Monday, December 31, 2012

The ABCs - Abundant Blessings of Christmas

Ah.... Christmas has come and gone once again.

But, this year's Christmas will be remembered forever!  It was so very different from past Christmases.

We were amazingly blessed by the gift of a trip to Florida to relax and spend time with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and nieces.  I had high hopes of being able to blog every single day and upload all the photos I wanted to, without any internet limitations.  Alas, the $9.99 fee per day per device at the hotel meant that that didn't happen.

So, now I'm sitting at the airport waiting for our flight back to Haiti and taking advantage of the wi-fi here.  

Let's look back a week or so...

We spent Christmas Eve day at Cormier Beach in Haiti with our good friends and neighbors, the Ayars family, including their dad/grandpa, who was visiting.  Danielle had been sick earlier in the month...then Mark...and Naomy caught it, too.  She was still not at all herself on Christmas Eve day.  She fell asleep on Mark's lap in the shade and that's when I knew we needed to try a round of antibiotics.  Did you know that our dear friends, Steph and Jamey Hancock back in Bloomington bless us more than they know by being our on-call, answer-any-question-at-any-time-of-night-or-day nurse and doctor?  

I gave her the first dose of amoxicillin that night and she was already showing improvement on Christmas morning. Whew.

82 degrees and sunny at the beach on Christmas Eve, with a light breeze. Fun was had by all (even Naomy).





Many, many years ago, my mom and dad went on a Marriage Encounter weekend.  Through all of these years and more challenges, blessings, tragedies, and joys than can be counted, their Marriage Encounter group of couples has faithfully met every month.  I remember going to the group's Christmas party each December as a child... Mrs. Patchis' birthday cake for Baby Jesus...singing carols...eating too many cookies.  At some point in their history together, the group began "adopting a family" for Christmas each year.  Can you guess who they "adopted" this year?

Us!

It's hard to describe how it feels to watch your children open gifts that were chosen, purchased, and sent to them by wonderful, caring people who love them from so very far away.  It was a very special morning.  We were all quite overwhelmed by their generosity and love.  




We've just been called to board the plane.... so, I'll have to finish this post later!  Sorry for the interruption...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Stinky Wooden Manger

I've been leading my girls through an Advent study called "Truth in the Tinsel."  Each day, we read a small piece of the Nativity story in the Bible and talk about it, and then wrap it up with a simple craft we do together.  This week one of the days was about the manger.

I think that particular day's study grabbed my kids' hearts as strongly as it grabbed mine.

We read Luke 2:1-7, focusing on verse 7--"She gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

Kid 2: "Mommy, what's an inn?"

Me: "It's like a hotel where people stay when they travel. It's like a hotel. Do you remember why it was so full of people?"

Kid 1: "Yeah, because of the senses."

Me: "Right--the census--all the people had to be counted."

Kid 2: "Why did she wrap her baby in cloths?"

Me: "Probably because she didn't have a soft blanket for him."

Kid 2: "What's a manger?"

Me: "It's a wooden box-like thing that people use to feed animals like horses and pigs."

Kid 2: "Why would she put him in there?  It was probably stinky."

Yeah, it probably was.  Day in and day out, some farmer slopped animal food in there for the creatures that lived in his stable.  I'm sure it wasn't sanitized.  It wasn't soft and cozy.  Perhaps being in Haiti has given us some added perspective on this part of the Christmas story.  We know those dusty roads like the ones Joseph and Mary traveled on.  We have seen the crowded city with sewage on the streets.  Wandering pigs, goats, horses, dogs and ROOSTERS are commonplace here and we have come to recognize their sounds and smell.  Maybe all of this brought this verse to life for us this week.

I talked with them about their baby bed and how it compared to Jesus' manger.  It was easy for them to remember their crib--it's the same one their little sister sleeps in.  Soft mattress.  Clean sheet.  Cozy blanket.  They'd still climb in there if I let them!

Jesus' glory was hidden at the time of his birth--except for a few people.  Mary was one of them.  How did she feel laying her babe in a smelly animal trough, knowing he was the Son of God--her own Savior?

Did she feel guilty?  Inadequate?  Panicked?  Unprepared?

Was she like so many other mothers in the world who hurt to their core when their child suffers?  Did she have any inkling of the depth of suffering he would endure in his lifetime?

My littlest one is fighting a virus right now.  Fever.  Diarrhea. Vomiting. General yuckyness.  When I hold her little too-warm body in my arms, I ache deep inside.  I want to take it away and I feel so helpless.

But, I am comforted in knowing that she's a healthy little 2 year old with a strong immune system.  In another day or two, she'll be back to her normal, joyful self.

What about moms who have children who are sick and won't get better?  What about the ones in Connecticut who buried their children this week?  What about the mothers here in Haiti (and other places in the world) who wake every day with anxiety because they're not sure if they'll be able to put food in their babies' hungry tummies?

Surely, God had a plan for Jesus' arrival in the humblest of conditions.  His humanness speaks to our souls.  He suffered, as we suffer.  He KNOWS our pain--he's been here.

Praying tonight for all of us moms who are hurting for our children.

Luke 2:16 "The shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning all that had been told to them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed."


My little sheep from this week's school Christmas program.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Waiting

Wait and see.  What are you waiting for?  Just you wait.  Hurry up and wait.
Wait for it...wait for it....

“How much of human life is lost in waiting?” -Ralph Waldo Emmerson

My dad once told me that I was born without a fast gene.  You know, the gene that enables people to move and act at high speeds. 

I don’t have that.  I pretty much go at one, slow and steady pace.  I’ll always finish the race once I start it, but I will take my time getting there.

For the most part, the slower-paced Carribean lifestyle suits me.  But, even I get frustrated with how loooooong it takes to get things done, to get from here to there, to get my email to load....blah, blah, blah.

I’ve been studying Advent with my high school Bible class students, and it seems to me that, in some cases at least, my friend Mr. Emmerson got it wrong in his quote above.  

There is much to be gained in the waiting sometimes.

My students and I have been talking about what Advent is and why it was originally observed.  My research says that Advent is sometimes called a “little Lent.”  A time for purifying and preparing to receive the gift of Christmas.  

People haven’t always started celebrating Christmas before Thanksgiving.  They didn’t go to parties all through December, chugging eggnog and devouring endless tins of cookies.  

Instead, they fasted in the days leading up to Christmas.  They simplified.  They quieted.   They anticipated.

They waited. 

When Christmas Eve finally arrived, the celebration was worth the wait.  They chopped down their tree and brought it in for decorating.  They prepared a feast.  It was time to indulge!

How sad that now we get to Christmas day and feel “burned out” on festivities.  We lament that we’ve gained a few pounds from all the goodies we’ve devoured.  We are annoyed by all the decorations about the house.

My “Jesus Calling” reading for today spoke straight to me regarding these things I’ve been pondering--mentioned my name, in fact!

“I am working on your behalf.  Bring Me all your concerns, including your dreams.  Talk with Me about everything, letting the Light of My Presence shine on your hopes and plans.  Spend time allowing My Light to infuse your dreams with life, gradually transforming them into reality.  This is a very practical way of collaborating with Me.  I, the Creator of the universe, have deigned to co-create with you.  Do not try to hurry this process.  If you want to work with Me, you have to accept My time frame.  Hurry is not in My nature.  Abraham and Sarah had to wait many years for the fulfillment of my promise, a son.  How their long wait intensified their enjoyment of this child! Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses.” (Psalm 36:9; Genesis 21:1-7; Hebrews 11:1)

Ha! So, I have something in common with my Creator!  Neither of us likes to hurry. 

But seriously...

Let’s not make a waste of waiting.


Here, we get to wait for caterpillars to turn into butterflies all year round!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Something that Grace Says


I’ve loved reading from the moment I learned how.  I’m often reading as many as five different books at a time, transitioning between them as my moods and needs change.  And then, sometimes, I get so “into” a good book that it gets my complete attention and all the others are temporarily put on hold while I finish it.

I’m reading one of those right now.  It’s called “The House at Riverton” by Kate Morton.  For all of you Downton Abbey addicts, this story might just tide you over as you await the next season (which, for many of you, is coming in January and for me, will be much longer).

The main character is an old woman named Grace, who served as a lady’s maid at a big house when she was young.  Grace has spunk and an independent attitude that reminds me of my grandma (yes, that’s you, GG--ILYTM). 

I could go on and on about this book, but you will enjoy the story immensely more if you just buy and read it yourself.

Instead, there is one short excerpt that I want to share and reflect on...  Grace is talking about how wars fool us into thinking that history has clear turning points--milestones that we can pin into place.  People say things like, “Before WW2, life was like this...”  “After the war, things were different....”  If Grace was a real person and I was chatting with her, I would point out that many events--not just wars--have that effect: 9/11, the fall of Osama Bin Laden, the iPhone...

Then, she says:
True history, the past, is not like that.  It isn’t flat or linear.  It has no outline.  It is slippery, like liquid; infinite and unknowable, like space.  And it is changeable: just when you think you see a pattern, perspective shifts, an alternative version if proffered, a long-forgotten memory resurfaces...
In real life, turning points are sneaky. They pass by unlabeled and unheeded.  Opportunities are missed, catastrophes unwittingly celebrated.  Turning points are only uncovered later, by historians who seek to bring order to a lifetime of tangled moments.

I’ve read and re-read those paragraphs over and over...

I think I agree.

Real life turning points ARE sneaky.  There are some you see coming--you think they’re going to be the ones that change everything for you: a graduation, a job, a baby, retirement.  Others blindside you with no warning, like getting fired or the sudden loss of a loved one.  But maybe we can’t accurately label the milestones of our lives until we’re much older and we have some distance from those events... Maybe it’s impossible to label them when we’re in the midst of them.

I wonder how I’ll classify this time I’ve spent in Haiti when I’m 92?  

I can tell you how I’m feeling day to day.  I can blog about the struggles.  I can describe the suffering, poverty and heartache I’m witnessing.  I can relate the joys and small victories (sometimes they seem ever so teensy). I can even share the sting of the lessons I’m learning--the chiseling God’s doing on my heart and soul.

But I can’t see from where I am the bigger picture--the wider imprint Haiti is leaving on the story of my life.  

How is it changing me forever?  What will never be the same for my family?  How is He going to use every bit of all of this to accomplish His will?  Where will I go from here?

Maybe you’re living through a turning point yourself right now.  Maybe you’re asking some of these questions, too...

Or, maybe this is all too deep for you because you’ve got cards to get in the mail, a Christmas shopping list that keeps growing longer, and cookies in the oven...


It’s getting late and I know I’m tired.  So, for now, I’ll try to quiet my brain and stop the swirl of questions and ponderings.  Maybe I’ve got enough energy left for another chapter or two with Grace.


Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas is Coming...Even in Haiti.


Is it really Christmas-time?  It’s hard to tell here.  It’s 80 degrees and sunny.  There’s no cold wind or snow.  No one bustling about in their coats, hats, and mittens.  There’s no need for those adorable scarves I’m seeing on my North American facebook friends...  There are no shopping malls all lit up with tinsel and twinkling lights, with Salvation Army bell ringers ringing away at the doors.  My kids won’t be watching at the frosty door for loved ones to arrive. My neighborhood is not aglow after dark with bright lights in all colors and styles.  There’s no fire in the fireplace and I don’t feel like cocooning inside layers of cozy blankets when I crawl into bed at night.
Naomy blowing bubbles in the sunshine yesterday.
For the most part, I can’t tell that Christmas is coming in Haiti.  

To give credit, I did see a Christmas tree in a little market store the other day.  And, there was a decorated tree in the Haitian church we worshipped in last week.  Our missionary neighbors have their home decorated--nativity and all--and our kids got to make Christmas cookies a few days ago.  The sounds of rehearsing for the Christmas program at school have been delightful, too!

I go back and forth between missing all the lights and Christmas “buzz” back at home and feeling a little... I dunno... relieved--is that the word?--yes, relieved that I don’t have to endure the onslaught of commercialism, Black Friday violence, and over-the-top Christmas chaos.  I don’t have lists of gifts to buy and wrap and I’m not scrambling to put together fancy cards to send out to friends and family (sorry, everyone--it’s just too complicated to get done from here!).
Danielle's drawing--as you can see, she remembers what last Christmas looked like!
We get to make this Christmas our own and we get to focus on the reason we celebrate it in the first place.  We borrowed a string of lights and a 12 inch tree from our friends.  We made some ornaments from cardstock that are hanging from the ceiling in the family room.  Our advent calendar and study are ready to go for December 1.  We have been pouring over uplifting messages from friends and family, reading Christmas-y books together in the evenings and drinking hot chocolate whenever the temperatures dip low enough to make it enjoyable.  We play all kinds of Christmas music from our laptops as much as possible.

And in the moments when this season feels too quiet, I’m trying to remember that it must have been this quiet long ago just before Jesus arrived as a babe.  No one knew what was coming except for maybe Mary and Joseph.  There was no excitement, no celebration, no “hustle and bustle.”  

Sometimes, calm and quiet isn’t so bad.  I have a feeling this Christmas will still somehow be remembered as a very special one.

Isaiah 9:6-7  “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Thoughts

So, Thanksgiving has come and gone!  Before November is out the door, I wanted to remark on a few things I'm thankful for...

1. I am so thankful for friends from home who donated copies of "James and the Giant Peach" for my 5th/6th grade class!  We were nearing the end of the book last Wednesday, when the clock said Reading class was over.  The students pleaded with their homeroom teacher, Mr. R. to continue--we had only three more chapters!  I think Mr. R. wanted to hear the ending, too.  So, we read through to the ending, which was met by a big round of applause.  They wanted to know if there was any type of monument in NYC's Central Park that gave a nod to the story and I couldn't answer--I've never been there!  (Readers, do any of you know?)

Reading "James" has been so exciting!  I have been so happy with how engaged the students have been.  We've even been watching segments of the movie and talking about how it compares.  And, we've talked a lot about the character James and how he has transformed throughout the story.  I think it's so fitting since many of them--at age 11-ish--are starting to change and grow themselves.

We're going to keep the Roald Dahl momentum going by reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" next.

The 3rd/4th grade class is about halfway through "Mr. Popper's Penguins" and we have a laugh every day as we read.

2. I'm thankful that God's been listening to my one-word prayers for my three kiddos.  Danielle hasn't yet failed to meet a new challenge with bravery--and those challenges present themselves weekly, at least.  Elli has been conquering new tasks toward more self-sufficiency left and right!

She has mastered tying her shoes!

She's showing lots of improvement in cleaning up after herself and taking care of her belongings.

She is exploring on her own and bringing home lots of treasures...


And, she's reading!

Naomy makes new discoveries every day and talks and talks (and talks and talks) all about them to whoever is willing to listen.  She is most excited lately about a) the helicopters and planes that she sees "flyin' in da sky!" and b) her achievements on the potty.  She's on Day 6 with no accidents and is even staying dry through the nights!  Her discoveries keep all of us very busy... and sometimes, I wonder if I need to make her prayer weekly--rather than daily???  Just yesterday, she "discovered" what blue chalk looks like on the outside wall of the house...and even as I scrubbed it off this morning, she "discovered" what it looks like on the tile floor inside!!  Gaaaah!  (Then, she "discovered" the reaction that mess got out of mommy and "discovered" what a spank on the bottom feels like!)

3. I'm thankful for new friends in Haiti who share their wisdom and experience, hearty laughs, can openers, a Thanksgiving meal, and loads of encouragement as we struggle through life here.  And, I'm ever-so grateful for friends from home who never stop letting me know they love me and miss me.  My "Haiti-8" team from our March trip to Port-au-Prince gave me a call the night before Thanksgiving and it was oh-so encouraging to hear their voices and laughter.   Thank you, friends.  Thank you, God, for my friends!

2 Corinthians 9:10 "God who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Catching Up

Back in October when J Sniff and Adam Provance were here, they spent part of a day at Cowman International School doing basketball lessons with the students.  It's been a while since then, but the kids here are STILL talking about "when the coaches were here."  I've been wanting to show you these pictures for a while, but haven't had internet access to be able to upload them until now.  So, here they are!





There are lots of visiting teams here in Haiti right now.  The hot weather of the summer has past and temperatures are very comfortable now.  I'm amazed at all the different projects I see going on...  Farming projects...  house building (Mark L, the house your team built in October looks great!), education projects, well drilling and repairing, women's conferences, and much more.  

I think the presence of these teams is enormously encouraging.  Thank you to all of you who have been here to serve on a team and to all of you who have supported a team financially or otherwise.  What's especially inspiring are the projects that aim to truly partner with and empower Haitians so that they can continue the work themselves once the teams have gone home.  

Proverbs 16:3 "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Road Less Traveled

I went for a run tonight.  
Oh, yes, friends in North America.  A run.  In shorts and a t-shirt.  In the warm Carribbean air.  
I've been oh-so jealous of the autumn weather you've been enjoying, but now it's getting a little winterish, right?  You can feel the sharpness of the cold mornings telling you winter is right there knocking at the door.  Maybe you've even had the first snow already?  
Not here.  It was 81 degrees and gloriously sunny today with a perfect breeze.  
And I went for a late afternoon run.

Ahhhh.  Just me and that dirt road, with Jason Aldean singing to me through my headphones.
Well, me and the cows, roosters, and goats.  Maybe a stray motorbike or two.

Here's the Running Road.

It winds around through trees and pastures and has a fairly steep hill that gives the course a little extra challenge.  When you get to the top of the hill, you're rewarded with a beautiful view of the mountains. 


And today I noticed the gate.  Off on the right side of the road at the top of the hill--there it was.  
A wooden gate to nowhere.  It was charming. 


Just after I took this photo of the gate, I headed back down the hill and toward home as some dark clouds began to roll in.  I had my music playing softly because on the roads here, one must be alert to motorbikes that approach, because a) they don't exactly take a lot of care to avoid hitting pedestrians and b) they tend to drive erratically from one side of the road to the other, depending on the potholes.  So, I noticed right away when I heard foot steps on the road with me.  

Not one set of foot steps.  Not two.  Five.  And they were keeping up with my stride.  A quick glance over my shoulder put me at ease--it was children.  Smiling, happy, curious children.  They ran with me for a while, and then asked me to slow down. 

They spoke to me in Creole.  What is your name?  Where do you live?  Are you married? They wanted to examine my watch...my headphones...my phone.  One boy told me my hair was pretty as he touched it.  I answered all their questions and asked a few of my own (in Creole!):  What are your names?  What is in your bag?  Are you all in the same family?
  
Yes, they were siblings.  I can't remember all their names now, but one was Johnson Joseph.  They had bread in their bag and they were headed home.  

They let me take their photograph and they laughed when I showed it to them.  

I told them I would pray for God to bless them.

Then, instead of asking me for food or money, THEY started giving ME gifts.  
First, they gave me a small bag of rolls.  Then, as we continued on down the road, one boy asked me if I like mangoes.  When I said yes, he told me to wait and he promptly shimmied up and then down a nearby tree and brought enough fresh mangos for each of his siblings and a few for me.

We reached the main road and they motioned that they were going to the right.  I was headed to the left.  "Ovwa!" they said, with smiles and waves.  And off they went.



Aren't they precious?  
I had set out hoping for some time alone, but reached home thankful for my newfound running buddies.  They blessed me with much more than bread and mangoes!


Hebrews 12:1  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ti Kay!

Romans 8:26 "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with utterances that words cannot express."

We've moved!  Here is our new little ti kay (little house).  We were doing okay in our other house here in Haiti, but it was a lot of work every day to generate our own power and maintain a tolerable water supply.  And, when I say a lot of work, I mean A LOT.  It was a full time job.  If anything broke (which it did seemingly every other day), we had to fix it.  So, when new friends here offered up a house on the campus of their seminary (at a price in our budget), we jumped on it.  Power provided?  Clean (hot, even!) water provided?  A beautiful mountain view?  Complete with neighbors who have kids for our kids to play with?  Say no more.  We're in.

I'd say it was everything I was praying for, but it wasn't.  See, I had no idea this house was an available option.  I thought we would have to get by with what we had.  I wasn't praying for this house.  But, the Spirit was!  Maybe YOU were praying for us, too?  And, God was listening.  

As of today, we've been here for one week and it's been blissful!  Last Friday evening, I had my first hot shower in about three months!  NOT having to focus all our energy and time and money on everyday survival opens up so many opportunities for us to focus on teaching, building relationships with new friends, the Hoops ministry, spending time together as a family, and walking closer with the One who brought us here. 



I have also been hugely blessed this week by visitors from home!  A women's team from Eastview Christian Church in Normal, IL has been here this week working in Pillate.  They have been busy!  I've tagged along as they photographed students, led a women's conference, and visited with Haitian neighbors.  Let me tell you--their conference was all the talk among women in this area!  Women in attendance showed up in their finest ensembles--feathers and sequins and more!  Thank you, ladies, for sharing your smiles and hugs and words of encouragement with me.  It was just what I needed. 



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

One Thing

I would love to write a post here for you tonight with several photos for you to enjoy...  But, that's not gonna happen.  Internet issues.

So, words are all I have to offer, and I'm going to make it quick because I am dog tired.

There are a lot of things that are much harder to do here in Haiti than they are in the U.S.  A LOT of things that are a LOT harder.

Although, for the moment, it seems that it's easier here to generate electricity, since it sounds like millions of Americans are without power, due to Superstorm Sandy (and to all of you, know we're praying BIG for your comfort and safety--even though you're probably unable to read this right now).

It's harder to get clothes clean and dry here.

It takes more time and energy to wash dishes here.

It's harder to get wherever you are going.

It's harder to communicate.

It's harder to keep anything clean.

It's harder to keep your yard free of unwanted roosters, tarantulas, and other random wildlife.

It's harder to buy cheese, beef, Very Cherry Jelly Bellies and WAY harder to get Starbucks here.

But, there is one thing that's not any more difficult to do here.  It's not harder to potty train a 2 year old here.  It's just as much work at there as it is here. (I know you've been wondering.)

Each time Naomy gives me that LOOK and urgently says, "Mommy!  Have to!" I don't sigh and think, "Oh, this would be so much simpler back at home."

As I rack up hours spent sitting with her in the bathroom, reading books about the potty and coaxing her to try, or cleaning up accidents or celebrating successes, I think, "If I were home right now, I would be doing the exact. same. thing."  (I'd be doing it with a mocha frappe latte something-or-other in my tummy and a few machines cleaning the dishes and laundry for me, but I'd still be doing it.)

I am not sure why this is comforting, but it is.

So, YAY for the potty and GOODBYE, diapers!
No, wait--here, we say BRAVO for the potty and OREVWA, diapers!

Ecclesiastes 7:8  "The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Picture Day!

Last week, we had Picture Day at Cowman International School!  I was honored to be the photographer, although I ran into a few challenges.  First, it was difficult to find good light early in the morning before classes began and before children got their uniforms dirty on the playground.  Second, I had trouble finding the right camera settings that worked for the wide variety of beautiful skin tones.  Finally, the contrast between the bright white shirts of the uniforms with the dark navy skirts and pants didn’t help, either.  Add to that the work that goes into getting groups of small children to keep their eyes focused on the camera and not wiggling around or jabbing each other, and I had a big job to do that day! 

Nevertheless, I think most of the photos turned out okay.  I would like a re-do for the first grade class, but I’m not sure I’ll get the opportunity.

Parents and students alike were excited to have these photos taken!  I’ve learned that here in Haiti, it’s a big deal to be photographed and folks place a high value on printed pictures of themselves and loved ones.  They just don’t like to smile.  Try as I might, I could not get several of the students to smile.  Not even a little.   

Prints have been ordered and are on their way.  I know I'll treasure my copies as much as everyone else will.  I will never forget that day or any of these precious children. 

I wish that you could meet them all!  You would be tickled to see the preschool class marching in line behind their cheerful teacher, Miss Dee Dee.  And the Kindergarteners would be proud to demonstrate for you how they are learning to read aloud.

I'd introduce you to the first grade class--all girls except for one boy.  And the second grade class--all boys, but one spunky girl!  The third/fourth grade class seems mature beyond their years--they work hard and get along amazingly well.  

I've written here on my blog before about the 5th/6th grade class.  They listen so intently as I read James and the Giant Peach aloud to them (I'm still collecting copies!  I need just five more so that each student can have one).  I look at them and think I can practically SEE their minds conjuring up images of James and his giant insect friends on their adventure.  I've been mentoring the 5th grade girls on Thursday mornings.  We've just finished studying the book of Esther and several of our discussions have made an impact on me (and, I hope, on them!).  I love to listen to them pray and remember the priorities of a pre-teen girl...

And, I would share with you the struggles of the four high school students... Their descriptions of the frustrations of being away from friends at a time when other kids their age are starting to spend more time with peers than with parents.  

Please pray for all of them, for the teachers and staff, and our fearless leader and principal/Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Bundy.

Preschool
Kindergarten
First Grade
Second Grade
Third/Fourth Grade
Fifth Grade
Sixth Grade
Upper School
Faculty

I took the pictures below during chapel last Friday.





At first I was frustrated about this all-school photo, below.  Somehow, when I was on top of our truck snapping photos, I missed the fact that two second grade boys in the front were making faces in EVERY single shot!  Aaaarrrrgh!  But, now... a week later...  It’s my favorite photo!  Hahahaha...  I think I love it because it shows a bit of the character of our school.  Yeah, we’re here to learn...but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.  Now, I just laugh when I look at this photo.  Thank you, Lord, for second grade boys.  Amen.


Cowman International School 2012-13

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Holy Spirit Helps

Last week, my brother-in-law, Jason, brought me a copy of "Walk," the book and study guide that one of our home churches is currently studying (big thank you, J.)  Yesterday, I read the pages titled The Holy Spirit Helps.  Here are the sentences that grabbed onto my heart:

"When we partner with the Holy Spirit, He helps us.  When He helps us, our lives are filled with power. When our lives are filled with power, we boldly step out in faith and God works in miraculous ways." (pg.34)

The scripture of focus in this section of the book was Romans 8:26.
    "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness."

Friends, let me tell you... I have had some majorly weak moments during the last nine weeks I've been in Haiti. Moments when I am ready to pack my suitcase and buy the first plane ticket out of here.  Moments I've cried.  Moments I've whined.  Moments I've lashed out in frustration.  

And yet, when I look back on the week that has just passed, it is plain to me that those words I read are absolutely true.  They're TRUE!  

The Holy Spirit is here, time and time again.  He is here, helping us.  

Indeed, our lives ARE filled with power! 

And--would you look at that--we have been able to step out boldly. 

When all those things start happening...  GOD works in miraculous ways.  Let me show you...
  

These are some second graders at Kids Alive here in Cap Haitien.  We visited them at school last week and shared basketball jerseys and shooting lessons.  If you look in their eyes, you'll see how they felt about it.



Here are Jason and Adam, out on the "court" with a group of Kids Alive students.  Their court consisted of some gravel-y dirt and a hoop and backboard nailed up on a palm tree trunk.


Students received some shooting lessons.  They were very open to guidance from these coaches about proper technique.  It was pure delight when the ball made it through the hoop!


It's hard to say who had more fun--the kids or the coaches.  Here, you can see their hoop behind the crowd.  Thank you, Kids Alive, for letting us visit!!

Then, we tracked down a friend Adam had made on a previous trip to Haiti.  This man had been building his house when Adam and an interpreter visited with him.  We had no address, no phone number.  Nevertheless, Adam and Mark remembered the general area where they had been.  We drove there and as we got close, they recognized the street.  We pulled up to the now-finished house and asked for "Alasay."  His wife said he wasn't home, but she ran up the street to tell a neighbor to find him.  

Cell phones were borrowed and calls were made until we figured out where he was. We drove five minutes to where he was working, near Pillatre, and we found him!  He was completely astonished to see Adam, Mark and Jason pile out of the truck and nearly tackle him with smiles and hugs. 

Adam said, "Man, I told you I'd bring you something for your new house when I came back--and here I am!" Alasay hopped in the back of the truck and we took him back to his house.  We were introduced to his wife and one of his children (the other two were in school), and his brother (I think) and his nieces and nephew.  Adam bestowed housewarming gifts and got a tour of the home.  

Here is a photo of Adam and Alasay and his family.  You'll note that Adam is the only one smiling.    While most Haitians will agree to pose for photographs, they will not smile.  They think showing their teeth is ugly.  But, trust me, they were ecstatic.  Really!


And then, we prayed.  All of us, together.  Jason prayed and Junias, our interpreter, made sure our friends knew what was said.  We prayed for blessings and peace and protection for Alasay and his family.  We thanked God for the opportunity to be together--again.


I have more miraculous stories to share, but I'll wrap up this post with another excerpt from "Walk" in which Richard Foster's work Life With God was referenced:

"God wants an active partner in relationship.  The spiritual life is just that--a life.  We learn as we go.  We learn as we do.  As we go and do with God, we're changed along the way.  We're called into the struggle and joy of transformation."

Blessings and peace to you, my dear readers, as you go and do with God.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Small Victories

It's quiet here.  It was raining a few minutes ago, but now it has stopped and all I can hear is the water dripping off of the house and trees outside.  Quiet may not be something that catches your attention...but it catches mine.  It's got me wondering...why don't I hear dogs barking?  Why don't I hear a baby crying somewhere nearby?  No cars driving on the bumpy dirt road.  That enemy of mine--the rooster--he's suspiciously silent.  I bet he's just getting some rest right now so he can wake me up extra early tomorrow...

We have two family members visiting right now--Mark's cousin, Adam, and our brother-in-law, Jason. They arrived on Friday and we've already packed in so many activities with them, including a big basketball game with a local team on Friday night and a trip to the beach.  They got spanked (they wouldn't deny it!) at the game and needed the relaxation of the beach to rest their sore muscles.  There are big plans for the rest of the week, too.  Last night, though, the kids were asleep and we grown-ups had time to sit together and talk.  Adam and Jason had questions for us and we were happy to answer, but it was also good to hear them talk about things they have already observed in the few days they've been here.

"Sometimes, I get so frustrated," I said, "because I know God has so much work for me to do here.  But, we're so busy just trying to SURVIVE that there's no time or energy for much else.  I feel like we haven't accomplished much and we've been here two months already."

That remark launched a conversation about all the challenges and tough moments we've encountered.  Adam and Jason listened as Mark and I went back and forth, recounting how we've been stretched in ways we never anticipated.

But, after a while, Adam was shaking his head.  "You guys say you feel like you haven't accomplished much, but I've just heard you mention several things that sound to me like good work has been done.  You guys have to learn to celebrate the small victories--not every day is going to be a big revelation or a huge win."

You know, he's right.

So, let me recount a few of those small victories for you...

That game on Friday night was one of them.  Our "Team Blanc" as we've been referring to them got to interact with a Haitian basketball team on a level that not many visiting Americans get to do.  They may have lost the game, but they scored a lot of points toward gaining respect among those athletes and coaches.

We are learning Creole quite quickly!  In our everyday interactions with Haitians around us, we are surprising them more and more often with our ability to speak with them and/or understand what they're saying.  It's not much, but making the attempt demonstrates to them that we think they're important enough to communicate with in their "mother tongue." The kids may be picking it up even faster than we are...  Tonight, while driving, Naomy saw someone outside the car window carrying bananas and she pointed and said, "fig!" (Fig=banana in Creole)

In just two months of work with my students at school, I'm noticing improvements in their reading fluency and comprehension.  We have received donated books that they are excited about reading, too! On top of that, I am building relationships with the high school students that I supervise and the 5th grade girls that I meet with on Thursday mornings for Bible study.  We are currently studying the book of Esther, which has sparked many good conversations about women and their strength and courage.

And perhaps the most important thing to celebrate are all of the relationships we're building.  Our relationship with Celine is blossoming--she clearly adores our children and we're learning so much from her about daily Haitian life.  And then there is Junias, the young man who started out helping Mark with some translating work for basketball endeavors, but has turned out to be a good friend in so many other ways.  Not all Haitians are as willing as he is to answer our questions and open up about his own attitudes about life and work in this country.  We are also beginning to build relationships with many North Americans who are also living and working here.  It's so awesome to meet them and see their God-given talents and characteristics put to work in SO MANY ways--all for HIS glory.

As I'm wrapping up this blog post, the noises I have become familiar with are once again reaching my ears.  There--now there are a couple dogs growling and barking.  And---oh--there's a car horn.  Yep, I'm still in Haiti.  I'm praising the Lord tonight for these and other small victories that I've been overlooking.  And, I'll be anxiously waiting to see what He has in store for the week to come!

1 Corinthians 15:58 "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

Monday, October 8, 2012

There and Back Again

So, we were strongly encouraged by several friends to get away and relax last weekend (any questions as to why can be directed to my October 1 post).  And, we did!  We  headed over the border into the Dominican Republic.  What an experience...  We decided to take the girls out of school early on Friday and head out.  We also took our new friend, Patrick (aka "Uncle" Patrick) with us.  He is a former Marine and a native Haitian, so we thought he'd be a great asset to our travel activities--and we were right.  Plus, he was just plain fun to have along!

If you happen to be planning your own trip from Haiti into the DR, I have step by step instructions for you....

First, there is the process of crossing the border.  The road from Cap Haitien to the border town of Ouanaminthe is, surprisingly, completely paved.  You will think that you'll be able to travel this paved road rather quickly at first, but alas, there are approximately 13 little villages, each equipped with no less than four speed bumps that will slow you down.  It will take you two hours to get to the border.

You may choose to cross the border on a Friday, which is Market Day in this area.  Every Friday, massive crowds of Haitians cross the border on foot to purchase food items (mainly) in bulk and then walk them back into Haiti where they turn around and sell them on Saturday in downtown Cap at slightly a higher price.  The types of items that they buy include eggs, chickens (oh, yes, very much alive), spices, and all sorts of vegetables and fruits.  These are all things that Haitians themselves could grow or otherwise produce themselves, but it is cheaper for them to buy them in the DR.  You might find this quite interesting, as I did. It sounds rather like another country we know that continues to "outsource" more and more products and services, does it not?

Next, you will slowly make your way in your vehicle through the throngs of people with gigantic loaded carts and bags piled on their heads to a building where officials handle passports and paperwork.  There are two ways to handle the processing of your paperwork (and fees, of course) so that you can cross the border.  Option One is to take your own passports through and navigate the instructions in Spanish and try to get it all done yourself.  Option Two is to hire a guy to handle all the paperwork for you for about $20.  I recommend the "hire a guy" route.  This guy "handles paperwork" for several customers at a time, which means that you will sit and wait a while in the parking lot and pray that he will indeed return with your passports.

And, while you wait, you will be entertained by visits from kids who live on the streets in towns along the border.  You will smile and wave and they will smile back.  You roll down your car window and attempt to talk to them with as much Spanish as you can remember from high school.  They will point and giggle at your two-year-old who is sitting in her car seat playing with your iPhone.  You've heard about kids who live on the streets, and here they are before your very eyes.  Seeing their thin bodies, gaunt faces and tattered clothing, you will then rifle through the stuff in your car and want to feed them every morsel of chips and candy you can find...but you have to wait.  You can't hand them anything until just before you're about to leave because otherwise you'll have a couple dozen of them flocking to your vehicle. (On this trip, I was unprepared to meet these kids...but next time....I'll have bags of clothes and shoes and food for them.)

You will let out a sigh of relief as your hired guy returns with your passports and paperwork and you quickly give away all the food you could gather.  Then, you will exit the parking lot where you've been waiting--very slowly so as not to squash any of the goats or dogs.  You take notice of the big building labeled "Supermercado."  Yes!  That's right--it's a supermarket!  The first one you've seen in a couple of months.

                             

The following thoughts might cross your mind:  "How can this be?" "Supermarkets right here--so close to Haiti?"  "Why aren't there any of these in Haiti?" "Why can't Haitians have access to these products and foods?"  

And then, you will remember that you need Sensodyne, a toothpaste just for sensitive teeth.  You haven't seen any of that type of toothpaste anywhere in Haiti.  You'll go on into the supermercado and find that they have it right there on the shelf, just like they do at WalMart!!  And, look at that--it's on sale.  A special "oferta"--a four pack for only $1,411.45.  Why, that's only about $353 per tube!  Wait--WHAT?!?! Before you begin to feel faint, you will remember that in the DR, the currency is Dominican pesos.  Whew.  One hundred Dominican pesos is roughly equal to $2.55 US, so, you're looking at nearly $8 per tube.  That's still a bit pricey--you might be able to have a friend send you some from WalMart that would be a much better deal.


You will continue on your way to the small B&B that you found on Expedia.  You will pass through maybe eight small villages and three larger cities.  This journey is only 163 kilometers and Google will tell you it should take about two-and-a-half hours, but it will, in fact, take you three-and-a-half hours.  The main reason for this is that Google doesn't know that you will be stopped at five "security" checkpoints that are manned by men in military uniforms toting guns.  They will ask to see your identification and they will require a modest payment of a bottle of water, food, or perhaps a US dollar or two.  Having three small and cute children in the backseat of your truck will be helpful at these checkpoints.  Your route on Google Maps.

After the sun sets and it's dark outside, those three cute children in the backseat will be hungry and tired of traveling and they may begin to whine, fuss, and bicker with each other.  When you begin to feel as if you won't make it to your destination, you will pray that somehow God will help you find it fast.  Your driver may sense that you're at your tipping point and he will find a little pharmacy that is still open and he will stop there to ask for directions.  This may seem like an impossible task, given that no one in your car is fluent in Spanish and the pharmacy owner will likely be a Spanish speaker.  And yet, nothing is impossible with God.  Miraculously, the pharmacy owner will speak French and your friend,  Patrick, who is along for this trip, speaks French and will easily learn from him that you are only three kilometers away from where you want to be!!  Thank. You. Lord.

When you finally reach your destination, you will be greeted by the owner who speaks English, among many other languages.  He will show you to your beautiful rental, which sits just 100 meters from the beach.  It will be dark outside, but you will clearly hear the soothing sound of waves crashing on the shore, and as you listen, your stress level will plummet, leaving you feeling very calm and peaceful.  

You'll have a snack and retire for the night and the sounds of the sea will lull you to sleep as a salty breeze blows through your room and the mosquito nets sway over your bed.

Over the next two days, you will enjoy the sand in your toes, finding seashells, braving the surf, horseback riding on the beach, swimming in the pool, and even eating ice cream.   You'll have many choices to make about what to eat and where, but nearly all of your meals will be eaten outdoors.  If you happen to be approached by a man holding a large and beautiful (but dead) dolphin fish (or mahi mahi), it is likely that he caught that fish less than an hour ago and is trying to sell it to you.  You will NOT regret buying this fish and promptly grilling it and sharing it with the B&B owner and his neighbors over good conversation and a glass of white wine. 

                             




 And, there will be gorgeous sunsets...


Finally, Sunday will arrive.  You will not want to leave.  You will think for a while about making arrangements to stay another day--maybe two.  But, then your responsible side will remind you of realities that are waiting to be taken care of and you will pack up and head home.  

You will have to leave early because the border closes at 3 pm. on Sundays.  I highly recommend that you make one more stop at a supermercado for a few more things and snacks for the trip.  The drive home will be quicker because you won't have to stop at the "security" checkpoints. 

When you arrive back at your home in Haiti, there is a possibility that you will realize you are locked out of the house.  But, your seaside attitude and calm demeanor will still be lingering and you will wait ever so patiently for someone to arrive to let you in.  

Or, maybe you won't.  

In any case, in the days to come, you will look back through photos and remember those two wonderfully relaxing days and the fun times you had.  And, you will give thanks.

Matthew 11:28  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."