Teach Me to Number My Days

In Psalm 90, in the middle of a chapter about the passage of time, the inconsequence of our lives, and the judgment of God there is a plea; “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” When I read it today, it stood out. I’ve read it before and heard it in sermons, but today it felt like a message for me. Sometimes I am tempted to look things up, searching commentaries to find out what something means to the “professional” theologians. But today I felt like I should just sit with it a bit, give it time to process in my heart and in my spirit.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

There are two things I notice – first is the emphasis on measurementNumber our days. I don’t think I am good at this. In fact, let me amend that – I know I am not. Not only am I forgetful, but I am forward-facing. I am goal-oriented, a striver; a first-born with a massive bent toward people-pleasing, an Enneagram 9 peacemaker who bears the weight of the world. Injustice weighs on me, a lack of truth weighs on me, a lack of harmony in any relationship of which I am aware will keep me up at night. I not only know what is lacking in this fallen world, I feel it.

whack-a-mole

Whack-a-mole

And I’m pretty convinced I can do something about it. I am a problem-solver, smart and efficient, good at seeing all sides of any problem. So when I do my thing and harmony is achieved, I feel accomplished and I move on to my next superwoman mission of peacemaking. I live in a perpetual state of whack-a-mole; squash a problem, move on, squash a problem, move on.

But this verse tells me to number my days, that I may get a heart of wisdom. I know in my heart as I read the verse that this is a spiritual discipline, a way to get the knot in my chest to loosen, to get the tears pressing behind my eyes to recede.

Because this world is messed up. Blatant injustice, economic and racial inequality, a Church (at large) who seems at times to be asleep to it all, famine and war. Just today images fill my timeline of children sleeping who are not sleeping, but who apparently are the tiny innocent targets of a chemical attack in their own country from the air. And that is just today’s horror. Yesterday there was another, tomorrow there will be more. Jesus help us. There is so much to fix in this world.

And those are just the macro issues. Our family is facing some hard realities in our everyday life; needs that press in and things outside of my control that I want so badly to fix, wounds I want to forgive that persistently intrude on my days. And we have friends who face challenging kids and big life decisions and personal battles and I just want to help ease the pain they bear. There is much to do in this dark world of ours.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

So today, I am trying the spiritual discipline of measuring God’s faithfulness, numbering my days. I am remembering and listing the passages of Scripture God has given me as promises, over decades; revisiting hard times and remembering the faithfulness of God, re-reading prayer requests in old journals to note the answered prayers and the fulfilled promises. I am not looking ahead, I am looking back, writing it down, a monument to God’s faithfulness and to problems solved just as the Israelites stacked stones to remember.

Second is the emphasis on time. Numbering my days. I am also determined in the spiritual practice of only focusing on today. Not on our long term needs, the long term problems, the challenges I know we will face next month or in a future season. Today. I am thanking God for the daily bread for today. The friends who are faithful, the financial provision, the strives my daughters have made, the jobs Justin and I have that provide, the health of our family. I am taking this life that feels so long to me, but that is but a breathe to the Lord (back to Psalm 90), and I am handing every part of it over to the God who made me, focusing my grateful heart on today.

I was talking to a couple of friends yesterday, women full of grace and truth. I was asking for prayer for persistent needs and struggles that weigh on me. And they reminded me, as faithful friends do, of the truth of my situation, and the truth of theirs. We can become overwhelmed with the one next thing we need, we can take on that weight (because we are get-it-done women), and that weight can crush us. Whether it is our children or our home or our companies or our finances, the weight of what God has given us can be too much to bear. Because we weren’t meant to carry the weight of any of it on our own. We have to remind each other that it isn’t ours to carry. Yesterday all day I repeated that as a mantra to remind my frazzled sole. One friend kept repeating “You are safe. Your Father loves you.” Another constantly reminds me of gifts that are “daily bread.” We have to help each other remember these things. I really think God is teaching me we are part of each other’s “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrew 12), encouraging each other on to righteousness.

Daily bread. Teach us to number our days.

Part of the solution to that control-freak nature so many of us share, that tendency we have to forget the ways God has come through for us in the past, is to learn to count our days.

One last thing I noticed. I love that it is a prayer. Even this isn’t on us. Again, tears behind my eyes. God knows us so well, He knows even this we can’t do well on our own. Here’s the verse in context:

“So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Jesus teach us.

Peace in the Age of Quarreling

I’ve had so much time lately, one of the amazing side benefits of leaving full-time employment for freelance. I’ve been reading books and studying Scripture and playing with my kids and it has been absolutely lovely. I’m craving information; I’ve always been an avid consumer of news, but in addition to that I am reading poetry and fiction and books about my faith. I just can’t get enough. It is an interesting time to be reading from a multitude of sources.

One of the things the Lord has been teaching me is wisdom in arguing, because we have not only a divided country, but a divided church. And division doesn’t have to be destructive, when handled well, but it does require wisdom.

As Believers simply disagreeing well will be counter-cultural and shine light in darkness.

I am blessed with really diverse friendships; my friends are moderates and hippy liberals and religious conservatives and serious students of geopolitical issues and people who would rather watch E and get the totality of their news off Facebook. And despite our differences, for the most part, we live in harmony with each other. The years of investment we have made in friendship overwhelms any petty disagreements about politics or government. But a few times, disagreements have flared. So what do we do when our beliefs rub up against the beliefs of someone we love?

  1. We are to be people of peace. It is much less important that someone see your way and agree with you about some political issue than that they know you love them and are there for them. You are not going to argue anyone into the Kingdom, and if you love someone, maybe you should consider giving them grace to understand their motives and heart behind whatever they are doing. We are not, first, Americans or Republicans or Democrats, we are Christ-followers. We do not all share the exact same theology, and that is fine. His command to love each other doesn’t specify people who believe exactly like we do. We love, we show love, we show grace, to everyone.
  2. We need to realize that, in this heightened political climate, we ALL are defensive. If you are conservative, there are people who have lumped you in with racists or people who are anti-woman, and that stings. If you are liberal, there are people who have lumped you in with violent protesters or people who mooch off the government, and that hurts. None of us deserve to be compared to the tiny segment of worst-case examples of people who share our views. We have all assumed the worst of the other side while expecting our side to get the benefit of the doubt. And it isn’t working, so we are ALL defensive. So take a few minutes, maybe even overnight, before responding to something that stings. Ask yourself “Are they actually saying what I’m reading – or am I assuming the worst based on defensiveness?” And when you realize you are being defensive, simply backing away with an apology will defuse almost any argument. And if you sense someone is defensive and they are attacking, give them grace. Someone cussed me out on Twitter, after I asked a question about a policy, and when I calmly responded he wrote back, “I’m just tired of being called a Nazi and being told I voted wrong.” I wrote back, “I don’t think you’re a Nazi, and don’t even think you voted wrong. Peace be with you.” He apologized, and we actually have started corresponding online and we don’t disagree on everything! Being people of grace is so different in this war of words that it bridges even partisan gaps.
  3. We need to be wise about motivations behind the argument. We need to be wise to understand, “Am I arguing to understand and bridge this gap, or am I arguing to win?” And then ask this question about the person you are talking to. If the answer is “to win” – from either side, then the argument has trumped the relationship, and you are in dangerous territory. When that is the case, if I am the one putting the argument over the relationship, I will back away and make the relationship right, leaving the argument to the side. If the other person’s motives are winning, I walk away from the argument, conceding the win. Because for me, as a minister of the Gospel of Christ, the argument can never overtake my love for the person. I wonder if this is why Jesus remained silent instead of defending himself before the Sanhedrin? Why defend yourself when someone is determined to find you guilty? I have actually left a job when I realized the person I was in the meeting with was determined to win over working it out, which showed me they had no interest in working with me long-term. Being wise in conflict will show us when to stay and work it out, or when to walk away.
  4. We need to seek truth, although it is hard to find. Truth is always right, even if it doesn’t defend our position. All truth is God’s truth and we need to never fear finding the truth about a subject (even if it reveals that a party or politician we prefer is lying). Truth is crazy hard to find these days, but it is out there. Source material, fact checking resources, questioning everything is the job of the Believer in a post-truth world. So look for the source material, read the article not only on the news site we prefer, but the opposite side. So we read FoxNews and CNN and New York Times and even Al Jazeera or the BBC to get an international perspective. Don’t buy what you read on Facebook, it’s almost always false. Read fact-checking sources and don’t just believe what someone tells you is fake news. Be openminded to slant. Both sides do it, and we need to be people of truth. Just because something is a talking point of your side doesn’t mean it is accurate or worth defending. I respect people who admit the things the other side does well because all sides do some things well. If you can’t even acknowledge that, then your partisanship has probably overcome your commitment to truth. I’ve recently found http://www.allsides.com, which is a great resource that shows you the slant on all the news of the day.
  5. We need to look for what we have in common. Do you and I disagree on gun control? Probably. There is plenty we could argue about if we were so inclined. But honestly who really cares, and what difference would it make? Our kids play together and we love each other and you don’t have to believe like me for me to love you. I am proud to have friends who have NRA stickers on their car and friends who won’t own weapons because they take seriously Isaiah 2:4, “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” If our friends all look and believe like we do, what a sad monotone world. Seek diversity in thought and opinion, it’s good for us.
  6. We need to realize not every fight is our fight. I would much rather be known as the person who loves people over being known as the best political fighter of my time. Our culture wants us to jump in on arguments about politics or theology or religion, and it’s unnecessary. If something is your passion, and you feel like silence is complicity in injustice, then by all means, speak with truth and grace. I’ll be speaking and marching beside you. But sometimes we have to let balls fly past us without swinging (a sports metaphor!). Some things are not our fight to fight, and that is fine. If we are constantly fighting with people, then we probably need to spend more time building relationships with friends instead of instructing them to believe as we believe. Maybe we need a break from Facebook (I’m in the middle of one now and it is wonderful) to remember what is really important. So often I see people speaking condescendingly to people they are supposed to love because someone doesn’t believe the way they believe. They will ignore everything they know of a person, over decades, and lump them in with the worst examples of the side they assume they are taking. Since when do condescension and snobbery and overgeneralization win anyone over to our side? Just let it go, and show the people you love that you love them.

“Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul.” 2 Timothy 2:14-17a  The Message

It is hard to know how to be a light out there in the world today, but it is still our role. Peace be with you as you make your way through the world, friends.

Tighten Up Your Courage

I’ve written before about the way that God speaks to me. These threads or ideas start swirling in my head, and certain things I encounter in my day to day life seem to glow with significance, and I know they will eventually form into a complete picture, a message from God. But I’ve learned to be patient for that final revelation, because noticing the ideas swirling and the moments that are significant requires me to be present in my life, and that is sometimes as important as the final message.

Lately I’ve been noticing fear, in myself, in my children, in the motivations of people around me. Once you start watching for it, you see how utterly soaked in fear is our entire culture, which is heartbreaking.

Our family is in the middle of some job changes, and it has me very prayerful and cognizant of the environment around us. I’m trying to notice when I’m reacting out of fear, or feeling it, and it is taking energy and practice for me to combat the fear that is, really, an enormous part of our reality as humans. Both I and my oldest daughter, who has always been so spiritually sensitive, have been having dreams about the fear in us and the people around us. So I’ve been praying for freedom from fear, and tuned in to noticing it.

I’m a big musical theatre person, and both in the Hamilton musical and in Beauty in the Beast, I’ve noticed this line “Screw your courage to the sticking place.” It struck me as interesting, so I looked it up and it is a Shakespeare quote, from Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7;

Macbeth:
If we should fail?

Lady Macbeth:
We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.

It basically means to tighten your courage down to something stronger, like twisting a peg into its hole, to reinforce it. When I realized what they were saying, it was an illuminating moment.

The strength is not in the peg, or in the screw. It is not in us to fight fear and be brave. The strength is in what we attach ourselves to, and how tightly we connect. We need to daily, moment by moment, tighten up our courage to the sticking place.

And the sticking place is, for me, our great God. And if you look at the verses on fear in the Bible, and there are 365 of them (as all of the embroidered pillows you’ve seen on Etsy proclaim), they are all about God being our defense against fear:

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:7-8

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

The action is to tighten into God, not to fight fear. I’ve been getting that wrong, no wonder it has been a frustrating fight. Fighting fear has nothing to do with fighting fear – it has to do with connecting to the author of love (the opposite of fear). Screw your courage to the sticking place.

Right now, where I stand may seem wobbly, and I may feel anything but brave. But if I screw my courage to the sticking place of God’s great love for me and my family, and His power and might, and His plans that never fail, I can take courage and not be afraid.

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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.

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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