension of disbelief is an idea essential to reading or watching a movie, a contract between writer and audience, where the writer makes a story somewhat plausible and gives the audience a reason to want to believe it, and the audience buys into the story to experience something moving. It is why we can read Harry Potter and envision a Quidditch match, because JK Rowling made it fascinating and painted a beautiful picture, and our brains forget for a while that flying on a broom is a ridiculous idea in order to allow us to experience the magic of the impossible.

We live in a cynical society, yet we are able to escape into fantasy because we are able to suspend disbelief.

girls_ChristmasThe fact that my girls still believe in Santa requires an extraordinary amount of suspension of disbelief, given the unfortunate fact that Justin and I are terrible at making the story somewhat plausible. Four years ago, when Grace was four and Rebekah two, their Santa gift was a new swing-set. It was a freezing cold Christmas Eve, and Justin and my dad put together the least expensive, but most difficult to assemble, metal swing-set we could find in the garage after the girls had gone to bed. It took hours and I remember them laughing and yelling at the thing good-naturedly as my mom and I wrapped gifts inside where it was warm. After they finished, they carefully carried it around to the backyard, and I went out and tied a big red bow on it. We were so proud to have assembled this behemoth, and imagined the girls’ surprise and shock when they saw it. Christmas morning, when we went to wake them, Grace jumped out of bed, ran to the window, and said “Oh! You put a bow on it!” Apparently she had watched the entire operation unfold from her upstairs window.

The next year, we were living in Dallas still but working in Houston, and were too tired to make it home after our Christmas Eve services, so we spent Christmas Eve in a Holiday Inn off the highway somewhere around Waco. When we got home, I made the girls run upstairs and put on their pajamas so Justin and I could hurriedly throw the Santa gifts under the undecorated tree in our sad, already packed-up living room. I wanted a little magic in a chaotic season of transition. I thought we had pulled it off, except I had decided to not buy anything for Lucy or Justin, because Lucy was too little to notice and Justin wanted nothing else to pack and haul to Houston. I wasn’t thinking about the big girls, though, until Grace, in great distress, asked me what Lucy (at the time 6-months old) could possibly have done to get on the naughty list? I don’t even remember the lie I told, but as soon as she said it I realized my very big mistake.

Last year, their big gift was a trampoline, and a couple of weeks after Christmas, when they were underfoot, Justin sent them in the backyard to jump. They started to protest, and he said sarcastically, “I’m glad I bought you guys a trampoline so you would never use it.” They both stared at him in shock, and Grace said “You didn’t buy the trampoline – Santa brought it and the elves put it together!” Justin mumbled something incoherent as I laughed at him in the background.

This year, on Christmas day as Justin is programming the X-box Santa delivered, he in frustration says “For the money I shelled out for this thing you’d think it would work.” Grace’s head immediately popped up as I tried to catch his eye. Justin, not catching on, says: “I want my 400 bucks back.” Grace asked him what he means, since this gift came from Santa, and he says back “I have to pay Santa for it… Times are hard.” She looks back down at her game, satisfied with his answer, and  he looks at my mom and me, both laughing, and says “That’s all I could come up with.” 

We are bad at this! We try to weave a plausible tale, but we fail miserably. At some point, when she was younger, I have even told Grace that Santa is based on a real man who lived a long time ago who was generous and loving, but that he is not really a real person who delivers gifts to our house in the dead of night, and she has either forgotten or just chooses to believe despite it.

She is able to dispel doubt without a backward glance.

I love it, and I wish my mind worked that way. Their desire for magic overrides their rational brains that have to know that mom and dad are really really terrible liars and that we are, in fact, both Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Children are great at this, and I love that part of their minds. It is, quite honestly, why we continue to do the whole Santa thing and the whole tooth fairy thing. There is only a certain amount of time in life where true suspension of disbelief is possible, and because children are whole-hearted creatures, they are really good at it.

It seems weird to compare my children’s belief in Santa to my faith in Christ, but I’m going to attempt it because it’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. I want to be more like Grace when it comes to my faith. She dismisses doubt with such ease, and I envy her whole-hearted and stubborn belief. I want to be more like her. She has strength and lately, in my faith, I feel weak. I am a wrestler – I am up now in the middle of the night because I am wrestling with fear and doubt. And my rational mind knows the things I am fearing aren’t real  and the doubts I am battling are lies. My heart knows the truth that I am loved and valuable and was created for a purpose. Yet I wrestle and I can’t seem to dismiss the nagging doubt. A former boss repeatedly encouraged me to dismiss doubt and fear and not give it any time or energy, but honestly sometimes I don’t know how to do that.

I don’t know how to suspend my disbelief.

So again, as I have done so often since her birth, I look to my oldest daughter. She really does teach me more than she will ever realize. I ask the Lord for childlike faith. I ask my Maker, my Father, my Creator, my King to help me in this war I am waging against fear and doubt. I ask Him to be mighty to save. I choose to believe, and to shake off the nagging sense of doubt. I wait for the voices of fear and doubt to be silenced by the God who has written this story, this true story, of victory over sin and death and doubt and fear.

I have every reason to believe. This story is not only plausible, it is true, and I know the ending. So I ask my God to help me suspend my disbelief and cynicism. I have no reason to be afraid.

When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. Psalm 56:3

Haiti Day 5

Today was our last full day in Haiti, and we leave in the morning. This morning we went downtown to the National Museum of Haiti and learned about Haiti’s difficult history as a nation. It was humbling. Haitians are a people who have overcome slavery, oppression, over a dozen coups, unrest, exploitation, and of course the earthquake that devastated large portions of Port au Prince and the surrounding areas. Between that visit, and the visit to the artist’s home yesterday, my mind races. I am a problem solver, a diplomat, a big picture person, a dreamer. And as we drive these streets, I want to think of things that would help. Roads. Clean water. Sanitation. Ways to address hunger. Education. Medical care. I remember a scene from West Wing where they asked the question, “What would you do if you could solve just one problem?” and I keep finding myself trying to sort through my answer to that question. But as my mind rolls round and round I remember the writer of Ecclesiastes, “What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.” (Ecclesiastes 1:15). Here’s the truth: my mind races because I am uncomfortable and convicted and I want to not know this kind of systemic breakdown exists, not because what is happening here is a problem I can solve.

This kind of poverty and need is uncomfortable, and I don’t like to feel helpless. I like macro level changes – systemic changes that can improve the lives of everyone quickly. But I’m not sure the macro issues in Haiti can be resolved easily, and I can see how solving one would only unearth another. And I especially don’t think the issues can be solved from outside sources (if they could then the aid that poured in after the earthquake probably would have made more of a difference than it has done). I think the model COF has adopted, helping empower local Haitian people who understand her culture, history, language and community to make micro-level changes in their immediate circle of influence is the method Jesus himself chose when he left the good news of the Gospel in the hands of a ragtag group of followers. And through them, His message changed the world.

I have had to realize that I can’t impose my thoughts, my methods, my timeframes, my need for comfort, my “wisdom” on anything when it comes to Haiti. I am here to learn, to listen, to pray, and to encourage those who are actually doing the world changing work.

Raymond, one of the Pastors, is an engineer. We went to his home after the museum and I was so encouraged and humbled. He lost everything in the 2010 earthquake. His home was destroyed and he and his family moved in with his brother in law for months (11 people living in a modest home that somehow remained standing). When we arrived at his home, I confess I was surprised by the fact that it is half built, without a roof on the front two rooms (that filter of mine is hard to turn off). But as he gave us a tour, I understood better why, and was amazed. He has built so much on to his home himself with limited and incredibly expensive building supplies. He has a room for him and his wife, a room for their children, a kitchen and a living area, a generator and a battery that he runs to cover their electrical needs. He has dug his own well to get them fresh water. He has built a tilapia pond onto the back of his home to supply his family and neighbors with a great source of fat and protein. He has chickens, goats, turkeys, and bunnies to provide varied proteins and eggs for his family. He has planted fruits and vegetables and trees around his property, and rigged up mazes of barbed wire through his yard as a security system. He did all of this without any kind of city water, or power, and without a completed fence around his property. By the time he completes his home and garden area he has planted, 5 large families will be able to live completely independent on what he produces in his yard without having to go to the market. I have often wondered what would happen to my family if we were to suddenly have no electricity or water or source of outside food, and I have to tell you, I would be in much worse shape than my friend Raymond and his family. For the little that he has, he has made much. And all the while he is paying the fees to send his children to school and helping fund the school in La Source that we visited.

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:23

I have supported Mercy House Kenya for several years and the director of the house in Kenya is a young girl named Maureen. She grew up in the slums of Nairobi, but because of sponsors from Compassion International was able to go to school, and even college. She returned to her home country after her education and helped begin this home, and because of her, over 40 women have been rescued from terrible life-threatening situations and almost 40 babies have been born healthy in a safe environment instead of on the streets or aborted through dangerous illegal abortions. Every morning the residents of that home meet for prayer and praise and Bible study, and they end each day the same way, and Maureen is making a difference in her own world, with a little help from people who love her in the US. She is a world-changer.

I think of the children of La Source that I met in the school that Raymond started. If God will capture the hearts of those children and they will make a difference in Haiti after receiving the education that COF helps provide, that is hundreds of circles of influence completely changed. You keep doing multiplication math like that, and Haiti will start to change, whether the macro systems catch up or not.

I loved driving through Haiti first thing in the morning or around lunchtime when the thousands of school children would emerge in their colorful perfectly clean uniforms on their way to school, siblings holding hands and climbing onto the back of colorful tap tap taxis on the way to school. First, how impressive that they manage to get those uniforms beautifully clean when clean water is a scarce resource, and second, those children are the future of Haiti and because of them Haiti will get better for future generations.

Each of the administrators of the school in La Source are from Haiti, they all got a college education (some of them outside of Haiti), and each came back because they love their country and love these kids and want to make a better Haiti. It was so encouraging to me. One of them kept telling me, “Haiti needs your prayers.” I think perhaps that is the greatest gift I can give them, not trying to fix a system that God has not put under me to fix in the first place.

Small changes, in community, over time, create sustainable positive change. Come Kingdom of God, be done will of God in the people we met, the churches and schools we visited, and in the lives of your people. Multiply the work, rescue lives, capture hearts, and be glorified as things get better. We trust you to make Haiti new – to bring your Kingdom to earth there, and protect her children. 

Haiti Day 4

I am in Haiti this week with Community of Faith collecting stories and photographs to update our church on the progress of the churches, schools, and other ministries that COF supports in Haiti. Before I came on this trip, my friend Tara, a missionary midwife at Heartline Maternity Center in Port Au Prince, wrote me and said, “Haiti is a place that won’t be understood easily but you will find love there.” I have played her words in my head several times since we arrived, but today I leaned on them all day long. We traveled last night from Gonaive and the rural village of La Source where we have spent the last few days, to a suburb of Port Au Prince where we will base for the rest of our time here. In total transparency, moving from rural to urban Haiti is more difficult for me to process, and the beauty harder for me to find. Our leader David warned us that Haiti is a lot to take in, and he is right. I am trying to process through my feelings and thoughts about the day.

It started off lovely. This morning we got up and traveled to Croix-de-Bouquets to join Pastor Raymond and Pastor Walter’s church for worship. Several groups from COF have gone there before us, so the church members are familiar with us and there is a long established partnership. Members of our team who have been here before reconnected with friends, and we enjoyed worshiping together. When we arrived, worship was already in progress (Haitian church services are several hours long, so us arriving late was by design). I loved the church service, the music, and the warm way we were welcomed. We each gave a short greeting, and if I thought speaking in front of children was intimidating, it was nothing compared to speaking on microphone to an entire church. It felt a little awkward and I stumbled through, but they had grace for me despite. Just before my greeting they had prayed for us by name and for Community of Faith Houston and Mark and Laura Shook (our pastors), and I was able to tell them that even while they prayed for us, our church was praying for them and loved them, and I was grateful we all could talk to the same God big enough to handle all the details of our lives. I sat down after, relieved, and enjoyed the rest of the service. Several groups sang songs in the service, a couple dedicated songs especially for us, we took communion together, and a member of our team shared a short message about a woman who changed her life named Debbi.

On the trip last year Debbi came to Haiti from COF and left a piece of her heart here. She built relationships with the team in Haiti and was scheduled to come back on this trip, but passed away suddenly a few months ago. Although I never met Debbi, so many people I know knew her well and loved her and talk about her often, and it does feel like her spirit is here with us on this trip. She is talked about with love both by members of our team who traveled here with us, and by our Haitian friends. Her light is still shining both in Houston and in Haiti, even while her family and friends continue to mourn. She had already paid her deposit, and her family generously told the church to put it toward someone coming on the trip, so that money paid my way. I in particular am grateful for Debbi’s legacy as I sit typing in the room a few doors down where she stayed last year.

After the service I was feeling a little tired and hot and unwell as we drove to have lunch at Pastor Walter’s house. As we drove, the dust and noise and traffic and trash on the city streets as we drove felt really overwhelming to me. There was just no break, no rest, and everywhere seemed crowded and chaotic and lacking, if I can confess my mental filter. I struggled to find the beauty I knew was there, trying to see as Jesus sees, but honestly, on that drive and for much of the afternoon, it was hard.

We arrived at Walter’s home, and were offered a truly lovely meal. From what we have seen as far as food in Haiti, it probably was the equivalent of a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal with several courses served for us, and I’m really grateful for the sacrifice I know that meal required from his family. There was not room for our hosts at the table in their dining room, so they served us and ate on the bench against the wall despite our protests. We could tell they wanted to serve us and honor us, and it was humbling and beautiful. I fell in love with Walter’s family, as I had been warned I would by staff members back home, and I loved eating lunch with them in their home.

As we drove back to the hotel, again I struggled. I felt heavy, and it was too much. I wanted to look away from it all. I prayed and wrestled, and then decided a good sleep (and maybe a good cry) would help my heart. We returned to the hotel and I quickly fell asleep. Our leader woke me up a short time later because he was going into Port Au Prince to meet up with an artist and writer he knows who lives nearby, and he wanted me to come and meet him and potentially get a part of his story recorded. In all honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I had seen so much today, and I felt tired and emotionally weary, but after reaching out to Justin and my friend Kacey to get them to pray for me, I decided to go anyway.

We loaded up in a car and went to this home in a nicer part of Port au Prince, near the UN compound. We went in and spent some time with the artist and his wife, an older couple who astonished me. I was unfamiliar with his work when we went to his home, but soon got swept up in the conversation and the images around me. His home was full of his paintings (and he had painted on almost every blank wall in the home), and he gave our leader one of his books as a gift. Although when we arrived he wasn’t feeling well, he welcomed us into his home as friends, and even called our leader his son, and I was really touched by his hospitality. I know a weakness of mine is that I can be more task oriented than people oriented, and COF missions is a very people and relationship-oriented endeavor, which always stretches me. But moments like this and connections like these are why that concept is important. We didn’t even attempt to pull out equipment and record him because being present with them was more important. His wife offered us cake and juice and we ate together and talked together before he showed me the art on the top floor of his home and his studio below.

His art, and his writing, is centered on chaos and finding beauty in chaos (and in much of his art the beauty is noticeably absent). Haiti is central to his work because Haiti is a very chaotic place and the struggle to find beauty here is constant and relentless. When I saw his art, heard him speak of the difficulty our planet is facing, and even just the act of sitting with an aging man struggling with what to do with the last years of his life as parts of his body fail, I felt less alone with the confusion I had felt all day. I realized that my struggle to understand and comprehend is a universal struggle that people have wrestled with since the beginning of time. In fact, it is a struggle reflected by artists, writers, thinkers, musicians, humanitarians and leaders for centuries. These same themes are even in the Bible. These opposing ideas of beauty and chaos, a loving God and suffering, the staggering reality of human starvation in a world where there is also ignorant excess, the simplicity of grace in a world overwhelmed with complex addictions and sin – it is all a struggle. The same things I see in Haiti on the street that are a shock to my system are less shocking when they are hidden in suburban Cypress or Keller or Grapevine, but they still exist. And my mind can’t reconcile it.

We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home – Jamie Tworkowski

Tara told me that Haiti will be difficult to understand, and it is. We as humans don’t like complex things, we like to caricature and simplify. But reality is complex. The same city can have dirty streets with beautifully-dressed people walking down that street toward church where they will worship Jesus and show love to one another. A filthy child can sit on a pile of what looks like garbage in the heat and still be absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful. The road to a home where we are offered an extravagant and loving meal can be littered with children who appear hungry and animals begging and scavenging for food. A woman who loves the Lord and serves him can suddenly be taken home without warning or explanation. We have the hope of heaven, but for now we walk this world that can be confusing and scary with very real and acute suffering. In the chaos, God is good. I don’t understand it, I can’t reconcile it, it gives me a headache from tears, but I still choose to believe it. Life is lived and love is given to each other in the messy chaotic beautiful middle, and God is there with us in that place. I’m grateful today that God is with me and everyone I have seen, and because of Him there is hope.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18. 

Haiti Day 3

This week I am with Community of Faith in Haiti filming videos to update our church on our ministries in Haiti. We moved locations, and the internet is better, so I’ll try to add some photos to this tomorrow after sleep. 

Yesterday I had shot interviews with three different people, a little girl named Sabine and a father and daughter who both attend our school together (the father decided as an adult to return to school and humbly comes to class with children less than half his age and his daughter in the room next to him because all he wants to do is learn so he can help his family).

This morning, I woke up and in the first waking moment before my brain really even registers rational thought, I realized I hadn’t gotten enough of the little girl, Sabine’s, story. In rapid succession, 4 more questions I wanted to ask her popped into my head. I have learned in my life to never ignore those early morning ideas. More often than not, these moments are the Lord speaking to my heart.

Now you have to know, some of these children walk more than 2 hours to get to school. They had come in the day before, on a national holiday and what should have been their day off, to greet us. It was now Saturday, and of course school was not in session. There are 200 students in the school and out of that we had picked this one precious girl to focus on, and now I had lost my chance to film her entire story. I felt terrible, incompetent, guilty, and wasteful. I sat there in my bed, and I had myself a little pity/shame party. But then I thought about what we had been seeing and hearing from the Pastors in Haiti, and what I have learned since the day I first stepped foot into Community of Faith. I have had a Master’s course in the past 11 months of the real, tangible power of prayer, and now was my chance to put it into action.

I got my phone out and made a note of the 4 questions I knew I needed to ask, so I wouldn’t forget them, and then said a little prayer I would repeat through much of the morning. I asked the Lord to somehow deliver Sabine to me so I would have a chance to talk to her again. I knew we were going to see the land that Raymond, one of our Pastors, has purchased as the future location for the new school, we were going to work together with the teachers and administrators to clear a small plot of land for a tilapia pond, and we were going to meet Raymond’s family who live in the same valley. We would be in the area immediately surrounding the school, and I asked the Lord to give me another chance to talk to her.

To help the Lord out with the miracle (ha-ha), I tried to ask two of the teachers in the car on the way up to La Source if they knew where Sabine lived. Neither of them understood me, so I knew I needed to just pray. We arrive in La Source, unload from the car near the land they have purchased for the school, and as always, some neighborhood kids peek around bushes to greet the car full of strangers. I step out of the car and look behind me and someone smiles at me. I smile back, turn away, and then jump back around. SABINE! I run up to her, hug her, and excitedly in English tell this poor Haitian girl that I have been praying she would appear! One of our translators, Silvia, laughingly intervened and explained why I was so excited and asked her if she had a few minutes to speak to us again. She shyly agreed, as her siblings giggled around her. I got permission from our leader to stay behind and travel with Sabine to her home to meet her family and film the rest of her story, and we would meet up with the group later.

Silvie and I walked the short distance to Sabine’s home, gear in hand. Sabine is blessed to live so close to her school, as it is only a short 10-minute walk. Many students in this area travel hours to get to school. We hiked a small portion of the mountain behind the school today, and gasped for air when we were about a third of the way up it, and they told us that several students live on the other side of the mountain, and that it takes them more than 2 hours to get to school and get home each day. In urban areas, schools are often inaccessible for families because of cost. In rural areas like La Source, not only cost but simple access is a barrier to education. Even many of our professors travel an hour to come teach each morning on the back of motorbike taxis down dusty bumpy roads, but they come out to this rural area because they believe in the power of education and Christ to give children hope.

On the way to Sabine’s home I asked Silvie (my friend fluent in French who inspires me to learn another language) to tell Sabine that we don’t want to intrude on their lives, so she could go ahead and ask her parents for permission before we arrived and only if they invited us in would we come in. She smiled and told us it was not a problem, and we found out later that her parents are both farmers, and the 8 children in their family take care of each other during the days while their parents work. There is much more to Sabine’s story that I will soon share with the church via video, but for me, personally, to walk into her home was a really powerful moment.

The homes in this area are all on similar lots – and the lot size is similar to mine at home (I think I heard them say 100 x 200 but I have no idea what measurement that is – so I’ll let you imagine). They all have fences around them made of cactus to protect their gardens (the fences are beautiful). When we walked into Sabine’s yard I was amazed by how clean it was. The ground was swept dirt and was perfectly flat and even. It felt like walking across my carpet after I had vacuumed. I could tell her family had spent time getting it free of rocks or debris. Her little brothers and sisters ran around, smiling at us, and hiding behind older siblings. There was the main house, which was beautiful with cement front, a porch, decorative windows, and lace curtains in the doorways. There was another small house to the left where three girls were washing clothes in bowls on the porch, and on the back of the dirt lot there was a large building with no walls but just a roof. I asked one of Sabine’s sisters what it was, and she told me, but I have no idea what it means and can’t remember the word, so you can guess about that as well. The entire place was beautiful and we felt immediately at ease.

We filmed Sabine’s story, took some pictures of her siblings because they wanted in on the fun, and I got to again take a posed picture, and show it to precious kids as they giggled. Some of the sisters ran in front of a beautiful tree by the main porch and posed, and I went over to take their picture. After the picture in the bright sunlight, when I bent down to show them, I could feel little hands on my waist as they leaned in closely to see the dark screen in the bright sunlight. I loved it. It made me long to bring my girls here so they could play in this place with these children. We left, hugging children and saying our goodbyes, but we happily discovered that most of the children in her family were following us to meet up with our group. They showed us shortcut paths that weave between homes and gardens and we felt like a part of their community off the main roads walking through areas where normally only Haitians walk. We spent the rest of the morning with them, working and laughing together with the teachers as we cleaned out the pit for the tilapia pond, squealing when one of the teachers discovered a tiny snake, taking pictures together in various poses, and hiking up and back down the mountain (on the way back down one little girl in green ran fast and light, barefoot but somehow graceful on this dirt and rock trail, reminding me of Tinkerbell). It was a beautiful day with Sabine and her family. They welcomed us not only into their home, but into their family and neighborhood for the day, and I loved every moment of it.

Today 2 of the 200 students at the COF school came out to help us dig the pond and spend time with us, and one of those was Sabine. Our God is a genius at the 1% odds and always, always, always answers our prayers.

Haiti Day 2

Haiti Day 2

I am in Haiti this week with Community of Faith, seeing what God is doing down here through the two churches we are associated with and our school, the Community of Faith School in Le Village de La Source, Haiti. I am posting with limited internet, so forgive the sloppy formatting and lack of photos.

 

I am a person of strong feelings and opinions (understatement). One of the things I have oh so many feelings about is how to honor and respect people when traveling to another culture, so that you aren’t the rude American taking pictures of other people’s children as if they are zoo animals. Just imagine if someone showed up at your house or junior’s preschool and was looking through the window, taking pictures of your little precious without your permission. “Lawsuit” (you need to know that in my head that word was said in the church lady’s voice). It even has a name – poverty tourism – exploiting people with a right to privacy and dignity just so you can score the best Facebook profile picture. It crawls all over me.

So imagine my mental angst when it comes to me traveling for the church to document the progress of the school that our church supports, which involves shooting pictures and video of other people’s children. For me, a natural over-thinker, it is a mental minefield. So I have been praying about it, asking the Lord to give me eyes to see and to use even my camera as a way to connect.

We drove from Gonaives up to Le Village de la Source, which is this tiny village tucked in this valley with literally 360 degree views of absolutely beautiful mountains. We went to visit the COF school up there for older children started by one of the Pastors on our staff. I walked in a little nervous, not only to shoot pictures and videos, but because we had been told that we should each prepare a greeting that they would translate for the children, and I struggled to find the words. I have terrible stage fright and knew whatever I said had to be simple because I was bound to stutter my way through it. The children sang us a song as we walked in, and the leadership of the school began to greet us one by one. Just before I was introduced, our leader David introduced me and explained that I would be documenting the story of their progress, and not only how the school had grown but how they had all grown as students and leaders. I stood up shakily to give my little speech, and it went something like this. “Bonjour (my only French word – they giggled at my Texas/French dialect). Thank you for coming today on your day off to visit with us. Our church loves you and prays for you. I love being here, and personally am so happy to see so many girls in school today. I believe that with education, and Jesus, we can change the world. It is nice to meet you and thank you for having me.” I nervously sat down and looked over to find many of the children smiling at me. It gave me courage, and I slipped out of my seat and began to work my way around the room taking pictures and videos, slowly working my way into a rhythm as I moved around the room and caught more and more shy smiles from eager children. I also caught glances from a group of neighborhood women and children who had seen our van pull up, stuffed like a clown car full of white people, and come over to look through the windows and see what has happening. I shared our snacks with them, and although we didn’t know each other’s language, we communicated through smiles and gestures until I felt like I was making friends.

We gave the school children some gifts, and they gave us gifts, and as they told us stories and gave us greetings, we identified three people we wanted to get on video. I stepped out with another member of our team to setup for the video shoot, and the technicality of it relaxed me even more. As we were setting up, I noticed that the neighborhood women I connected with earlier had following me over and were watching. I used some of them as models to get my settings right, and let them listen to my microphone setup through headphones. I tried to tell one woman my name and get hers, but she remained silent and watchful, not understanding me. I shared a snack with her. After I handed it to her, she reached up to the tree we were standing under and tore off a leaf. She handed it to me and patted her hip. I struggled to understand. I said the word “leaf” and tried to hand it back. She patted her hip again and pointed to my pants. I realized she was pointing at my pocket, and the leaf was her gift back to me. Again tears rushed to my eyes as I put the leaf in my pocket. “Oh Lord, yes, how quickly I forget. This is about connection, one mother to another, and I don’t want to be the one only giving. It is mutual.” I said “Mesi” (my only Haitian-Creole word) and put my hand on my heart to tell her it meant something to me, and we smiled at each other.

We began to shoot our stories, and I saw the children watching me from the periphery. After I finished I took the camera and headed to the group. I asked them if I could photograph them (which of course they didn’t understand) so I gestured and they began to pose. I shot a picture, and then stepped forward so they could see what I had shot. They giggled, and more and more kids came over, and we did this for 10 minutes, back and forth, pose and giggle. I have dozens and dozens of cheesily-posed pictures of smiling kids, and I love them. I need to find a way to get printed copies back to them.

So the Lord did it (not surprising). He made the two things I was nervous about, speaking publicly and taking pictures, the two tools he most used to allow me to connect with the kids. I’m grateful.

Haiti Day 1

This week I travel to Haiti with a team from Community of Faith to shoot a short documentary-style video of the work COF is doing in Haiti.

My friends and I have often joked that a Sims family trait (my maiden name) is that we do things either 100% or not at all. I’m not sure when Haiti became one of my 100% things, but I have prayed for this place and loved it from afar for as long as I can remember. My love for this place grew when I sponsored a little Haitian girl, Widline, through Compassion International, and the 2010 earthquake solidified it, as I went to bed and woke up praying for days for the many thousands without homes and missing loved ones.

Today when the plane landed I had tears pressing up against my eyes as I looked out the window at this place where I have walked in prayer. I thought to myself, “I didn’t expect so many mountains. It is so green and beautiful. I can’t believe I’m here.” The Haitian man sitting between the window and me thought, “Why is this crazy American crying all over me?”

On the plane I was reading my friend Kristen’s book, Rhinestone Jesus, about her transition from a “good girl Christian” with dreams to change the world to the operator of a maternity home in Nairobi Kenya, seeing the Lord make her dreams a reality. Every word seemed important, as I too traveled on a plane without my spouse to a place I know will change me. Have you ever been in the place where you know the Lord is doing something significant, but you don’t know yet what it is, so you wait in anticipation? That is where I am today.

As we drove down roads crammed with vehicles somehow working together despite what looked to me like chaos, I watched the people, saw the colorful painted tap taps I have seen in pictures, passed the school children walking home from school in their rainbow of uniform colors, and prayed. Somehow it felt familiar to me. I know part of that feeling comes from the glimpse of life I get from the Livesay family (a missionary family that serves at Heartline Maternity Center in Port Au Prince that are my favorite follows on social media), but I also think it is because the connection in an unseen realm that is developed when we pray for someone. I feel this tether to Haiti. My prayers for these people, over years, have somehow connected us.

On my first trip with COF we went to a small village outside of Cancun Mexico. There, half of our team was dropped off at this home in the jungle where we were going to help the students from our Cancun Campus pour a cement floor. I was nervous. Our leaders and my backpack drove away in the car that left to go to the other location, and I looked around this tin roofed tiny house that seemed to be falling apart with music playing from somewhere deep and unseen in the jungle and thought, “What am I doing here? Am I even safe?” However, as the day progressed, and we laughed with students we could barely understand about common things like Harry Potter and college plans, and we saw shy children advance from watching us in dooryards to joining us in play, I noticed something. This “shanty” had these beautiful potted plants all around in a courtyard, and the house was surrounded by the most exotic trees I had ever seen. There were iridescent butterflies and tiny bunnies and it was green and lush and exotic and it smelled like the campfires from my childhood memories. What was at first strange and scary by the end of the day became beautiful and a home to me. The place was the same – but my eyes had changed. I saw not how different it was, but how beautiful and the same it was. I saw plants on a courtyard of a home that a mother made for her children to enjoy. I understood her and related to her.

On this trip I prayed for that transition to happen even more quickly. “Lord, help me see this place, these people, as you see them. I do not want to find them strange or scary or watch them like animals in a zoo. I want to connect with them, to love them, to see your beauty in them.” I think he answered my prayer. The many people often crammed on a motorbike and the women balancing boxes, baskets and bags on their heads, and the children walking in groups home from school or playing on broken sidewalks didn’t feel strange or scary, they were all beautiful. I prayed as we drove and it sounds crazy I know, but I loved them.

Today I purposely did not pull out the multitude of fancy camera equipment I brought, so I do not have pictures because I wanted to live fully present in today and experience Haiti with my eyes, not with the equipment, and trust the Lord to help me remember. Tomorrow I start to pull out cameras and microphones to try and capture just a fragment of a story of what God is doing in Haiti. But I can already tell, the tiny bit I capture will be only that, a tiny fragment. I think Haiti is a place I will probably never understand, but will always love.

Church, Here’s Why People Are Leaving You. Part 1

Brilliant blog on why people leave churches. So grateful to serve at a place who shows people that God’s love is real every single day.

john pavlovitz

WalkingAway

Being on the other side of the Exodus sucks, don’t it?

I see the panic on your face, Church.
I know the internal terror as you see the statistics and hear the stories and scan the exit polls.
I see you desperately scrambling to do damage control for the fence-sitters, and manufacture passion from the shrinking faithful, and I want to help you.

You may think you know why people are leaving you, but I’m not sure you do.

You think it’s because “the culture” is so lost, so perverse, so beyond help that they are all walking away.
You believe that they’ve turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; chasing money, and sex, and material things.
You think that the gays and the Muslims and the Atheists and the pop stars have so screwed-up the morality of the world, that everyone is abandoning faith in droves.

But those aren’t the reasons…

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