Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Most Important Thing

A couple of things I’m teaching right now have me thinking...  
I wonder if my students are thinking on these topics as much as I am...
Teaching and thinking.... Thinking and teaching.... hmmm...
My third/fourth graders are currently reading “Because of Winn-Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo. It was made into a cute movie with AnnaSophia Robb, but the book is even better (as is usually the case, don’t you think?).

In chapter fourteen, there’s a beautiful scene where our young heroine has a revelation about the reality of human weaknesses.
India Opal Buloni is visiting her elderly companion, Gloria Dump.  (My students giggle about these characters’ names every time we read them.)  She tells Gloria that the man who works at the local pet store spent some time in jail in the past.
“Do you think I should be afraid of him?” Opal asks.
“What for?” Gloria replies.
“I don’t know. For doing bad things, I guess. For being in jail.”
Gloria then leads 10-year-old Opal to a big tree at the back of her property. 
Opal describes what she sees:
I looked up.  There were bottles hanging from just about every branch. There were whiskey bottles and beer bottles and wine bottles all tied on with string, and some of them were clanking against each other and making a spooky kind of noise. Me and Winn-Dixie (her dog) stood and stared at the tree, and the hair on top of his head rose up a little bit and he growled deep in his throat.
“What do you think about this tree?” asks Gloria.
“I don’t know.  Why are all those bottles on it?” Opal puzzles.
“To keep the ghosts away,” Gloria says.
“What ghosts?”
“The ghosts of all the things I done wrong,” Gloria answers.
Opal looks up aghast at all the bottles on the tree. “You did that many things wrong?”
“Mmmm-hmmm,” says Gloria. “More than that.”
“But you’re the nicest person I know,” insists Opal.
“Don’t mean I haven’t done bad things,” Gloria explains.
“Did the whiskey and beer and wine, did they make you do the bad things that are ghosts now?” Opal asks.
“Some of them,” says Gloria Dump. “Some of them I would’ve done anyway, with alcohol or without it. Before I learned.”
“Learned what?”
“Learned what is the most important thing,” Gloria says.
“What’s that?” Opal asks.
“It’s different for everyone. You find out on your own.  But in the meantime, you got to remember, you can’t always judge people by the things they done.  You got to judge them by what they are doing now. You judge Otis by the pretty music he plays and how kind he is to them animals, because that’s all you know about him right now.  Alright?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Opal says.

It’s a precious (albeit fictitious) conversation between these characters, don’t you think?  
I see no shortage of topics for discussion here!
First, you’ve got the issue of mistakes we make and how they haunt us.... Which could also lead to talking about God’s never-ending grace and forgiveness and how HE can forget our mistakes even when we continue to beat ourselves up over them.  That’s a big issue.
Then, you could talk about the judgment issue--the age-old “don’t judge a book by its cover” lesson...Except, in this case, it’s “don’t judge a book by what you’ve heard other people say about it.”  
My students couldn’t figure out WHY anyone would tie bottles in their tree.
But, what I’ve been thinking about is the thing Gloria talked about.
The one thing that is the most important.
What is that one thing?  Is it really different for everyone?  Or, it is the same...but we come around to it in different ways and on different paths?
What was the most important thing for Gloria?  What is it for me?  What is it for my kids?
The Disciples once wondered about the most important thing.  In Matthew 22:36-37, they ask Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”
Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
So, there you have it--the one thing according to Jesus.
Too often, my one thing is not the thing it’s supposed to be.  Too often, my one thing is money...or my kids...or my work... or my frustration over something that didn’t go right in my day...or any number of other things.
Loving God with all my heart, soul and mind takes a lot of work and concentration.  But, I know that the days when my one thing is what it’s supposed to be, all those other things that worry me seem more manageable and I am more content.
If Step 1 is figuring out what the most important thing is, then Step 2 is figuring out how to make it and keep it the most important thing.
I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking Step 1 is the easy part! 
So, do I have you thinking now, too?  
What’s your most important thing today?  Is it what you want it to be?
James 1:5 "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."

Friday, January 18, 2013

My New Favorite Soup

"Pumpkin soup.
The best you ever tasted.
Made by the Cat who slices up the pumpkin.
Made by the Squirrel who stirs in the water.
Made by the Duck who scoops up a pipkin of salt, and tips in just enough."

This is a quote from my very favorite autumn-themed children's book, Pumpkin Soup, by Helen Cooper.  It's about friends who learn a lesson about teamwork and living peacefully together.  When they do work well together, the result is amazing: the best pumpkin soup ever.

For years, my mouth has watered as I've read this book to my daughters.  Until recently, I had never had the chance to try pumpkin soup.  But now, I can say I have!  And it was the best I'd ever tasted.

Long ago, when the French controlled Haiti, they had a law that said only members of the upper class could eat soup, and apparently, this rule applied especially on New Year’s Day.  Then, in 1804, when Haiti became an independent country, Haitians started to eat soup.  I have been told that it was a way to demonstrate that everyone was equal.  To this day, it’s a widespread custom to eat soup on Independence Day in Haiti.  And, it’s not just any soup--it’s Pumpkin Soup.


We had the honor of joining the Joseph family in their home for soup on New Year's Day.  Over the five months that we have lived in Haiti, our friend, Junias, and his family have become more and more dear to us.  Junias talks to us openly about Haiti's culture, customs and lifestyle.  He welcomes conversations about faith and beliefs, and he has even shared his hopes and dreams for the future.  We are so thankful to call him and his brother, sister, and parents our friends. 

Junias said the soup that day was too spicy.  But, we enjoyed every spoonful!

Since New Year's Day, I've been eager to learn more about Haiti's history.  Here's a nuts-and-bolts account of what I've learned so far about Haiti's Independence Day...

The Haitian Revolution, which lasted for more than a decade, was a slave revolt in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, which culminated in the elimination of slavery there and the founding of the Haitian republic. The Haitian Revolution was the only slave revolt which led to the founding of a state. It was one of only two revolts in history (the American Revolution was the other one) to achieve permanent independence from a European colonial power before the 19th century. 

Wikipedia says "it is generally considered the most successful slave rebellion ever to have occurred in the Americas and is a defining moment in the history of Africans in the New World."

The last battle of the Haitian Revolution, the Battle of Vertières, occurred on November 18, 1803, near Cap-Haïtien, which is the city I now live near.

On January 1, 1804, Haiti was declared a free republic (yay!).  This declaration was followed by a complete massacre of all white people who still lived on the island (yikes!).  

Oh, my.  

Thank goodness that 200-some years later we were welcomed here in peace and generosity on New Year's Day!

As I go about my days, I often wonder what Haiti would be like today if there had been no slavery... If the fighting for control of this island could have been resolved without so much bloodshed...

It's too bad they couldn't make up with each other like the cat, the squirrel, and the duck in Helen Cooper's book. 

I don't have a recipe for Haitian Pumpkin Soup, but I did find this recipe online if you're interested!

1 Peter 3:8-9
"Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ten Things I Have Learned in Haiti

So, it’s a new year.  Time for reflecting on the old one.  Time for looking at lessons learned and ways to make this year even better.

I’ve learned so much during my time in Haiti so far.  Haiti is growing on me.  Haiti is stretching me and challenging me.  Haiti is in my face making me take a hard look at all that I thought I knew.

1. There were lots of things I thought my kids needed to be healthy and happy, but it turns out they didn’t.  How do I know?  Because we’re here, living without many of those things and my kids are still healthy, still growing, still laughing, still learning, still going to sleep at night knowing they’re safe and loved.  Someday, we might be in a place where they can have those things again, but now I know they’re just things.  I’m a lot less attached to them and hopefully, so are my kids.

2. I don’t care how much of a “loner” someone is... or how introverted... independent... etc. we think we are.  Holding hands and sticking together makes a big difference.  Some sort of community is essential.  God didn’t make us to be hermit-like creatures.  He made us social.  When the going gets rough, having people with whom to muddle through it is so very important.  And, when times get easier for you, odds are that there’s someone else who is struggling, and then it’s your turn to be there for them. 

3. Having just come from the Christmas season, when we talk about the joy of giving, this may sound strange...  But, I’ve learned the art of receiving.  Sometimes, it can be hard to accept gifts gracefully.  Without guilt.  Without feeling like a failure for not being able to do it for yourself.  God has given me opportunities to practice receiving gifts gracefully over the last five months, and I’m getting better at it.  I’ve even become more comfortable with ASKING for help when I need it.  And, you know what I’ve discovered?  Many people are thankful for the opportunity to help, and they would have missed out on that joy if I hadn’t asked.  

4. Not all good things that are presented to you are worthy.  Here, there are situations and people that could use my time and energy at EVERY turn.  I could easily fill every minute of every day ministering to those in need around me, and I’d have nothing left for  growing my faith, my family or myself and my own health.  I’ve learned that God doesn’t want or expect me to devote myself to them all.  The biggest challenge has been to discern which ones He does want me to attend to and which ones He doesn’t. 

5. I’ve learned that there are important things to be learned when we hit “rock bottom.”  Maybe what we learn at those low points is different for each of us.  I learned that the “rock” at the bottom is God.  And, there is peace in knowing He is indeed the very foundation of my life.  I always THOUGHT He was, but now I KNOW.

6. I’ve learned that I’m real tough.  My friends will tell you that I thought I was tough even before I moved to Haiti.  But I now know I’m way tougher than I thought I was. I’ve had opportunities to face fears that I had never even considered fearing.  And now, my old fears seem pretty puny.  

7. (I’m choosing my words carefully with this one.)  I’ve learned what it feels like to be a minority.  I don’t have to imagine it anymore.  Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to blend in and go with the flow of a culture, they still only see your skin.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

8. Sometimes, small victories are all you’re gonna get.  So, a) celebrate them; and b) capitalize on them.

9. I think my parents did a good job of teaching me that there are always consequences to our actions.  As I got older, I learned that there are unintended consequences sometimes, too.  And now, I’ve learned how important it is to THOROUGHLY think through the possible consequences to our actions BEFORE acting.  It’s extremely important to do this when you’re living in a foreign place among a culture you don’t know or understand, with limited abilities to communicate.

10. I’ve learned that there is a “dog person” within me.  (The team of ladies that traveled with me to Haiti early last year--aka “The Haiti 8”--will be shocked to read this.)  I have, in the past, sermonized about what miserable creatures dogs are and how thoroughly I disliked them.  I now have to admit that I was wrong.  They’re not all bad.   They happen to be very efficient rooster-exterminators and they are super fun to play fetch with.  They also clean up after meals like nobody’s business, which is very helpful when you don’t have the convenience of curbside garbage pickup.  It’s good to step out of your comfort zone and give new things a chance. 

Galatians 6:4 "Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that." (The Message)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

ABCs - Continued

Ok... Where was I...?

Christmas day in Haiti!

We spent the morning playing with new toys and trying on new clothes and then eating cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  Then, I finished packing up our suitcases while Naomy napped, the big kiddos played outside and Mark threw the football with the neighborhood guys.

Oh, and there was lots of cooking going on.

For dinner, we joined the Ayars family at their house.  There was a turkey (which is a small miracle in itself), cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, fresh homemade bread, au gratin potatoes, and a birthday cake for Baby Jesus, complete with candles and the Birthday Song.

We ate together, played together, prayed together, sang carols together, and laughed together.  When family and friends from home are so far away, having good friends like these so close is such a gift.
Our other friends and neighbors, the Aberleys, had several family members visiting and theirs was a full dinner table next door!  Still, they took time to stop by and deliver handmade toy horses, accessorized with bandanas and western hats.  Fun idea, eh?  Yee haw!

Then, it was off to bed early for the Aubry kids.  We had to be up early to make sure we got into Cap Haitien for our flight to Fort Lauderdale...

It's just a 2 1/2 hour flight from here to there...but it feels like you've gone to another world.  We came down the stairs out of our plane and onto the tarmac and stood amazed for a moment at all the tall buildings around us.  Elli took a sniff at the breeze and remarked, "Mommy, the air here smells so good!"  She said she thought it smelled like cherry blossoms.  Ha!  All I could smell was gasoline fumes, but I guess when you compare that to the smells of animals, sewage, and burning garbage, it IS a big improvement.

I knew I was missing my family... But seeing them in person really brought it into focus.  I have missed them A LOT.  There is nothing more precious and priceless than watching my children run with pure joy into the open arms of their grandparents.  

We watched the sun rise on the balcony of our hotel room each morning. (It rises quite a bit earlier in Haiti.)  

We spent relaxing days by the pool or at the beach.

Danielle had her hair braided!  And, we relished the COLD morning and evening air. (Cold being below 70 degrees--it's all relative, right?)

Our girl Elli is quickly approaching her 6th birthday and amazed everyone with her new skills: shoe tying, whistling, snapping her fingers, and swimming with confidence.

We spent precious time with Aunt Sarah and Uncle Joe and very special cousins, Lily and Hazel.

And, yes, we let the kids watch some TV! Bubble Guppies, Dora, and more.

Naomy explored and experimented on the beach, but didn't venture much into the surf.

 I took a long walk on the pier with my mom and dad...

We all took turns relaxing in the hot tub.

Here is a photo of Nana and Papaw with all 5 granddaughters.  
What blessed little girls to have such devoted grandparents!

Mark got to see the new Bond movie one night.  I got to visit a salon and have my hair cut.  We had ice cream almost every day and ate delicious meals each evening.  One afternoon, we spent over an hour opening and reading over a hundred Christmas cards from our church family at Calvary United Methodist Church back at home in Normal, IL.  We smiled over many of the messages written within them, and cried over a few; learned news of new marriages and new babies born and on the way.  What a way to feel connected with home and so many people we miss!

Our last day in Florida was too cold for much swimming.  My mom and dad kept our kids in the morning while we headed to the nearest Walmart to stock up for the next few months.  I can't remember the last time going to Walmart was such a thrill!  (Another big THANK YOU to the M.E. group for the Walmart gift card we received for Christmas!) 

We had to say goodbye to Nana and Papaw around noon, which was very difficult.  We tried our best to talk them into coming to Haiti to visit us in February, which isn't too far away.

Then, we played at a park for a while and ventured over to a mall in Boca Raton.  That was a big mistake.  Although I was able to purchase a couple of items I'd been wanting, the scramble for a parking spot and the massive crowds of rude people had me completely overwhelmed.  I'm not sure the market in Haiti would have been worse.

Our last American meal was at Chipotle--Yum.  We got to sleep early... because our flight left Fort Lauderdale at 5:30 am, which meant leaving the hotel by 2:30.  Ouch.

We were home to relax and take naps on New Year's Eve day.  New Year's Day is cause for LOTS of celebrating in Haiti.... but that story is for another post.

What a wonderful Christmas season we had.  Usually, Christmas has been about UNwrapping gifts, but this year we feel entirely WRAPPED up in the outpouring of love and generosity from very special friends and family.  It's hard to express with words how thankful we are and how touched...and how loved we feel.  We are so glad you're with us on this journey--we couldn't do it without you.

Peace and blessings in 2013.

Phillippians 1:27 "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel."