I had every intention of blogging my way through our trip through Haiti…but thank you lack of WiFi and 3G…it was just not possible.
So here I am, back in Cap Haitien, exhausted and trying to catch up on laundry. This country is beautiful, but I have to say I am partial to my city and I am glad to be home.
Instead of writing a long blog about every single thing we did, every single person we met, and every single place we visiting (because boring and quite frankly, who has time to read that?) I thought I would simply share our adventures in pictures. I will include a list of names and links below to the various businesses and organizations we visited along the way. They were all awesome and you should totally check them out.
So, thanks be to a photographer for a husband, for otherwise I may never have visual proof of the life I live….
People and places we visited…
Seven hours in the truck, driving up and down crazy mountains without guardrails, and an evening full of flooding rains. This has been our day.
But I’m not complaining. No. Not in the least bit.
Because we are all safe. Our bellies are full. And Hunter is a rockstar driver.
This morning we left Cap Haitien and headed to Port au Prince for the first night of our trip. Being a Sunday morning the traffic was minimal, which was wonderful. We took a couple of stops on the side of the road so Hunter could fly his drone. The kids took long naps. And the rain held off until we reached the outskirts of the city.
Tonight we are staying at Lakay Pozè, a guesthouse operated by Empower Haiti Together. Right beside the airport, if you are ever in need of a place to stay in Port au Prince, you should really check it out. It’s super cute and in the perfect location. Also, their pool is in the shape of a guitar, I kid you not, so why wouldn’t you want to stay here?
We arrived at Lakay Pozè in the early afternoon. Our kids spent a majority of the next few hours playing in the rain and jumping/rolling around in muddy puddles. I should have stopped them. They ruined a day’s worth of clean clothing. But goodness they were cute and happy. So I just let them have it.
We later met a guy from Help One Now for dinner at Pizza Amore, which was super yummy. Help One Now is a great organization that strives to empower local leaders to care for their communities. Check out the links to learn more about their work.
Alright, time for bed. We are getting up early tomorrow morning to head down to Jacmel and this mama is tired. Stay tuned!
Summer is coming to a close. And the crowded city streets packed by oversized trucks with short-term mission teams in the bed are staring to slow down. Although teams come to Haiti year round, summer is by far our country’s busiest season to host foreigners who come to serve.
And that’s great.
And it’s not.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
There’s been a significant amount of open dialogue lately concerning the efficiency of short-term missions. Which is wonderful and much needed. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you know I teeter the fence. I am a product of short-term missions. Years of coming to serve in Haiti for a week or two out of my summers was what cultivated my love for this country and my calling to live here full time. If it weren’t for those visits, I may have never moved to the orphanage. Never have met my oldest two children. Never helped to start Emmaus House.
I’ve also seen a lot of harm done in Haiti by the constant ins and outs of mission teams. A country now rooted in dependency is just the heart of the issue. Teams come and give. Haitians take and wait for the next team to arrive. Over and over again.
One of the greatest advices someone ever gave me concerning short-term missions offended me for quite sometime. As a young college student I didn’t understand the wisdom behind the words and stewed over them for years.
It was the night before our flight to Haiti and my co-leader took time to share his final thoughts to our team before we dispersed to bed.
“I know some of you have been to Haiti before,” he said. “But for most of you, this will be your first time. Regardless, I want you all to remember something.”
Everyone leaned it, certain his words would inspire us all.
“We will get to help a lot of people on this trip,” he continued. “But we will only be here for ten days. The people we meet will be poor when we get there, and they will be poor when we leave. In ten days we will not be able to change that. And that is okay.”
He went on, but I didn’t pay him a bit of attention. I couldn’t. I was too flustered. What does he mean we can’t solve poverty? If we can’t go and fix people’s problems, then what’s the point in going at all?
As you can tell, however, his words stuck with me. Stuck because although I refused to admit it for a long time, deep down I knew he was right.
Haiti is going to be Haiti when we arrive. And Haiti will be Haiti when we leave. There is nothing I can do about that. And that is okay.
Okay because it is not my job to “fix” Haiti.
Okay because it is not my job to “save” people.
Okay because this world is broken and only Jesus can make right of all the wrong.
I remember one time a visitor asked Hunter what it would take to change Haiti. Hunter knew what they were expecting. They wanted a tangible response that could fit into their mission’s budget at church. A project they could commit to. Maybe more orphanages or water wells or schools.
“You want my honest answer?” Hunter probed them.
“Sure,” they replied.
“The only thing that will change Haiti completely will be Christ’s return,” he said honestly.
And that isn’t just true of Haiti. It is truth for the whole world full of problems. Jesus is our only true hope at fixing it all.
Until then, people will be poor when you come and people will be poor when you leave.
So what’s the point?
Where’s the hope?
It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others. (Ephesians 2: 10, TLB)
The purpose of missions isn’t to “fix” or “save”. The purpose is to use the new lives we have received in Christ Jesus to help others. Helping others responsibly. Guided by wisdom. Full of love. Without hurting. With Jesus as the Savior, not us.
It’s that simple.
And it’s also that complicated.
But so worth it if we learn to do it right.
I was hot. So. Incredibly. Hot.
The cement brick church I was sitting in was packed full of people and the breeze from the nearby windows was minimal. The air was stale. Stale and hot. And I, a day away from my seventeenth birthday, was stuck in a pool of my own sweat.
I knew I should focus. There were sick and desperate people all around me. Mothers, children, men, and the elderly waiting for their chance to see a doctor. But I couldn’t. It was just too hot. And that darn hand held fan I bought at a dollar store back home had broken just hours before. What a waste of a dollar, I couldn’t help thinking.
I was in Haiti on a medical mission trip, although not by choice. My parents sent me with our church on what they called a “reality check”. In other words, I was a stuck up teenager who needed to see first hand just how blessed she really was, despite the fact that her parents did not get her a new car for her birthday. I had never been out of the country before, so the excitement of travel overshadowed my negative attitude about the whole thing. Nevertheless, there I was stuck in this hot little church building praying for God to miraculously speed up time.
At age sixteen, my abilities were pretty limited for a medical clinic. Other than playing with children while their mothers spoke with the doctors, I felt like just another sweaty body in the way. But on this particular day I was placed with a doctor. My job was to take notes of what medicines he prescribed onto a paper bag, which would then move on to the pharmacy. Although I tried, I was pretty awful at the task. Poor doctor, had to spell out every antibiotic for me like twenty times.
By midday my boredom transferred into hungry and between patients I reached for the lunch I had packed in my backpack that morning. Crap. The bread to my sandwich had turned moldy. Stupid heat. So I settled on a piece of beef jerky instead. 5-6-7-8. I tried running through the steps of my latest cheer routine as I chewed. Anything to take my mind off the heat. But before I could make it to the last eight count I was handed a little boy.
He was frail and his clothes tattered and torn. I couldn’t make out how old he was, but I could tell his eyes were much older than his body gave away.
The woman who placed him in my lap appeared to be older than most in the church. By the way she held her back as she bent down, I could tell carrying the boy to the clinic was more than her frail body could handle. As her rigid back rose, she looked deep into my eyes and started speaking in a language I did not recognize. She waved her flimsy arms all over as though her rapid gestures and desperate expressions would help me better understand. I could tell she was troubled. I could see in her eyes that the story she told was a painful one. But I couldn’t make out a single word. Looking to the translator beside me, he explained that the woman had been taking care of the boy after finding him alone in the street. He had no father or mother. No home to call his own. Now too old to continue, the woman was giving him to me.
I was speechless. I mean, what was I supposed to say? Did she realize I was only a teenager from America? What did she really expect me to do with this child? A million thoughts began running through my head. But before I knew it, before I even had a chance to formulate a response, she was gone.
I held the boy in my lap as the doctor examined him. It was clear that he was severely malnourished. I may not have been a doctor, but for that I was certain. I tried speaking to him, as if he could somehow understand my English. He didn’t even look me in the eye. I tried offering him candy. What kid doesn’t like candy? But he wouldn’t take it. He just sat there, starring out the window nearby, lifeless.
With every passing minute I found myself holding the boy just a little bit tighter until eventually his head made its way to my shoulder. His eyes finally shut and he calmly slept to the quick and anxious beating of my heart. And for the first time all day, even though I held a sleeping child in my lap, I didn’t notice the heat at all.
Who are you dear child? How old are you? Why were you alone in the street? What happened to your parents? When is the last time you ate anything?
As I rocked him, my mind filled with questions- questions that I was sure I would never actually know the answers to. But questions, nevertheless, that I couldn’t help but to wonder.
Underfed and deathly ill, the doctors decided to take the boy to a nearby hospital for further treatment. As a young girl, I was obviously left out of all the medical discussions, but I could tell by the doctor’s body language and facial expressions that they questioned whether the little boy would even survive the night. As they picked up his resting head from my shoulder and his limp body off of my lap, I felt the tears began to roll down my cheeks. This child, this little boy that was handed to me on the eve before my seventeen birthday, would I ever get to hold him again?
The little boy from the clinic lingered in my head for the next few years. I dreamt about him often. Gave him names. Pretended we could speak to one another. Imagined he was happy, healthy, and loved. I couldn’t explain it- the way my stomach formed into knots whenever his face rushed through my mind. Where was he? Was he even alive? Why was his face imprinted on my heart? I wasn’t sure. In my young teenage mind, questions like those were far too complex to understand. Still his face, his deep, sunken eyes, and his frail little body curled up onto my lap haunted me, almost like he was calling me back, back to where I belonged…
On the photo above: The little boy did, in fact, survive and was placed in the orphanage in which I would move to Haiti to oversee year later. This picture was taken during a Lipscomb University trip in 2007, four years after I first met Ridlin- the boy who called me back to Haiti.
Goodbyes are never easy, but Hellos can be lots of fun. We’ve had a mix of both this past week at Emmaus House. Here’s to name a few:
This past Monday we said goodbye to Djouly as he left to begin college in Arkansas. I could pour my heart out over this kid, but I’ll spare you the ooshy gooshy madness that is my mind right now. I cried like a baby watching him leave. Bless his new host parents who continued to send me pictures throughout the day of his new experiences in the airport and arriving at his new home. We were able to Facetime with him this morning, and seeing him grin from ear to ear was so good for my soul. Seriously cannot wait to go visit him (hopefully) soon!
Goodbye Big House:
Three years ago our family and a group of unruly teenagers left orphanage life and moved to Emmaus House. Boys on the top level. Girls on the bottom. House family in a little apartment beside the boys. Hunter and me down the street. It worked for a while, but keeping 17 teenagers (both boys and girls) in the same house was never our long-term intention. This weekend we said Goodbye to the Big House and moved into two smaller houses in the same community- one for the boys and one for the girls. This Goodbye has been difficult, as the adjustment to something new always takes time, but we are confident this move will help Emmaus House better meet the needs of our youth.
Our lives have been full of visitors for the past month. New friends and old friends all came to encourage us and help with the work at Emmaus House. I had three people camping out on my rooftop for a few weeks. My neighbors loved the sight, I’m sure. Although our days can be quite hectic and out of routine when we host visitors, it is always sad to see good friends go, especially when seeing them is so few and far between.
With Djouly’s top bunk bed open, a new student from the orphanage moved up to Emmaus House yesterday. Max, who turned 18 this spring, it the newest member of the boy’s home. A young basketball star and high achieving student, we are so excited to say Hello and Welcome to our friend.
This young lady was one of my dearest friends back at the orphanage, and I was so sad when we had to part ways. Thankfully though, God had plans to bring us back together. After teaching in the Dominican Republic for the past few years, Marjorie has returned to Haiti and is the new housemother for our young ladies. Watching her interact with and love our girls the past few weeks, I can’t count the number of times I have said, “Oh how I love you,” to her. Because seriously, I do.
Hello New Houses:
As I mentioned before, we’ve moved and said Hello to two new houses. Although the teens were hesitant at first, they are all so happy saying Hello to their new homes.
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I think there is a wide misconception that missionaries are easily contented people, hence us being able to live abroad in sometimes uncomfortable environments. I, however, am not such a person. Not by a long shot. But I am trying…
On Wednesday of last week our water pump broke leaving our house without running water for the remainder of the week. On Friday city power decided not to grace our neighborhood with any electricity, the Internet stopped working, and our generator ran out of oil making it unusable till the next day.
Admiring the unwashed dishing piling high, watching my beautiful children clog up waterless toilets, and smelling my own personal stench, my emotions spiraled out of control early Saturday morning. The uncontrollable dysfunction of my house, coupled with a dash of PMS, was just too much, and in rushed a wave of self-loathing and pity, which just about knocked me over completely.
I sat on the edge of my bed and sobbed. Like, the ugly kind of sob. “How am I supposed to live like this?” I yelled to Hunter who had yet to utter a complaint all week. “I can’t run a house in which nothing works,” I continued on…and on…and on. Until eventually I realized Hunter had long left the room, leaving me to wallow alone.
Fast forward to later that morning and I heard a song play in the truck as we drove through town. I couldn’t even begin to tell you its name or the artist that sings it, but the lyrics had something to do with counting your blessings no matter how great or small. I knew it was meant to be encouraging, but after a morning such as mine I found it rather repulsive. Trying to ignore the overtly obvious message God was trying to communicate to me, my inner dialogue went something like this:
This song is stupid. I mean, who ever wrote this song obviously lives in Suburban, USA. Perhaps they wouldn’t sound so dang cheerful if they hadn’t washed their hair in three days and had heat rash all over their back from sleeping in a pool of their own sweat.
My Saturday continued on, as did my bitter attitude. Even though I was at the beach with friends sipping on freshly squeezed pineapple juice and enjoying the peaceful waves, my soul was completely restless and ungrateful. My heart was an ugly mess. It would take a nasty dose of guilt to set me in my tracks.
“I hate taking bucket showers,” I complained to a Haitian friend of mine while we watched my children pack up their beach toys. “I need my water pump fixed and fast!” He laughed at me, bless him, and told me I was spoiled. Listening to his honesty, I wanted to argue. I wanted to tell him he wasn’t right. That I was a woman of great sacrifice, not privilege. But he was…right. Completely. And finally humbleness came knocking at my soul’s front door.
I am spoiled. Way more than I should be. I have three healthy children, a rock star of a husband, and I have never gone hungry a day in my life. And you’d think after living over five years in Haiti I would get that by now, but confession, I don’t.
Returning home from the beach that evening our water pump had been fixed, city power had been all daylong, the generator was replenished with oil, and our Internet was up and running. God had taken care of everything even though I was completely unworthy. He spoiled me even though I refused to count my blessings. How often does this happen in my life? Everyday my friends. Every. Single. Day.
Paul once said that during his time of ministry he had to learn to be content with both a little and a lot. I keep waiting for the day in which I learn this all-valuable lesson as well. When will I finally learn that being content is not dependent on what I have or what I don’t have, but on my relationship with God?
Have you been there? Have you had those days too? Maybe they look drastically different than my own, but I have a feeling you have had those moments in which everything seems to be falling apart. Just in case you are skimming below to find some life changing wisdom on how to handle such days, freeze! I have no such wisdom. Just this: Grace! Seriously, that’s all I got. Grace when we complain. Grace when our hearts are not content. Grace when we are anxious. Grace when we forget that God is always there. Grace when we cry at the edge of our beds. Grace over it all.
I’ll leave you with some words from Jesus. I’m breathing in these words this week as if my life depends on it. Contentment may not come naturally for me, but I am going to give it my best. How about you?
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6: 25-34)
Published on Thrive Connection
“Mom, can I ask you a question even if it might make you mad?” my daughter asked as she began her schoolwork at the kitchen table.
“You can ask me anything you want, sweet girl,” I replied.
She took a deep breath and nervously began scribbling at the top corner of her worksheet.
“Why did you pick me?” she asked. “Out of all the kids in the orphanage, why did you pick me? Was I really sick? Was I just really cute? Why me?”
It is a story my husband and I have told our children a hundred times. We have even made picture books to help them remember, but sometimes their hearts just need a gentle reminder. On this particular day, my daughter needed to hear her story. Reaching for her hand, I put her pencil down, smiled, and started at the beginning…
That’s right folks….I made my National TV debut attempting to pull off a teething necklace as if it were a reasonable fashion accessory. (See picture above) Only a few minutes prior to this shot, that necklace was covered in baby slobber and I apparently never considered taking it off for the cameras.
I. Am. Officially. Awesome.
Anyway, it’s true. A while back we were blessed with the opportunity to share our story with Caitlin Burke, childhood friend of Hunter and reporter for CBN News. Although this segment is a lot about us, Emmaus House would be nothing without our God who oversees it all, the dedication of our Haitian staff, the wisdom of our directors stateside, and the love of our many supporters. So thank you. All of you. Together God is using us to make a difference in the lives of young adults in Haiti.
CLICK HERE to see the full video featured today on the 700 Club.
Or if you are in need of a quality/ stylish teething necklace that your baby will love, check out Mama & Little and get one day. Seriously, it was one of my top three baby purchases hands down next to diapers and my baby carrier.
It’s officially summer. And while normally that means no school and vacation time, for our family life just kinda goes on as normal. In order to help their brains not turn into mush, I still require my kids to do math and reading everyday.
They love me. I am an awesome mom.
And there are no vacation times planned for us. With the teens at Emmaus House being out of school, our workload actually increases during the summer rather than decreases.
Still, I am making it a point that our family reads this summer. Because, well, why not? Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes, and I am bound and determined that my kids (and husband) love it too. So far I think I have Nalandson sold on the gig but not so much Dalencia who would much rather be up dancing than sitting still with a book.
Anyhoo….here is what we are reading this summer around our house.
BOOKS I AM READING DURING NAPTIME
Click to order yourself:
BOOK HUNTER & I ARE READING TOGETHER AFTER THE KIDS GO TO BED
Click here to order for yourself:
BOOKS NALANDSON & DALENCIA ARE READING WHENEVER MOM MAKES THEM
Click here to order for yourself:
AND BECAUSE WE CAN’T LEAVE JAKE OUT — HIS CURRENT SUMMER FAVORITES
Click here to order for yourself:
Now how about your family? What are you guys busy reading this summer?
It was our first date, and perhaps I was a tad bit over ambitious. Both of us, barely twenty, sat across from each other at the restaurant table nervously trying to impress the other with stories of how cool we thought we were in high school. I liked this guy. A lot. He was everything I had been praying for. Don’t mess this up, I kept saying to myself. And then it happened. Without even thinking I said it and then embraced myself for rejection.
“When I get older I am going to adopt from Haiti,” I told him as I reached across the table for more bread. “Preferably twice actually. So if we are going to keep dating I just need you to know that.”
My date went silent. Dumbfounded I’m sure. My cheeks burned red. Stupid me. What had I just done? Was that really a necessary first date thing to say?
“Um, okay,” he said only half believing me.
I quickly changed the subject and the date when on. I guess it went well because two summers later the same guy proposed to me in Haiti and then the following summer we were married.
As newly weds Hunter and I often dreamt about what our futures may look like. Normally our dreams included jobs we loved, a farmhouse with a wrap about porch (think The Notebook), and beautiful children. Four to be exact. With our growing love for Haiti, we both felt called to adoption. But in our dreams, that step always came last- after steady jobs, after the wrap around porch, and after biological children.
Life would take us on another path, however. As most of you know, we ended up moving to Haiti long before our dream careers had the chance to develop and before we ever had enough saved up for a house. And shortly after we became parents to two older children (Nalandson and Dalencia) through adoption long before I would become pregnant with our youngest son.
Choosing to adopt before having biological children was never what Hunter and I intended. Following the example of other families who had adopted, adopting first seemed unconventional. Still, it is what we chose to do and we were blessed for it. Although I do not wish to propose that this is the best way to go about adoption, I would like to share three reasons why this model worked best for our family. Adoption comes in all shapes and sizes and what fits best varies by family and child. But in our case, with our children, adopting first was the best choice. Here’s why:
Adopting first meant our adoptive children had our undivided attention. No matter what their age or background, children entering a new family for the first time need special love and a special attention. All children need love, but children who have been adopted need love of a special kind. They need love that is patient when they don’t know how to love back; love that is unconditional when they doubt your commitment to them; love that is strong enough to handle their hurt and backlash; and love that is wise enough to walk through their questions of identity and belonging. Bringing our two oldest children into our home without the distraction of other children, we were able to focus solely on their needs. We could focus on them and their individual ways of bonding with us as their new parents without having to share our time with other children in the home. I know there are positives of having biological children in the house prior to adoption. Having siblings there to model how to be a part of the family would be just one example. But in our case, especially with two older children who grew up in an orphanage and floated around from one home to another for years, adopting first gave us the allowance to give them the loving attention both of them so desperately needed.
Adopting first set us free from the fear of comparison. I hesitate even saying this because I don’t want it to be true. Nevertheless it is. We, as parents, compare. It’s just in our nature. We compare ourselves to other parents. Our kids to other kids. Even amongst our own children we compare their abilities, their mannerisms, and their roles in our families. If we aren’t careful, though, comparing can become a dangerous habit that can lead to much dissatisfaction. And it was the temptation of comparison that made me so hesitant to have biological children after adoption. I was scared of having a baby and feeling a different kind of bond with them than I did with my adoptive children. I was scared my oldest children would compare themselves to a child of my own flesh and blood, that they might feel less than. I was scared I would begin to compare the ease of raising a child without abandonment issues with a biological child who didn’t. For a few years I had even decided I would never have biological children in attempts to avoid such comparisons. Finally, though, we did decide to have a biological child. By that time both Nalandson and Dalencia had been a part of our family for years and were mature enough and confident enough with their identity to welcome a sibling into the world, especially one that did not look like them. And Hunter and I were also mature enough parents to finally let go of our fear and cope with whatever comparisons might be ahead.
Adopting first allowed our adoptive children to be big siblings to our biological child. The day my youngest son Jake entered the world was one of the most joyous days I have ever experienced. Joyous not only because I had survived natural childbirth in a third world country or that I had met my new son who I, myself, had made, but because my adoptive children became big siblings. Watching them meet their new brother for the first time with such pride and excitement melted my heart as a mother. They took to their responsibilities as big brother and big sister like naturals. Sure, Jake’s birth brought up a lot of questions. Nalandson and Dalencia all of a sudden longed for us to have the ability to reminisce about their birth stories. They wanted their baby pictures that don’t exist. They wanted to know what their first words were, which is something we will never know. Then one day, I caught Nalandson sitting by Jake’s swing, starring at him intensely as he slept. “Mom,” he whispered. “I know people say he looks like you, but I think he looks like me”. I smiled, amazed that he could see past their obvious physical differences. Kneeling beside him I held his hand and joined him in the starring. “I think you are right,” I said. “He looks just like you, especially when he sleeps.”
I love all my children, fully and equally. Saying our family prayers before bedtime, we always thank God for putting us together. We all are different, but somehow we all fit together.
Adoption is beautiful. Giving birth is beautiful. And both can create beautiful families no matter what their order. But for me, I am so thankful God paved the way for us to adopt first.
If you are an adoptive parent, I’d love to hear from you. In what order did you adopt and how has that been a blessing/challenge to you family? What advice do you have for future families interested in adoption?