Full disclosure: Haiti wrecked me. It wrecked me good.
I traveled to Haiti with an organization I used to work for called, The Global Orphan Project (GO Project). They have a saying that when you visit Haiti, you’re “ruined for the average.” The people you meet, the stories you hear, and the way God moves through the experiences you have – all work together to prevent you from returning home and simply going back to life as usual.
While I worked at GO Project, we would often hear how people couldn’t wait to get down to Haiti to love on the orphans. Little did they know that they were the ones who would be on the receiving end. Little did they know that these children they were about to meet radiate pure, unconditional Love. Love that saw them through intense hardships and sometimes life-threatening circumstances. Little did they know they were about to get their world turned upside down.
At least that was my experience when I visited Haiti for the first time. It was about a month after I started working at GO Project back in August 2013 and they sent me down to get a firsthand look at how the organization functioned in the field. It was easy to update a Facebook status in the comfort of my office. I needed to experience Haiti. I needed to be ruined for the average.
I remember the morning we left like it was yesterday. I wasn’t so much anxious because I was getting ready to travel to a new country I knew very little about, but mostly because I was traveling with seven other people I either didn’t know at all, or had only known roughly three weeks. Traveling is a very intimate experience for me. Plus, I’m very introverted by nature, so you can understand why I was a little on edge.
Luckily, we left so early that nobody was really in the mood to talk – we were all ready to catch up on some sleep on the plane.
We met up with the whole team in Florida (everyone was from different parts of the US), where we all got a chance to exchange introductions before catching our last flight to Port-au-Prince. After learning that a couple of the gals on the team were also in Marketing, my mood lightened. Finally, there was some common ground – I could use this time to learn from them.
Or so I thought.
The trip seemed like a blur. It was almost too long and not long enough. There was zero time to talk about work – or if there was…work was the furthest thing from our minds. Everybody experienced things on different levels in Haiti. But one thing was certain – everyone experienced Love. Every night we got together for a debriefing of that day’s events. Every night there were tears. Every night there were questions – about why things are the way the are. Why we were so “lucky” to be born into such privilege. Why terrible things had to happen to such innocent children. Every night those questions lingered, unanswered.
But then every morning, we started the day with Love. We asked Love to open our hearts, to not dwell on the questions we couldn’t answer, but to be still in the moments with these children. Not everyone on the team joined our morning devotions…but it was evident they felt Love’s presence regardless.
I visited Haiti for the first time four years ago. And four years later, this little girl’s smile is still ingrained in my mind.
I often followed up with our team on the ground to see how little Daishka was doing, but shortly after I returned to the states, I was told that she was reunified with her family. My heart was so happy that she was back together with her family, but it also broke at the thought of not ever seeing her again.
I grappled with the possibility of falling in love with a complete stranger. But in Haiti – I did just that. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Love transcends language barriers. Love doesn’t see color, or gender, or culture – Love just does. And is. I experienced Love playing “Duck, Duck, Goose” for hours while the kids giggled chasing each other around the circle. I held Love in my arms when taking a nap seemed like the perfect afternoon activity. I held back tears waving goodbye to Love every time we drove away at the end of a visit.
The moments I hold dearest are when I experience Love. Which makes sense that Haiti is still so vivid in my mind. Even four years later.
Last month, I had the honor of returning to Haiti. It was a difficult decision – I had such a wonderful trip the first time, what are the chances Love would show up just as much this time? I know what you’re thinking…who am I to put Love in a box? Looking back, I’m so glad I said, “yes.”
As is the case with most expectations…this trip exceeded anything I could have imagined experiencing in Haiti – even the second time around. Having been before, my heart was over those initial difficult questions. And having worked at GO Project for three years, the “why’s” no longer seemed so daunting. I knew what beautiful things were happening in Haiti. I knew Love was flourishing there. I knew Love was looking over Haiti and the people living there. Love held each of the kids we were about to meet and provided for them daily.
Having that mindset – I was able to experience Haiti differently. I was able to appreciate the country in a whole new light. In that sense, though, I was a little bummed I didn’t experience Love as raw and fully as I had the first time.
If I’m being completely honest…I wasn’t sure I really felt Love’s presence much at all that whole week.
Playing with the kids was wonderful. I formed relationships that will forever remain in my heart. I got to honor the mamas by pampering them. I even saw myself in one of them, which gave me a whole new perspective. I may be young, but that doesn’t disqualify me from being the hands and feet of God by caring for children. I learned that from her.
But sitting on the roof of Jumecourt Inn that last night, I couldn’t help but think that my experience up to that point was sub par. I knew better than to come into this with expectations.
That’s when Love completely blew my mind.
Isn’t that just like Love too? To come in at just the right moment – when you think it’s nowhere to be found?
I’m in a transitional period in my life. I’m nearing 30, I just moved home, I’m seven months into running my own marketing business, and I’m at the point where the people in my life are finally the people who are meant to be there. Who want to be there.
I maintain contact with a lot of friends I’ve met over the years. Even most of the ones I had in high school. It’s inevitable that some friendships simply don’t stand the test of time and you get to a point where you don’t talk often. But that doesn’t mean they’re completely gone. I would say the majority of my friendships are like that. We don’t talk regularly, but a text every now and then reminds me of the bond that’s still there. We’re still genuinely interested in each others’ lives. Thank GOD for Facebook, am I right??
Then you have those friendships that simply fade away. And you know what? That’s okay too.
It’s taken me about three years to get to the point of being able to say that without bitterness. And it’s the craziest thing…but my experience in Haiti finally made that possible. Love showed up in a BIG way.
I’ve always admired the way certain events in my life have worked together just right to help me through difficult times and situations that sometimes I didn’t even know I needed help getting through.
Looking back…I can pinpoint times in my life when Love had clearly been orchestrating certain events.
When I was in college…I was completely lost. I sought refuge in the ecstasy that alcohol provided. People liked me when I drank. I always had the craziest stories. Stories that are embarrassing to think back on now…but they played a part in becoming the woman I am today. It’s easy to wonder where you’d be had you not made such bad decisions in your life, but sometimes it’s better to just let go and be thankful that Love never gave up on you. I remember the day that Love showed up in a friend who showed no judgement in my behavior, but at the same time, wasn’t content leaving me where I was. She encouraged me to see myself through the Love that died for me…and when you view life from that perspective, it changes everything. I didn’t like the person I had become.
Which led me to China. I had no idea what I was doing when I stepped on that plane. But Love knew. Love was waiting for me in Baoding. Love had its work boots on ready to start the renovation process in my life. I experienced some of my darkest days in China. But at the end of it all…I was left with the lightest heart. I allowed Love in to do a work in me – and four years later, that same Love is still doing that same work in me. And I don’t feel ashamed by that at all – that’s me admitting my humanity. You’re lying to yourself if you say that Love’s work is finished within you. It’s never going to be finished until we meet Love face to face one day.
China then led to Kansas City…and GO Project. Which leads me back to my point about friendships. And how Love orchestrates a series of events to work together for a cause.
It just so happens that Love led me back to a place where my best friend was. And my expectation was that life was going to be perfect because the two of us were together again. But that’s the thing with expectations…rarely do they work out the way you envision them.
This situation was no different. Life happened and this relationship ended. The thing that made this one so different than the others was that there was no closure. This wasn’t a high school friendship that just slowly faded. This was almost like a break up. And the pain of a break up lingers if there’s no closure.
Three years went by and I wrestled with blame, resentment, and sadness. It was one of those circumstances where I simply just could not understand Love’s intentions. And it hardened my heart towards this relationship.
Three years went by and I found myself in Haiti for the second time. On the rooftop of Jumecourt Inn. That’s when Love showed up…at the intersection of coincidence and perfect orchestration.
I met someone who came to Haiti following his own set of orchestrated circumstances who “just so happened” to know that same friend. I envisioned Love looking down on our conversation that night with a satisfied grin on His face that said, “See how much I love you? See what I did to bring you to a place of healing?” Well, no, I probably didn’t see everything that brought the two of us together that night. But I felt Love’s presence. And it rocked my entire being that Love cared about me to point of bringing me to Haiti again to experience the closure I didn’t know I needed, but so desperately longed for.
My world is full of distractions. Distractions that both took my mind off of dwelling on the situation and distractions that led me away from healing. In Haiti, I had neither of those. I had no distractions at all. But I had Love. And if Love has taught me anything about forgiveness, it’s that forgiving someone isn’t about letting them off the hook…it’s about freeing yourself from the hold of resentment and bitterness – regardless of whether or not that person accepts your forgiveness.
It’s been about a month since that night, and it still brings tears to my eyes thinking about Haiti. In the world’s perspective, America has an abundance of what Haiti lacks. Money, leadership, justice, an economy, structure. But really, Haiti has an abundance of what we all so desperately need. Love.
One of my favorite things I brought back from Haiti is a video of the kids singing at night at one of the villages. They end each day the same way they begin…in praise. Thanking God for providing for them…for loving them…and for protecting them. As I sit here typing this, I’m simultaneously thinking about the millions of things I’m putting off just trying to get this wrapped up. I’m distracted. It’s moments like this I have to stop myself to remain in the moment. To be still. It’s so incredibly difficult remembering to do that in today’s world. It seems like if you stop for even a second, you’re already way behind. That stillness in Haiti allowed me to stop and experience the Love that had been knocking on the door of my heart for a long time. I just couldn’t hear it.
It’s like I said before… the moments I hold dearest are when I experience Love. That evening on the rooftop of Jumecourt Inn in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Love showed up in a way I could never have fathomed. And that will remain in my heart forever. That healing will remain in my heart forever.
Yeah, Haiti wrecked me. But it was a collision my heart so badly needed. And in the wise words of lyrical genius Ed Sheeran, a heart that’s broke is a heart that’s been Loved.