Questions and Prayers

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Coming to the end of my trip to Haiti, I find so many thoughts and feelings are similar to what I experienced two years ago. So many questions come back.

Why must children spend the most formative years of their life without the love of a parent?

Why have twelve-year-old Betty and her three older sisters—the girls who braid my hair and go on walks with us volunteers—never been able to attend school?

Why did one boy’s adoption process take a year and a half longer than normal, simply because of some arbitrary reason like paperwork getting lost in a government office?

Why did I grow up in a loving home with every possible comfort while another Jessica—a seven- or eight-year-old who lives right next door here in Haiti—is serving as a restavec, basically trapped in a lifetime of servitude?

Why is there a group of children, saved from a neglectful orphanage three years ago, who have no legal identification and therefore can never be adopted into either an American or Haitian family?

Why is there no one solution to the problem of poverty or the plight of orphans?
I will never know the answers to these questions. But I do know that God is good. He loves Betty and Jessica. He has not forgotten them, and He has great plans for their lives.

I am thankful that Betty is now enrolled in a school sponsorship program. Come September, she will be the first girl in her family to receive an education.

I am praying that Jessica will be allowed to attend more than one day of school a week, and that her “employers” will treat her kindly and give her her freedom someday.

I am thankful that the sweet boy who lost an extra 1 1/2 years with his forever family is finally reunited with them and safely home.

I am thankful that this group of abandoned children are at least growing up in a loving orphanage. I am praying that God will work a miracle and soften the hearts of Haitian government officials. But even if these children can never be adopted, I know that God can use these children mightily here in Haiti, no matter what jobs or standards of living they may endure when they reach adulthood.

I am praying that God will continue to grow the Haitian church, and that God would increase the joy that is already so evident in the lives of even the poorest of Haitians.

I am praying for my kids, the ones I’ve played and cuddled with for the last four weeks. I pray that my smallest baby will soon be able to go home with her grandmother, who seems like such a strong, capable lady. I pray that my other two small babies will continue to develop healthfully and will keep their delightful, cheerful personalities. I pray that the adoption process of my 18-month-old will go quickly so that she can hopefully be home before her fourth birthday. I pray that my oldest girl, the girl who has challenged me the most, will continue the progress she’s made this last month; I pray she will be able to conquer her fears and learn just how much the people around her love her. Above all, I pray that all my kids will come to know and accept the love of their Heavenly Father.

I am so thankful I serve a sovereign God, One Who holds the whole world in His hands, yet stoops to wipe away our tears.

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Haitian Church

Going to a Haitian church is such a beautiful experience. We volunteers go to a little Baptist church of around 100-150 people just down the hill from the guest house (I’m great at guessing approximate numbers, as you can tell). Since my last trip to Haiti, the church has moved from a small building to being held under a large tent.

Yesterday was an especially meaningful service. It was Haitian Mothers’ Day, and the children sang to their moms. The inside of the tent was decorated with various balloons that made us laugh, including “Get Well” and American Airlines balloons.

As one of the ladies was talking up front, she suddenly started talking in English, asking “how are you?” It took me a minute to register that she was talking to us three English people. She had each of us stand up and say our names, then told us that if we are mothers (which none of us are), she hoped we had a happy mother’s day. Then the entire church sang their “Welcome, Sisters” song in Creole to us. Their joy and welcoming spirit made my eyes water.

Each of the Sunday School classes, including the adult classes, stood up and recited their memory verses. We sang both French and Creole hymns from their hymnbook, and they helpfully pointed us to the right pages for the songs. We sang “And Can It Be” in French—the tune was even the same as our English version.

The passion of this church is incredible. They start singing songs from memory, repeating the same words over and over like reciting a prayer. Two men got up and led in this continuous song-prayer, a compilation of songs that they sang while they kneeling on the ground of gravel.

The sermon was from Philippians 3:7-8. Even though I couldn’t understand the majority of the sermon since it was in Creole, I did understand a few of the French phrases. It’s so beautiful to hear the gospel preached in another language. They welcomed us as sisters in Christ, and it reminded me how beautiful it is that even though we speak different languages and live in drastically different cultures, we share the most important bond possible—our love for Jesus.

As we left church, we introduced ourselves to one of the girls leaving at the same time. Using our minimal Creole, we found out that her name is Jasmine (the same name as one of the other volunteers), and she’s nineteen, like me. She pointed us to her home as we walked up the hill, what we would call a small shack in the US, and we parted ways. We’re the same age, and we serve the same Jesus.

Cross-cultural unity in the body of Christ is such a precious blessing. I’m so thankful to catch glimpses of it during my time here.

My Kids

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I’ve already been in Haiti for over two weeks, and I realized I haven’t introduced you to my kids yet! This time I’m only assigned five kids, so I get to spend more time with them during the days we don’t go to the older kids’ orphanage. I have four girls and one little guy, and they’re all so precious!

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This little girl is simply the sweetest, happiest baby ever. She’s always ready to show her beautiful smile. She loves to make all sorts of little baby sounds. We’re mostly working on tummy time with her to get her ready to crawl.

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See that smile? Melts my heart every time. Also, she’s known as the John Legend baby around here because she looks so much like the singer John Legend (who sings “All of Me).

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This girl is so precious. She’s a busy little toddler with a mind of her own, and she has the sweetest smile. She doesn’t much like the camera, though, so it’s hard to capture it! Her little voice is so adorable, and she has the cutest toddling walk.

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Selfie proof of her smile Smile

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This is my oldest girl, the one I mentioned in my last post. She doesn’t like the camera at all, so I can only snap pictures when she’s not looking. She’s been gaining so much confidence and becoming much more comfortable with me. She loves the little wading pool we sometimes put out for the kids, even though she’s scared of it for the first fifteen minutes or so. She loves to say “I lub you” (I love you), and sometimes she’ll just give this little grin that melts my heart. She also likes to sing the first two lines of Jesus Loves Me at random moments, which makes me so happy. Just in these two weeks, she’s blossomed so much. It’s really amazing to see.

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This is my one little boy. He’s an absolute doll. He crawls around everywhere, and he’s pulling himself up to standing positions. He’s such a sweetheart and very easygoing. We call him “Grandpa” sometimes because his receding hairline makes him look like a little old man. Winking smile 

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This girl is so precious. I just love cuddling her. She has the most beautiful eyes, and she’s an extremely content and happy baby. Her cooing sounds are heart-melting. She’s getting so, so close to crawling—she actually crawled a few feet yesterday, and I’m hoping she’ll take off by the time I have to leave.

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These are the babies that I get to spend my days with, the babies that are making my heart bigger each day.

Back in Haiti

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It’s strange coming back to Haiti after two years. So many things have changed, yet so much remains the same. As we were driving to the orphanage from the airport, I recognized once we got to the road where we walk each morning. I exclaimed to the driver how different it looked because the entire road had been paved on the mile-long walk from the guest house to the orphanage. It’s wonderful to see improvements, like the pavement and several Haitian crews out cleaning garbage off the streets.

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The orphanage has changed a lot, too. Only two of my eight kids are still at the younger kids house, and both of them have grown up so much. Almost all the other kids are new, and there’s not as many kids as were there two years ago.

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So much has changed, yet so much remains the same. The guys yelling “blanc” at you, the Haitian kids smiling and saying “bonjou” as you walk past, the unique smell of the orphanage babies sleeping on you.

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Just in my first week, we have already done many new things. We bought street food for lunch on Saturday, which consisted of fried chicken, plantains, French fries, and pigs’ feet (a spicy cabbage-y salad). Each plate only cost a couple dollars, and yes, it was literally made in a shack open to the street. Only a few people got sick from it. Smile

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On Saturday afternoon, one of the missionary guys took a few of us out on a drive into the mountains of Haiti. We rode Haitian style, standing in the back of the pickup bed. We got to see some of the poorer parts of Haiti (the orphanage is located in a rich area for Haiti). I took a lot of pictures on the drive, but pictures can’t capture either the beauty or the poverty of Haiti. Because it’s not respectful to take close-up pictures of Haitians without asking their permission, I didn’t take pictures as we drove through the villages. Some images you can only store in your heart.

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We laughed as a Haitian guy snapped pictures of us three “blanc” girls as we drove through a village. I teared up when several young boys raced after us with little bouquets of beautiful Haitian wildflowers and a bowl of tiny wild berries. We bought some of the flowers on our drive down, because the same boys were still there hours later. It’s so sad to see such young children begging you to buy what they’ve worked so hard to get.

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Each of the kids tugs at my heart strings in different ways, but one of my girls especially breaks my heart. She hasn’t been at the orphanage all that long, and I’m her first volunteer in awhile. Although the kids usually are clamoring for you to take them out to the balcony, she screams and tries to run away from me. I take her up to the balcony, and after a few minutes she calms down. She’s so sweet and has the most precious voice, and each day she’s becoming more and more comfortable with me. Even though I’ve only heard bits and pieces of her story, I know that she’s had more traumatic experiences in her short life than my nineteen-year-old self could ever comprehend.

It’s so hard with these kids, because you want to tell them that you’ll always be there for them. But you know that you’re only there for a month, and at the end you’ll have to leave them forever. But right now I’m just taking it one day at a time, recognizing that today I can do something. Today I can hug them, play with them, and cuddle with them, even though a month from now I won’t be able to do those things.

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“I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”–Edward Everett Hale

The return of the college student (namely, me)

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It’s strange how quickly a school year can pass. While papers and reading assignments can seem to stretch on forever, after they’re finished, they never seem as difficult as I originally thought.

I’d click on my blog every once in awhile this past year, thinking how I really should write something. But when a ten-page paper lies waiting to be edited, it’s hard to justify spending yet more time writing.

Often, my brain was so exhausted after finishing my homework that all I could do was let my eyes glaze over as I skimmed Facebook posts and read emails from family. My roommates and I often laughed over how we couldn’t even express coherent thoughts to each other during particularly stressful weeks.

And the homework never ended. Even if I was a week ahead on all my reading (which was a rare occurrence!), I still could be more ahead and getting more accomplished. So certain things—like writing blog posts—had to be put aside for the semester.

But now the semester’s ended and—gasp!—I actually miss writing. The fact that this break is longer than three weeks still hasn’t sunk in.

These last few weeks have been perfectly carefree and enjoyable. I’m already on my fourth book since coming home, and I’ve watched more Netflix than is good for me. Although trying to recover from a brand new cold on top of my lingering cough leftover from school helps excuse the Netflix away. Smile  I’m also loving spending time in the gorgeous sunshine weeding flowerbeds and mowing lawns. It’s pretty near Heaven for a tired college student.

Summarizing a whole year of school is impossible. But I’ll try to give you little glimpses into my typical schedule as a freshman.

Since I had experience taking college classes and juggling a variety of responsibilities in high school, entering college wasn’t as difficult a transition for me as it often is for other freshmen. Yes, going to a school with notably rigorous academics is extremely challenging, but with God, good time management, and plenty of sleep, I was able to get into a fairly successful routine. I quickly discovered that any studying past 9:00 at night was virtually useless, so I learned to arrange my schedule to get most necessary studying done earlier in the day.

I’ve learned that sometimes I have to just stop working on assignments and turn them in, even if I know I could do just a little bit better.

I’ve learned that I’m not superwoman. I can’t do all my assignments, go to every single social function, and keep healthy at the same time (as the aforementioned cough at the end of the spring semester taught me!).

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I’ve learned that being an introvert on a college campus means that you have to take advantage of the few rare moments you get to yourself. It’s easy to become burnt out when you live on a campus where you know basically everyone and live in a room with three other (very wonderful and amazing) people. All the deep, meaningful relationships you build are incredible blessings, but you have to work harder to cultivate your relationship with God and find recharging time.

I’ve learned that a campus full of people who are chasing after God is beautiful and inspiring. I wouldn’t change schools for the world. It’s truly one of a kind. Yes, we can be quirky. Yes, we get into more debates than we should. But we also spend time each day either with the entire student body or with our individual wings praising and seeking God.

Even though I love my school and my classmates, I am so thankful to be home. My body has been crying out for rest and an escape from the stress of constant homework. I am soaking in the quiet of home like a cat soaking in the sunshine. (Or some other metaphor like that.)

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Blessings from my freshman year:

–learning history in ways I’d never learned before

–laying out in the soccer field under the stars and singing worship songs with my roommates

–watching either superhero or Jane Austen movies with my wing (we have well-rounded movie tastes)

–going to my first dance (yes, it was really my first)

–waking up early in the morning to sing in chorale

–playing the piano for chapel

–meaningful dining hall conversations

–prolonged laughing/giggling fits with my roommates

 

I am excited to be a quarter of the way through with college. But I know if the next three years go by as quickly as this first one, I’ll be graduating before I know it. So I’m going to try to enjoy each moment of these next three years, whether it’s summer break or finals week. Because this season of my life will last for only four years, and I can never come back.

Happy June, everyone! And I do plan on writing a bit more frequently these next few months. I’m grateful to have an audience that doesn’t give my writing a letter grade. Winking smile

missing Haiti

I’ve been home two and a half weeks now. These last few weeks haven’t been at all like I had planned. I leave soon for college, and I had hoped to spend lots of time with family and friends, doing fun summer things like swimming, picking berries, and enjoying the sunshine. But a sixteen-days-and-counting cold and the pain of a ruptured eardrum have greatly limited my planned activities (swimming completely knocked off the list, unfortunately).

One blessing of being more housebound is that I haven’t had very bad reverse culture shock. I’ve been able to do things on my own time, like reaching the point of wanting to go shopping. I’ve discovered the “trigger words” that make me cringe are “dirty” and “broken.” In America, we call a floor filthy that would be considered clean in Haiti. When someone says things like “that’s broken” or “that’s useless,” I can’t help but think how precious that same object would be to a Haitian.

I’m also missing my kids more and more as the days go by, because I know they are growing up and changing without me. I may or may not stalk the orphanage’s Facebook page to look for new pictures of my kids.

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When I see a picture of Bella, I can smell her baby scent.

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When I see a picture of Spunky, my angel with Downs, I can hear her throaty laugh, the one that makes everyone else laugh with her.

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When I see a picture of Mr. Cuddles, I can feel his hands gently stroking my hair.

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When I see a picture of Sweetheart, I can see her smile ever so slowly spread across her face.

Then sometimes I’ll start to imagine what it would be like if I had brought one of my kids home with me. I’ll randomly wonder how they would react to certain things and if they would like this or that food.

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I can imagine Buddy walking through our house for the first time. He would want me to carry him on my hip, of course, but I think when he saw our dog through the window, he would get down and walk over to talk to her. Then if she barked, he’d come running back to me. He would love exploring our house, I know.

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I can imagine Princess being scared with all the new things around her, but I think a good snack or two would make her happy. She’d soon find some toys and make them part of her domain.

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I can imagine taking Dolly to church with me. She would cling to me for dear life, sitting on my lap and taking in the whole experience with her beautiful brown eyes. Everyone would fall in love with her immediately, and she’d gradually come out of her shell and start smiling at people.

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I can imagine holding Smiley all the time, cooking with him in the kitchen and cuddling with him in the living room. He would practice sitting up, grunting from the hard work but still managing to give me a couple of his smiles. He would melt the heart of every person we would meet.

Oh how I wish any one of these imaginations could come true, that I could bring one of my babies here, even just to visit for a few weeks. I know it’s not possible, but somehow imagining it helps me feel closer to them.

People often say to me, “It must have been so hard to leave those kids” or “You must miss them a lot.” Yes, I do. More than I can say.

Sometimes during a conversation completely unrelated to Haiti, I’ll start thinking of my kids. I may not talk about them all the time, but I do still miss them.

When I try to describe their personalities to other people, I often find myself at a loss for words. To paraphrase Mr. Knightley in Emma, if I loved them less, maybe I could talk about them more.

So I write about them instead.

belong

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It takes thirty days to make a habit.

We lived in Haiti for 35 days.

One of the missionaries told us we stayed for the perfect amount of time. Long enough to grow accustomed and connected to the culture, but short enough to avoid getting burned out or homesick.

We felt like we belonged. Of course our skin was a different color–no amount of tanning could change the fact that we were still very “blanc,” as the Haitian guys liked to call out. We couldn’t understand their language, although we learned enough to communicate with the kids and express our needs to the Haitian staff. Technically speaking, we should have felt out of place.

But there was something in the way the passersby softly greeted us with “bonjou” in the mornings, the way the neighbor kids smiled at us shyly, the way the babies–completely trusting us to take care of them–nestled their heads on our shoulders, that told us we belonged.

We didn’t belong because we fit in. We belonged because God had placed us there.

After five weeks in Haiti, we grew into the routines, such as walking a mile through trash-filled, rocky Haitian roads each morning, taking freezing cold showers every other night, and answering to the name “mama.”

Now we’re home. I have to remind myself to speak to kids in English instead of Creole. I can’t bring myself to waste clean drinking water. I turn whenever I hear someone say “mama.”

I’m reminding myself that for this next season of my life, I belong here, in America. But ultimately, I don’t belong in Haiti or the United States or any other country; Heaven is my home.

And until I get there, the center of God’s will is where I truly belong.

Written for Lisa-Jo’s Five-Minute Friday: Belong

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