Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Girl With the Golden Smile


Our little friend from The Hole, Arianni, is at home recovering after surgery to "clip" the tendons on the backs of both her legs, with the hope that it would relieve the tension and allow her to eventually be able to walk more normally.

She can only lay down or sit for the next 15 days and has an appointment to remove the casts on December 11th and begin physical therapy.

And even though she was bored and in pain she, of course, still had her golden smile on...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

this Hope and this Future


I used to be a very negative person.  I saw the glass half empty.  I prepared for the worst and never expected the best.  I never felt a sense of peace or contentment.  Although I still struggle with some negativity, I have rid most of my life of its presence.

I prefer to speak of possibility, hope and expectation.  My life's passion is empowering others to recognize their inner strength and to dedicate their lives to serving God with the gifts and talents He's provided them with.  We all come with negative baggage but my dreams are filled with being a part of God's redemption story in others.

Over the years I've grown tired, perhaps even angry, at the amount of Christians who preach the "you are a horrible sinner and are going to die" sermon to unbelievers, as if that would motivate someone ridden with guilt, confusion and pain, to come into the loving arms of the Christ I know.  We all know the reality; we are sinners, we are going to die, we go to hell without Christ.  But shoving that in someone's face who hasn't experienced, or even knows about the grace and mercy Christ offered us on the cross, can only leave someone feeling as if they don't deserve a love like that anyway.

Through time, God has molded me into the kind of person that extends grace and forgiveness pretty easily but lately, I feel like He has been reminding me of the reality of who I still am as a human.  I've talked in several posts that God has been sharpening my character, so painfully sometimes, that I wonder how I could ever change a certain aspect of who I am so drastically.  And it is just as true today.

As much as I loathe hearing one more pastor or warrior of the faith preach on our inherent evil, the reality of it is still truth.  If, as believers, we ever forget that at our core we are simply just sinners and think we are past the trials of the flesh, I think it is just as dangerous as living in a state of self-pity and self-loathing over our evil heritage.  Because of the state of hearts, an innocent and blameless man died a brutal death as the only atoning sacrifice to reconnect us with God.  If we ever forget that, it makes what He did for us, cheap.

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling especially proud of myself and all that God was allowing me to be a part of.  I even went as far as to reminisce on the person I once was and what a stark contrast of that person I am today.  As I was journaling, amidst words of hope and excitement, out of nowhere I began to write these words;
"You sacrificed for me.  You died for me.  Not just a simple death.  But a brutal death.  You knew it was going to be this way and yet you did it for ME.  You saw my face in the crowd, you looked into my eyes as I scoffed at you.  As I spit in your face and called you names.  As I mocked your crown of thorns and laughed at the blood dripping down your face.  You met my eyes, in all your suffering, and whispered to me, 'I love you, child.  I'm doing this for you.'  And you'd do it again, to show me over and over how much you love me."
At the end of writing the last words, tears were streaming down my face.  It was as if my soul had forgotten the reason I am who I am today.  The reality of who I once was, and the person I still am, reminded me that everyday I can live, if only for God's grace and to extend that grace to others.

The difficult balance of being proud of the people we've become because of Christ and the reality that we were destined for an eternity of damnation should create just enough tension to keep us humble.  But in fact, somewhere along the line we cheapen the sacrifice Christ made by boasting in what good people we've become. At the same time we also cheapen the sacrifice Christ made by dwelling on the innate evil within us, canceling out the fact that through Christ we were made a new creation.

We are a new life, a new creation.  This gives us the motivation to share this Hope and this Future with others, especially those who don't feel they could ever deserve it.  But we need never to forget the sacrifice that was made on our behalf that gave us this Hope and this Future that we now possess.
"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." -Ephesians 4:22-24

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Take Out the Trash


Yesterday, on my way to The Hole I was conversing with God and I said, "...I don't want it to just be me, drinking some coffee and chatting with friends."

I've been struggling a lot with the "next phase" of ministry in The Hole.  The last few weeks have been mostly to be there and to comfort the community, however I could, after the loss of Lepido.  But five weeks out and life seemingly is going back to normal.

I do have a tendency to always want to do something rather than just be.  Like, just being isn't good enough.

I've caught myself having this conversation with God a lot the last week or so.  Not wanting this to just be a reunion of friends.  I want ways that I can bring Jesus to people who don't know Him.  I want real conversations about real life that bring about discussions involving the Bible and what God has to say about things.  If I just wanted to drink coffee with friends I could stay in my own neighborhood.

Yesterday, as all of us "hens" were sitting around outside drinking coffee I began to notice something that I hadn't taken notice of the last couple times there.  We have had a small following of teenage boys that "hang around" while we are all outside chatting.  They hardly ever interject into our conversations and they pretend like they are not listening.   But I catch them engaged in the conversations out of the corner of my eye.

One of the boys is Carmen's 16-year old son, who they call Bunga.  He was recently laid off of work because of shortage in supply and he now has entirely too much time on his hands.  Five weeks ago, he and I barely had a relationship.  He would barely say hi to me and he acted "too cool" whenever I was around.  Something changed after his dad's death.  I don't know if it was the fact that I came to his dad's funeral or if I was just someone who consistently showed up in his life but today as he came to hang out he made sure to come hug me and ask me how I was doing.

Earlier in the afternoon, Yuleidy, was carrying two heavy buckets of trash to be dumped in the river.  Being pregnant and the fact that both her brother-in-law and her husband were sitting there while she walked past with the buckets, I felt the urge to say something.

I teased Bunga (although my words were serious), "Bunga, I need to teach you something today."  He shyly smiled, and continued sweeping the porch.  "Yuleidy, who is pregnant and younger than you, just walked by carrying the trash from your house.  Do you maybe see a problem with this?"  He continued sweeping with his back to me but every time his face turned I could see his shy grin.  "Taking the trash out should be the responsibility of the men in your house.  Yuleidy cooks and cleans and takes care of her daughter.  Don't you think she might need help with something like the trash?"  My words now caught the attention of Yuleidy's husband sitting close by.

"Bunga, you have the chance to be a good man.  To be an example to the younger boys around here that look up to you.  Do you hear what I am saying?"  A couple of the teenage girls around us all snickered and commented that Bunga doesn't listen to anyone.  I said out loud, "Bunga listens to me.  He knows that I love him.  He knows what I have to say is important."

Bunga continued sweeping.  You know when someone has a smile on their face that to everyone else it may say "I'm just letting the 'old hen' talk" but you know that the wheels are really turning?  He had that look.  And when he turned around and stopped sweeping he smiled at me.  Like, a real smile.  Not one that is just to appease the 'old hen' but one that says "I'm listening."

After I spoke to a friend today about the experience she called it a "teachable moment."  Something I initially thought was so unimportant was revealed to me to be incredibly important.  The more I thought through it and the more I rolled it over, God very clearly said to me, "Goody, no one has ever expected anything of him.  Today, you gave him expectation.  A standard that he can live by and live up to."

So as I struggled for the past week wondering what my next "move" was in The Hole I have been given anticipation and hope for more teachable moments.  For opportunities to invest and expect more than anyone else ever has from these youth.  To break chains of generational sin.  To stop cycles that seem so impossible to stop...

...except when I have the chance to teach a boy to take out the trash.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fresh Coat of Paint

I am going to balance my last post of no photos with a post with A LOT of photos!!!

Last week we painted Carmen's house.  Carmen is a friend who's husband was murdered almost a month ago in The Hole.  While chatting over coffee one day she mentioned that every time she walks by or sits down on her front porch the memory of Lepido's death flashes in her mind.  She felt like she had to live it over and over again.

I am naturally a fixer.  I am naturally a creative thinker and if there is one thing I have learned in my life it's that a fresh coat of paint is a good way to start new.

I am not suggesting that painting Carmen's house would take it all away and life would go on normally and roses would bud around every corner.  But there is something to be said about beautiful change.  About recognizing grief, finding a way to help you cope and looking toward what your "new normal" can be. And even though paint doesn't bring a husband back, the look on a wife's face when her home has a little facelift sure makes me think we could change a whole lot of yuck in this world with a simple can of paint.

Pastor Rafael did A LOT of painting...couldn't have completed it without him...
This porch is where Lepido was murdered...I was on a mission, this was the space I wanted to change the most...
Carmen painted all of the details like the window and door frames
Even Carmen's mom, Emilia, joined in the action!
And Carmen's granddaughter, Isileidy, too!
And my little buddy, Alexander!  Remember his older brother Wilson?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pour Out

I am always very hesitant to post anything without a photo.  I feel like without a photo to go along with what I have to say it's just not as thought-provoking.  But today I don't have a photo.  I didn't even take my camera out.  But I still feel like God speaks through words and not just pictures.  So I will write even though I have nothing to draw you in first.

*             *             *

The ladies and I have been planning for weeks to do our next outreach project.  One of the ladies suggested we paint the nails of some of the elderly women who are somewhat "shut in" their homes.  I thought it was a great idea so today was the day.

I showed up to the Hole and two of the women were still working and not sure when they'd be home and several of the other women were cooking and couldn't come along.  So it was just me and Yudy.

We set out to find our first "viejita" and my friend, Ani, suggested her mom.  So Yudy sat down and meticulously painted her toes and then her fingers.  We handed her a verse I had written out on pretty scrapbook paper and we went on our way.

The next woman's house we stopped at had just gotten her nails done and didn't want them repainted.  "Maybe another time," she said.  We prayed for her and her son that was in prison, handed her a pretty printed verse and moved on to the next house.

We stopped at my friend, Elisabeth's house and asked if her Mom was around.  She was down with a cold and didn't want to leave her room.

I could feel disappointment creeping in.  I could feel myself saying, "But God...we are doing this in your name, why can't we just have some women that need their nails painted?"  As we walked around the barrio I was talking to myself in my head thinking that I didn't even have any spectacular photos to post or "God moments" to speak of on our blog.  (I know, it disgusts me as I write it)

We were already into our "quest" an hour and only one set of nails painted so we walked a little ways to another elderly woman's house.  I was hoping with all my might that she wanted painted nails and that there was sufficient available light for some stellar photo-taking.  She was sick and didn't want to smell the odor of nail polish and gracefully declined.  So I dutifully prayed for her that she would get well and that God would be present in her current illness, all the while speaking loudly in my head the disappointment I felt about the day.  I just wanted to go and sit down, drink some coffee and chat with my friends before I went home.

I knew the next house over, the mom of one of the girls in my class was not doing very well.  About a month prior she had a portion of her intestines removed and it was causing her some grief.  Yudy and I walked over there to find Rosa Angelica's mom laying on the couch, crying out in pain with her grandmother holding her hands; tears streaming down her face.

A month earlier I had prayed for her, just a day after her surgery, that she would heal well.  In that month she hadn't had a bowel movement or been able to eat anything without vomiting.  She was frail and thin with an extended belly.

I leaned over her and placed my hand on her surgery scar while Yudy prayed.  I could hear the "Amen" in the background of my mind but felt the urge to pray on.  I whispered to my God and pleaded with Him for her suffering.  Her children were all around me with concerned looks on their faces.  I continued, asking the Holy Spirit to fill the room and asked that God would be present with us at this time of need.  I honestly don't know what I was expecting to happen, I just didn't feel like I should stop praying for whatever it was.

As I lifted my head, she groaned in pain.  It was then that I realized that for the 5-7 minutes that I was praying she was silent.  Painless.  But the pain returned and I just knew this wasn't the kind of thing that would just go away.  I suggested we take her to the hospital.

After a bit of banter and a bit of arguing we convinced her to go.  I still had my bad attitude on my shoulder, wanting to stay in The Hole a little longer and drink coffee with my friends.  But God gently reminded me that He had different plans.

We loaded up in my jeep, her and three family members, and headed for her doctor.  I could feel a little cloud of guilt hovering over my head.  We arrived in about 20 minutes and as each person got out of the car they thanked me and I told them that I was "at their service," a phrase that is used here to basically say "it's nothing, I'm here if you need me."

As the car door closed I was absolutely disgusted with myself.  God probably had the plan for me to be there for Ana Patria from the beginning.  He wanted to invite me into an opportunity to serve someone in His name.  And as far as she was concerned, I did that.  But I knew in my head that I was still such a child when it came to spiritual maturity.  That I can still do so many things right as a follower of Christ and still be so selfish when it comes to how I want to do ministry.

As harsh as I was being on myself God whispered two words to me to remind me that I am still a work in progress: "Pour Out."
Pour out your life for others.
Pour out the love I lavish on you, onto others.
Pour out your expectations.
Pour out your plans.
Pour out your guilt and your disgust in yourself.

God has been on a very clear mission to sharpen my character this year.  To mold me to be more like Him.  And I have been struggling for the past month with pride.  I've never considered myself to be a prideful person but I am learning that pride comes in many different forms.  I may not struggle with the outward pride that everyone sees -- where you boast, and talk about how amazing you are and put others down because of your awesomeness.  But what I have been struggling with has been sneaky, and ugly, and it has been quietly slipping into my heart.  The kind of pride that fakes humility.  The kind of pride that fishes for compliments.  The kind of pride that seeks recognition.  The kind of pride that repulses me about others, has slowly crept into me.

In the gentle refinement that only my Maker is capable of, I was reminded that just because I do things in the name of Jesus doesn't mean that He is always my motivation.  And He needs to be.  Bringing people to Him needs to be my motivation.  Pointing people to the cross needs to be my motivation.  Taking the spotlight off of myself needs to be my motivation.

A life Poured Out needs to be my end result.

Friday, September 07, 2012

god said bring nail polish

before i left for The Hole i felt God say, "bring nail polish."
i thought, "seriously?"
"yes, i'm serious."
so i did.

what unfolded was one of my most favorite days i have ever had in The Hole that completely revolved around the fact that i had brought nail polish.  one by one, women gathered, curious as to what we were doing.  one by one, women sat down picking through, deciding what color they should use.  i looked around at four generations of women; painting each other's nails, laughing, chatting like hens and chicks and i couldn't help but feel that quiet pass of peace that only happens every so often.  that moment when all is right in the world and not a thing could taint it.  when god, this earth, his people and life collide in just the right way that you have a taste of what it must have been like in the garden of eden before darkness entered the world.  and as quickly as it comes and as short as it stays it makes you long for the next moment like that to come again.

we talked about coffee, we drank coffee and made even more coffee.  we talked about painting the step we were sitting on because carmen can't look at it without remembering that horrible night.  we talked about the community and what it's going to take to change a place like that.  and we talked about babies and breastfeeding and turning ninety-five.

i felt for the very first time in six years that i wasn't just a visitor in The Hole.  that i was adopted, somehow, into this place that invited me to hear the deep hurts and joyful triumphs of everyday living.  somehow, i have been given the privilege to enter into this sacred barrio and feel like i was sitting on my own front step.

all because i brought some nail polish.







Wednesday, August 22, 2012

the place my heart calls home


i walked down the familiar stairs that i have gone down hundreds of times before.  although this time they seemed eerily unfamiliar.  today they were crimson-stained and told of the early morning events that unfolded in my sacred place: The Hole.

i didn't make eye contact with the twenty or so people seated on the concrete staircase and i didn't let a word leave my lips, not even my normal salutations that they are accustomed to.  i could feel the salty water behind my eyelids waiting to be released and i was afraid if i did anything but walk briskly i'd be unable to stop the niagara falls.

i veered left down the alley and saw Minino and Wilfreidy sitting in their doorway, trying to process in their eight year old and six year old minds the heaviness that plagued their barrio.  i gently kissed and hugged them both, not holding on too long as to not release the gates too soon.

a hundred people lined the path, familiar and unfamiliar faces.  i may have walked past people i knew only because i was looking intently for my Carolina.  her cousin saw my lost demeanor and grabbed me by my hand and led me into her home.  my eyes took a minute to adjust to the darkness and lack of electricity but i saw her sitting there, pretending to sip some soup.

when our eyes met i knew the time had come, i couldn't hold it in any longer, and as i embraced my dear friend and stroked her hair i cried with every cell in my body, unable to contain its release.  she only whispered softly as if speaking to someone else, "mataron mi papa, goody, mataron mi papa."  i know, sweet girl, i can't believe he's gone, either.

we held each other for a few minutes, wiped away our fading mascara and held hands as we made our way through the crowd.  a place that is normally piping with energetic kids in pajamas and women drinking coffee is now silently mourning the loss of one of their own.

in the school courtyard, i hugged his brother, Juan, and we shared tears, kisses on cheeks and disbelieving head-shakes.  i found Yudy, my peace, my saving grace, and cried some more as we said, "it doesn't seem real," over and over again.  i entered the school building surprised to see a coffin.  i wasn't sure what kind of situation i was walking in on but i definitely wasn't ready to see him.  so i scanned the room quickly and found his widow, my dear Carmen.

unhelpful women bent around her, trying to force her to guzzle down soup.  i could see in her eyes as they stared blankly at the floor that the last thing she wanted to do was eat.  i stood between her and her groom and she glanced at me, initially thinking maybe i was just another well-wisher wanting a hug but when her mind came back to reality and saw that it was me, we were lost in tears and half-mutterings and shaky knees.

i sat there holding her hand for a half an hour, fully knowing that he was five feet from me, never letting my eyes get above the legs holding up his casket.  i stared at the fading candles, crooked and leaning as they dripped wax on the concrete floor.  i felt the urge to get up and fix it, make the candles straight, clean up the falling wax, but that would mean being too close to him.  i wasn't ready for that.

his boys came in and out, sometimes staying long enough to cry over their father or touch his forehead.  other people entered, whipping out their cell phones to take pictures of his face.  i thought about getting up and griping at them but i know, culturally, death photos are perfectly acceptable.  finally the room was empty except for the priest, some randoms, his widow and me.  now was as good of time as any, i have to pay my respects before i go.

i pretended to fix a broken slat on the window on the opposite side of the room.  i relit a candle that went out directly above his head.  i touched the side of his casket and brushed some dust from its edges.  and then i looked first at his hair trying to prepare myself for his face.

he looked like he was sleeping; the advantage to the viewing being only a few hours after his actual death.  no makeup, no waxy look, no fake eyelashes.  it was just Lepido, asleep.  i hadn't realized it at the time but i must have looked like i might fall or something because Yudy suddenly appeared at my side holding my elbow and putting a hand around my waist.  her touch must have yanked my subconscious out of wherever it was because i began sobbing in that moment.

it was then that i saw his fatal wound, the one that i somehow missed for the other five minutes that i had been staring at his face.  along the side of his jawline, a series of deep stitching, holding his skin unnaturally together.  i thought to myself, "he didn't have a chance."  i put myself there, at 3 a.m., wondering if i had been there would i have been any help at all.  if i had been hanging around with all of them, eating empanadas and sipping a cold drink would my presence have made a difference?  my out-of-date cpr training.  my amateur knowledge of holding pressure on a wound or putting on butterfly bandages.  no.  with a wound like that, he didn't have a chance.

most of the next couple hours were a blur.  i held his grandchildren.  i hugged his children.  i prayed with his widow.  i couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that literally a week ago he hugged and kissed me and asked when the summer teams were done.

i still can't wrap my mind around it.

i'm sure if you are reading this you are thinking Lepido and i must have been close.  sure, i've drank coffee with him.  i've talked life with him.  i've taken pictures of him and his family.  nothing that would equate to using the word "close."  i have tried and tired to think of reasons why this is affecting me so greatly and i have come up completely empty.  i haven't slept much at all since the event occurred.  i think about it when i have a free moment from sippy cups and cartoons.  i pray about it when i'm walking from my front door to my car.  i can't shake it.  i can't explain it.  i have no resolution.

i do know that The Hole holds my every cell.  my passion lies in those concrete alleys.  my compassion lies with those shoeless children.  and maybe, i can't shake this because Lepido was part of that place.  the place that i love.  the place my heart calls home.  and a little piece of my heart just might have gone with him when he left.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Photo of the Week...7/17-7/24


we'll just call this week's photo of the week, broken heart: week #2.

although i cannot share all the details of this story, just trust that it's a good thing you don't know them.  and although it would be easy for me to make this entire post about how unfair life is and how awful people are, God showed me very clearly that regardless of what humans do, He is still in control.  He will take what people intend for evil and make it good.


as he strolled into the clean, church building you could almost cut the tension with a knife.  people's eyes were already welling up with tears, although we were trying hard to not let him see.  he calmly joined the silent group with a tentative smile on his face.  i tried to smile, wondering how on earth he could even muster one up.

this week was for him.  and although others were there, he was the inspiration.  a deaf teenager, living in a trash dump, never learning an actual language to communicate with others.  on this island, children with deformities or disabilities are often cast aside like the daily trash.  they are not cared for.  they are seen as a hindrance.  most of the time they are taken to a government orphanage so someone else can deal with them, that's if they aren't aborted first.  but Yordy's mom loves him.  maybe not the way some judgmental hearts might want her too, but she loves him the best she can.

as spanish signing cards were waving around and new conversations formed with hands and expressions, his eyes lit up with hope.  he wasn't the only one anymore.  there were people here that wanted to give him language.  that wanted him to know that he is anything but a castaway.  that he has value and that he belongs to a kingdom that reigns above the dirty river his home sits next to.

i watched him closely, looking for the remnants of his recent horrific situation.  instead of angry or hurt eyes, he smiled so often that i was blown away by this young man still so filled with joy.  but there were moments.  when no one was looking, and just i was watching, the smile would slip away.  his eyes would look downward and his mind would wander.  remembering.  but almost as quickly as his smile left it was almost as if his heart reminded him that today was a new day, and his smile reappeared bigger and brighter than before.

i can't really explain all that those few hours taught me in a room full of people, signing a language i barely knew.  but God showed me through a deaf teenager whose future, according to this world, holds nothing but disappointment and ridicule, that joy can be found in every moment.  even amidst our worst nightmares, God has a redemption plan bigger than we could ever imagine.  and His grace extends beyond language, culture or circumstance.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Photo of the Week...7/10-7/17


i could feel it in the pit of my stomach.  the sinking feeling that God was doing something that was going to hurt.  he was going to break my heart all over again.

as our van trampled through the pitted dirt roads i could see the mound of trash burning off in the distance.  a mix of machinery and working men looked like figures in a cartoon because surely real humans wouldn't be in that sort of situation.

i closed my eyes and tried to prepare myself for what i knew was coming.  it was five years earlier that i had come here and had my heart broken for the first time.  i was hoping a repeat story wouldn't unfold.  i was quite naive.

there is something about La Mosca that brings out the worst type of christian in me.  i feel angry and bitter upon entering its fly-infested streets.  it makes me want to slap neglectful parents in the face as i stare at their lonely, unloved children.  it makes me want to curse at the owners of the garbage dump who exploit these people and trap them in a pit of poverty.  it makes me want to have a conversation, not a pretty one, with the evil one who owns these streets and holds its inhabitants captive.

its dark and it feels hopeless.

i could feel my subconscious working over time to harden my heart, to make it numb.  it knows full well that if i let myself feel this place, sink into its grief, i might not be able to pull myself out.

the medical clinic was going great.  nothing too serious to report.  a few scratches and skin infections but mostly female issues dominated the morning.  i felt like i was going to make it.  i had successfully visited La Mosca without mourning over them and curling into a fetal position in the corner of the church.  but i made a simple mistake.  i looked out the window.  i saw plates of food being passed.  i thought i would go take some pictures.

i rounded the corner to fifty kids sitting on the cement floor with plates of food in their laps.  not unusual.  i've seen nutrition centers before.  heck, half of my summer is spent in them.  but i caught her eye.  a little girl who looked like the Dominican version of my little girl.  let the breaking begin.

i scanned her with my eyes from head to toe.  hair disheveled.  scrapes on her face and back.  scabies scars from her neck to her feet.  a pair of shorts, tattered and clearly too big for her.  no shoes.  and suddenly my own blonde-headed beauty flashed before me.  this time with matted hair and calloused feet.

she didn't smile, she didn't react, she didn't play.  she just stared.  her deep brown eyes staring at the big black thing i was holding to my face.  little did she know that it was my protection.  i've shed many tears behind my lens, unknowingly to the world.  and this day was no exception.  they flowed without end, or sound, as i imagined my baby girl sitting on a cement floor, eating rice and beans, wearing her brother's shorts and with itching wounds all over her body.  bugs, literally laying eggs in her flesh and clawing their way out after they've hatched.  this little girl's reality became my reality.  she became my daughter.

pain and suffering used to be something i ran from.  trying so desperately to make "light" of something that so evidently couldn't become just a phrase for an optimistic person.  more and more God is teaching me to meet people in their grief.  hurt with them.  suffer with them.  dive into their pain as deep as they are in it.  its in that place, and only in that place, that we can truly understand what Jesus did for us.  what He asks us to continually do...share in His suffering and the suffering of His beloved.

i don't know if she understands the life that surrounds her at the ripe age of two.  nor do i know the plans He has for her.  but i know something...God keeps allowing me to ache for these little ones and the injustice of their situation.  every bit of suffering i feel for them does more and more to drive me to seek justice for those who can't seek justice for themselves.

and after all, even in what seems like the most hopeless of situations, i still got her to smile.  just maybe hope is on the horizon.
"For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ."  -2 Corinthians 1:5

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Photo of the Week - 6/26-7/3

you might find it strange that my photo of the week is a photo of one of our staff.  you might find it stranger that it isn't of an adorable kid in one of our ministry communities.  but this moment, this picture impacted me so greatly this week that i couldn't help but make this photo, my photo of the week.


you could hear a pin drop.  and in a country as loud as ours, that's saying something.  you know when you can tell something big is coming, whether you know what it is or not, something in you just knows?  all your senses hone in on what is taking place before you.  you are acutely aware of how people are positioned, where they are looking, who is drawing the attention.  you wait in anticipation for "the event" to occur, not yet knowing what exactly it is going to be.   i was waiting, expectedly.

the young men that surrounded me, somewhere around two hundred of them, were fidgety.  some of them knew it was coming too.  others didn't want the words to be spoken.  still others were waiting for the charge.  to be part of something bigger than any of them even knew possible.  because in reality, nobody ever really expected anything of them anyway.

i could hear it in Will's voice.  he wasn't going to shy away from this conversation.  he knew this was the moment.  he knew a week like this was his platform.  God's platform.  Will knew that if he wasn't bold, if he wasn't real, if he didn't hit them where it hurt, then all of this they'd been doing would have been wasted on deaf ears.

he started to talk about fathers.  risky subject.  maybe you or i have a pretty good picture of a dad because we grew up with amazing ones.  but these boys don't have that good fortune.  a majority of the fathers here are the furthest thing from what a father is supposed to be.  and when i say majority, i'm not exaggerating a statistic so you'll be blown away; the cold, hard truth is good examples are few and far between.  they abuse their children, beat their wives, drink incessantly.   and that's if they are around.  most "fathers" are but a vapor in the wind.  you only speak of them when signing official papers or are enlisting in school and the school officials need to know your father's name.  do you know a couple dads like that?  i know twenty; and they all live on the same street.

so when Will brought up their fathers, for most of them it was like opening a wound they would rather just put a bandaid on.  but Will wasn't having it.  he knows that if something doesn't change, 99% of the kids sitting in that room would grow up to be just like their fathers.  abusive.  deadbeats.  criminals.

Will asked them to raise their hands if their fathers drank a lot.  more than half the hands in that place shot to the roof.  the others raised their hands, not physically, but with a disgraceful expression.  "how many of your fathers hit your mom?"  less hands went up this time but their expressions went from disgrace and shame to hurt and angry.  "how many of your fathers hit you?"  only the hands of the younger boys stayed up.  the older ones know you don't let others see that kind of truth.  "do you want to be like your dads?  do you want to follow in his footsteps?  do you want to abuse your kids and beat your wives and get drunk every night?"  i could hear the quiet sound of influence passing over the crowd.  the sound of sniffing and tear-wiping began too.

something incredible happens when a person is empowered.  when they realize they have expectation.  it ignites something in them.  they suddenly feel like who they are now doesn't have to be who they will always be.  change is a powerful thing.

there was this moment when i could barely see through my own tears and i watched as Will's eyes welled up too.   i realized THIS is God's redemption plan for this island.  maybe the young men who are here, listening, will change the course of an entire community.  maybe looking back ten years from now we could track a new generation of husbands and fathers to this very room.  maybe, all it took was one guy from louisville, kentucky to charge these boys to be Men of God.  and almost as if it were rehearsed, when Will asked this room full of broken boys if they wanted to be Men of God they chanted back at him, "Hombres de Dios," with fists raised in the air.  not because they were expected to or they would win a prize if they did it really loud but because the flame was lit and the torch was passed and for a room full of boys, the buck was stopping here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Photo of the Week 6/5-6/12


it's been harder on me since we have returned from the States.  it's almost like i forgot for a short time just what life is like for the majority of the people living here.  everywhere i look i see hungry kids, hurting families and satan's strongholds.  like my eyes have been opened...again.

even though i know God doesn't want me to stay in this place, it's still a good place to be.  to be reminded that we are on a battlefield.  we are waging war against the most deceptive army known to man.  we are fighting for little souls that don't even know yet why we are fighting.

little souls like hers.

as i watched her in her teenage mom's arms i tried hard not to feel hopeless for her.  wondering what on earth i could possibly do to change her circumstances, to keep her from following the broken path ninety-nine percent of her friends will.  God reminded me that i am armed with the strongest weapon available to anyone.  a weapon that our enemies will never possess.  a weapon that heals the wounded, saves the lost and brings justice to God's people.

i can pray for her.  i can battle satan in a spiritual realm that so many people forget they are able to tap into.  will you join me?  will you pray for this little one to stand apart from the crowd?  will you pray that she will have supernatural abilities to fend of temptation and live a life radically for Christ?

God is calling us to to stand in the gap for His people, especially the ones who are unable to defend themselves.  could you imagine this little one fighting satan on her own?  she needs me.  she needs us.  she needs the body of Christ.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Photo of the Week - 5.29-6.5


hello there, you little dominican beauty...

i know God has a plan for you.  plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  to give you hope and a future.  my prayer for you is that you find your identity in Christ; not in boys, clothes, or the things of this world.

remember this time, your youth, and the things that make you smile.  remember the freedom and the little things that make this time in your life so carefree.

keep putting flowers in your hair, just for the fun of it.  keep dancing with your friends in the street, just because you can.  keep walking through that church door, reminding yourself of a big God who cares so deeply for you.

i don't know your circumstances but i know that you are a child of Him who wants to do immeasurably more than you could dream or imagine.  let Him.  let Him use you for His kingdom.  let Him mold you and shape you.  let Him take control and show you His way...because, after all, it is the best way you can take.

you are the future generation of a culture that is going to radically change this island.  you are God's solution.  He has chosen you to be a part of a revolution.

you are a warrior even at your young age.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Photo of the Week-2/12-2/19


meet linda (pronounced leen-dah; means cute, adorable, beautiful). hey there, pretty girl. she lives in the hole and she's been my photo of the week before. except before, i didn't know her. before, she cried at the sight of me. before, i hadn't stepped into her world.

it's been a strange transition working so closely to the ministry happening in the hole. i figured i would become more emotionally numb to it since i see it at such close proximity. but, quite frankly, the opposite has happened.

i remember when i was explaining life in the hole to a short-term missions team for the first time after i began working there. i said my usual stuff, expressed the need there, shared how tough life can be. and i cried. like, to the point that i just wanted to jump out of the van, find a corner and curl up in it. it no longer was just a story i told. it was her story. linda's story. i know kids now whose parents leave in the morning to go to work, lock their kids out of the house and make them fend for themselves until they get home. i know girls who are basically child prostitutes with no self-esteem or feeling of worth. i know parents who hardly have enough food to feed themselves, let alone their eight children. and it breaks my heart even more knowing their real life stories.

but for me, what keeps me coming back, what keeps me taking the long staircase down into this dump are the smiles i get when i turn the alley to the church. linda, who was so petrified of me two years ago, is now one of my most enthusiastic welcomers. she will stop whatever she is doing, run barefoot and jump over trash and dirty water just to rest comfortably in my arms. talk about redeeming people. god's already working on her little heart, changing it from fear and uncertainty to trust and love.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

To see what He sees...

I've read over and re-wrote this post several times. Nothing I wrote ever seemed right. I've searched and prayed and contemplated why this could be and have come up empty handed. The fact is, explaining what you see does this place no justice. All of the most eloquent words in the world could not accurately describe the feelings you feel as you walk through Phaeton. I've felt pain, hopelessness, adoration, gratefulness, confusion, hope...and the list goes on.

Within my first hour in Phaeton, I had this uneasy feeling. Praying, I asked, "God, how can I accurately depict what you are doing here? I don't even know what I am feeling, how can I explain that to others?" I usually hear some type of response in my head, be it the holy spirit or my own ponderings but after a while of silence I simply said, "Ok, then, can you just help me see this place how you see it? Can you help my camera capture how your heart feels for this place?" Without Him even having to respond, the uneasy feeling I had before simply disappeared and I had a zest for capturing my surroundings like I hadn't had in months. Sometimes God speaks so audibly, giving me clear direction and instruction. That day in Phaeton, He didn't need to say anything...He just gave me a little nod as He allowed me to see a place He loves through His eyes.































To read my Haiti experience last year, click here.