radical

Filling Bowls

bowlI’ve rebelled against Revelation for years now.  I would rather have a root canal than watch a science fiction movie, and Revelation feels a lot like the science fiction crescendo of the holiest of books.  Around ten years ago, we were in a Sunday School class that studied the book.  The members of the class enjoyed the study so much, they did it again.  We quit Sunday School.  I mean really, Revelations?  Study that book twice? Yeah, no thank you.

But recently, Jesus invited me back to unfold the pages and unravel the words of that sacred vision recorded by John.  And when Jesus invites, who can resist?

So quietly, tucked under my fuzzy throw, french roast coffee steaming on the table beside me, Bible and journal in hand, I pushed beyond all the books filled with honey and bread of life, and stopped at the last of God’s Words to us.  There I discovered something I’d forgotten.

Maybe when I knew it, it hadn’t mattered as much.

Maybe then, I hadn’t needed it like I do now.

Maybe then, my heart was younger, more naive, and less broken and heavy.

There it was in the fifth chapter of the book.

 And when he (the Lamb of God) had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10

Did you catch that?

There are elders in heaven who hold golden bowls.

And those golden bowls are filled with incense which are the prayers of the saints.

That’s you and I–the saints.  And those are our prayers.

Your prayers.  My prayers.

All my prayers, poured out to Jesus.

Every single one.

He’s kept them.  He kept those heart cries and he kept those pleas.

Yours too.  He keeps our conversations in golden bowls.

And see this matters more to me now.  More because I’ve prayed more.  More because I’ve learned answers don’t always come when I want or how I want.  More because the stakes have gotten high in recent years.  More because I’m living life in way over my head.  More because when your husband’s a pastor and you have well over a hundred kids and leaders that you love and ache and fight for daily in prayer, you just really want to know your pleas have purpose.  When people text you saying they’ve lost all hope, and you tell them all you can tell them, and you listen all you can listen, and you finally promise the last resort–prayer, when that happens?  You just want to know that when you go to God with those desperate needs, He’s done something with them.

And I’ve gone.

Again and again.

To my Father with requests and with pleading and with every ounce of fight in me.

Because every single life matters.

When I read those words–golden bowls filled with incense which are the prayers of the saints–I think of all the helplessness I’ve felt in the last few years.  I think of all the times when I feel like everything is spiralling out of control, and there is no way I can ever keep up, or make a real difference.  I think of Haiti, and hungry, hurting hearts in that dry land where there is no water.  I think of how helpless I feel and how the little I do feels so microscopic in light of the magnitude of need in that place on the planet.  I think of my own precious boys, now young men with hearts young and tender and vulnerable.  I think of how desperately I want all that is good and true and real and honorable to fill their minds and souls and lives, and yet what control does a mother truly have over a son she’s taught to fly?  What trajectory can a mother guide when their wings are nearly fully developed and whatever’s in their hearts will determine their path?

But a mother can pray.  And I have prayed.  I have filled bowls.  And those  bowls?  They contain the fragrance of the throneroom of God.  When I cry out to him over the matters that crush my soul with their weight, heaven carries the scent of the incense of my supplication.

Heaven carries the scent of your cries too.

I have a collection of letters from my grandmother. Faded envelopes pasted with now-vintage postage stamps and inked in her telltale cursive slant hold her thoughts recorded on UNICEF cards and stationery–the ones she shared with me when I was young.  I keep them all tucked in a red purse on the top shelf of my closet because her thoughts matter to me.

And God keeps our thoughts because they matter to Him.

Jesus knew I just needed to be reminded of that–so He took me to the end of His Words to show me that in heaven our cries are collected and contained in gold.

John Piper understands these things and spoke about them too.

” . . .what we have in this text is an explanation of what has happened to the millions upon millions of prayers over the last 2,000 years as the saints have cried out again and again, “Thy kingdom come . . . Thy kingdom come.” Not one of these prayers, prayed in faith, has been ignored. Not one is lost or forgotten. Not one has been ineffectual or pointless. They have all been gathering on the altar before the throne of God.

And the flame has been growing brighter and brighter and more and more pleasing in the presence of God. And the time will come when God will command his holy angel to take his mighty censer and fill it with fire from the altar where the prayers burn before the Lord, and pour it out on the world to bring all God’s great and holy purposes to completion. Which means that the consummation of history will be owing to the supplication of the saints who cry to God day and night. Not one God-exalting prayer has ever been in vain.”  (John Piper, The Prayers of the Saints)

 Not one God-exalting prayer has ever been in vain.

See sometimes I grow a little faint with the facts as I see them and those bowls remind me that there is more to the story.

For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Cor. 4:17,18

And I can’t help but wonder if you’re like me, and you’ve just felt a little helpless sometimes.  Somehow this idea that I can go to God and fill a bowl seems to fill me with courage and will-power to do that simple thing God instructed us to do without ceasing. It gives me a burning urge to fill bowls until they are overflowing and God and all of heaven can’t help but notice the scent of Sarah’s heart poured out.   And isn’t it funny that the thing that’s collected in the golden bowls is not our effort or our hard work or our determined attempts?  It’s that which we’ve surrendered fully to God that gets kept.

It’s in the emptying of our hearts that we will fill heavenly spaces.

Maybe that’s why the Psalmist said it like this:

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.  Psalm 55:22

And maybe that’s why Peter felt the same:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.  I Peter 5:6,7

Because Peter, he spent time with Jesus.  He knew the heart of the God who dressed in flesh.  He knew.

God keeps our prayers.

I can’t think of a better place to leave my burdens, than in the golden goblets in heaven.

And now, now I think I understand a little more about the much to which James referred when he said,

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16

In desperate times, some say there isn’t much we can do but pray.

Much indeed.

The much of prayer is the filling of bowls . . . it’s the work of a soul who knows the Savior who saves our prayers and saves our lives and someday will return for us all.

Yes.  Much.

Advertisements

The Haiti Blogs: When We Can’t Make Sense Of It All

It’s raining today in our North Georgia mountains–one of those long, soft, misty spring rains that just won’t stop.  My boys are going camping, so the rain is  unwelcome.  It’s a trip far into the woods to celebrate a big birthday for one of their friends.  It’s been on the books for probably 2 months.  We’ve had gorgeous weather all week, and now rain.

I’m watching it wash my cars, water my plants, fill the low spots in the yard, and drown out all the earth worms, and I’m praying, “Lord, would you hold it off for the boys?”

And I remember.

Like the rain washes the fogginess from my brain.

The tin roofs in Haiti.  How many of them were there?  Tin held down with rocks and broken cement.  Tin salvaged from other projects.  Tin filled with holes.

My boys may be wet tonight while they camp, but they’ll come home to a dry house.

For so many Haitians, home is flooded wet when rains fall.

DSC_0904

Me–a child of God, sitting dry under a shingled roof.

A Haitian baby–a child of God, sleeps with belly distended from hunger in his mother’s arms while she squats under a 12 inch overhang waiting out the storm.

A friend–a child of God, sleeps in the hospital tonight.  Cancer’s been removed, but what treatment lies ahead?

A husband in Ecuador–a child of God, mourns his wife’s death.  An earthquake swallowed her life’s breath.

We don’t make sense of these things.

We can’t.

We can’t explain why survival is a hobby and past time for my youngest boy but the only way of life for the boy who begged me to sponsor him back in Haiti.

We can’t explain why the lump in my breast a couple months back was just a fatty cyst but for another it is cancer.

We can’t explain why one child is born without a heartbeat and another is born, lungs filled with air, heart pumping, and healthy.

We can’t explain why one good parent raises a child who aces all the tests and rises the corporate ladder and another good parent raises a drug addict.

We can’t explain why one is accepted into the program and another is denied despite her tremendous effort.

We just can’t.

But I know them.  These people.  I know they love Jesus.

And I know Jesus loves them.

I do.

I remember His Words–they were about His people the Jews, but we were grafted into this beautiful love that is our Savior.  We get to savor these words too.

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in your stead.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
    and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”(Isaiah 43:1-7)

We get to savor our Savior who gathers us from the east and from the west.

We get to revel in our Redeemer who calls us by name.

We get to cry out to our Creator who promises that we are precious in His sight.

We get to live out of the love of this God who says He formed us, He made us, and he crafted us . . .

for

his

glory.

The intended destiny of the cancer patient and the orphan and the hungry and the hurting and the healthy and the wealthy and the successful and the homosexual and the heterosexual and the Arab and the American is that they were ALL–

Every

Single

One

created to bring this one and only God glory.

We don’t have to share skin color or socioeconomic status to share the same purpose.  I have to quit understanding in human terms like Middle-Eastern or African, upper-class or poor, educated or illiterate and begin to understand others as God does–mankind.  Created beings created by a Creator for His own pleasure and glory. 

HE said it Himself.

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
    nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord,
    and apart from me there is no savior.
12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
    I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
13     Yes, and from ancient days I am he.  (Isaiah 43:10-13)

He said in no uncertain terms this beautiful declaration of destiny.

We are HIS Witnesses.

We were chosen

to KNOW

and

to BELIEVE

that HE AND HE ALONE is the LORD and there is no salvation apart from HIM.

From always–

from eternity past–it was always HIM.

By HIM and THROUGH HIM and FOR HIM all things were created.

It’s all for Him.

All to make HIM famous–He’s the one that rescues, that brings salvation, that carries us through the fire, that keeps us floating when the river rages, that carries us across oceans deep.  He doesn’t always heal on earth.  He doesn’t always grant physical provision on earth.

But there is one thing He does do when we can’t make sense of it all–we can know this one thing–He holds us in the palm of His hands.  Nothing can pluck us from His hand.  (John 10:28)

He holds us–our souls when the earth shakes and the rain wont relent.

That He does.

The rest?

The rest we will have to wait to fully understand.

Until then–He won’t relent from this relentless love.  It’s WHO HE IS.

from ancient of days.

And us?  Those of us who call Him Savior?

We get to bear witness to this great truth–

that we know the one true God because He’s redeemed us, He’s called us by name.

 

 

 

The Haiti Blogs: Untethering a Nation

I’ve see this one sweet boy 3 days in a row now. He finds me. It’s a journey for him to find me, but he does it. He has nothing else to do. He isn’t in school. We are attending a Haitian worship service, and he comes in and sits beside me. He’s taken a Tap Tap to get to the church—a truck with a wagon-like canopy on the back that the Haitians pack themselves into like sardines.

church boy
Can I just tell you that when I look up and see that sweet grin, there is this flipping that transpires in my stomach, and I am so in love.  You can’t be a momma of two boys without loving any other boy that reminds you of your own.  When I see him, I see my boys.  I see years of birthday parties, scraped knees, favorite meals, Christmas stockings full, and days spent kayaking rivers.  I see all that we could include this sweet child in.  He snuggles in beside me.  I scratch his back just like I do for my own boys—it’s a universal language all mothers know.
He is so exhausted, he falls asleep. Not the first time a little boy has fallen asleep beside me in church.  I wonder where his own momma is right now.
Eventually he leans into my shoulder, and I couldn’t help but think he could be mine.
I would love him.  I do love him.  It’s like your heart just explodes and expands and insists you love.

. . . because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit . . . (Romans 5:5)
There’s so much room in my heart.  So much room for this pouring out that God’s doing.

When he wakes, he startles slightly and sits up again. He may be a little embarrassed he’s fallen asleep, so I get some gum out of my pack and give it to him as a distraction.
He needs a sponsor. So many need a sponsor–someone who will pay for their schooling and a good meal each day.
When we talk to the people they tell us they know about God, but they don’t know about His Word.  And because they don’t know what His Word says, they are not free.
Few have Bibles, and those that do may or may not be able to read it.
They need education to read.
They can’t afford education because they don’t have jobs.
They don’t have jobs because there is little manufacturing. There’s little manufacturing because there’s nothing to manufacture with.  There are no resources.
It’s a vicious cycle.
But they are so determined.
One boy seems to speak pretty good English. We sit together for a while on a pile of rocks beside small mounds of peridot plastic bottles. I ask if he learned it in school. No, he tells me.Then I see a small English/French dictionary in his hands. The pages are barely held together anymore from use. Use of a determined human being reaching for grace, reaching to grasp anything that will propel him out of this cycle.
I ask if this is how he is learning English. He tells me it is. He can’t afford school, but he is using the dictionary to learn. His printing is beautiful. His English is broken but shows such promise.
DSC_0342I keep asking this question—how do I help this nation? How do we break the cycle?  How do we unbind and untie and loose and free a people who are brilliant and made in the image of God?  Surely we can be a part of this.
A funny thing about Haiti is that there are goats everywhere. Anyone who knows me knows I’m in love with goats. They fascinate me. It’s my husband’s fault because he took me to a fire fighter buddy’s goat farm once, and I fed baby goats from bottles made out of mountain dew 1 liters. I was hooked.

So we get to this country, and there are more goats than dogs. Everyone in the village has a goat. A lot of them just roam free. They walk down the road, walk through houses, sleep under the bus when we park it, and anywhere else they feel like wandering. I saw one lady shooing a goat off the clothing in the market she was trying to sell.

goat 5A lot of them, though, are tethered. The Haitians take what appear to be handmade ropes—like the ones my son makes from bark just for fun—and tie the goats to any small shrub or cactus plant that will hold them. The goats just remain in what’s typically a 3 or maybe 4 foot stretch of space and eat anything in sight. There isn’t much.
Later, when it’s time, the people eat them.
In all our walking through villages and driving through the countryside, I never saw a water bowl near the goats that were tethered. Not once.
Water is not within reach.
The people here are tethered too.
Tethered by a poverty both spiritual and physical.
And as long as they are tethered, their soul thirst will never be quenched.
But educating a child, teaching that child to read, opens the door to reading and understanding God’s Word. It also opens the door for jobs, for industry, for this nation.
Education is the hand God can use to untie this nation.
These are a people willing to learn. Sponsoring a child can literally shred the rope of bondage that keeps these people from becoming all God intended. Mission of Hope has over 1700 students. They feed them, teach them, and share Jesus with them. Sponsoring a child literally breaks the cycle.
I think of that little boy—I know I can’t adopt him.
But I can untether him.
I can do what a mother would do even after I return to the states.  A mother sees to the needs of her child.  He may not be mine, but I can see to his needs.
It may not be all I want to do, but sponsoring him, and children like him at least allows him to go and find water.
Both physical and living water.
For me, maybe it is a start.

A start to the untethering of a nation.

The Haiti Blogs: Grace Flows Down

 

DSC_0904.JPGThin, not from daily jogs and yoga sessions, but from a hard life of work. Sunrise to sunset work. Raising four children alone in a world void of government handouts, void of court ordered child support, and void of little conveniences like electricity, washing machines, or even an outhouse, let alone a toilet.
Bone thin. Her name is Finel Alice. She tells me she washes laundry to collect enough money to send her children to school.
I remember my own mom and my sister—the number of jobs they worked when they were single and raising children. She has no one to help when her children are sick. She has no one to step in when they are fighting, and she’s worn with hand-washing laundry out of an aluminum bowl. She opens her side yard to our group.  I think about the number of times I’ve not held back hospitality because I didn’t have time to scrub my baseboards.  She has nothing but earth and stone to offer us.  She offers it willingly, with joy.  She wants to hear about the Jesus that doesn’t demand she work harder for him. She wants to hear about the Jesus who doesn’t insist she follow a list of rules in order to have a relationship with her.
But it’s so foreign.
Here you only get if you earn. You only get if you fight and struggle and work tirelessly.
Grace is not even a word they use.
Even the sound of the word seems softer than it ever has to me—like a smooth flowing stream that runs over my face, like a soft, sweet rain after a 95 degree August day at home.
Grace.
The undeserved. The unearned. The unobtainable, obtained.
They strain to understand a concept that is unimaginable in a world where nearly everything is unobtainable.
She tells us about her house—a one room concrete structure covered with reused tin dotted like a colander filled with holes. When it rains, she says, she is not able to stay in the house. The water pours in. I ask her what she does at night when it rains. She says that she gets up and sits outside under a 12 inch overhang. There are no chairs. She squats there, under the overhang with her family in a single file line, until the rain stops.
At home we think it’s a pleasure to sit under a tin-roofed porch when a shower passes through. We listen to the storm as it sings a peaceful song.
Here in Haiti, they endure the rain.
They endure the heat.
They endure the hunger.
They endure the suffering and hope it will pass.
Hope better days will come.

Hope for grace in an ungracious world.

We talk long and share much, but as our group files away, my heart bleeds for her.  For what I long to do and can’t do.  For all I want to say and can’t.  For all that should change in her life but won’t.
I had to go back to her—take her hands in mine. Look deep into her charcoal eyes until both our eyes were wet with understanding.
A mother to a mother.
To tell her she is brave and that Jesus sees her when she feels alone. To tell her I will remember her.
I will.

widow
We go on to another home where the lady invites us inside. This is a first. A woman with nothing to offer offers us the shade of her home.  Grace–an invitation into her four square walls of grey concrete–in an ungracious land.
There are 3 buckets. Buckets are such a commodity here. As we traveled, I had seen wooden chair frames on the side of a road—hand crafted. But I have yet to see a home with a stick of wooden furniture inside.  Not one.  So a bucket?  A bucket is like gold.  When we painted a house, I walked around with a 5 gallon bucket in my hand and a parade of hopeful Haitians vying for that bucket once the paint was gone.  She offers us her buckets, and we politely sit on the concrete.  They always offer their best.
We circle around while she tells us about her life. Four of them live in the room—no bigger than 250 square feet. When we ask what her husband does, her eyes shift and glisten slightly and then recover. She doesn’t want us to see her pain.
He recently began to sell juice in the market. He got a loan, bought the juice and sold it. He was doing well. It provided food for their family. But this morning, when he rose at 1am to go to the juice seller, he was jumped. Men who knew what he was doing followed him, robbed him of his cash, and left him.
Now they have no juice.
They have no money to pay the loan back.
And they have no way to start over.
Over a week’s wages are lost.
I can’t imagine how I would have responded to this.
But for her, it is just a rainy night to wait-out under a short overhang.
It is a suffering to endure.
And I just keep thinking of grace—that gift that washes over the parched places in a life of drought.
And I want to wash over Haiti with fresh, cool grace.
We gave the local pastor the money we had with us—it was enough to cover half the loan. She will understand it came from the local church and hopefully she will go to the church, give grace a chance.
But in my heart, I know it’s not enough.
I know I can’t look at concrete box after concrete box, like tombs for the living, and forget. When we were driving the first day, perched like a hobbit hole on a hillside was a small shanty filled with coffins.
Coffins. Coffins for the dead.
But these people should not be in tombs while they live.
They thirst—these people.  In so many ways. And we have so much grace to share.
And grace is Jesus in Word AND Deed.

And from HIS FULLNESS we have all received GRACE UPON GRACE–John 1:16

I remember that fullness is an overflowing abundance in the original Greek language.  And I think in my heart–even in this place where widows wash for pennies and men rise at 1am to buy juice to sell in market there is grace.

Grace isn’t the presence of comfort.  It IS COMFORT that is ALWAYS PRESENT. It flows down and covers the parched, the raw, the cracked, the rough.  It soothes inside the soul–heals from the inside out. And I’ve received an overflowing outpouring of grace from my Savior–enough to share.

Enough to share.

 

The Haiti Blogs: Friends Plant Trees

It is tree planting day. We have sent the money over from the states to buy trees from local growers; they are ready when we arrive. Mango, almond, cherry, and coconut. All trees that give food and nourishment as well as shade. In a country where the sun beats down like an angry tyrant and brown bellies are fat from undernourishment, a tree offers hope for the future.
Not uniform like American greenhouses provide—the trees were a variety of heights and thicknesses. There is no brand evident, no watering instructions or recommended sun levels on a plastic label–just trees some native has managed to grow and sell for their livelihood.

The Village Champion tells us the trees will provide nourishment, shade, and hope.  So very like our Savior.  They are a physical image of the invisible Tree of Life.

We will dig deep in hard, thirsty soil. It requires pick-axes to break through.
We unload the bus and carried the trees in an assembly line through a maze of block houses, garbage piles, goats, and the occasional pig. The village reminds me of the corn mazes you see during the fall harvest season—you walk in behind a cactus wall, round a corner and see a cement box. It’s a home. Its yard is a combination of dirt mounds, the occasional plant, a goat or two, maybe a pile of garbage, a small pit for cooking, and then you round another corner, another cactus fence, another box made of blocks, and on and on. An endless maze of poverty with no apparent way out. If I wasn’t with natives, I’d  be entirely lost in five minutes. There are no real roads once you get into these communities—just beaten down paths to match the beaten down lives. Lives as dry and void of nourishment as the soil we hammered with our pick axes to break open.
The real soil we are looking to break open is not the soil in the ground. It is their soul soil. Souls so hardened from thirst, so hungry for love, for hope—for a tiny trickle of water in a parched life.
DSC_0405We think we are carrying trees, but really?
Really, we carry hope.
I remember Elizabeth Smart telling the story of her desperate thirst when she had been abducted. She so longed for a tiny bit of cool water and one night, while her captors were sleeping beside her, a cool cup of water appeared. She believes it to be a miraculous gift from God to this day.
A gift from the God Who Sees—the one who saw Hagar in her suffering and introduced Himself as El Roi.
The God Who Sees.
He sees these Haitian people too. He sees their thirst for some tiny refreshment. And so we bring them a tree, and we pray it opens the door for the local pastors–a determined, faithful, hardy lot–to continue to give them living Hope.
While some are digging holes, others of us ask if we can sit and visit. We want to dig a little hole into their heart—make a spot to plant a seed. We ask about their lives. I ask one lady about her children. She says she had one gason (a son), but he didn’t survive. She is young, and I can see from her home that if he had been ill, she could never have afforded any medical care. I can see in the deep onyx pools that are windows to her heart—she has suffered loss.
I think of heaven—this place where her son waits to see her again. I ask her about heaven—will she go there?
She doesn’t know.
She thinks if she is good, stays out of jail, and behaves she may go to heaven.
I ask if I can tell her a story about another person who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.
She wants to hear. We talk for twenty minutes, maybe half an hour. It’s all new to her. It’s a different way of thinking—this idea that Jezi loves her so much that He would give His life to pay her debt? It’s foreign to her.
But her eyes light. She’s thinking about it.
She’s thinking about this little seed of hope planted in her hungry heart.
The people go to a common pump near a school yard for water. They carry it in any container they can find. She has a bucket ready with water once the tree is planted. I watched as they poured the five gallon bucket of water over the roots of the soil. I pray their souls will drink Living Water.

DSC_0394
There are dozens we talk with today. They come out of their box homes and stand in doorways watching us curiously. They’re not sure they can trust us.
I understand. I wouldn’t feel safe were I in their shoes. One lady sits and answers our questions patiently. We truly want to know about their life, their needs, their hopes, their hurts. So I sit on the ground while she sits on a make-shift bench, and the group semi-circles. We plant ourselves in the dirt wanting somehow to place our own love and lives as roots in their soil.
We tell them they honor us by inviting us into their yards. They honor us by letting us sit with them.
One lady grins big and says, “I feel you are my friends because you sit with me on the ground.”
And I wonder if people have made her feel less than others because she is a poor, Haitian woman who roasts peanuts and mashes them into peanut butter to make enough money to feed her family.  Because if this is true, then they have not truly seen this incredible woman.
I look at her there—squatting on a board held up by cinder blocks, and I know I’m the one who is blessed with the honor of calling this determined, resourceful woman friend.
Friend.

Zanmi in Creole.
A word Jesus called his disciples one time.
He said this, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
It sounds so nice, doesn’t it? The idea of laying down one’s life. Such a sweet thought—Jesus did it for us, right?
But then He adds, “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
Do
What
I
Command
You are my Zanmi if you do as I command.

Through this Haitian lens—children running around with torn shirts and no underwear or pants, school teachers using a sugar-cane switch on the palms of little boys’ hands, bodies with scars that whisper of past pain, women with no husbands, and a world where the average life-span of a man in the city is 54 years old—the Christian life becomes more simple.
Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. He that loves not, knows not God for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another. (I John 4:7,8)
And love, for the believer is giving life.
Because God is love and God is life.
There is physical life, and there is soul life.
And the Christian life is about giving both.
Sharing the truth and sharing the tree.
Sharing real water and living water.
Sharing real food and Bread of life.
And tonight, I’m left asking myself:
Am I DOING what HE commands? What part of my life should I be laying down for these new friends? These Zanmis.
Dear, North American beloved, let us love one another in word and in deed.
Amen.

DSC_0402

The Haiti Blogs: Paint The Color Of Life

There is no road to her residence, so we park the bus and walk.   Laden with plastic buckets of paint, brushes and rollers, we are ready to paint an entire house.
And by house, I mean a cinder block box divided into two rooms that combined are not bigger than my dining room. The outside of the home is covered in a scaly, rough concrete mixture that makes painting nearly impossible by American standards.
Before we unload, the twenty-one of us, eager and chomping to get started, the Village Champion asks to speak with us. The bus is sweltering unless you are in motion. We are dripping with sweat, but we listen attentively.  The Creole words lilt off his tongue like a soft lullaby.
“Please look at the house. Look at the house now before you do the painting. Take the photo. Take the photos so you can see the transformation. So you can see the before and the after. It will be an amazing transformation.” He’s talking about more than the house. They have to slow us down, these Haitians.  We come ready to work, but they see that the work needs to be done in us.    This champion of his people knows that we’re doing more than transforming a concrete structure.  He wants us to know it too.
Anyone who knows me knows I love to take a picture or two, so being instructed to do so is a marching order I can seriously wrap my head around. I snap outside the home careful to step over the dirty diaper on the ground, the plastic bottles, and the puddles. Children crowd around my legs like puppies curious to see the camera. I push my way into the home dodging paint buckets and people. People everywhere. I have no idea who actually lives in the home.


I make it to the center of the first room in one step. One step.  Literally. On a plastic table there is a stackable tray with a container for water and a few other kitchen items. In three more steps, I am in the second room. In the center, on bone-grey blocks of concrete, is what appears to be a mattress. On the mattress , covered by a blanket, are the remainder of the family’s belongings. All on one mattress.
DSC_0263To balance as I stepp over a person pouring out creamy paint, I place my hand on the mattress. It feels like canvas covering springs and sticks. I have no idea what the mattress has in it, but it’s not like anything I’ve ever slept on . . . or would ever.
And I am poising myself to take this photo when it hits me.
This is it, Sarah. Their entire life fits on a mattress and a plastic table. You just photographed their entire life.
But it’s God’s Word that says, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. . .” Luke 12:15
And apparently in Haiti, that’s a good thing.
Since there’s not abundance to be had when it comes to things.
We paint all morning. There are moments I’ll savor sweet in my heart for years. When I round the corner at the back of the house to the sound of soft singing. Our students and leaders singing to Jesus while they paint. Singing while sweat slips silently down their necks and maroon paint covers the bleak grey of cement. Singing about the one who gives real life. And gives it abundantly.
Because when you’re standing in the middle of what appears to be rubble, when you can smell sewage because there is no outhouse, let alone bathroom, when you see mounds of garbage where yards and swing-sets should be, when you realize you haven’t seen a single toy in two days, when people follow you for hours hoping against hope that maybe they’ll be lucky enough to get the empty paint bucket when you are done, when you see just what NOTHING really looks like? Somehow you begin to see what life isn’t.
And it isn’t the stuff.
It isn’t the blue floor in my kitchen back home or the unfinished basement that taunts me for not completing it so my boys have separate bedrooms.
It isn’t my degree.
It isn’t my income.
It isn’t my retirement plan.
It isn’t even my husband or my boys.
Life?  Life, it turns out, is this person the Haitian people call JEZI.
JEZI—Jesus.
It’s Him who is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
It’s Him who came that we might have LIFE and we might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
Those words about life? They are His Words.
And it’s not this Haitian home that needs transformation.
Not really.
While we paint that house to give a better life,
God paints our souls to restore REAL LIFE.
The transformation I photograph is a grey cinder-block box turned into a cream and maroon home.
The transformation I need is the one in my soul.
The Haitian nation may need physical transformation,
But I think it’s us—the North Americans—that need real transformation.
Spiritual transformation.
As we circle our group tonight—our precious, courageous, determined teens and leaders—they share their thoughts.
Some ache for the child who just wanted someone to give him a single shirt.
Others ache for the masses of children that begged us to sponsor them to go to school or just wanted any token we had on us—a hair bow, a water bottle, a container of hand sanitizer.
Others are angry at the government failures.
There is talk about where they actually go to the bathroom. The answer?  Anywhere they can as far off from their homes as possible.  That’s the truth.
And we talk about how they love the name of our church—House of Prayer.
They hear the name and take it literally, that we are a HOUSE built for PRAYER.
But one student’s comments grip me.
“We are held to a higher level of accountability now,” he said. “We are the rich man now. And it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
And he’s right. And I’ve never seen myself as the rich man.
But now Jezi’s words are crystal clear. Like a fog has been lifted. When Jesus told that man to sell all that he had and the man walked away said it was too hard?
I could be that man. I AM that man.
Today a man hobbles by us asking for help. His foot is covered in blood; his ankle is wrapped in a dirty rag.

foot 2
My husband sits him down while I start sifting through our medical bag to see what we have to help him. Underneath the dirty swath of ripped clothe, there is a jagged cut on the man’s ankle packed with grass and dirt and flapping skin. Jeff flushes and cleans the wound and it bleeds profusely.
Blood dripping off the man, his eyes squinting shut in pain, and I’m holding his shoulder and praying over him.
And this nation is no different. It’s a nation bleeding profusely.
And we’ve seen the blood.
We’re accountable for this knowledge.
We’re responsible now regardless of how we respond.
Not one person in the entire village could even offer the man a clean clothe let alone a bandage. We are the last stop on the way out of the village. No one had been able to help him because there are just no resources. The people have nothing. NOTHING.
We treat him as best we can. Disinfected the wound. Place clean packing on the wound and wrap it thoroughly.
It isn’t enough, but it is all we can offer.
We do what we can in this sacred moment when this Haitian is our neighbor.
Now I’m asking Jesus, “What can I do about the bleeding of this nation? Transform me, Jesus. Paint my soul so that when people see the outside of me, they see the color of you. The color of LIFE.”

He is right, that Village Champion–a transformation would take place today.  The transforming of a heart that needs to decrease so Christ may increase.
Amen.

block house finished

The Haiti Blogs: Unlocking Doors

 

lock

He pulls the double doors closed and latches them tight.  Sliding the silver Masterlock through the link, he clicks it shut.

A locked door.

He is the prosthetic intern, Peter from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who has guided us through the lab where legs are built and lives are made whole again–a lab where hope is prescribed one prosthetic at a time.

And I’m struck by the door.  The locked door.  Behind it are the tools, the resources, the skills, and the knowledge needed to craft new lives for the crippled people of Haiti. In a country with between 8 and 10,000 amputees and only 2 clinics left on the ground, Mission of Hope’s Prosthetic Lab–offering care entirely free–is a literal life-line.  It is evening now, and the lab is quiet, but at daybreak, the lock will be loosed, patients will come through those doors, and their lives will be restored.

So much is behind locked doors for the Haitian people.

How do we loose the locks?

What really is the key?

It’s a question greater minds, minds with doctorates and degrees and days and months and years logged in the trenches of this nation, have delved into and dissected far longer than I.  Yet simple me still asks it.

What is the key to loosing the lock to hope for Haiti?

The obvious answers are money, skills, organizations, boots on the ground.  And it all counts.  It’s all necessary.  All of it.  Food, water, housing.  All legitimate components in an equation so complex many have given up solving it and returned to the comfort of North America.

But the nation of Haiti still bleeds.

While we ask and discuss and attempt, this nation, Haiti, she bleeds the blood of hungry children and desperate mothers who sell themselves to put rice in a chipped pot over a charcoal fire.

And for me the question is really more personal.  I’m not large enough or great enough to solve a national crisis.  But what about one family?  Could I help unlock the doors for just one family?

I sit by a woman on a 4 inch plank of weathered wood held up by cement blocks.  Her hair is like a black dandelion gone to seed and her eyes are pools of liquid licorice.

DSC_0423.JPGGason osinon fi?
These are my broken Creole words for Do you have a son or daughter?

Wi. Gason. Men petit la mouri. Yes, a son, but he is dead.

The translator helps her explain to me that her baby boy died one month ago.  And I take her hand in mine and squeeze because even a translator cannot express what my hand gripping hers says.  I am broken-hearted for you, with you.  I am desperately grieved that you had no way to get medical care for your baby.  I hear the ache in your soul for the child of your womb, and it is a language all mothers speak.  Our eyes both fill with salty tears.

With that one sentence–Yes, a son, but he is dead–she tells me the same as Jeremiah.

I am a man who has seen affliction. (Lam. 3:1)

And her affliction is not solvable by my  short visit and the planting of a mango tree in her yard.  Her affliction is not eased by the building of a block house.  It won’t be eased by the drilling of a well or digging of a latrine.  She has buried a baby.  I think of my North American friends who have done the same.  I remember a white casket the length of my arm some 14 years ago–the child of our beloved friends laid in earth’s soil while heaven holds her sweet soul.  I remember those tears and groans and grief.  Is this woman’s grief any less because she had no casket and no hospital and no flowers to place on an unmarked grave?

Hers is the ache of soul that only the Balm of Gilead can sooth.

We have to understand this–those who want to help.

Help is hands and help is feet and help is money and help is going and help is praying and help is giving.  It must be all those things.

But HOPE?  HOPE?

Hope is Jesus Christ.

And Jeremiah knew this.  He understood how we must all frame desperate situations.

Remember my impoverished and homeless condition which is a bitter poison.  I continually think about this, and I am depressed.

But this I call to mind; therefore I have hope:

The Lord’s loyal kindness never ceases; his compassions never end.  They are fresh every morning; your faithfulness is abundant!  My portion is the Lord, I have said to myself, so I will put my hope in Him (Lamentations 3)

We may be the hands that unlock the door, but the key is always Jesus Christ.

If helping and solving are our pursuit–our chief aim, then our efforts will always be limited to our understanding of the world’s problems, but if we make the fame of Jesus Christ our soul pursuit, then our lives will only be limited by the size of our Savior’s compassion and faithfulness.  And they are abundantly infinite.

In pursuing His fame, we pursue a limitless God.

We pursue limitless compassion.

We pursue limitless Living Water.

We pursue limitless peace.

We pursue limitless healing.

As long as we  have breath, if our aim is to use it for the praise of His Name, then we will faithfully, fervently and without pause pursue the very key that will unlock all the doors for this precious, bleeding nation.

It is not enough to care.  It is not enough to be broken-hearted.  It is not enough to have gone.

ONLY GOD is EL-SHADDAI–The God WHO IS ENOUGH.

If we want to do ENOUGH, we must pursue ENOUGH–El Shaddai.

If we click on a link and donate fifty dollars or five-thousand dollars, we have unlocked the door for one moment, one day, perhaps.  But the money will be spent, and the door will be locked again for the night.

The only way the doors can be flung wide open and left for all the lame, for all the sick, for all hurting is if those of us who say we are followers of Christ truly begin to do just that–

FOLLOW CHRIST.

We’re made in His image–made to the bare the image of the God who IS LOVE.  We’re made to reflect HIM.  Made to make HIM famous.  That’s our purpose.  It’s a tricky thing–our purpose is not to help, helping is the natural and continual overflow of a human being who truly understands their purpose–glorifying God.

Piper says, “If the pursuit of God’s glory is not ordered above the pursuit of man’s good in the affections of the heart and the priorities of the church, man will not be well served, and God will not be duly honored.  I am not pleading for a diminishing of missions but for a magnifying of God.” (Let The Nations Be Glad, 38)

If God is fully magnified in my life, missions and helping will always be the fruit.

Piper goes on to say, “Where passion for God is weak, zeal for missions will be weak.  Churches that are not centered on the exaltation of the majesty and beauty of God will scarcely kindle a fervent desire to “declare his glory among the nations.”  Even outsiders feel the disparity between the boldness of our claim upon the nations and the blandness of our engagement with God.” (Let The Nations Be Glad, 36)

In other words, if there are still homeless and hungry, if there are still sex-trafficked and slave-labored, if there are still blue-tent houses and cardboard boxes, if there are still drug addicted and orphaned, then God is no longer the central pursuit of the Church of Jesus Christ.

The solution is not government.  As a Christian, I refuse to blame a president or a congress or even a school system for the aching world in which I live before first examining my own heart.

I have to simply look in the mirror and ask this one question–Is the reflection I see there that of my Savior’s heart?

Because Jesus Christ is enough for all the needs of all the nations.

Jesus Christ is the key to unlock all the doors.

I need to be conformed to His image and in so doing, I can be used over and over to unlock the doors.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1,2)

I was afraid I would go to Haiti and see the ache and walk away moved for a season but not a lifetime.

It’s a real possibility.

And I see that if I just attempt to help, I will grow weary over time.  But if I seek to simply worship God–acknowledge the worth of God by making Him famous–I’ll always be part of the solution, always a part of that which is good and acceptable and perfect . . . a part of unloosing the locks.

lock