To Know Haiti

For those who have served alongside the people of Haiti before or in the aftermath of the country’s 2010 earthquake, that day, those weeks and months following, seem both like a lifetime and a minute ago. The wounds are still healing. The scars are still visible.IMG_8893

The children we serve, here at God’s Littlest Angels (GLA), some of whom are 8 years old, have no idea the depth of courage and resolve shown by their countrymen as they pulled together to rise up and triumph over the earthquake’s devastation. What they do know is that they are loved, they are cared for, and they are safe. That’s enough.img_8899.jpg

We all want to know that we are loved, cared for and safe. We all want to rise up above the brokenness. The people who I’ve witnessed rise up better than the others are always those who recognize Jesus as the only worthwhile Hope in this world. Hebrews 6:19 says that He is the hope who is an anchor for the soul. That’s the hope I’ve always witnessed from the people of Haiti. These children are a great reminder of that because many of them were brought to us by people who, despite fighting through immense pain and loss, had hope that they might not only survive, but even thrive with us here at GLA .IMG_8961

To truly know Haiti is to love it. To truly know the Haitian people is to intimately experience wellsprings of hope, joy and strength.

Today, I’m am full of that same hope and so very thankful that my family and I get to live here in Haiti with these children and their amazing caretakers!

Standing On Level Ground

Last night I had the honor of leading a night of worship for a local ministry’s people and their friends and family up here in the Kenscoff mountains of Haiti. We had an awesome potluck (I love potlucks!!!) beforehand and then sat outside with the tiered garden covered mountains as a backdrop, singing our guts out to Jesus. We worshipped because of the Lord’s faithfulness, His unending love for us, His protective and gentle compassion that always beckons us back to sit at His feet.

As 40+ people worked off their hot dogs, hamburgers and awesome summer salads by exalting the only God who is worthy of every bit of our honor and praise; as we sat and stood and sang songs about the Lion of Judah and the Lamb who was slain for us — I couldn’t help but look at all of those people and their families and be completely in awe of every one of them. They’ve all given their lives to furthering the Good News of Christ. They’ve accepted the wild adventure that God has offered them of moving to a foreign country, learning a new culture and language, facing challenges that they never even had a category for before they said yes to the call. I was just so humbled and thankful to be in their company last night. It felt like home; the best kind of place to rest. I loved standing next to them.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “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.”

I know we get tired and burnt out. I know that ministry can be exceptionally tough and that it seems the streak of drama that you had no idea could run so deep never seems to dissipate enough. Sometimes it seems like that’s all the more true with regard to the mission field. So I think that times where we come together for the primary purpose of worshiping the Lord is vital to our soul’s health and long-term mission sustainment. God’s people worshiping, led by the Spirit, breaks through all of the fog and mire. It always has been and always will be, the level ground for the people of God.

Here’s to the People of God; saints made so by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. Here’s to level ground; the People of God worshiping Jesus – the only One who is worthy.

My feet stand on level ground; in the great congregation I will praise the LORD. Psalm 26:12

Who Can Stop the Lord Almighty?

IMG_1817If you’ve hung out with me over the past couple years or we’ve worshipped alongside each other, you’ve heard me singing, Bethel Music and Leeland’s song, Lion and the Lamb.

I’ve found myself singing the simple bridge to this all morning Who can stop the Lord Almighty? The lyrics were adapted from the passage of scripture in Isaiah 14 where God shows compassion to his servant Jacob by reassuring him that the people of Israel are His chosen people and that He plans to clear their nation and lands of long-standing enemies, slavery ,tyranny and abuse. God finishes off this guarantee by posing the question, For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? Isaiah 14:27

I think it’s a fitting anthem and question that always illicits the same reponse as our family celebrates our 1 year Haitiversary this week. There is no thing and no one who can stop the Lord Almighty’s plan of action for His people. This past year has been evidence of that day after day. One year ago, we got rid of most of what we owned, left our wonderful friends and church family behind in California — to follow the Lord’s call to serve as missionaries at God’s Littlest Angels (GLA) in Haiti. God helped us to keep our eyes fixed on what He promised us would be the adventure of a lifetime for our family and there’s not been one day where He’s ever disappointed us. Everyday, we continue to see His beauty and protection over our lives and work here.

The ways and timing with which the Lord has continued to shower His favor and blessings over our family has left Ingrid, Owen, Ella and I so very humbled to serve in this place; at this time. We’ve forged such strong bonds with all of the GLA children and the nannies that help us care for them and we love that God has continued to give us ample opportunities to bless each of them according to their needs.

When we need encouragement, someone sends us the perfect words. When we need donations to support the children and Haitian staff at the Toddler House, they always show up in a suitcase at the perfect time. When we need rest, our little fellowship of amazing friends here, who love Jesus more than they love us, have made sure to help us relax and take a break. We know all of those blessings come from the Lord Almighty. His purpose, and provision can not be stopped even when the enemy rages against us with petty adversity, cheap accusation, division and discension.

Today more than any time in my life, I am renewed with certainty and joyful beyond sentiment that the promises of God, through the work of Jesus are the only thing worth standing on. They never give way because He is the Lord Almighty. That is a certainty that we love sharing with one another and a Good News that we love spreading!

Our kids are home!

Joel and I had the privilege of working with The Lab, our youth group, back at our home church in Tracy, CA. We didn’t necessarily start out wanting to begin a youth group but we loved the teens and saw a need and were able to take over what a sweet friend had been slowly growing for a season (we didn’t steal them for it – she graciously handed her responsibilities over to us).

I realized we were all in after the first summer retreat that we planned for the teens. Joel had been working with them off and on before then but my love of planning events kicked in and after a few nights in the mountains with everyone, we were both hooked. Every year since then, we’ve held a summer retreat for The Lab and it’s been one of our favorite weeks of the summer. Our move to Haiti actually didn’t happen until we could fulfill our commitment that we had already made to take the crew to Tahoe for the week. Have I mentioned how amazing our youth group is?! Seriously – some of the best peeps ever.

Well this year, they’ve come to us! I’m so grateful to be able to say, “our kids are all home!” another time as we share our lives here with them for the week. I know they’re here to serve and learn but honestly, it feels like the most extravagant gift to have them all sitting on my couches again!!

If ever you’ve felt the urge to serve in your church, jump right in. You never know how the people you serve will overwhelm your heart with love beyond your wildest dreams. Excuse me now… I’ve got lots of catching up to do!

I bought a nursing bra.

Two weeks ago, our family headed to Florida for a week of rest and re-stocking. It had been 11 months since we’d left our new home in Haiti and so I had complied a list of things to stock up on. We were meeting friends in Florida that were coming to make sure that we relaxed, ate good food, and laughed a lot (mission accomplished!) but we had about 24 hours from the time we landed until they landed.

We decided as a family that it would be best to get all the restock shopping done up front so that we could just lay like broccoli for the rest of our week. We knew that stores would be a bit overwhelming as our markets and stores are a little different in Haiti so we put together a list of exactly what we needed it and where to buy it and set on our way to get it done.

The majority of the items we were shopping for were from Target and since we were excited from traveling, we decided it would be better to tackle Target at night before closing then on a Saturday night and so we set out to gather all the items on our list.

I was in need of some new brasiers and so I quickly set about to check that item off the list. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been bra shopping before but the vast options were unusually overwhelming since we had just touched down in the USA hours earlier. I grabbed a few sizes in a few styles and set about figuring out what I needed and then when I found some I like that fit, went back to get more in different colors. I was caught up in the rows and rows of bras and wandered around saying, “I don’t know” in creole over and over but 15 minutes later, I was done!

Fast forward to packing everything up before heading home to Haiti and as I was removing tags, I was surprised to find that I had a nursing bra in my bunch! I was completely confused as I hadn’t seen one of those in years (honestly, I just thought it was a snazzy new feature at first glance) and when I checked the tag, it confirmed I’d indeed bought a nursing bra and not noticed in my hurry to get out of the overstimulating store. We were leaving a day later to head back home and it took me only a split second to determine that I would rather wear the nursing bra then take on Target again. Say what?!

It was in that moment that I realized how much had changed. Life in Haiti is slower than in the states. That doesn’t mean it’s not weird and without challenges, but it’s not as hectic (although Haitian traffic is the exception to that rule). There aren’t 17 options of one product in the stores here which has greatly cut down on my shopping time. The grocery store that seems massive here I now realize is a fraction of the size of the Target we wandered in that night.

I’ve realized that options are nice but sometimes, they just get in the way and take up too much brain space. I’ve realized that endless options don’t make my skirt fly up the way I thought they did but rather make me want to find a quiet corner. I’ve come to learn that there is a simplicity and focus that comes with not having so much noise around every decision being made.

Our life in Haiti, in many ways, is different from the life we lived in the states. My first year here has taught me that different isn’t necessarily better – and in this case – you really can’t compare one to the other.

I’ve spent some years in nursing bras and never would I have guessed that I would not only make the mistake of purchasing one again but then decide better to wear it than brave the store and exchange it. My life has changed many ways this year in learning to be fluid and go with the flow. In this instance, I’m going to view it as a snazzy new feature on an otherwise regular old bra. Lemons to lemonade – that’s what this year has been all about!

Dance Moves at Just the Right Time

Our family recently celebrated Valentine’s Day with the GLA Toddler House kids. Ingrid had worked hard to make fun Valentines from the both of us to all of the kids as well as for every nannie, cook and teacher that works alongside us each day. Everyone was so excited to receive that little gift and a sweet treat but surprisingly, it wasn’t the highlight of the day.

We’d recently watched the movie, Trolls with all of the kids and they have been jammin’ to that soundtrack for over a week. Every time we play the main track, Can’t Stop the Feeling, by Justin Timberlake, the kids start pulling out the dance moves. I love watching it…and yes…I almost immediately start dancing too. Check out some of our sweet dance moves from that fun day here!

Lately, the music always seems to come at just the right time. When we’re frustrated, annoyed or disappointed, those beats start coming through our little portable speaker and the fun seems to make the downers of the day lose their grip.

All of that has pulled me back to the scripture verse, Romans 5:6 which says, You see, at just the right time when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

First of all, if that’s not a reason to dance, I don’t know what is. But what I love the most is the implication given in the verse.

God timed his rescue of my heart perfectly. Had anyone else tried to carry out a plan of restoration and redemption for me, it would have failed miserably. But God knew exactly the right way and He used the perfect sacrifice, His Son, on my behalf; and He set it all in motion and carried out His battle against my sin, death and the devil at just the right time.

That reminder for me takes all of the pressure off. It reminds me again today that there is no amount of my own performance or posing that could fix my or anyone else’s brokenness. The Lord’s grace and love makes me want to dance – plain and simple! I’m reminded that first and foremost, I am called to love the Lord and to bring His love into every circumstance with every person. Whether people receive that or when they receive it, isn’t up to me – and that’s a dance-worthy thing too! Because I know that the Lord is working and that at just the right time, He’ll do what He needs to do to be recognized for who He is by every single person. And I hope that when they see them for who He really is, that they can’t help but break out some of those funky dance moves.

When in doubt, cook it out

My Ma gave me the gift of including me in the kitchen while she was creating. Ours was a galley style and I can remember sitting at the edge of the kitchen watching her and as I got older, helping her cook and bake. My Ma likes to cook, but baking is really her niche. We had a homemade dessert almost every night growing up. Baking is her happy place.

Her love of baking definitely rubbed off on me and I also find much enjoyment in putting together a delicious baked treat. However, moving to Haiti has shifted what is needed and I find myself cooking almost every night when I “get home” from work (when you’re part of communal living, do you ever really leave home?). There are no fast food options (or $5 Raley’s sales to shop from) here and restaurants require traveling a bit and aren’t cheap. This means, if one of us doesn’t cook, we don’t eat. Fortunately, I really like to cook too! I try to go grocery shopping with recipes in mind but often, I just stock up with staples and create a meal depending on what sounds good – and I love that!

Recently, a friend who gets a weekly vegetable delivery has graciously agreed to split the order with us. It is like a veggie lotto! Turnips, carrots, green onions, cabbage, lettuce, and beets all came this week and so now, I’m building meals around them.

The past few days have felt a bit heavy around here. A conglomeration of things have Joel and I working more than usual to choose joy daily and I have found that cooking at the end of the day is just as therapeutic as baking for me. I didn’t even realize this was the case until I sat dowimg_0342n a minute ago and realized I had been cooking since I got home hours ago. I made cheeseburger chowder for dinner (if you bring us velveeta, it will forever end up in this soup that tastes vaguely like a big mac) and then I thought it would be fun to roast some glorious beets. Once they were roasted, peeled, and chopped, I split them up and made two different cold beet salads (my love for beets runs deep). I thought about stopping there but there was still time left in the movie my kids were watching so I put together some chocolate coconut overnight oats for tomorrow morning. When I finally sat down, I realized my heart and mind had been so occupied on the task at hand, that I hadn’t thought a bit about all that had been weighing me down. Joy was easier to find and the grump was gone. I’m not sure that my dishwashing kids were as excited about all the dishes I’ve been dirtying but they seem to be enjoying the food so maybe it all  balances out.

I am so grateful to have something that could feel like a chore to some, be something that clears my head and creates space in my head and heart. I hope you have the same in your life. And if you don’t, keep looking for it! You just might be surprised at what you discover.

Church Near and Far With Friends

Today we were able to worship at our friends’ home church. It seemed fitting that our first day at this home church was the same day that our sending church, St. Paul’s, is celebrating its’ 125th anniversary. Our hearts are missing our church in California and the chance to celebrate the rich history with all of those friends who so quickly became framily to us. After all, it’s that congregation that helped send us to Haiti and has supported us every step of the way.

But there is something about gathering with 40 something new-ish friends and having church together in a living room that made my heart feel so at ease and refreshed (it felt like squishing the St. Paul’s night service into someone’s house – I love that thought!).  As I looked around the room watching this group of expats sing their hearts out and listen intently to the message, I couldn’t help but wonder if St. Paul’s had started in a similar manner 125 years ago?  And as we dove into a delicious potluck after church, it oddly made me feel connected to the catered luncheon that was happening a few time zones away to celebrate St. Paul’s milestone.

I’m not sure if you made it to church today, or if you’ve made it to church yet this year. I hope you come to know the joy of finding a place of worship where your heart feels at home. Where the traditions and technology, don’t drown out the message of the gracious love of Jesus but rather enhance it. And where Jesus’ love is the central theme. The Lord knows our world can always use more of his love and kindness.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Matthew 18:20

A Thrill of Hope

This past Sunday as we were getting ready for church, Joel started singing O Holy Night. Now, I love all Christmas carols – I start listening to them shortly after the end of October (go ahead, judge me – it won’t change my heart for starting to frame the awe, wonder, and hope of Christmas early). Every year, a different carol gets stuck in my head and resides there. If you ever were around during my substitute teaching at Bella Vista in Tracy, CA, you probably heard me singing Silver Bells. Before then it was O Christmas Tree (sung in English and “made up” German, of course) and year round, I can be found randomly belting out Ave Maria.
This year, I’m stuck on O Holy Night. I love that it tells the story of Christmas and I also love the challenge of singing the ever increasing high notes. As Joel started singing it that morning, I hooked right in and in my best opera voice (secret life) started high. I knew the key changes were coming but it was a go big or go home moment. And so I started:

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices (big breath)
O night divine
O night, when Christ was born (even bigger breath)
O night divine (the high note!)
O night
O night divine

img_9250You’ve got to know, as I was singing, Joel started taunting, “you’re not going to hit it.” Which made me even more determined to get there. He has known me long enough to know that no matter how high I start, I’m hitting the note or will pass out trying. Well, I hit that high note – nailed it in fact. It was so gloriously overwhelming that Kooper literally shook it off and Joel fell over laughing.

Fast forward to church when Joel used this story as his sermon opener. As I listened to him retell the story and then tie in the truth of the lyrics with all that the Christmas season encompasses, I instantly knew exactly why I’m marinating on “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…” Over and over we sang it that morning. Over and over, I’ve sung it this week.

It is so easy to let your heart grow weary in the busyness of the Christmas season. It’s even easier to let your heart grow in the busyness of every day life. But that thrill of hope… mercy, that will bring joy and peace to the hardest of days. The decision to have my weary soul rejoice, to look for that new and glorious morn and not get stuck in my funk – it’s a decision that I have to actively make. And oh how glorious it is when I make that decision to allow that thrill of hope in and rejoice.

Part of me being stuck on a song means I listen to all sorts of versions of it. This morning I listened to Mariah Carey and then Mercy Me and then good ‘ole Harry Connick Jr. sing it. As I listened (& sang along) to his jazzy version, I loved that he decides to have the song crescendo not on the first verse, but on this one:

Christ is the Lord
O praise His name forever
His power and glory
Evermore proclaim
His power
and glory (the big note!)
Evermore proclaim

Oh how I love that! I love that regardless of my circumstances, that if life is good, bad, or ugly at the moment, God’s power and glory should always be proclaimed. That’ll preach!

What Christmas carol is your favorite this year?

the new, the strange, the funny

I know that we’ve been here 5 months and that maybe I should be used to it by now but, I am daily astounded at how different each day here is; the challenges, the work, the emotions, the weather! Every day is a completely out-of-left-field mashup of different circumstances that collide to make a day full of the new, the strange, the funny. Just this morning I rolled out of bed and my foot made direct crunchy-squishy impact with formidable cockroach on the floor. I had cockroach guts on the bottom of my foot and it actually splattered onto my other foot…it was really juicy. The comedy that ensued of the kids running around to grab paper towels for me with Ingrid laughingly yelling at them to hurry up and deliver them to me was like something out of a Everybody Loves Raymond episode.

I’ve found that I really love the new, the strange and the funny  parts of living in Haiti with Ingrid and the kids. And I could fill chapters with those kinds of stories already. In all of this, I think God is reminding us to focus on loving one another day by day, one episode at a time; to delight in the beautiful, abnormal and silly moments He gives us, even if they’re only for a few seconds.

And because it’s a daily occurrence that the Lord loves to show us something unimaginably new about Him, His creation and His heart for us, I suppose I also ought to quit being surprised that every one of those joys are opposed by the enemy. Case and point, every time I attempt to plan well for the day in front of me, I’m reminded of the old Marine Corps adage that “no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy”.  It’s so easy to roll into each day and make the agreement that, “It’s all up to me and today I’ve got to check off some things on my to-do list.”

I’m thankful that Jesus lovingly but firmly reminds me daily that it’s not all up to me; that He is greater than the challenge and the change of plans; that He is stronger than the opposition — and most of all ,that He wants deeply for me to see His Work, His Life, His Triumph amidst all of the new, the strange and yes…in the absolutely funny.