{rice, beans & love}

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet" – Frederick Buechner

my sweet mami

When my parents bought our house, a little old man was living there as the yard keeper. We called him Papi. We soon met his wife and called her Mami. Their real names are Jolicoeur and Marie Mamoune but all I ever called them were Papi and Mami. Their son Rodlet soon became one of our closest friends as he helped paint and work around the house that first summer in 2010 (also the summer Webert notoriously came to help paint as well – if you haven’t heard our “love story” that’s when it all began)

Once I moved to Haiti full-time, I quickly realized having an automatic washer for my laundry was out the picture. You could only run it if the city power was on, which mostly came on at night. I’d start a load and if the power turned off in the middle of the load, I would have to start all over again. And as my family grew (we took in both of the boys right away and welcomed Wishla the following summer) the laundry just couldn’t be kept up with.

Since we already had a relationship with the family and Papi still came to clean the beach, we asked Mami if she would come twice a week to do our laundry. She was ecstatic to help and it was a blessing to be able to provide her with a reliable income. We soon hired their daughter, Beatrice, to come and clean our house, too. They would have started working full-time for us in late 2013, because I can remember them being around as family and friends started to arrive for our wedding in January 2014.

You quickly develop an intimate relationship when you allow a woman to wash your underwear by hand, ha! But, in all seriousness, they truly did become a part of our family. I would come home most afternoons as Mami was finishing up the laundry and just sit on the step next to her and tell her about my day. She gave some of the best hugs, too. She was a short, stocky lady, full of joy and gratitude. Just her presence of being at our home made me feel more at home in a country that reminded me daily how out of place I was.

I can remember days where she would give me back pennies worth of change that she had found in our pockets; she was beyond honest and kind. There had been plenty of people who had tried to cheat and lie to us, so knowing I had Mami taking care of us at home was so important to me. There was a peace knowing she would be there when I came home.

I can remember another day, it was the dead of summer and I was pregnant with Rubie. I came home tired and hot. I expressed my exhaustion to her and she grabbed me by the wrist and told me to lay down, while helping herself to a glass of water that she brought to me in bed. She stayed until Webert got home to make sure I had stayed in bed. There’s something humbling being scolded and drug to your bedroom by a sassy, old lady; but, something so comforting as well, knowing they’ll go out of their way to take care of you.

We lost our sweet Papi in January of 2018. Papi really liked his rum and towards the end, his fragile body just couldn’t keep up. After Papi’s death, Mami was never the same. She became so thin and weak. She also had another relative pass shortly after Papi and the financial burden really took its toll on her as well. We helped with the financial needs for Papi’s funeral and then loaned her some money for help with the other expenses, but I could just see it was becoming too much for her.

I remember another day, we were hanging the wet laundry on the line together, and she just kept shaking her head, telling me she didn’t know what she was going to do. I saw the defeat in her eyes that day and decided she was just getting too old and fragile to keep up with our laundry. We made the decision to have her stop working – we would hire her daughter-in-law – but would still continue supporting her.

I made all of these arrangements and then flew to America in February (a trip I wrote about in the blog about limbo; it was suppose to be a ten day trip, but ended up being an entire month away) Mami became ill and passed away while I was gone. Even though I was sad to not be there for the funeral, she was at least someone who I knew was ready to go Home.

After she passed, we hired her daughter-in-law, but trouble quickly followed. When I initially hired her, she forgot to tell me she was pregnant and hid the news from me for quite a while. It’s a long story about why that upset me so much, so we will just say it wasn’t good or exciting news to find out. When it came time for her to have the baby, she started sending her sister in her place. I had never met her sister and they had made all the arrangements without even asking me, so the whole situation just irritated me. Plus, the girl just wasn’t that good at laundry. One day I pulled my only nice pair of maternity pants off the line and they had streaks of soap still in them because they hadn’t been properly rinsed. Then there were days when she just wouldn’t show up and a few other days where she just left half the laundry unwashed. I know this may sound petty to you all, but when you have a family of six, keeping up with our laundry is a big deal! Plus, it all just made me miss my sweet Mami all the more.

The point of that last story being, my favorite chore to do in America? LAUNDRY! I know, I know, if you didn’t already think I was crazy, now you probably do! The simple task of sorting clothes and folding fluffy towels is so gratifying. Don’t even get me started on the luxury of having my jeans fit properly again; you all better never take for granted a freshly washed pair of jeans ever again! It is also wonderful knowing my clothes will be dry in the morning and not wet from the rain, because there’s nothing worse than mildew, rain-scented clothes. Can I also give a shout-out to dryer sheets?

But again, in all seriousness, the loss of Mami and the laundry fiasco those last couple months before leaving Haiti just added to my resentment of life in Haiti. Maybe you’re thinking, well why don’t you just do the laundry yourself? Because, it’s seriously a full-time job to do our family’s laundry by hand and I don’t have the time. Of course, I’ll wash things if the kids need something quickly or something like that, but I would have to take at least two full days out of my week to do laundry if I were to do it all by myself. So, maybe you’ll ask next, well why didn’t you just hire someone else? I thought about that in my frustration, but the laundry gets done during the day when we are out working, so I only want people I trust and have a close relationship with to have that job. They have full access to our home and that’s only something I want to give to people I know well, just as I’m sure you’d do the same.

I think there’s this other layer of frustration, because in the end Haiti – probably safe to say for anyone actually who chooses to move to a foreign place – strips so many things away from you. In the beginning, the fact that I couldn’t just get in my car and drive wherever I wanted drove me crazy, but after a few years and figuring out the city, I started driving by myself. Yes, it’s more dangerous to go by myself, but the freedom I feel? Totally worth the risk.

So, the inability to just do my laundry or have it done the way I wanted, became a soul issue. Turns out life in limbo means even laundry can become a sacred routine. Here’s to recognizing just that, seasons where we have to go back to the basics, relearn how holy routines can be and enjoy the mundane things like laundry.

Sweet Mami, we miss you, but laundry and your love and the way you made Haiti home to me will always be something I’ll hold on to.

 

my dearest Johanne

Johanne, along with Rosie’s mama, and five other women were the first group of artisans I worked with when I moved to Haiti in 2012. These women taught me so much back then. I can remember an afternoon laughing on the balcony where we worked, as they taught me how to wash the towels by hand. There’s this distinct squeak if you wash the fabrics just right; it’s something in the wrists. We were going back and forth, joking that I wouldn’t be a real Haitian until I could get the squeak. I can remember Johanne sitting next to me on the wooden bench, with the aluminum tub of water in between the both us, as we all laughed together.

These women had so much grace for me as I learned their culture, their language and their ways. I can remember how we all held each other tight on the day we lost Rosie and the days that followed. For some crazy reason, they took me under their wings and have loved me like one of their own for what seems like forever now.

There were many dynamics in the group and Johanne was like the little sister to us all. She was a strong-willed mama to two beautiful little girls. Her situation was probably the most dire of everyone. She lived in a small little tent way back then and was one of the first people I helped build a home. We had made an arrangement that I would find the funds to build the house and she would save up money to pay for the labor. She was so proud when the house was finally finished and eventually built a little add-on room that she operated a side business selling little snacks and drinks out of.

She was so small in stature. She was also the quietest of the bunch, but she held her ground and was such a determined worker. When her girls came to work with her, they would sit there all proper and clean. She’d come with little lunch boxes all packed with goodies. She was such a good mama. Just by the way she’d tidy them up and dust off their shoes at the end of the day, showed how proud she was of them.

Towards the end she just kept getting sick all the time. She had a really bad spell and I can remember the whole group of us going to her house to pray over her. I was knelt beside her as she lay in bed and she held onto my hands like she was holding on for dear life. And now I look back and I think she really was; there was a look of fear in her eyes and there was nothing I could do to make it go away.

There was another spell after that one and I remember the day I had to carry her on my back to get her into the car so I could take her to a nearby clinic for testing. Her diagnosis was pretty grim that day, but it was at least something that could be treated. We got her the proper medicine and she seemed to have taken a turn for the better.

It was sometime close to Christmas as I can remember us being together for some type of holiday event at the orphanage. She had pulled me aside to thank me for taking her to the clinic and all I could do was hug her. I was just so relieved we had finally gotten a diagnosis and could move forward with treatment. I was also just so glad to see her doing better.

Unfortunately, that was one of my last interactions with her. I will never know what was the ultimate cause of her death, but whatever it was, it robbed her life way too quickly.

It was a Sunday afternoon (January 2018) and I was playing cards with my mom and a friend when I got the call. It hit me like a big punch in the gut as her sister told me the news over the phone. I just couldn’t believe it. I went and rounded up some of the women we worked with and together we headed to her mom’s home.

We walked into the front room of her mom’s home and everything had been removed except her body. There she lay underneath a white sheet. I fell to my knees beside her body, reaching for her hand, thinking maybe, just maybe, she’d reach back and hold on tight.

But, she was gone.

I had so many questions, first and foremost being, why the hell had no one called me earlier!? I could have taken her to the hospital; I could have done something! I wanted to know what had happened, among a million other things! I wanted to scream. I wanted to know how she took her last breath. But, I knew asking wouldn’t make me feel any better and culturally it would have probably been really rude to ask. It was one of those intense moments where I knew when I walked away from this I was never going to be the same.

It just seems like I can’t get any closure when it comes to Johanne. Everything about her death still feels so heavy. I feel like I somehow failed her. Surely, there could have been something more we could have done to save her.

And that’s the funny thing when you get yourself wrapped up and invested in their lives; you think you have the ability to save them. You’ll fight that good ole white savior complex every day. You try and try to trust that God is at work. You try and try to believe in the promise that He is a God who sees; a God who sees all the needs. The life or death needs. Never in a million years, would you have thought you’d be responsible for such needs, but there you are, making decisions that decide who literally gets to eat some days. No one should make those decisions alone. And most days I don’t; that’s where Webert and the other people I serve with are around for. Accountability is such a must. But, God? He seems a bit too far away some days.

There are these moments when I surely think the world is going to collapse on in, because how can it actually sustain such suffering? Doesn’t it feel the pressure; when will it just be too much? How is it possible mamas are unable to feed their sweet, sweet babies and they come to me looking for answers? How can they possibly look to me for hope, when I can barely sort through the clouded mess and remain hopeful in a God who promises good things?

Life is hard, isn’t it? Dealing with death? Even harder. But, that’s why I can’t lose hope, because there is this promise I get to see all these people again. Even though, quite frankly, I’m still pretty pissed about not being able to say good-bye the way I wish I could have, I can’t imagine how sweet our homecoming will be. And the fact that one day all the suffering and pain goes away? Hallelujah. Amen. Thank you baby Jesus for coming to save us all and promising us such redemption.

sweet Renato

Little Renato came to the orphanage having been abandoned at our clinic. We took him in and he was instantly a part of the Tytoo family. It’s weird how quickly our lives can be interrupted in Haiti. You wake up thinking it will be just another ordinary day and then there’s a little guy who is just abandoned into your care and then your world shifts and your heart broken for the reality of what you’re living in.

I can remember clearly the day he came into in our lives, just as well as I can remember the days I met AnneMelissa, Lopez, Sophie, Lovena, Marvens, Chedline and even my Wishla for the first time. It is part traumatic, part amazing. To think about the trauma the kids go through before coming to the orphanage, many of them coming from severe neglect, malnourishment, or abuse. To think about the abandonment and being thrown into the care of people they don’t even know. To think about their little brains and their ability to somehow cope and thrive through all that they’ve been through. And, then to think we have the honor to love and serve them. Yet, the heaviness in knowing the responsibility that all that carries, because they are precious, fragile, little lives and who said we were qualified to know what’s best for them?

And that’s why I’ll always fight for family preservation, because in most all of the situations – I can think of some where this isn’t true – the mamas know what’s best, but they don’t have the resources to recognize that. That’s for another day; today is about Renato.

It had been a long week at the orphanage, a couple of the other kids had been sick plus another little guy who had been a part of our ministry’s work had passed away, so we were all just feeling the heaviness of life. Saturday night came and Webert and I had gone out to dinner with a few friends. When we got back into Simonette, we stopped by Tytoo to find our friend Lindsay in the clinic with Renato. He hadn’t been feeling well and our Haitian nurse had come down to check on him and give him some fluids. I had asked Lindsay if she wanted me to come back and be around to help take care of him, but his vitals were looking good and she had said she’d be okay.

None of us will ever know what happened, but in a matter of a couple hours, Renato went from sitting up to seizing to eventually going home to be with Jesus. Webert and I were awoken in the middle of the night by my mom, telling us the news. Ben and Lindsay had taken him to the hospital, but it was too late by the time they had gotten there. Since it was in the middle of the night, there was no ambulance available to take them home.

(It’s the law in Haiti for dead bodies to only be transported in ambulances, which can be a very unfortunate thing as I’ve also witnessed dead bodies left on the road for hours or days because it will take that long for the hospitals to send an ambulance.)

So, like an out of body experience, Webert and I paid off a police officer in the middle of the night to escort us to the hospital so we could help get everyone home. We decided to take his little body to my house, because we didn’t want the kids at the orphanage waking up and seeing his body without it being in a casket. We closed him behind the bedroom door that I was preparing to be Rubie’s nursery – I was about five months pregnant at the time. My dad and Webert went and built him a small, handmade casket while I went and found trusted friends who could bleach and clean the clinic. We honestly didn’t know what took his little life and we were afraid it could have been something contagious, so that entire morning was us just running off adrenaline. At some point in the morning, we were told the body still may be contagious and we were advised to bury him as quickly as we could. It wasn’t ideal because we were wanting to have a more formal funeral for everyone at Tytoo later in the day, but saw it was best to bury him immediately. Somehow, my dad and Webert had the courage to do that.

We somehow pulled off putting on our Sunday best and Webert led an entire church service. We got to the end of the service and he then broke the news to all the children, staff and congregation about the passing of our sweet Renato. I’ll never forget the way the kids wept and the way the mommies held them. The next day we wrote letters and colored pictures to bury next to Renato. The kids sang a worship song beside his grave as we released lanterns into the sky.

As I typed out this story, I kept asking God, what else do you want me to say about this? It still feels so unfair. You took him so quickly. You let him pass in the arms of someone I care so deeply for. You made me take his body into my own home. You made us bury him so quickly. All of this reminiscing doesn’t feel healing, like You said it would. So, I did a quick search and went back to the original blog I wrote about Renato, click here to read my original words.

The last paragraph just hit home, because it’s what I still crave and desire to cultivate today:

“I ended yesterday by having dinner at a friend’s house. I sat around a table with four other beautiful women as we debriefed the day’s events. We talked real about life but still managed to laugh about SpongeBob Square Pants. I felt so safe and so loved around that dinner table and my prayer for this new day is that I can continue to create a home where people can come and feel that way around my table. Continue to be a part of an authentic community where people can feel safe to call on me in the midst of tragedy. I hope I can have the strength to continue to overcome tragedy with grace and love. Continue creating a world where people feel loved, surrounded and a part of something beautiful.

And as my little Wishla has now made her way onto my lap with her sippy cup of apple juice and I feel flutters of life in my stomach, I can’t help but fight for all of the above. Because that’s the kind of world I want my own children to know and to live in. It’s the kind of home I want them to abide in. The kind of community I want them to grow and learn in. The kind of world I want them to know.

How beautiful the body of Christ is. How I pray and anticipate and wait for the return of Jesus.

Renato came to us abandoned, forsaken and alone in the world. But, if we did anything right at all, by the grace of God, we let him leave the world surrounded, loved and a part of something beautiful: a family.”

Satan has been so good at blinding me to only see all the loss and trauma Haiti has given me. So, here’s to pulling off those blinders and allowing myself to see all the amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to love, serve and do life with. My experiences have made me stronger and given me a lot of good stories to tell. I mean, who else can say they paid off a police officer in the middle of the night to escort them to and from a hospital,  to only have the police officer run out of gas on the way home?

precious Rosie

Two months after baby Noel’s death, baby Rosie came home safely from the hospital. I had had our driver take mama Judeline to the hospital early that morning with a cousin, knowing I wasn’t fit to be a part of another delivery. We got news early afternoon that baby had been born and I was honored to go pick up mom and baby from the hospital and bring them both home safely. I just went and dug through pictures to reminisce on this homecoming.

vibella baby

A year later, we celebrated her first birthday and I gifted her a little pair of Nike tennis shoes as she had just started walking.

It was a Thursday in the following month; I was headed to the beach with a group of friends. I had made a stop by my workplace to check in before heading out for the day. Before leaving, Judeline pulled me aside before I left and told me how Rosie wasn’t feeling well and she wanted to take her to a clinic. I never heard from her again over the week-end, so I assumed everything was fine.

Sunday morning I got a call from the nurse who was living and working at Tytoo at the time that Rosie’s dad had shown up at the gate with Rosie and she was in pretty critical condition. They were rushing her to the hospital and would update me once they got there. I headed to church and after the service was done, I received news that things did not look good for little Rosie. So, at that point I headed to Judeline’s house to take her to the hospital and visit with the doctor.

Webert and I, along with both of the parents, sat in a small room as the doctor explained how Rosie’s pneumonia had gone septic and it was going to be very hard for her to recover from. The dad decided he would spend the night at the hospital with Rosie and we would bring Judeline back in the morning.

Haitian hospitals don’t have nurses to tend to you, like we have here in America. They also don’t have food services or bathrooms with showers. So, if you know you’re going to be spending a few days at the hospital, you need to come prepared with clothes, food, etc. I say that all to explain why Judeline made the decision to leave the hospital; she was going home to pack bags as she intended to be at the hospital until Rosie had recovered.

After returning back to Simonette with Judeline, I went and gathered up some of the women we worked with and we headed to her house to pray with her and for Rosie. Our time together ended with some worship and as we were singing, chills swept through me from head to toes. I’ll never forget how intense those chills were and today I believe it was Rosie’s spirit passing through before going to be with Jesus.

A few moments after the chills passed, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulders. I stepped outside of Judeline’s small home as her cousin told me she had received a phone call and Rosie had passed away. I’ll never forget the way Judeline collapsed into Yolande’s arms and screamed as we told her the news. Since there wasn’t enough room in the small truck I had at the time, Judeline asked me to go to the hospital and pick up Rosie and dad.

We buried Rosie the next morning and I’ll also never forget the way Judeline wept inside her home as the funeral took place outside her home on a small slab of cement. I sat on her bed and asked her if she wanted to go to the cometary and bury Rosie, but she said she just couldn’t. So, she curled into my lap as they walked away with a homemade casket made of wood, wrapped in white linens.

Rosie’s funeral was my first Haitian funeral and it was a culture shock to see how quickly they bury little ones. Maybe you’re wondering what happened to baby Noel? His body was left at the hospital and we never even had a funeral for him. It’s still something I’ll never understand: why they bury the little ones so quickly.

People always ask me where the name Rosie comes from for my boutique and it’s in her honor. It’s been a privilege to run my business in her honor, knowing her legacy lives on through a business that brings hope and change to so many other lives.

Today, Judeline manages the production of Beljoy jewelry and we both have daughters the same age. Some of my favorite moments have been watching Rubie and Gracie play as Judeline and I do quality control and work side by side. I never thought we would recover after that painful day, but we sure have made it a full circle story of redemption.

play

4

baby Noel

I had begun a relationship with the Noel family during the summer of 2011, while visiting for most of my summer break. When I moved to Haiti full-time in the summer of 2012, I found a pregnant mama Noel. The family was already large, with seven children. The pregnancy was very high-risk as mom had suffered a recent stroke and was in her low forties. The family was living in a tin hut at the time, sleeping on the dirt.

I can remember one of my first visits with the family and Nashca, the youngest, having bugs swarm in her ears from a severe ear infection. The family’s situation was quite dire and I immediately started pouring all the resources I had into helping them. I wrote one of my first blogs and raised almost $10k to build them a new home. I delivered food to their house weekly, using my own money to feed them. I made sure all the kids were registered for the new school year that fall. I made several day-long trips to the hospital towards the end of the pregnancy to make sure mom and baby were okay.

The day finally came when she went into labor and as it would turn out, I had signed up for way more than I expected. We spent the first night at the hospital, pacing back and forth on a half-paved sidewalk, trying to make it through each contraction. The hospital only had two beds for delivery, so they make the laboring mamas wait outside on unbearably uncomfortable wooden benches until they were fully dilated.

I have a very vivid memory of myself lying on a wooden bench playing some type of game with shapes and colors on my Blueberry cellphone to help me get through those very early morning hours. The night sky was clear and you could see it lit with stars. I remember the humming noise of the hospital’s generator running and locals chatting late into the night outside the hospital gate.

The roosters started to crow as the sun began to rise. The doctor checked mama again and informed us that no progress had been made during the night so we might as well go home and rest and come back later. We returned probably ten hours later and I witnessed my first birth.

The birthing room had two tables with five gallon tubs at the end to catch all the blood and other good stuff that comes out during labor. There was an LED light that flickered above us and two Haitian nurses. I just remember it feeling so small in there.

Mama screamed and I’ll never forget the look in her eyes as she pushed and pushed. Baby was finally born and that little, new life never let out his first cry. The main nurse took him to an adjoining room and picked up his little legs and with a plop, they fell right back down. There were no reflexes. There were also obvious deformities and I knew there wasn’t going to be a happy ending.

We ended up taking an ambulance to a hospital in Port-au-Prince, over an hour away. I remember holding that little life in my arms, doing everything in me not to throw up because I was physically so hot, but also so unprepared for what was happening. Baby Noel was announced dead upon arrival at the hospital and we had to drive around the city for another hour finding a hospital to admit mom into because she had begun hemorrhaging.

i don’t know about you, but I think we all kind of romanticize the idea of seeing a baby be born. I think most people would jump at the opportunity to see a birth as it is one of life’s greatest miracles, am I right? I know that I had for sure romanticized the entire scenario, so when it all unraveled the way it did, my perspective of the world unraveled with it.

That first all-nighter at the hospital wrecked me. The pacing back and forth under a starry sky. The sitting on wooden benches that left me sore for days. The reality of what the hospitals really are like for the underdeveloped world. The lack of resources. Hell, the lack of running water! I peed in a dark, cement latrine that night.

Have you ever even recognized how lovely and clean and comfortable waiting rooms are here in America? I do every single time. It’ll wreck ya, if you let it.

That entire experience led me to not even knowing if I would have babies of my own for a couple of years. It’s actually why I believed God was giving me my first three, because I wouldn’t be able to carry and labor one into the world myself, not after all of that.

This last delivery with Zion was better because I went in knowing somewhat what to expect and wasn’t as nervous. Once we made it out of the delivery room and into the room on the birth floor, I felt so grateful. Another healthy baby. Another successful birth. Give this girl a pat on the back, would ya! Aren’t we women seriously superheroes?

And then I decided to take a bath in the jacuzzi and behind those closed doors, I wept. I looked at my naked, flabby postpartum body knowing what it had just done, yet knowing I would never know what my sisters in Haiti go through to have a baby. The flashbacks of baby Noel and that birthing room left me numb. How do we get to be so fortunate to even have access to the healthcare and hospitals that we have? I don’t deserve it, even for a second. I honestly would be ashamed if my mamas in Haiti knew what type of hospital I gave birth in: the type of care I receive; the food that gets to delivered to me as I rest in a self-adjusting giant bed; the ice packs for my butt and the warmed blankets for when I’m feeling cold.

I can’t even reason; it’s just so unfair. What a picture of God’s grace: we are all just sinners, deserving of dirty, dark latrines; yet we are lavished with luxury and jacuzzis.

The Noel story did not end with baby’s death, however. We were able to build them a new home, set mom up with a business selling dried fish at the market, get the oldest daughter a job at the orphanage and all the rest of the children into school. Today, I drive by their purple house on the way to the school, knowing they’re still okay.

Baby Noel’s grave was the first one to take up space in my heart and his death prepared me for Rosie’s, which was to come one year later.

the graveyard

In May 2018, I flew to Indiana to do a three day debriefing session. At the time, a good friend, who had spent the last few years living in Haiti, was living full-time with this couple who debriefed people as their full-time ministry.

One of the activities they had me to was look through a whole stack of magazines and rip out pictures. I was to glue all the pictures onto a large poster board, creating a collage that would tell a story about my life; I got to choose what story I wanted depicted. The collage ended up looking like a cluttered mess, but that’s what made it such an accurate description of my life.

That night, after dinner, a long walk and a glass of wine, I shared my poster and the stories it told to the couple doing the debriefing and my friend. On the poster was a picture of a big, grassy lawn. I shared the reason for having that picture:

1.) I hold a deep gratitude for my house in Haiti and cherish the fact that my children have a yard to play in. Green grass is hard to come by in Haiti and over the years we have been able to grow one. Almost every afternoon the kids run and play in this space; soccer being the most popular game played. It has held many intense games as the orphanage kids and village kids are always around to play.

2.) But, this yard, using it as an illustration of my heart, holds many grave sites for the people I’ve lost in the last seven years. At the time, I was still processing and grieving the loss of a very dear friend, whose life ended way too quickly, leaving behind two precious daughters.

Since losing her, I haven’t been the same. And just in this calendar year of 2019, there’s been six more deaths of people who have impacted me and been a part of my life in Haiti. As I spend this month writing, I know I need to tell their stories as their deaths have become a part of my story, leaving so much grief settled at the bottom of my heart.

I’ve seen people exploit Haitians and their lives as a way to bring in more money for their organization; a marketing scheme, if you will. I have a bitter taste in my mouth because I’ve seen it done so many times, so that’s why it is even more difficult to write these stories as I never want to cross that line. But, I’m feeling this gentle push from God to write, knowing there will be healing in the process. I guess I include this paragraph just to let you in on the fact that I’m sensitive to this whole matter. And at the end of the day, I just want to honor these lives more than anything.

So, tomorrow we shall start from beginning to end, a tour of my heart’s graveyard.

 

 

good things

Yesterday I wrote about the miracle of becoming homeowners in the States, today I’ll let you in on all my ugly, twisted feelings when it comes to those faithful provisions.

I’ve had many conversations with missionary friends who rely on supporters to do their work in Haiti. (While I don’t rely on supporters for my family’s income, we do rely on them fully for operations of the school, Tytoo Gardens orphanage, the Starfish program, the building of houses and basically everything else we do, except for at Rosie’s as that’s a sustainable business.) The conversations with these friends go around in circles, focusing on the pressure we feel from donors; the things we are sometimes ashamed to share, not wanting to upset any of those said donors; the lies we get sucked into and the unhealthy cycles we end up spinning in.

Since most of you reading this are more than likely on the donor side of things, I’ll tread slowly here as I try to write, but I also hope you’ll maybe reconsider changing the perspective you have for “those missionaries you support.”

I have several friends in Haiti who rely fully on support. They never post anything about them taking days off at the beach because they’re afraid donors will get mad at the way they are spending money. I had another friend once tell me a story of having a donor pull all of their support because she chose to take a vacation for the first time in 2 or 3 years to some other Caribbean island for a holiday, only to see said donor taking an exotic trip just months later. It’s a bizarre concept that we aren’t allowed to take a break, yet if you live in corporate America, you’re celebrated for taking breaks/vacations.

The idea is this: if you’re on the field serving the poor, you shouldn’t have nice things or relaxing breaks. Any form of self-care is believed to be donor money foolishly spent, resulting in burnt-out, unhealthy people. And from my experience, I would say every single person I know serving in Haiti, is burnt out and traumatized from one thing or another; but, we carry on because that’s what we are told to do. Or we carry on because we don’t have the resources to take the breaks, get the counseling, or get the help we all really need.

The home we have in Haiti is right on the ocean and was finished and furnished nicely. It’s nothing over the top as it’s a three bedroom home with comfortable leather furniture and a big dining table I imported from Ikea. There’s running water, with the biggest luxury being a water heater. There’s no dishwasher, air conditioning or Wi-fi. It’s really just the basics when you look at it, but it’s my sanctuary and place of refuge. If I didn’t have it, I seriously don’t think I would be able to do life in Haiti at all.

A woman from Iowa had once visited our home in Haiti and made the comment to me, “if I lived here, I’d want to live like the Haitians, not live like a princess like you do.” The healthy version of myself would have just easily shrugged that comment off, but seriously? I actually won’t even go there, except to say, if you think it’s so easy, come move here and do it yourself.

I believe in accountability and being transparent in our work; all of that I can handle. But, the guilt I carry for having nice things is something I want – actually, I need – to lay down in the new year.

Even as I share the story of us becoming homeowners, I feel the need to share the exact price we paid because I want people to know how cheap it was so you’ll never second guess the type of money we have. I’ve caught myself explaining all the great deals I found on all the furniture we bought for the house because somewhere deep inside I’ve come to believe that we just shouldn’t have nice things if we are serving the poor. Even the decisions to leave Haiti held feelings of guilt. Somehow I’ve come to believe this theology that if I don’t work 60 hour weeks and come home emotionally exhausted at the end of every day I’m not a good Christian. The choice to put ministry and work over family in the past years have become an idol in my heart, because if we can’t show the “supporters” our continued growth, then what will there be to show?

Even in the last month as Webert and I have gone and shared with multiple churches, the part of our testimony that always gets the biggest gasp is when show the before picture of the school – the one where Webert started teaching 30-some kids in a structure made of pallets and tarp – and then to show the present picture of the school ground – that’s the one where we educate 1,200+ students on a beautiful mountaintop with five school buildings. People can hardly believe the numbers, but would they be just as impressed and blown away if we only had 100 or 300 or 600 students?

We give God all the glory for what He’s done through the school, but there’s always this twisted, ugly side where we get caught up in impressing others and making sure the donors are happy.

And, what I hate the most about feeling this way about all the good things I’ve been given, is the inability to savor them and find joy in them. I allow Satan to take ground for what I know God has claimed sacred. How foolish of me to waste something so precious. I look at how quickly these darn kids of mine are growing up and how I hear God asking me to use this next season of my life to invest fully in them as He reminds me, “the poor will always be with us” (those words came from Jesus himself, literally, look it up in Matthew 26) I breathe in that truth in one breath, but in the next I’m carrying the burdens of running a business and ministry, knowing so many people in Haiti rely on the work we do in Haiti to literally survive and also knowing so many people here sacrifice so much to ensure Touch of Hope keeps going.

And, then I just get really tired at all the knowing, which sometimes leads me to bitterness, and dang it, I hate when I get to the bitterness feelings. But, hey, kudos to you, Satan, for allowing bitterness and unrealistic expectations and stupid lies to take away from what was intended to be holy and sacred and good.

So, again, here’s to life in limbo. Where it’s also a constant battle of ugly feelings. Where so many walls have been built up from years of work and trauma and a life lived hard. And, also where we begin to brave the process of tearing them down and letting God remold and reshape us for what feels like the millionth time. Because, in the end, I know He’s chasing after us and it’s always for His good.