Monday, January 31, 2011

thoughts on children and entropy

I really love children.

The problem is that they turn into teenagers and eventually adults and, truthfully, I like adults much less than I like children. Now, unless you're really new here, you probably know that I am a missionary. And so to hear that I don't really like people sometimes might be disturbing to some.

Let me clarify. I believe in the value of every life. I believe in the possibility of the redemption of every soul. Part of being a follower of Jesus is striving to love everyone (even people deemed "unlovable.")

But here's the thing-- I don't claim to speak for Jesus, but I don't *think* Jesus liked everyone. He loved everyone. He gave himself up for everyone. But I don't think he LIKED everyone. For example, the Pharisees and Sadducees-- he calls them a brood of vipers. They had evil intentions in their hearts and (because Jesus was about his Father's will), he couldn't tolerate that. And let's just be honest, the Pharisees and Saducees weren't particularly likable characters. Jesu spoke with truth and called them out on their sin. It wasn't fun for him to hang out with them. He did at times, but it was only for the purpose of trying to overcome evil with truth. It's not like they were his game-night-Pictionary-playing friends that he hung out with for fun. (I could go further and explain this part of what I am trying to say, but I think it's just tangential to what I want to communicate.)

So think about this.

If you're anything like me, there are probably adults that you don't like. And you probably don't like them for valid reasons. Maybe they've hurt you or others you love. Sometimes they are prideful or deceitful or a thieves. Sometimes I can't put my finger on why some people are unlikeable. But I would make the observation that some people just turn out to be jerks.

Now, let me ask you this-- how many times have you looked at a baby, a tiny little newborn baby, and said, "Wow, that baby is a kind of a jerk."?

How often do you look at a one month old baby just mastering the skill of holding up his head and think, "Well that's a jerk thing to do." ?

Or a two month old-- when she's all cooing and laughing. You don't think a baby like that is a tool.

At three months, he might start to roll over or at least try to. And all of this is met by parents and friends/relatives with great cheers and photo/video opportunities.

And so it goes. Babies develop. They begin to crawl and walk and talk. And it's adorable.

And then they begin to develop a personality. They wave and they play peek-a-boo and they blow kisses and the like. (*My heart is melting just thinking about it*... I really want another baby!)

And I would assert that physically, really, there are VERY few ugly children. Sure, some are cuter than other. Some, (like mine) are EXCEPTIONALLY cute (lol), but I am not sure the concept of ugly children really exists. If it does, I've never seen it. (Some might argue that point, but this is my blog... so bear with me or just stop reading.)

I heard someone at a conference say once (sorry I can't remember who it was--Sue Miller???) "Children are fresh, hot from the hands of God." Think about a batch of chocolate chip cookies that just came out of the oven. You put them on the cooling rack, give it a minute and then eat one... Heaven! They are hot and chewy and delicious. They are still good as they cool more and sit there, but outside influences (temperature, humidity, time) changes the experience.

It's like that with kids too. There becomes a point I've seen in kids (I am speaking for me, not for you) when kids start to be kind of jerky. The cookie starts to get a bit stale. They hit and bite and kick, even after they know they are not supposed to. I am not talking about childhood curiosity or normal testing of boundaries, I am talking about when children decide to be purposefully defiant. They get pleasure out of teasing other people. They laugh when other people get hurt. They pick on kids half their size. Some turn into "mean girls" or bullies.

And even when/if our kids start to become jerks, we (as parents) are still love them like crazy. We'd still die for them. But we start sometimes not to like them very much. Back to our analogy-- it's still a cookie-- cookies are good, but it doesn't seem as good as when it was first fresh out of the oven.

So how does that happen?

We can begin the discussion by talking about sin nature. I don't want start a big theological diatribe, so just in general terms, I would say that I think that there is a pull in us that tries to draw us into things that we know are wrong. People call it different things-- and really, you can call it whatever you want, but I think most people would not deny its existence. Most people would agree with the fact that there is right and wrong. (Where we would draw that line or the motivation for drawing that line might differ, but I think most of us agree that there is "good vs. evil" that exists in our world.) And for whatever reason, there are just times that things that we know are NOT good seem so enticing to us. I (personally) would call that our sin nature.

But I don't think that we can blame it all on our sin nature. Just because there might be a pull in one direction to do something wrong, doesn't mean we have to do it. There IS a nature component, but I think the nurture component is just as great (or probably greater) of a pull. Kids (young kids especially) are extremely pliable and will naturally model what they see happening around them. It's why my kids speak Kreyol better than me. Things sink into kids faster. And the fact is, broken people raise broken kids.

It's a vicious, unstoppable cycle apart from the grace of the Lord. It started with Eve in the garden of Eden but we all perpetuate this cycle. We are ALL the jerky adults that turn sweet fresh babies into sinners. We don't WANT to do this. We don't INTEND to do this, but we do. I love how Sarah Groves says it in her song Generations, "Eve was the first but she wasn't the last."

I posted this article from the Onion on my facebook the other day. It was hilarious. Just to be clear, the Onion is a parody. It's not real news, just a funny (and usually honest) look at social affairs. This article was about how the "Christian Right" is lobbying to overturn the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The jist of the parody is that these protesters think that if we simply take this phenomenon out of textbooks and use the courts to remove this concept as a scientific law of nature, then entropy will just stop happening.

Now, obviously, the article is ridiculous. We can't change a law of nature. But the fact that things in nature go from a state of order to disorder is not ONLY a natural process. Like with child-raising, there's also a nurture component. That gets into a lot of messy, no-easy-answer kinds of questions about stewardship of natural resources, poverty, race equality, etc... But let's keep it to the topic-- children.

God created children perfectly. They are the closest-to-God tangible thing that we can see. That's why there are no jerk babies. They might be sick or be colicky or fussy, but it doesn't mean they weren't created perfectly. But we don't blame the babies for those things. That's the nature of babies. When a baby is first born, it's the closest it will ever be to God's hands--his intentions for him/her-- while on this earth. And then a process of disorder-- both from nature and nurture-- starts to take place.

But when I think about all of this, my spirit doesn't get all gloomy with despair. If I believe in a good God (which I do), he would not give me a child (which he calls a blessing) without the tools I would need to see that through. So in spite of living in a fallen world, I have hope. Because while I may not be PHYSICALLY as "fresh, hot from the hands of God" as a child, I can choose to place myself in a place where I am spiritually made that way.

Think about this passage:
  • "People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them." Mark 10:13-16 (The same story is also present in Matthew and Luke as well).
Jesus recognized the worth and potential in children. It was not only USEFUL for him to bless them and not hinder them from coming, he made the assertion that the very kingdom of heaven belongs to "such as these."

So, then think about this passage:
  • "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." Matthew 18:1-5
We are called to become like children-- fresh, hot from the hands of God. The laws of nature tell us this can't be done. And while we can't overturn the laws of nature, there are spiritual laws in place that have the potential to supersede natural laws. When these kind of things happen in really big, unexplainable ways, some might call it a coincidence, others might call it a miracle. But these things can also happen on a daily, moment-by-moment basis-- when we CHOOSE to die to ourselves. (Little "clicks" ahead as my pastor would say.) It isn't something that comes to us naturally. It can only come to us spiritually. When we choose to free ourselves from the slavery of our sin nature, we allow spiritual laws to supersede natural laws.

In a nutshell, this is the role we have in preventing our children from turning into jerks. We submit ourselves to the spiritual laws that prevent the entropy of our soul. We model these behaviors and we PRAY for these spiritual realities to overcome the natural tendencies we all have in us that cause us to want things that are not good for us.

I will be the first to say that I don't have this down. I REALLY don't have this down. If I am going to be honest and transparent, I look at my own life and many days, I just see a big jerk-- (though I will also say that I see where I have employed the Holy Spirit to help overcome certain behaviors that would make me an even bigger jerk.) I look at my own kids, and I have marks all over the continuum. I have some kids that really seek to feed/submit to the spiritual and I have some kids that really seek to feed/submit to the natural. Because of free will there is not a formula you can complete that will make you have non-jerk kids.

But, even so, it's not a passive process.

Left to play out naturally, the outcome will likely not be good.

In the same verse where God calls children a blessing, he also calls them a heritage. We will pass along a heritage to our children. At first glance, heritage seems like a good, strong word. Something that carries with it proud family traditions and customs. But a heritage is not always a good thing. You could also pass a heritage of alcoholism, or abuse, or adultery (0r any number of things that we do not want to be remembered for.)

It's up to us what our heritage will look like.

So my challenge to you (and to myself) today is to ask, "What behaviors am I exhibiting in my life that I'd really NOT like to pass on to my children?" And then--and here's the key-- submit those behaviors to the Lord so that the spiritual may overcome the natural.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Happy Birthday Hugues!


Hugues is our only male live-in staff member... we often jokingly refer to him as our manny. But really, more than a staff member or a manny, Hugues is our family.

Today he turns 26 years old. He's mentioned to me probably 2 dozen times that he's not happy about turning 26 because it means he's closer to 30 than he is to 20 and he thinks he's getting too old. I tried to tell him that 30 is the new 20 (cause that's what I tell myself), but in Haiti where life expectancy is 52, I don't think I have much of a leg to stand on-- he's middle aged. :)

One quick story about Hugues that I love--

***
About a month before Hugues came to work for us, Madam Placide (the pastor's wife) came up to him in church one day and said, "Hugues. I have something to tell you. Today when I was praying in church, I feel like God revealed something to me. I fell like he told me that you were going to be very happy and have a big, beautiful family with lots of children."

Hugues told her thank you, but in his mind, wondered how that would happen, as he was already in his mid 20's and didn't have any prospects for a job, hadn't finished school, didn't have a house, didn't have a girlfriend or a wife. While that idea that Madame Placide said to him sounded good, he didn't think it was possible.

Several months ago he came to Nick and I and he shared that story that Madame Pastor had told him. And as he told it, he was emotional and said, "I just realized that everything Madam Pastor told me was true and has happened. I am in a big new family where I am very happy and I am surrounded by lots of children. This is exactly what she was talking about. Everything she said would happen has happened."

***
We absolutely consider Hugues a part of our family and one of our best friends. He works extremely hard every single day, but he also sits and eats meals with us (none of our other staff members do), he goes to the beach with us every week (our other staff members RARELY do) and he hangs out with Nick and I in the evenings. He may be the most servant-hearted person I've ever met. And he loves our children (especially Josiah, who he will unabashedly admit is his favorite) nearly as much as we do.

Everyone who meets Hugues loves him-- sure, he's a bit quirky and walks around making weird clucks and clicking noises. Sure, he repeats himself 20-30 times when telling a story and it's kind of irritating.

Help us say Happy Birthday to Hugues-- leave a comment saying Happy Birthday and I will pass it along to him! Or you can friend him on facebook-- ("Hugues Pierre") and tell him yourself.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A slow learner.

There are times when I feel like I pick up new things really quickly. Not as quickly as Nick Mangine, (which, incidentally, is irritating.) But I can be pretty quick on the uptake at times.

Then there are other times when a I tend to need the same lesson over and over and over and over... (remember "..." means it goes on for infinity like that.)

There's this Haitian prayer in one of my favorite books ever-- (a book EVERYONE should own) called "God is No Stranger" that says this,


Bondye ap fè nou pase mizè pou li ban nou leson. Se sèlman yon moun sòt ki bezwen repete yon leson. (God is teaching us through difficulties. Only a stupid person needs repeat instructions.)


Busted.

Man. Y'all. Today I am convicted that I am that stupid person. After all God has brought me through in this past year, I am so convicted that I STILL find myself wracked with worry. What if _____ happens? What if _____ happens? Where are we going to get the money for _______? How are we going to afford _______? And ... (remember... = infinity)

A couple of years ago we stepped out in faith and God has provided more love and support than we could have ever imagined. He's shown us first hand that when He calls you to something, He makes the way. He's shown us that light and truth win. He's shown us that His Word is truth when He says He will "satisfy our desires with GOOD things." (Psalm 103:5)

So why? Why am I worried? I am worried because I choose to put my faith in things I can see and touch rather than things that are eternal. It's my human nature-- sin living in me that wants to have me.

"Only a stupid person needs repeat instructions."

Just in case I am not the only one who needs repeat instructions, I offer this to you tonight to read (or if you are like me, REread for the millionth time.)

Matthew 6:25-34

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Losing battle.

I am in a losing battle with language in my house.

Just when I was starting to get comfortable with Kreyol (as in not sound TOTALLY like a tool, just partially) my kids started digging into French. And when I say kids, I mean ALL 11 of them. Even Josiah... his preschool is "international" meaning they teach in Kreyol, French and English.

I REALLY want my kids to learn and I want to be a part of their learning-- their lessons and homework. But I really don't want to have to learn French. I just don't have the time or energy.

But here was the straw that broke the camel's back-- we were on the way home from the beach and this conversation happened:

***
Nia: "Mom, what's the mark in English you put over an "e" to make it say "e" (like as in a long e.)

Me: Well, there is no mark, it just depends on where you put it in a word.

Nia: Well what's the mark if you want an "e" to say "eh" (ie- a short e).

Me: There isn't a mark.

Nia: Well then how do you know how to pronounce it?

Me: Well, we're getting to that in phonics, but it all depends on where it is in the word and the other letters around it.

Nia: (exasperated sigh!) French just makes so much more sense!

***
She's moved over to the dark side.

What I wanted to say was, "No, KREYOL actually makes the most sense because all words are pronounced phonetically," but I just sort of shook my head and resigned myself to the fact that I will be starting French school at some point in my near future...

The lies we tell our kids.

So, I write this long post yesterday about how I want to be honest, and authorized and truthful and then this morning THIS conversation happens:

***
Nico: Mom. The toothfairy never came to give me money under my pillow last night.

Me: (cringing because I ALWAYS forget) Well, you know. Sometimes it's hard for her to get to Haiti. There's a lot going on here... what with cholera and an exiled dictator on the loose... Let's try again tonight.

Nico: (not entirely convinced) okay...

***

So yeah. That's me. LYING to my kids. Which is funny because I am really adamant about my kids knowing Santa Claus is not real. (Although that might have to do with my insistence that Christmas is about the coming of our Savior.)

So I am trying to decide whether to keep the "magic" (ie--LIES) alive, or just break the truth to them. Because I never remember to put the money under the pillow. What if I just gave them the 5 gourdes when they lost the tooth?

Would that be too pragmatic?

Monday, January 24, 2011

"See More Stories"

I love having facebook on my BlackBerry. It's an easy way for me to see what's happening in the lives of my friends and write quick updates as I am waiting in line at the hardware store, waiting in line at the doctors office, waiting in line at the TB clinic, waiting in line at the _________ (fill in the blank.) Can you tell my life is filled with lots of waiting in line for things?

One thing I like about facebook on the BlackBerry is that it shows you your 10 (or so) most recent updates and then has this button you can click to see older updates. On the computer version of facebook, the button says, "Older Posts." On the BlackBerry version, it says, "See More Stories." I LOVE THAT. That's why I read these updates. Because EVERYONE has a story. There have been numerous times while I've been living in Haiti these past 1 year, 8 months, and 28 days when the stories I've seen play out before my eyes seemed unreal. (I felt like I wasn't really there-- that I was watching this happen to someone else.) Sometimes they've been unbelievable (as in, I could actually NOT believe what I was seeing before my eyes.) Sometimes they've been amazing and beautiful (where tears of joy spring to my eyes.) And sometimes they've be horrific (where fear shook my body uncontrollably.)

But I am getting off topic. Sure, there are a lot of unique things that that happen here. But the truth is, the my heart resonates as much with your stories-- your blogs, your facebook updates, your tweets (now that I know what a tweet is.) I find the same kind of emotions welling up in me when I read about your new babies, fresh engagements, broken hearts, new homes, sick children, etc THERE as I do when I see them happen HERE. It's the emotion behind stories that connect us all.

I believe that everyone (in one way or another) wants their story to be validated.

As I've grown into myself in my 30's, I've realized that one aspiration for my life that I never knew that I desired, was to be a great story-teller. Stories flood my mind nearly every waking moment. I get ideas about things I want to blog or in some other way write down. The wording for a particular sentence or story will distract my thoughts until I find a time/place to write it down.

And in Haiti, this is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I get to be a mouthpiece (of sorts) for a lot of people who are otherwise without a voice. A curse because I get to be a mouthpiece (of sorts) for a lot of people who are otherwise without a voice. Same sentence, emphasis on different words. I love that I am blessed to be able to TRY to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. However, I hate that I am their only option. And, while I love to write, I am just not that great at it yet. This is not a self-loathing statement. There may be times when someone's story touches a nerve with someone-- where someone gets to see a glimpse of the real situation. But that's all it will ever be-- a glimpse.

So this comes with great responsibility. A friend of mine recently sent me this article about the way the media often "prostitutes" Haiti. I agree with the sentiment of this article. But I don't think it's just the news media. I think organizations and (gasp!) even MISSIONARIES do the same thing. The "rounding up" on how many "souls were saved" on how long or how hard it is to reach a remote village to distribute supplies.

And so that is what I never want to do. It's why I hate to (and will no longer) take big teams into the camps with me and my staff-- it feels too much like the prostitution of Haiti. I have spent the better part of a year developing relationships with PEOPLE in these camps, and I hate them to be used only as a photo op. (Btw--I like to bring "bought in" people into the camps 1 or 2 at a time... to introduce my friends from HERE to my friends from THERE, and vice versa.)

I used to be a huge Michael Jackson fan. I read lots of books about him. And I had this one book-- The UNAUTHORIZED Biography of Michael Jackson. It said some pretty scathing things at times. (As one might imagine an unauthorized biography of Michael Jackson might do.) That's not the kind of stories I want to tell. I want to tell the AUTHORIZED biographies. I want to tell stories not just because they are stories, but because they are real, they are authentic, they are LIFE. I want (at any point) the subject of the stories I tell, to be able to access what I write and agree that I've represented them fairly.

I want to write about real life, because while stories draw us in and form emotional connections, if they are fiction, it's no different from picking up the latest novel or watching the latest romantic comedy-- entertainment. There's nothing wrong with entertainment unless it claims to be truth. Remember the big scandal about James Frey and A Million Little Pieces? He wrote a great story (supposedly, I haven't read it.) People ate it up! But the problem was, he presented it as truth. It was on the Non-Fiction charts. But it was fiction. It made Oprah really pissed off because she helped him sell 3.5 million copies. She was had.

Similarly, there are times in my life where I've been had. Where I've been sold into a story that wasn't true. It was a great, beautiful story, but it was fiction and I didn't know it at the time. And like Oprah, I put a lot of relational capital on the line.

I am having a hard time wrapping all these thoughts together in a neat package with a fancy ribbon on top. I guess what I want to say is that what you can expect from me is the "authorized" biography. I hope that I will always speak in truth and without exaggeration (unless it's sarcasm and extremely obvious, because that is another one of my new life aspirations). And I hope that this is an impetus for us all to think about the implication of our words: how they can bring light and honesty into a situation-- and how they can bring darkness and destroy when you present fiction as the truth.

Watch out world!

So, things have been a bit busy around here. Now, yes, they are always busy. But they have been ESPECIALLY busy.

I am frustrated because I have ALL these great ideas to blog stirring around in my head, and no time to write them. Two specifically-- "See More Stories" and "The Cancer of Bitterness" that I just can't wait to write.

So watch out world, when all my kids are grown and out of the house in like 2031 or so, I am going to DAZZLE your brain with all my posting. Hang tight until then!

In the meantime, you can follow my day-today on facebook (Gwenn Goodale Mangine) or on twitter (@gwennmangine). (Since I carry my BlackBerry with me everywhere, I am pretty good at keeping that up to date...)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.

Just thought of this hymn today.

I found music was on this cyber hymnal website. The accompaniment is pretty silly. Still I just sang it in its entirety while Nia worked on her math.

Read through these lyrics.
Really read them.
See if they apply to you.
The bolded verse I just kept singing over and over and over. I am so prone to wander. I am so in need of God to take my heart and seal it to him...

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

****

Hey, does anyone know of a more modern version of this hymn I could download so that I have an option other than signing along with the MIDI file online?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sisyphus

Thanks to my friend Shaun, I had a giant A HA! moment this morning.

I made the comment on my facebook-
"Don't get me wrong, I love my life, but it is taking more and more willpower these days to get out of bed. Haiti is kind of like getting to the top of a big hill with a large boulder. When you get out of bed, it tips over the edge and it's fast, wrenching, and furious from there."
To which Shaun commented simply "Sisyphus."

I (being a failure of the public school system) did not know what that meant. I thought it might be some kind of physics term or something. But when Nick Mangine didn't know what it meant either, I thought I'd google it.

Check out what Wikipedia has to say about it:

******

"In Greek mythology Sisyphus (pronounced /ˈsɪsəfəs/; Greek: Σίσυφος Sísyphos) was a king punished by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity. He is also found in Roman mythology.

The word "sisyphean" means "endless and unavailing, as labor or a task". "

*******

This concept hit me square in the jaw.

And this is what came to my mind. This is what could SO easily become my life-- or really any missionary in Haiti. (Or really anyone anywhere for that matter.) The grind of life here is such a grind that it sometimes feels like we're doing nothing more than pushing a boulder up a hill only for it to come crashing down on the other side. And often, because of work done in our own efforts, that's what happens. It's a human lead effort of strength. We give it all we can. And sometimes, (let's just be honest), it feels like punishment.

And on "good days", it seems we muster our last bit of energy together to get that rock to the top of the hill.

And it may balance out there for a second. But... inevitably, up top, life isn't smooth like we thought it would be. The place up top is far smaller and narrower than it appeared from the ground. The terrain isn't as we expected it.

And then it will happen. It WILL.

Someone or something will knock into it. Or the very earth will shake.

And so the boulder will begin its descent and it's out of our hands. Right at the start its too far gone-- too heavy to possibly control, it takes down anything in its path.

And so...

While we FEEL the weight of the boulder-- the problems here, the hunger, the poverty, the disease and the desperation-- we need to realize that it is NOT our job to push that boulder up the hill.

Because what is it that our Lord tells us?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)

Anything we do with our own strength is self-punishment. It's condemning ourselves to the punishment of Sisyphus.

I don't know about you, but that's not where I want to live.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Seematter family

Right now we have this team of 4 visiting. It's a family-- a mom, a dad, a teenager and her uncle.

And they are kicking some tail.

They have funded and (alongside a crew of Haitian workers) are rebuilding two houses in 10 days. Nice houses. Two bedrooms with a kitchen, bathroom, gallery, etc.

I have heard some people say that it's more worthwhile for people to just send money so that Haitians can be employed. I don't agree. I will not try to fool you into thinking that Haitian people cannot do it without the labor of their North American counterparts... but there is something profoundly beautiful about different cultures coming together and working. We all have different ways of getting things done but coming together like I've watched this family do this past week has just been BEAUTIFUL.

I will be honest-- this family dropped A LOT of money to come here together and build these houses. And sure, they could have built MORE if they'd just sent the money down instead of coming themselves. But then they would have missed out on the life-change they are experiencing. Because while Haiti might need our money because we need to employ Haitian people if they are ever going to get on their feet, Haiti also needs people who are bought into a vision.

This family could have spent the same amount of money and gone on a REALLY great vacation together. They could have been wined and dined and massaged and entertained.

But they didn't.

They came down here to give generously and love the poor. They came to restore the ruins and radically change the life and future of two extremely fortunate families.

Imagine the memories THAT is going to invoke for years to come.

A day in the life.

The friends I mentioned in the previous post were literally here for only 36 hours or so.

But as I mentioned, Jay is an amazing photographer. Out of the over 1,000 pics he took while he was here, check out these 91 photos...

Just 91 seconds or so of our lives here last week, but his photography catches so much.

It's REALLY great to be friends with a professional photographer. :)

Enjoy.
(I know you will.)

Christmas present pictures.

Giant thanks to EVERYONE who bought Christmas presents!

We had a WONDERFUL celebration of gift-giving/receiving on Thursday evening. The small team that brought down our gifts included a great friend and amazing photographer (as well as one of my personal heros), Jay Exum.

Check out some of his Christmas pics here.

Can't wait to share more of his pictures. Nick and I got some great gifts too thanks to Crosspointe, but the best gift of all was the staying up to 3AM eating Mdm. BBQ chicken, drinking a couple of Prestige's and just laughing, tearing up and LOVING the three people who came to visit. (Well, two out of the three... there was one party pooper... you know who you are!) :)

Merry Christmas!

I think this weekend we will probably take down the tree.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The MOST flattering picture of me EVER.

My friend Sarah was playing Pictionary with her family, which is a non-traditional family in that hers is filled with teen moms, tiny babies and a 12 year old boy named Jean Richard.

For Pictionary, Jean Richard decided to draw me.

This was his picture of "Mommy Gwenn."


At least nobody guessed right. ;)

525,600 minutes

How do you measure a year?

Today, some people will be measuring the year like this:
3 million people affected by the quake
1.5 million still homeless
300,000 injured
230,000 dead

To me, those numbers, while significant, are old news. But we will be reminded of them again and again today.

We will be reminded of the billions pledged and not received.
We will be reminded of how aid organizations wasted millions of dollars.
We will see and hear lots of bad news.

But, I am not going to be a part of that today. I know what the conditions are like, I live here. Yes, I want people to be aware and to remember, but I also want people to see that these is hope rising.

So when I measure this year I am going to think about the ways our team worked towards solutions. I am going to measure my year like this:

35,000 diapers distributed
15+ Tons of food/supplies received and distributed
19 families moved of tents and into homes
3 new children in my family
2 horses and a cow I saw grazing in a field (yesterday) that used to be a camp
1 (plus two more by next week) permanent houses rebuilt

While these kind of things don't garner the kind of sensational media that sell stories, these are the stories of so many missions and NGO's on the ground, in he trenches right now.

Progress is slow. But it is progress.

So, today, let us dwell on that.
Let us think on things on things that lead to health.
Let us remember well.
Let us grieve well.
And mostly,
Let us firmly fix our focus on the Rock that can never be shaken.

beautiful imagery for today

I woke up from our girls camp out rolled over and saw this....

My sweet Manita (a December addition to our family) curled up on her mat, sleeping under the Christmas tree. (I am tearing up as I write this.) Just another one of our unexpected Christmas gifts that God gave us this year in a unique way.

Today will be an emotional day as we grieve and remember. So glad our gracious Father woke me up with this beautiful imagery.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"before"

"Whenever I hear of someone else's tragedy, I do not dwell on the accident or diagnosis, or even the initial shock waves or aftermath of grief.  Instead, I find myself reconstructing those final ordinary moments.  Moments that make up our lives.  Moments that were blissfully taken for granted--and that likely would have been forgotten altogether but for what followed.  The before snapshots."
-Emily Giffin, Heart of the Matter

*****
This was some of our day on January 10th, 2010... blissfully unaware of what was coming our way in just two short days.  These are some of our "before" pictures...




Embrace life.  
Run after the eternal.
Because here's the thing...  
you just never know when you're taking a "before" picture.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Nick's weight game.

So in the past 6 days, Nick has put on somewhere between 7-8 lbs.

I have not even gotten NEAR the scale, but the tightness of my capris tonight indicate the same (or possibly MORE significant) results.

Think it's about time to get back home...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Skyped with my kids tonight.

Man, I realized what an exercise in futility it is to try to skype with someone who is at my house when there are 11 crazy kids running around. Now I know what my mom and mother-in-law must feel like when they skype with us. :) What a zoo! 

But you know what?  I've always been partial to zoos. 

Yes, I am starting to get a little homesick.  Is it wrong to admit that?  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE this vacation.  I love the (much-needed) connection time with my husband. 

But I miss my kids.  And I think Nick does too (although he'd never admit it) because he keeps pointing out to me all the cute kids we see.

There I've said it.  Grass is always greener, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

However...

In re-reading my last post, it sort of made it sound like it's a bad idea to go to nice places or have nice things. I hope that's not what was conveyed.

In the 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes we read this:
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

This past year has been filled with a lot of death, and uprooting, weeping, mourning, searching, giving up, tearing...

This time has been good for planting and healing and laughing and dancing. For searching. For embracing. And for peace.

Today Nick and I sat down to read the Bible together. For about a period of three years, every single day we read the Bible together. The whole thing. Usually out loud. When we were away from each other, we'd both read the same thing and take notes so we could discuss it afterward.

But you know how life goes... We've had "quiet times" (as a Christian would put it) but we haven't had TRUE silence with one another to really dig into the Lord together. So today, I ran a hot bubble bath and we sat down and read together. We read a chapter-- Isaiah 61 and then decided to go through it verse by verse.

We sat there for the next hour talking and theorizing and trying to figure out how God would want us to use this text to change our lives personally to be more like Him. And we got through ONE verse in that time. Yes, one.

It was the best part of the vacation so far (heads and tails above anything else especially because I was in a bubble bath the entire time). So I guess my point is while the things around us aren't really real, it doesn't mean that we can't use them to find something real.

So please don't think I am not grateful for this vacation. It was/is SO needed and such a blessing. But it keeps me grounded to acknowledge that while there are times for vacationing, there are also times for real life.

And so my question is this--

What will you do with your "real life" times when everything around you is not just fantasy-world?

beauty.

Vacationing is weird for me. It's all about the environment, the experience.

One thing we love about Haiti is that it is what we call a "tropical reality." It's gorgeous and amazing and dirty and smelly. It's the mix of the beauty and the tragedy that make it real. The Dominican Republic is the same island as the Haiti, but it's seemingly worlds apart. Every now and then you get a whisper of Haiti in something you see, hear, smell, taste or touch. And while it's so cliche to say this because EVERYONE who's been to both the DR and Haiti say this, "It's just such a reminder of what Haiti COULD be."

Now don't get me wrong. I know this resort we are staying at is not what the Dominican Republic is all about. It's got the natural beauty that God created, and the man-made fantasy of architecture, culinary delights, high thread-count sheets, and a tub as big as a swimming pool. (And they give us the guilt treatment about wasting water if we want clean towels everyday... WTH?) I am enjoying this experience. I am drinking in deeply being spoiled rotten. Eating/drinking whatever I want. Being alone with my husband all to myself. Serenity, peace.

But I recognize that what's happening all around me right now is mostly fake. It's not real life. It's an environment created to make you feel like this is how life could be, but it couldn't.

And such is life. If we want we can go on great vacations and feel rested and refreshed. That's a good thing. But it's not real. We can experience the fun/thrills/fright of amusement parks. That's a good thing. But it's not real. We can buy fancy expensive clothes and try to fit in. And that's probably a good thing too. But still-- not real. We can get massages and pedicures and manicures and facials and makeovers and highlights and expensive haircuts... all good. NOT real. These things have nothing to do with anything on a soul level.

Every day I am becoming more and more convinced that all of these things we perceive as "good" or "beautiful" with our Western minds-- none of it is real. None of it is valuable. None of it is truly beautiful.

And often times, we think we find satisfaction in expensive resorts and expensive clothing and all these "civilized" kinds of things, but dang... it's a trap. It really is. I am looking around at the people around me and I see them trying to fill their lives with satisfaction. And so whatever it is-- whatever our "thing" is-- be it experiences, or possessions, or vacations, or art, or music, or being alternative-- whatever we think is beautiful is really just the voice of the Lord calling you to be one with Him. And so however we're wired, we dig into that. We dig into crazy life-threatening thrills, we buy expensive houses and cars, we vacation often and well, we buy expensive art, we "religiously" follow bands, we get more tattoos and piercings. And all of that is okay. But it will never fill the void. It will never be beautiful enough. Another cliche you hear people say is that we are all created with a God-shaped vacuum. I see it so clearly here. We are STUFFING ourselves full of things we cannot use to fill us. But dang, we think so often think that if we just do it ONE more time, or get ONE more thing... maybe we will see beauty.

Don't you see that there is nothing beautiful except for the Lord?

Today Nick made the comment,
"Poverty, not abundance, is the platform upon which the MOST beautiful things can be built." Might be the most profound thing he ever said. (Not sure though, cause he's pretty profound at times.)

THAT is why people come to Haiti and come home changed forever and they come home from an expensive vacation and grieve that they have to get back to their real lives. I see it happen all the time. I get dozens (hundreds?) of emails from people who've been to Haiti and just can't shake it out of their system. I love being here but in some ways, I can't wait to get back to the tropical reality that is my life in Haiti.

And I think it's because you need to lose your life in order to find it.

It's because it's the poor in spirit who will inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Just a theory.

In other words... (part two)


...you're a big giant scumbag if you leave your towels on the floor.

In other words... (part one)


Don't steal from us.

Monday, January 3, 2011

honesty is the best policy.

Today we arrived at a resort in Punta Cana. It is fantastic. A great room-- which I love. A HUGE bathtub (which I love more.)

So we're here for a bit, we go out to get a bite to eat and then we get home and get a phone call from the concierge. He asked Nick if we'd used the safe in our room yet. We said yes, that we had. He asked if we found anything in it. I didn't see anything in there when I put our cash and passports in there, but we checked just to be sure.

Sure enough there was a black wallet. Though we were curious to see what was inside, we never opened it. The concierge came up to collect it and it was all over.

Well, about a half an hour passes and something is slipped under our door. It was an envelope from the resort and we figured it was just our receipt and didn't open it right away. But when we did, out tumbled a $50 bill and a hand-written note thanking us for our honesty in returning the wallet signed by the person who'd previously occupied the room. (And for the record, $50 is A LOT of money to Nick and I... A LOT.)

Over and over again today I've just been overwhelmed with this gift we were given. And to think-- being rewarded just giving something back that wasn't ours. Crazy, huh?

This vacation rocks. We've only been here since 3:45pm and we've already eaten at three restaurants. Nick is keeping track of his weight because they EVER SO KINDLY put a scale in the room. Nick wants to see how much he can gain. *sigh* Men! (And NO, I am not keeping track... that's not a fun game for me. :)

So three more things before I sign off:

1. I am determined to try a bunch of new cocktails this journey. I've never tried a bunch of these "grown up" drinks and since it's free-- well, what the heck? Tonight I tried a Bloody Mary and a Martini. I think I would have liked the Bloody Mary without the tabasco sauce. I ate the celery and dumped the drink. The Martini was like drinking ocean water. I ate the olives and dumped the drink. So that's my game. To see if I can find a cocktail I like.

2. Women here dress INAPPROPRIATELY. This is a pretty nice resort and so it's not like white trash inappropriate, it's like white collar inappropriate. There was this one lady wearing a dress to a "formal dinner" that so short that I could see the bottom of her butt cheeks. Literally. The great thing is that I've come to a place in my life where I don't care what other people want to do or wear. This is my 10th anniversary vacation-- if Nick wanted to leave me for someone like the butt-cheek-showing girl, he probably would have done it a while ago.

3. I realized that Nick and I dress like missionaries. It's kind of embarrassing. All our clothes are worn out and bleached by the sun. (Haiti is hard on clothes.) My dresses for the evenings here are all the same 5 dresses I rotate for church. Same goes for Nick's dress shirts. People here dress a lot better than us. So I was feeling a bit self conscious about that. And then I remembered what I thought about in point #2 above-- if I am at the place in my life where I don't care what other people wear, why should I care?

Ok... signing off for now. Pics tomorrow.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Another favorite post-quake picture

My friend Beth just sent me this picture.

It was from a church service in February when we had a medical team here. Possibly the best church service I've ever attended. Nick preached about how Satan meant to break our houses, but God wants to break our hearts. This was an opportunity, here while we were broken to turn to the only one who can save.

Everyone was in tears... truly grieving together and pleading to God for healing and mercy.

I love the moment that Beth captured here...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Thing.

Today I read Isaiah 43. It filled me with hope.

It was a reminder that though 2010 was filled with trauma and horrifying events-- things I wish I'd never seen... MY God was always there along with me.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze."
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;" -- verses 1b-3

It reminded me that I am "precious, and honored in God's sight" and that He loves me. -- verse 4

It reminded me that I do not need to be afraid, for He is with me. -- verse 5

And then, probably the most encouraging part was the reminder that because our God is always up to something good, I can know this part is true today for me too...

18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

I am encouraged by this new thing. I am encouraged by this new year. I am encouraged to not dwell on former things. Several months ago as I was reflecting on the quake and the aftermath, God spoke to my soul and told me that "he had redeemed me for brighter things."

And it would be great if the chapter ended there. But it doesn't.

But then the chapter talks about our unfaithfulness in offering God what he asks of us--

"You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings,
nor honored me with your sacrifices." --verse 23

Instead of honoring him with our sacrifices, we've done the opposite...

But you have burdened me with your sins
and wearied me with your offenses. " --verse 43

But it closes with the encouragement that displays the true character of God...

“I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions, for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more."

What more can we ask for? Really. That's not a rhetorical question. When we take into account all we've done. When we take into account who we are. When we take into account God's perfection. When we take into account his promise to always be with us-- to walk WITH us through the flames... does it really matter if we continue to walk through 2011 or 2012 or 2022 with great trauma and strife?

So this is my charge to you (and me) for 2011. Walk on in the new, beautiful things He is doing. And do not fear the flames.

Because He-- the God who created the universe-- is WITH us. And though we continually sin and cause his name great shame, he blots out our transgressions and remembers our sins no more.

Happy NEW Year. Happy Haitian Independence Day. It's fitting that, as Haiti recovers from the great trauma of 2010-- it is also a day to celebrate the independence from the slavery that bound them. See... a new thing I tell you!

I am off to eat some pumpkin soup.

****

And PS- In that regard-- with faith in the new things-- I have re-opened comments on my blog. (This time I think I did it right, not like last time... sorry.)

Through my lens.

Inspired by my friend Kyle, I am going to start Project 365. This is where you take/publish one photo every day for a year. At the end of the year, you have a tiny glimpse of the life of the photographer.

I am starting today. The next 365 days you will get a glimpse of my life, "Through My Lens." I plan to make it into a book of memories at the end of the year.

I may occasionally post a pic or two here... But I will post the entire album on my facebook (which is mostly a public profile at this point.)

I am excited about this project and want to encourage others to do so too. Even if you're not a great photographer or if you only have a crappy camera (mine has never been right since the "dropping down two steps of tile stairs incident,"), go for it. I think you will be glad to look back and see moments--significant and insignificant in your life...

Who is in?