I didn’t realize that it had been half a year since I had last been in Haiti until someone in the airport asked me, “Sava byen?” and my response was a stuttered attempt that eventually turned into a nod and a smile. Do I still know how to do this?
As with all trips, this one snuck up on me, but the descent into Port au Prince always brings to reality where I am and what I’m doing. The shift in altitude recognized by my stomach lets me know that it’s time to lift the covering to my window-seat view hole right as the nose of the plane crosses over the edge of the Caribbean island’s port side. I can tell where the sand piles up in the ocean because of the lighter turquoise as if someone with really big hands was playing in it. I can see the folds of treeless mountains turn on top of each other as they poor down into the concrete shacks, scattered here and there at first, but then immediately multiplied as the plane gets closer to the runway. And I thought, “This feels strangely foreign.”
The past 6 months were a perfectly timed sabbatical from my work in Haiti, as it turned out to be very important to be in the US during the last valiant stretch of my Aunt Kathryn’s beautiful life. As the country’s presidential election (and all the riots that came with the runoffs) kept our congregation and teams cautious about reentering between November and March, I was thankful to not have to choose to travel. I remember the two weeks before we were supposed to head out on our February Sunday School trip when I just could not get a peace about leaving North Louisiana. I prayed and prayed and asked God to either settle my mind or reveal a strong enough reason to cancel our travels. I got neither, but canceled anyway and eventually felt as if the decision were “right.” And my sweet Aunt Kathryn left this world for the next on the day that we would have been traveling back to Shreveport. I’m very thankful to have been home. Someone’s timing is better than my own.
She would be glad to know that we are back in Haiti though. And I thought about her as we flew in, thinking to myself, “How different life circumstances were the last time I was here. Life is so strange.” We were greeted by the welcome band (who all have matching red shirts now, fancy fancy), and headed outside to meet our driver. A little disappointed that Jackson the one-armed bag guy was not there to offer a hand to his “Amehreecan Friend!”, we left for our hour drive of winding through Port au Prince and the extra 4 hours to the south.
We stopped at a supermarket to stretch and rub out that soar spot in the middle of my back that comes with sitting in the middle seat of a small SUV for long enough to lose feeling in your farthest right toes. Asked to use the bathroom, was graciously shown one upstairs, and washed my hands in a bucket before we headed out again.
Arrived at the Hosanna Guesthouse just in time to eat dinner, shower, and attempt to fall asleep before 9:30. However, my mind couldn’t stop thinking about everything and nothing all at the same time. A thousand worries. A thousand fears. A thousand things that I could think to be sad about if I tried hard enough. I had forgotten my computer and my international phone decided to stop working for this trip, so I had nothing to distract myself with as I laid in a blue-lit room on top of my sheets and watched the fan blow the ribbon on the wall decoration back and forth.
And then I thought, “Maybe I’ll pray.” And I pictured Jesus sitting on the side of the opposite bed waiting on me to talk to Him. And I got a pain in my chest and shook the idea out of my head so quickly that it scared me. “Why are you so afraid to pray?”
“It’s too hard.”
“What’s too hard?”
“Working through everything I’d have to work through to talk to you.”
“Do we have to do that all in one sitting? We could just talk…?”
“…I don’t know….”
And then I thought about the excerpt I’d read in Donald Miller’s “Searching for God Knows What” on the plane ride from Ft. Lauderdale earlier yesterday that said, “Some would say formulas are how we interact with God, that going through motions and jumping through hoops are how a person acts out his spirituality. This method of interaction, however, seems odd to me, because if I want to hang out with my friend Tuck, I don’t stomp my foot three times, turn around, and say his name over and over like a mantra, lighting candles and getting myself in a certain mood. I just call him.”
And so I decided not to have to have all of the answers to life and death’s questions hashed out. I decided not to even have to have the questions themselves. I decided not to have to have a perfectly articulated, hour-long repentance for all of the ways I’ve missed the mark recently. And I decided not to have to be in a pleasant, compassionate, peace-filled mood, even in Haiti, to pray.
I didn’t even say much at first. I don’t even think it was a “greeting.” It would have been more like acknowledging someone was in the room by means of a head nod and eye contact. And this is what I immediately realized through what I’m positive was the Holy Spirit.
Gratitude. A focus on how you’re grateful and to whom you are grateful…instead of your fears, your skepticism, your complaints…changes everything.
The Haitian people on the road to Les Cayes were sweeping their trash as we drove past. Many smiled and a significant number (at least enough to be noticed) were generating a new spirit as they pushed their carts and sold their hats. The country is excited about having a president that the country voted for. They are excited that he is putting a call out to all overseas Haitians to contribute $2 a week to the rebuilding of their own country. They are excited that their voice is supporting a man who is claiming to relocate people and eradicate the massive amounts of post-quake tents; who is claiming to want to work toward free education in a country where 80% of the schools are private and more expensive for most families. Granted, I take no political stance on the outcome of the election, nor do I predict how the country will look in 5 years. But I do notice a difference in a country at peace for the first time in a long time. I do notice a difference in the motivation, attitudes, and conversation of a people who are grateful. Encouraged and grateful.
So, last night, when Jesus was sitting on the bed on the opposite side of the room and told me that I didn’t have to have it all together to talk with Him…and then told me that I’d be less scared and more encouraged if I focused on gratefulness rather than fear, busyness, overwhelming to-do-lists, or loss of loved ones….when He reminded me of Donald Miller’s excerpt and the Haitian lady sweeping the street…I fell asleep thankful. And at peace.
The world is terrifying and corrupt and sorrow-filled if that is all we allow it to be. But it is also freeing and rejuvenating and beautiful when we fight to remember what is good. I am thankful that I get to work in a place where the people remind me that we belong to each other and that God is with us. I am thankful that there is food on my table both here and in the US and that, hopefully, it is sustaining a body that is working toward putting food on tables that do not have it. I am thankful for vision of a Kingdom that is growing, and that God is weaving lives together to dream new dreams and move forward as the church is called to. And I am thankful that the Spirit reminds us that He provides and that we are commanded not to fear. I am thankful for music. And that I can carry an open Bible with me where I go. I am thankful for my family, and for 23 years of knowing Kathryn Lamb Lee. I am thankful for the ability to create, and learn, and love with people. I am thankful that I can feel wind, I can see words to write them, and that God is patient with me. I am thankful that He’s not looming over me with the statement, “Do more! Be better!” but is simply drawing me into a conversation, encouraging me to focus on what is higher, and assuring me that everything else will follow as a natural response.
Haiti, you sweet country…you teach me so much.
We wrapped up the day at Bighouse, checking in on the kids and discussing projects for the three summer teams. Mackendy has seemingly shot up 4 inches, and Bertony wore a floppy white bucket hat that covered his face as he introduced me to the orphanage’s newest resident, Mikenson, who likes to tickle. And as they went through the names of anyone who has ever been on a trip, inquiring about who would be back this summer, a little face planted itself into the back of my knee ever so gently and I turned around to see Son Son who had brought me a rock (at least, that was the outcome after I asked him to please not throw it at Peter…who surely would have reacted intensely). We hugged and took “Photo Photo!” and Judelain asked how my mother was in a deeper voice than I thought he was ever going to have and Acenita jumped in my arms just in time for me to realize she (again) had not put on underwear and we looked at bracelets they had made and they asked for bracelets I was wearing and I was grateful. Grateful for ever having met these little people. Grateful for it to be relationships we are able to foster and maintain. Grateful that God loves us enough to let us do life together and learn from each other. And grateful that the story is just in its beginning.