Wednesday, February 25, 2015

To keep from being polluted by the world

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

Right now, it's 6am about 25 degrees in Louisville and I'm sitting in a heated live truck. When I stand outside for my live hits, I begin to shiver. 

I'm watching a homeless person struggle with a cardboard box. He lives under the stairwell of a parking garage, across the street from the police department and steps away from where I stand for my live shot. This isn't the first time I've seen him. He's got to be miserable under there, and at times, dangerously cold. I don't know what I can do to help him, and I'm afraid to approach him. 

This morning, an older woman pulled up to our truck asking for directions and money for gas. We gave her directions but I told her I didn't have cash, and I've been filled with regret ever since. What a missed opportunity to help someone out of a tough spot. 

I've spent the last two days (my weekend) in a church, reading my Bible- the chapter of Luke. The more I read about Jesus and his life here on earth, the more I realize how much we are missing the mark as Christians in America. And my actions today, turning down a woman who asked for help, shows me how wrong *I'm* getting it. 

Jesus spent his life helping the most vulnerable- the poorest, the sickest. Jesus didn't teach Christianity to be self-serving. We'd like to think we're helping others, but are we really? What are we sacrificing to help others? What are we giving up, what are we sharing? In Luke, Jesus asked a rich person to give up all his possessions to help the poor, and to "Follow me." How many of us would be able to do that? I would like to think I would, but when it comes down to it, I really just don't know.

What if we think we're being taken advantage of? That's inconsequential: 

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:30) 

In his book, "When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor... and yourself," Brian Fikkart writes: 

"North American Christians are simply not doing enough. We are the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth. Period. Yet, most of us live as though there is nothing terribly wrong in the world. We attend our kids' soccer games, pursue our careers, and take beach vacations while 40 percent of the world's inhabitants struggle just to eat every day. And in our own backyards, the homeless, those residing in ghettos, and a wave of immigrants live in a world outside the economic and social mainstream of North America.  We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth. But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn and strive to do something about it. There is simply not enough yearning and striving going on." 

Are we yearning and striving to help the poor, the needy? What happens when the needy comes to us to help? I obviously have a lot to learn. I clearly have become "polluted by the world" as we are cautioned against in James 1:27. 

But it's a worthwhile plight. It's important not to give up, even when we fail. 

Why? Because that's what we're called to do as Christians. Because that's how Jesus lived his life. Because we shouldn't allow ourselves to be polluted by the world. Because we can't take it with us. Because when we help those who are materially poor, we sometimes learn about spiritual wealth. Because when we are in the place where God calls us to be, we are filled with an immeasurable joy and a fullness that we can't find elsewhere. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Boy with No Address

He's a boy with no address, who lives in a nondescript mud hut... Just like the other ones in his village - down a long, winding gravel road-- on a street with no name.

It's a school with no walls, a school with no phone.  A school made up of four poles, a roof, and a dirt floor.

I'm 1,500 miles away.

But the boy with no address has a one in a million smile that would light up a room. He has a spirit that transcends language barriers. The boy with no address has a permanent home in the hearts of all the people he meets, and somehow, without even speaking the same language, he's convinced me to do everything I can to help him succeed.

The thing no one tells you about missions is that they are hard, frustrating, can be excruciatingly agonizing. Behind the smiling, perfect pictures is hard, unending work - countless phone calls, sleepless nights, tearful conversations.  Going on a mission trip changes most people. You don't come back the same person... Brooke Frasier sings "Now that I have seen, I am responsible" after her mission trip to Rwanda. How can you not want to do everything in your power to help when you may be someone's only hope?

But progress is hard. My Haitian friend TB reminds me, "step by step. Have patience, my sister."

I'm trying to get Vilanio enrolled in school. When I met Vilanio and his mother Madeline in December of 2013, I asked her what I could do to help. With a little prying, she shyly told me that because of Vilanio's accident (he's paralyzed from the waist down after falling from a mango tree) and the accompanying financial strain on their family, he hadn't been going to school. She said she needed help getting him enrolled in school and I promised to help.

A year later, Vilanio still isn't in school. We traveled to see him in September. It was a wild trip. We couldn't get ahold of his family, but decided to chance it and travel halfway across Haiti on a wild ride including using motos, a public bus, and a tap tap. I didn't know if we'd make it, honestly. I was nervous that we were wasting a day and a lot of resources on a wild goose chase that may not pan out. But it seemed like God was encouraging us to go. So we did. And it did pan out. As soon as we pulled down the rutty, dusty road where he lived and immediately saw Madeline standing there (what are the chances?), I was like the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes.

And I know this will work out too. But in the meantime, it's so incredibly frustrating. Each day brings it's own challenges. At first, we couldn't get in touch with the school. The number painted on the side of the school didn't work. Madeline's number was lost. Along with it, hope. But the number magically re-emerged, and along with it a renewed sense of purpose. Each (painfully slow) step brings us closer to getting Vilanio in school and a brighter future. It'll all be worth it, I know it will.  Because I know that one day the boy with no address will be a big part of mapping out a brighter future for his village and for Haiti.

"I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that. I can however, change the world for one person." Katie Davis, Kisses from Katie

Monday, December 15, 2014

Go Ahead, Call Me Ugly

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
Proverbs 31:25 

If it were up to me, I'd only wear makeup on special occasions. But it's not up to me. I'm in a business where being "put together" is part of my job. And I like my job, so I'll wear makeup every day. There's nothing wrong at all with wearing makeup, and there's nothing wrong with getting dressed up and feeling like a million bucks. But underneath all that - YOU are worth more than all the money in the world- more than all the gold, diamonds, and rubies. 

That doesn't mean that I feel any less pretty when I'm in makeup-less, sweat pants-donned state. Am I pretty? I don't know. That's completely subjective and based on other's opinions.  And frankly, I don't care what those opinions are. That's none of my business. 

But I feel pretty. And you should too. Not because of my hair, or my makeup, or my clothes- but I feel pretty because I was created by God, in his image, and I feel special because, just like every other human on this earth, I'm unique. That's something I wish every woman and every girl felt. I feel pretty because I try to be kind to others. I feel pretty when I make others feel special. I feel pretty when I set out to accomplish something that feels a little out of my comfort zone. I feel beautiful when I'm in nature, staring at a flowing waterfall or on top of a mountain. And I feel beautiful when I'm smack dab in the middle of helping others. 

But recently I've had hateful words spewed at me. I'm not alone in this. I can only imagine that every other girl and woman in America have, at one point or another, been subjected to cruel judgements based on an unnecessarily large focus on outward beauty. Recently I've been told my hair is "ugly, unfixed, out of style, out timey, outdated." I've been told my clothes are suited for someone older than me. I can only imagine the pain and hurt that comes from the same place inside the woman who said these comments to me. 

And that's not all. Last night, a friend of mine told me in my pictures where I am serving in Haiti, I look "haggard, tired." These are moments when I feel most beautiful, most alive. 

There comments don't cut me very deep.  But they are troublesome because I know there are other girls out there who haven't come to the realization yet that true beauty comes from within, that even the most beautiful person in the world will have detractors, that beauty fades, but character doesn't. 

And I think these comments also reflect a part of society that is very dark. A part that only sees value in women's looks, not in their heart. 

I don't want other women to face these comments. I don't want my sister, my mother or grandmothers, my cousins, my niece, my aunts, my friends to be subjected to this - let's call it like it is it - this bull crap. So it you read this post and are at all in agreement, maybe give a kind word to a friend. Compliment them on something that's within. Some beauty inside a person that doesn't fade with age. 

Last year I interviewed Jennifer Pharr Davis, who set the record for the fastest thru hike of the Appalachian Trail and these words have stuck with me ever since: 

"The trail made me feel very beautiful - and the reality was, I was very, very dirty. But I felt like I was a part of God's Creation and Creation was beautiful, and my interactions with other people - if I was kind, that made me feel pretty. Once you hike over 2,000 miles, your self worth is based on what you can do as opposed to how you look." 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Going Through the Motions

I feel like I've been just "going through the motions" lately in my life- and I don't like it. But let's face it- we all feel this way at some point or another, right?  

But that's not the point of life. We get one chance- one shot at life. And when you look at a lifespan of a human, it's really not that long. It goes by in a blink, in a flash. So why not thrive? 

So many times I feel like we're not thriving, we're simply struggling to survive. I'm guilty. Sometimes we take the easy way out, just do what it takes to "slide by" in work, in relationships, in activities and projects. Sometimes we're overwhelmed. We are overcome by grief, by guilt, by changing circumstances that cripple our very souls. As we learn to adapt to new realities, we stumble blindly in the darkness, grasping for any familiarity, anything that resembles joy. 

But it doesn't have to be that way. We don't have to compromise and settle for insignificant portions of comfort in exchange for overwhelming joy. We may go through tough seasons of growth, or of grief or pain, but we can't stay stagnant in these times. We learn, we grow, we realize that the dark times and thorns make us able to truly appreciate the times when happiness and blessings grow wild. 

What makes you happy? What are you passionate about? Hang onto that. What's on your bucket list? What's stopping you from marking something off it? What's a stumbling block- or what's something you need help with? Why not ask a friend for help? 

There is someone out there who believes in you, and who sees the potential for you to thrive. Why not believe in yourself?  Do what makes you happy. Make a positive change in the world. Shrug off things that upset you... After all, we only get one chance at this crazy life. 

"The ghosts that we knew will flicker from view and we'll live a long life." 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hope in the Darkness

"So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light, cuz oh it gave me such a fright. And I will hold as long as you like- just promise me we'll be alright." 

Stripping away the excess... Haiti takes things from you. It takes your cell phone reception, your internet access, your pillow top mattress, your drive thru restaurants, your Starbucks Venti Triple Latte with skim milk. It takes away your material comforts.

But Haiti gives you so much more. In the space of no distractions- there's room for   unlimited smiles, indescribable joy, happiness from simple pleasures like a coconut fresh from the tree and a luxury like a cup of ice. Stripping away the excess leaves you with the raw essence of what it means to be human. Relationships and connections are so much stronger. 

Sometimes when I look around Haiti I wonder what in the world we're doing there. We - being Americans. A country full of so much joy, of so much laughter and happiness and songs, and communities coming together to play soccer. People may be living in the darkness in mud huts but their lives are so much brighter.  Poor in material wealth but rich in spirituality. We've crippled their economy by exporting rice to a country full of rice farmers. Our rice can be sold much cheaper at market and local farmers are left with a crop and no customers. We send t-shirts and shorts when women at the markets sell fabric and local tailors make beautiful Haitian suits... And for the school kids- beautiful dresses and dress shirts. What are we doing? Why do we think our way is better? 

It's important to help without hurting. I love the organization I volunteer with (Grace so Amazing) because they work in community with Haitians. The four Americans in our guest house was outnumbered by the 8 Haitians (including two little babies!) and I wouldn't have it any other way. There is a need for a school to serve the neediest in Mirebalais and GSA is meeting that need. The KORE program they are partnering with is helping area families start their own businesses by providing micro loans and building chicken coups behind houses. It's a hand up rather than a hand out. 

I always come to Haiti to help. But I'm the one helped. I come to shine a light in the darkness, but I always find that I'm the one in the dark. Haiti is a light cutting through the excess of my American life, bringing joy I never thought possible. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

This isn't National Geographic

This isn't National Geographic. 

I'm not looking at these images from a tv screen or the pages of a magazine. 

These are real people in front of me, with lives and dreams and hopes and fears. Just like me. Who are reaching out to me and grabbing my hand, asking to take pictures with my phone, and smiling at me like we're old friends. 

Their faded, ripped American t-shirts and my dusty pale feet, standing together in community. 

Brooke Fraser sings, "Now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead. Now that I have held you- with my own arms- I cannot let go." 

My first trip to Haiti haunted me. Kept me up at night, brought me to tears on the way to work as I read notes from my friends in Haiti, realizing that the only thing separating us is the country where we were born. I'm no different than the friends I made in Haiti. We're similar- we have goals for our lives, we get our feelings hurt, we go through trials. But the trials for my Haitian friends are greater. In turn, they're stronger, more resilient, more likely to laugh in the midst of turmoil in their lives. They teach me much about true religion. They teach me how much more I have to learn about the important things in life. They live in poverty outwardly but are much richer spiritually, because their circumstances forced them to be. I may have won the lottery geographically, but having all the things that are important in America sometimes misses the mark. 

Last time I went to Haiti, I worried about the clothes I wore, I worried about financially being able to afford the trip, I worried about everything. This time I'm not concerned about clothes or what I pack, and my faith has strengthened through trials and I now know to never worry about finances on a mission trip. I now say don't worry about fundraising- if God is calling you to a mission trip, He'll provide the means for you to go. My friends and family have been so incredibly generous- and I've gotten donations when I least expected it. For that, I'm incredibly grateful. 

For this trip though, I feel overwhelmed. For those who know me (and let's face it- you probably wouldn't have made it this far on this blog if you didn't!) - you probably know that I recently started a new job in a new city. All great, wonderful changes. But I'm still trying to get my "sea-legs." I'm still trying to develop a routine. And going on a mission trip three weeks after I start a new job- although I feel incredibly happy and blessed to have the opportunity- is a little overwhelming. 

I think of the apostle Peter a lot- especially the story of him getting out of the boat and walking on water. To be totally overwhelmed. To feel like the crashing water around may drown you. Such a familiar feeling for me lately- completely overwhelmed. To be right on the cusp of sinking and - on the other side - something totally awesome. Because Jesus lets us get in over our heads- so He can be the one to reach out a hand and let us walk on water. We just have to get out of the boat. 

As Mumford and Sons sang- "I know my call despite my faults and despite my growing fears.... I'll find strength in pain, and I will change my ways. I'll know my name as it's called again." 

Thank you for supporting me on this journey. Thanks for your well-wishes, your prayers, giving of your time and your finances. This isn't just my trip- it's our trip. Only through the community of friends and family am I able to go. Please keep my dad and me (and more importantly, our friends in Haiti) in your thoughts and prayers next week. Can't wait to see the surprises God has in store! 

Monday, June 30, 2014

There is Sunshine in My Soul Today

A light heart and a happy soul... Sometimes we just need to let our souls breathe.  I do that best with wide open spaces, fresh air, and a song in my heart. This past weekend, I added bluegrass music, hammocks, bubbles, and stars to the mix. 

I'm not going to lie, I've had a heck of a few months. Overall, I really have no room to complain- I have so many things to be thankful for. But work and other stressors have really been wearing on me lately as they tend to do from time to time, and I've just felt really weighed down from some things I probably shouldn't be letting get to me. 

So this past weekend was JUST what I needed! It was a magical weekend filled with my favorite things and surprises and just so many fun things that make me happy! 

I moved to Evansville last year and heard about ROMP but was out of town and didn't get to go... so for a whole year, I've been excited about this Bluegrass festival held in Owensboro. 

I had no plans... Just showed up with plans to hang out with a co-worker and good friend of mine and his daughter.  We ended up making good friends with the guys camping next to us who were so nice and laid back, and I ended up just chilling with them the whole weekend, just hanging out and listening to amazing music.  

Sometimes my life gets too wrapped up in the unimportant. The daily routine of putting on makeup, the consuming thoughts of how other people perceive me, the small work dramas that take away from what's truly important in life.  It was great to put all that behind me for a weekend and just relax and have fun!

I forgot my shoes. It was an accident, but it turned out to be a blessing. I just went barefoot! It was great to walk around shoeless in the soft grass... and I didn't worry about putting on makeup or blowdrying my hair either. True beauty is about more than clothing and makeup and I'm so glad I had a chance to just let my true self, my soul, breathe. 

I hope you have the chance to find rest for your soul soon too!