How Six Days Turned into a Decade

13885426695_5a69c14816_z Chad calls me the queen of non-profits.

I work for my father and a Christian student leadership organization here in Orange County and I also work for Help One Now taking people to places like Haiti (link).

When someone asks me what I do for Help One Now I usually say something like this:

I connect authors, bloggers and storytellers with Help One Now for the purpose of activating them for long-term advocacy.

That’s a fancy way of saying I help arrange and plan those trips that allow people to see the boots-on-the ground good work of a good organization and then tell a good story about what they see.

But what happened this last week during my first time to this country was something I was not expecting at all.

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In the van on the way to dinner on our last evening, our friend Mike asked both Amber and I the same question.

“You don’t have to answer now,” he began, “but how (if it has at all) has this trip affected your perspective on anything?”

I looked out the window at the people and the mopeds and all of the colors and sights that make up Port-au-Prince.

“And maybe it hasn’t,” he continued.

Amber, in her Alabama words that I can hear even now as I type this, talked to us about the global church and leadership and all the good things that we’d been learning from the Pastors this week.

She knew and she understood. She got it.

“I don’t know.” I said. “I’ll take you up on telling you later, okay?”

As I lay on the bunk later that night and listened to the fan (and prayed that not too many mosquitos would eat my legs) I thought about my “perspective” on poverty, the orphan crisis, and the global church. I thought about Haiti and about how much I still don’t understand, and maybe never will. 

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I understand how helping can hurt and I get the new models of orphan care and orphan prevention. My perspective didn’t really seem to change much because I felt like I was seeing something I had already thought about deeply.

But then I thought about Sarah and Mike seeing the school at Yahve Shamma for the first time, the same school that was dreamt about on the last trip of storytellers. I thought about the full-circle-ness of it all.

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I realized that I want to see the children of Drouin go to secondary school and I want to see that little forgotten community thrive. I want them to drink clean water and farm their fields well and prosper from them.

I understood that I wanted to witness Ferrier Village ten and fifteen years from now and see those babies turn into adults who rescue more babies. I want to see an orphan care system there that does so well they don’t need outside help any longer.

I want to never have to say goodbye to Widia.

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And I then I got it. (Or I got it as much as is possible in a six day trip).

Six days in Haiti had wrapped me up into my own elevator pitch. Six days in Haiti turned into a decade almost overnight.

I had been planning and planning this trip and I knew that I cared but I didn’t know how much until the very end. It was a place that was altogether more brilliant and intense than I would ever imagined and I had never expected that the long-term advocacy that I was dreaming about for others had actually grabbed me around my heart in the form of little hands and wide smiles.

I’ll never claim to truly understand Haiti, but even so I want to. And I can’t imagine living a life where I never came back. I feel like I am the one who has been “connected.” I am someone who is activated and advocating. I am someone now who wants to see it flourish and grow over the long haul.  I am the one who’s perspective has been changed because now it isn’t simply working for a non-profit, it is getting to watch the future of a nation change little by little.

And it is beautiful.

If you want to be a part of this story, click here.

All photos by the talented Scott Wade

The Struggle of Stewarding a Story

I listened to an NPR story last week about a songwriter who had written a song about a man wrongly accused for murder. He sat in prison for 40 years without having committed a crime.

When he wrote the song and sang it on small stages and big stages and collective venues and all over the country he began to forget who and what the song was about.

He said, “You can’t help but change the story by telling it. You become part of it. It is a big responsibility to steward someone else’s story.”

***

haiti 113859212655_781ca9a299_zI’ve been walking in the dirt of Haiti for the last five days and I’ve been struggling  with how to steward the stories of other people and do them proper justice.

If only 100 children can become sponsored in one of the poorest communities in Haiti then we can send them to school and feed them every day. We will even be able to buy farming equipment for their community and pay their teacher’s salaries. Drouin, the place that no one loves needs love.

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And at Ferrier. Oh Ferrier. Where we piggy-backed the babies and watched their new homes being built. And we listened to their pastor and patron tell their stories about borders and brothels and seven-year-old girls who were rescued from them.

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But how do I tell their stories well? When I am not them and I don’t live in their homes and I do not drink their water how can I steward them?

This holy stewardship is stunning in it’s weight.

I’ve become a part of this story and to extract myself from it is almost impossible. But I don’t want to change a single piece of it.

I don’t want to let their beautiful stories filter through my impossibly English words and change them in any way.  I want them to stay amazingly Haitian and island-bound because even in the midst of all the struggle there is insane beauty.

What a sacred duty this is. To feel the hands of these children on my arms and legs and around my waist and through my hair and hope beyond hope that I do them justice.

But simple justice is what they need and it is the same things we all want for our children.

  • Safety (so many little girls I’ve seen walking alone on the streets of Cap-Haitian and Port-au-Prince and I can’t help but think about my little girls)
  • Full tummies (so many stories about eating only every other day so that the whole family can make it)
  • A good place to live (mud homes and no homes and tin homes everywhere along the road)
  • A future (when grief and despair hold a country hostage the future seems bleak)

It is the same thing I want for my girls. The same.

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So I will work hard these weeks to steward these stories well.  I will feel the weight of this holy responsibility and I know that even as I should do my best to extract myself from this story, I know myself too well. I cannot.

It breathes in me and it hopes in me.

 To follow all our stories, click here.

To sponsor a child in Drouin, click here.

To sign up for a garage sale for orphans to help the Ferrier Village Phase 2, click here.

Oh How He is Faithful

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Last night as I fell asleep I prayed for awe.

I wanted to be in awe of both ends of life. The good and the bad. As much as I can be in awe of a sunset and in awe of how something went terribly terribly wrong.  Amazed by goodness and hope but equally distraught about pain and suffering.

Awe for both.

I prayed that I,that we, could be in awe of the hurt and the pain in this broken country as well as astonished by all that is beautiful.

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And oh how He is faithful. Because awe, you know, it comes in waves rushing and heaving over us when we don’t really want it maybe in tears and in laughter. It comes in the form of seeing the child who is newly (oh so newly) orphaned but has found a loving home with sisters and brothers and aunties who love him.

It comes in the form of watching an artist take a brush and paint the beauty he sees in his own nation, a nation that has fought so hard to be whole.

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It is awe for a God who has NOT left a place or a people but is alive and breathing and giving life. Awe for a pastor who rescues children. Awe for another pastor who spends his life training leaders.

And wonder for the deep hardness of a place that has seen centuries of disadvantage and destitution. For the lost babies and lost brothers, for the mothers who have died.

But deep awe for the grace.

And the hope.

And the hills and coffee trees and new life sitting in the pew in front of me on Sunday morning.

And oh how he is faithful.

 

With Help One Now, we want to see 100 children sponsored in Drouin and build more homes for vulnerable children in Ferrier through Garage Sale for Orphans

You can also find us here on Instagram and Twitter under #HONbloggers. We are telling the story both with our words as well our photos. Besides myself, we’ve got Amber Haines, Sarah Bessey, Laura Tremaine, Erika Morrison, and Krista Smith with us. Each of them are beautiful sisters and warriors in this fight.

Being Here

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Apparently the drive from the airport to the hotel was not as long as it could have been, meaning we only had to wait for 10 minutes behind a delivery truck rather than 30.

Amber, Erika and I chatted in the backseat of a truck while Pastor Gaetan drove and Scott sat in the front seat.

One of the girls asked a question and then said, “Maybe I should know that about Haiti but I don’t.”

In the age where we can Google anything, I wanted to know the answer too.  The only book I brought on this trip was a big book about Haiti and I had it in my backpack on my lap. But I resisted taking it out. We were driving slowly through the streets and I had the sights and sounds of the country at my fingertips already.

How sad would it have been for me to stop experiencing to start reading about it?

I kept my backpack zipped up.

Be present.

It’s what Chris keeps telling us. Be Present.

But as a writer, I think I’

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m always working how to tell the right story, the best story, and that’s why we are here. Maybe sometimes I let the words fly through my head when I really should just let myself take it all in.

Be present and be emptied.

So we sat and we bumped across pits in the road and I was present. So. much. to.

see. The book can wait.  And maybe once I finish it it will mean more because I won’t be just reading about a place, I will be reading about a place where I have smelled and saw and touched and loved.

To read more about this trip click here.

What is Possible

Some people look at the world and think: What is not possible. Some people see the same world or set of circumstances and see what IS possible.

I have to confess. I’m great at finding the problems in things.

Maybe it’s me being a critic or a cynic. Or maybe it’s a gift. I can see the logistical issues, the why-it-can’t-work and I’m the one who asks the hard questions.

How will you implement this? What is your plan, I ask.

I’ve been accused of being not looking at the macro but focusing on the micro. But the way I see it, at least in relationships and for homework and cooking dinner and delegating chores, focusing on the micro ensures the macro will work.

Haiti-Ferrrier-Village-Lg-001-7865Haiti-Ferrrier-Village-Lg-001-7865And yes, on a bad day, it may be a little dream-dashing. When I ask the hard questions, dreamers like my husband are forced to come face to face with reality.

Sigh.

I know I’m not alone and I’m not sure it is as simple as optimism and pessimism, though. I could take this and put myself in a pessimist camp. But I’m not a pessimist. I’m a big believer in grace and in big impossible things.

But as a daily liver of life, sometimes the details seem bigger than they are.I think I’ve lived a long time looking at the world and seeing what is NOT possible.

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I’d rather look at the world and notice what is possible

So how do we, do I, move from a what is NOT possible to what IS possible type of thinking? How do I zoom out and see the macro?

When life has been lived and real dreams and relationships do get broken by life sometimes, and when I see my daughters struggle at school, and I see my husband struggle at work and I see my own struggles. It’s hard to not see the details. The details are the dailies, they are the dishes in the sink and the dirty towels on the floor of the bathroom. The details are my world.

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I don’t have an answer.

In just nine days I’m going to board a plane with 5 other friends headed to Port Au Prince, Haiti.

And I have to confess that I’m a little interested in what I’m going to do with Haiti.

Everyone has told me that the problems are  [Read more...]

You Are Magic

We have a friend who didn’t believe in such a thing as a narwhal.

“Sure there’s such a thing.” I told him, “Here.”

I opened up my laptop and looked up a video of a narwhal, a real life “unicorn” on You Tube and an older National Geographic clip came up. Narwhals. Unicorns, sort of.

And I watched too. It was even a bit surreal to me too, even though I had not been newly introduced to the creatures. Wow.

“Amazing.” It is a little magical, I thought.

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When I treated myself to this little juice glass from Anthropologie I had no idea it would be the favorite. We would all fight over this little glass when we sat down to dinner and breakfast.

You are magic. Accompanied by a whimsical drawing of a narwhal, as if the artist knew that some people might not believe.

What does it take to believe? A photo? A video?

Our friend believed only after he saw the video and I then remembered how strange and awe-inspiring they were. And I might not have believed either.

What does it take to believe that we, each of us, are truly magic?

I can tell my daughters day after day that they are magical, the stuff of awe, but they might still walk through the next years not really understanding it. I can tell myself that God’s gifted me {all of us} in unique, magical, non-explainable ways but I still live my life with anxiety, discouragement and boredom at times.

What will it take to make us believe?

Maybe we can try to live in continual wonderment at this world. We can be amazed. And we can be amazed regularly.

Children are amazed daily at the most regular of things. I’m remembering my toddlers (now in lanky girl bodies) being astonished by dandelions, ocean waves and seashells.

The entire world was magic.

What would it take for us to believe, like the young explorers of this world, that the simple fact of being alive is a magical and beautiful thing?

Let’s tell our children that they are magic so they don’t forget. Let’s tell our spouses and friends that what they add to our lives is irreplaceable. Let us stop, just for a tiny moment today, and be in awe of this earth.

Because it is magic.

The Hardest Battle

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A few weeks ago a good friend of mine asked me, “Where is God at work most in your life?”

Preface this with the notion that we were meeting specifically to talk about goals and plans and futures and dreams, and being the wise, good woman she is, she asked this question.

“I guess, and maybe this isn’t spiritual enough, but I feel God is at work in helping me understand who I am.” I answered her.

She nodded and smiled. “Of course that’s God.”

“I guess my self and my personality is where I feel most settled. And if that’s an indication of where God is working the most, then yes. It’s in who I am.”

It feels almost silly to say this, but that is exactly where God has been working in me in the last year. Finally, at the age I am, I feel like I’m really learning who I am and who I am not. And I have come to find out, I like me.

***

I turned 39 over the holidays, on New Year’s Eve. And I feel like 40 is looming closer and closer and closer.

Every winter-to-spring month that ticks off the calendar just seems one step closer to, I don’t know, the middle of life? I find myself saying things like, “before I turn 40” and “I hope I can do that before I reach 40” as if 40 is some kind of crazy benchmark.

But one thing that I believe I’m doing well in my year-before-forty is making friends with myself.

When we become new friends with someone we spend time together, we laugh, we talk, we discuss, or maybe we simply sit. Getting to know someone is sometimes difficult, sometimes easy, but it always takes time.

On one hand I want to chide myself for not getting to know myself sooner. But on the other hand, I believe I’m right on time. I’m that complex, maybe, that it has taken my almost forty years to figure out who I am. Or maybe that’s how it is intended for all of us — to spend the greater parts of our lives becoming satisfied with how He has made each of us.

 ***

The world tries so hard to make us into something God never intended. The poet e.e. Cummings said, “to be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing it’s best to make you somebody else is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. never stop fighting.”

Getting to know yourself is only half the battle, I wonder. The other part is to hang on to ourselves.

Let’s today resolve to do two things, if we can.

First, let us become friends with ourselves. It is more than just getting to know ourselves. It’s more than understanding our gifts, our personalities, our fears and behaviors, and the ways our experiences have shaped us. It’s also being okay with who it is we are.

And secondly, let us fight to be ourselves. Once we have made friends with ourselves, we need to fight, fight, fight to hang on to what we’ve found. Be loudly you, unabashedly, beautifully you. Because it really is important.

Where is God most at work in my life? In me.

Haiti with Help One Now

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This really isn’t your regular bloggers trip. This is special. 

I have the privilege of traveling with 5 other bloggers and storytellers  to Haiti this spring with Help One Now and I would love for you follow along with us.

Follow along with us as we travel Palm Sunday weekend this year, from April 12-16. Follow us as we tell the stories of the children rescued from trafficking, from poverty and from a life of neglect. Follow us as we tell the stories of their caregivers, the day-to-day warriors who live in the trenches with Jesus and with these children.

And be sure and follow these other amazing storytellers as well.

Sarah Bessey

sarahbessey.com

twitter – @sarahbessey

insta – @sarahbessey

 

Erika Morrison

the-lifeartist.com

twitter – @erikalifeartist

insta – @thelifeartist

 

Amber Haines

theRunaMuck.com

twitter – @amberchaines

insta – @amberchaines

 

Laura Tremaine

hollywoodhousewife.com

twitter – @hollywoodhwife

insta – @hollywoodhwife

 

Krista Smith

The Saturated Canary

insta – @saturatedcanary

 

Sarah Markley

sarahmarkley.com

twitter – @sarahmarkley

insta – @sarahmarkley

 

Check out their websites. You won’t be disappointed! And check out the announcement on the Help One Now blog here.

My Favorite Books, For Now

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A couple months ago Jessica Turner asked me to participate in a “best books” series on her blog. I loved being a part of it, but I’ll have to say, it’s not easy picking my 10 best books of all time. The way I see it, I’ve been reading books for 35 years and to find the best 10 out of all of that? Not an easy feat.

So these aren’t my favorites of all of the years, but these are the best ones I like for now. Ask me in 12 months and I might have a different list.

(Originally published on The Mom Creative)

Non Fiction

Bird By Bird – Anne Lamott

I read this book on writing at least once a year and have done so for the last four or five years.  You should too. I promise. It will help your writing and remind you why you write in the first place. If you have ever heard me speak on writing I’m sure I mentioned it once or eleven times.

On Writing – Stephen King

This is actually my current read (as a Christmas gift from a friend) and I’m not finished but including it on this list anyway. I’m convinced it will be a go-to, and a go-back-to for a long time. Plus I’m a big King fan (as you will be able to tell).

 A Million Miles in a Thousand Years – Don Miller

Reading this book about 3 years ago gave me the courage to try to live a good story, to push through some fears I’d been wallowing in and to see my future as a grand adventure that I can’t wait to live. I kinda love anything Don Miller writes but this is my favorite of his. 

A Circle of Quiet – Madeline L’Engle

I’m not a huge fan of nonfiction in general, but I do love a good memoir. L’Engle wrote her more famous children’s series including A Wrinkle in Time but this book is simply marvelous. And if you have a chance, pick up the other ones in the Crosswicks Journals series: The Irrational Season, The Summer of the Great Grandmother and The Two-Part Invention.

Devil in the White City – Erik Larson

I’m putting this under non-fiction, but it reads like a novel. Erik Larson does such an amazing job of telling a true story so that you don’t know its non-fiction. It’s two stories, actually, the story of the building of the 1893 Columbian Expostion in Chicago as well as the story of America’s 1st real serial killer, H. H. Holmes. It’s a little chilling in places, but Larson’s descriptions of the World’s Fair makes anyone want to travel back 120 years just to see it. But please if you do, do all that you can to avoid HH. 

 

Fiction 

11/22/63 – Stephen King

I’m a huge fan of Stephen King and on my wish-list-bucket-list would be to have lunch with him someday. I was never allowed to read him growing up (and maybe for good reason) but a few years ago I began moving through his most popular books because I was on a journey to become a better storyteller. And his 11/22/63 (about time travel and the assassination of JFK – right, I know) is brilliant and surprisingly, my favorite of his novels.

My Antonia – Willa Cather

I don’t know how to explain this book or my love of it, but it is simply beauty. One of the best American novels ever written, in my opinion, and now that I flip through it again, I wonder (I really wonder) if Cather influenced me as a writer. Oh I hope she has. I’m going to re-read this very soon.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

You know how a book gets into your soul when you are in your forming years and stays there? That’s this book for me. It may be different for you, but for me it’s Jane Eyre. Even if I wanted to I can’t get it out of my soul.

The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

Loved loved loved this book. I’m a novel girl and when a well-written novel juxtaposes with history and literature both, I’m hooked. It’s the fictionalized story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley.  Summer read. Or winter read. Either. Or both.

The Meaning of Night – Michael Cox

Another Victorian setting (Devil in the White City is too) and it reads a little slow in the beginning. But give it a chance. The author wrote one more book (The Glass of Time) which is loosely tied to the story in Night, but then Cox died. I fell in love with this author and then was devastated to realize that the author would be writing no more.

 

There are so many more that I love: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Elie Wiesel’s Night are a few and of course the Dark Tower series by King (but that is not for the faint of heart). I’m also pretty much a fan of anything my friends write: Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist rocks. Emily Freeman, Rebekah Lyons, and Tsh Oxenrider have done well lately too, so check them out if you haven’t.

What are a few of your favorites, for now?

How To Find Your Creativity

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I’m the first to admit I fill my head and my life with noise. It’s deafening sometimes. And when there isn’t noise {like the natural kind that comes with having an active family} I put more noise in my life.

I listen to new Spotify playlists and books on Audible. I listen to Voxer messages and voicemails {who am I kidding, I don’t listen to voicemails.} I flip through Pulse on my iPad and scroll through Instagram on my phone.  I turn on NPR and then when I get home I put on music in the house.

My life, during the normal times of the day when there should be pause — rest — meditation, I fill.

And I wonder why I am having trouble with creativity.

If creativity is a river, which I believe it is, it isn’t always a rushing one. I’m learning that I can either stunt it or I can make space for it. Part of inspiration is my own choice.

I’ve begun to understand that for me to engage in writing to any degree of frequency or quality, I need to have time and space to think.

I need to have that time and space to think that I haven’t filled with other noise, to clear off the proverbial table of all the clutter and make room for new thoughts.

I need to make room for words and ideas to form and flourish.

Years ago I used to run in the mornings without any music, without any phone, and without any distraction at all. And there were very few mornings that I wouldn’t come back from my 45-60 minutes out without a great idea or two.

God spoke to me so much clearer then.

I think some creativity is God-speaking and some is inside-inspiration. Maybe it’s all a mixture of both, but even so, for us to be creative we must create space.

The last month and a half has been pretty much devoid of any creativity with traction in my life. My writing has been, well, invisible and my thoughts have been filled with which emails demand the quickest response. I’ve realized, I have no time to think.

Create space to create creativity.

Make room to think for more thoughts. 

Tune out other words so that new ones will form.

Turn off the music and maybe a new poem can be written.