Haiti Day 7: Goodbye

Of all my Haiti posts, this is the hardest to write. Haiti was just so amazing. I saw God in new ways and heard Him speak to me loud and clear. I made wonderful new friends and had incredible experiences that left me more Godfident than ever. I learned how to depend more and more fully on God and was able to watch His will come to life. He blessed me so much with this trip; how can I possibly sum it all up? Even worse, how can I possibly say goodbye?

I am choosing to believe that this is not the end. One of the tricky things about Christian events is that when you leave, you leave on a Jesus high, and that tends to fade. I think that what God did for me in Haiti is more than that. He brought real and lasting change, and I know that this same God is still with me now. He has a plan to use me back home, just as He did in Haiti.

God taught me so much on this trip. He showed me that, Haitian or American, we are all His sons and daughters. He showed me how much more blessed it is to give. He showed me that the more I trust in Him, the more I will see Him work. He has used this trip and this entire summer to bring me to a place of complete dependence on Him, and it’s joy and peace like nothing else. My trip to Haiti is not the end. It is just another chapter of the story God is writing for me. It’s an even greater thrill to know that my chapter is really just a sentence or two, maybe even just a few words, in His Grand Story. I am so, so blessed to have been a part of this trip, but even more than that, I am blessed to play a role in God’s ongoing tale of love and redemption.

He loves us. Oh, how He loves us.

Thank you so much for reading about my trip! It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. Haiti has stolen a piece of my heart that I don’t think I will ever get back, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. God is truly alive and working all around the world. His plan is so huge that it’s unfathomable; He cares about the details of not only my life, but of the lives of all seven billion people on the planet! Our God is a big God. Our God is a trustworthy God. Our God is a loving, kind, amazing, faithful, awesome God. He is the God that I saw at work in Haiti, and my only desire is to see more.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” -Ephesians 3:20-21

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Haiti Day 6: Blissful Joy

Thursday morning in Haiti started with this prayer: God, I’m empty. Physically, the sleep deprivation multiple nights in a row was starting to catch up on me. Emotionally, I was just feeling drained. I told God that morning that I couldn’t handle the day on my own, and He reassured me that I didn’t have to. I went into that day completely depending on Him.

So it’s no wonder that this day contains my favorite memory of the trip.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the morning of Haiti day 6, our team split up into three smaller groups and went into homes to see a day in the life of a Haitian. I got to help a mother of three cook and carry water to her house. We pumped the water from a well and carried it across a field and the street in five gallon buckets, which was pretty exhausting. It continued to astound me that the people I met were grateful for water that they had to carry across the street, while many Americans complain if the water coming out of our kitchen faucet doesn’t taste right. That’s one of the things I’m still grappling with as I readjust to life in the States: our material possessions are greater, but so is our amount of complaining and whining about them.

While carrying water like the Haitians do was pretty cool, it wasn’t my favorite part of the day. That came during VBS. Picture this: I’m surrounded on all sides by beautiful Haitian mountains and a crystal clear sky. My tee shirt and maxi skirt are dusty and dirty. Kids are playing all around me, doing crafts, jumping rope, and kicking around a soccer ball. A beautiful little girl grabs my hand, pulls me over to the middle of the field, and starts spinning in circles. She spins, falls, spins, falls. I join her, and then one little girl playing jump rope joins us, then two, then three, then all of them. Eight or so girls begin falling on top of me as they spin around happily, and I can’t help but smile. Eventually our game evolves into Ring Around the Rosy, and I can barely spin for tripping over my maxi skirt and laughing hysterically. I think to myself that this would be a perfect picture, but even more, I think that this is what joy is like.

As I depended on God throughout Haiti Day 6, He blessed me in incredible ways. I have seen now that the more I trust in Him, the more I get to see His will at work in my life. I am so, so grateful for the blissful joy that only He can give.

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Haiti Day 5: Same God, Different Languages

On Wednesday in Haiti, our group visited homes and prayed and then had Creole lessons. This round of home visits and prayers was, in my opinion, even better than the first, because we had more time. This meant that everyone prayed at each house and that we got to pray for more families. Almost every family we met thanked us for coming to pray with them, and many of them asked us to simply pray for their faith in Jesus to be strengthened.

In the afternoon, we learned Creole, and you could definitely tell that none of us had been in school for a couple of months… we were all pretty goofy. We ended up learning things like “pounce” and “slam” (two of our words of the day) and “turn up.” We also learned several conversational phrases that would actually be useful, like how to ask people about their siblings. Creole is an insanely beautiful language; it’s similar to French but sounds harder and less snooty. I miss the sound of Creole worship and of people speaking Creole as we walked down those dirt roads. I find myself wanting to say “bonjou” or “bonswa” to people instead of “hello.”

I think a common experience on mission trips is that your view of God becomes bigger, and I was no exception. It’s so cool to hear people worship and talk about God in a language that is completely foreign. God speaks English and Creole and Spanish and Portuguese and probably even Klingon. He is sovereign over the whole world, not just my world. I know I’ve talked about that idea a ton as I’ve blogged about Haiti, but it’s one of the biggest things He told me. In Haiti and the U.S., He has a plan and a will and a love that is alive and working.

One of the things I tried to be very aware of throughout the week was cultural sensitivity, but I didn’t have to worry. God is the same in every culture, and His power breaks down cultural boundaries and language barriers. He can be praised in any environment, in any art form, in any language while still being respectful toward the culture. He is the same God always, in crazy times or in places that speak different tongues. He is constant, a God of love and joy and hope and peace no matter what or where or when. It was an absolute blessing in Haiti to be able to praise the same God in different languages.

Haiti Day 4: Welcomed

On Tuesday morning in Haiti, the boys in our group helped with some construction while the girls met with some of the local women. The afternoon consisted of vacation Bible school at the children’s center. It’s weird how quickly you can settle into routine, but Tuesday began to feel like just another ordinary (and amazing) day in Haiti. Waking up under a mosquito net to the crowing of the roosters, breakfast, devotional, morning activity, lunch, chill time, afternoon activity, dinner, chill time, Bible study. I’m missing that Haitian routine already.

Meeting with the local women in the morning was incredibly inspiring. These women make crafts to sell as souvenirs to support their families, many of which don’t include a father figure but do include extra children that wouldn’t be taken care of by anyone else. We helped these women with their crafts (which really means they let us sew a few stitches in their handmade cloth bookmarks) and sang and danced with them. They taught us how to sing “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart” in Creole (“Mwen genyen jwa, jwa, jwa, jwa”), and that’s a perfect picture of our morning: joy.

In the afternoon, we told a Bible story and sang Father Abraham at the children’s center before the free for all play time. We had been planning to come in with our agenda, but the instant everyone got settled and ready to go, the kids stood up and sang us a welcome song! I remember thinking that welcome songs should really be a thing in the U.S., because how cool would it be for everyone to be going around singing to each other? That day I jump-roped and did some crafts, but I also played a lot of hand games and got my hair done in cornrows by some of the older children. I still can’t decide which was more intimidating: the fast moving hands that seemed to be flying straight toward my face in the hand games or the comb that literally yanked out my hair.

Haiti Day 4 is the perfect example of one of my favorite things about that country: their acceptance. I wrote in my journal that afternoon about visiting with the women and asking them questions about their families:

“I learned that many of them have children living with them who aren’t theirs biologically. I asked about that and the women seemed to care so much for these kids. I told them that this welcome and love for people who aren’t technically their own was so in line with the welcome and love I felt I had been receiving. One of the women assured me that we are one in Christ, so obviously they’re welcoming us!”

From welcome songs at the children’s center to the acceptance of the women we met, Haiti was so open to me. God showed me that living a life with open arms, welcoming whatever He has for me and making His children feel welcomed, is the best way to live. I am so grateful to Him for the way I was welcomed in Haiti.

 

Haiti Day 3: Continues to Speak

Monday morning in Haiti dawned bright and early to the crowing of roosters, which I heard from my bunk bed underneath my mosquito net. (Waking up in Haiti is a very different experience from waking up in the U.S.) That morning, our team went on a Jericho Walk. This was a (mostly) silent walk through the community which we used as a silent time for prayer. That afternoon, we played with kids at a local children’s center, a program designed to bring local kids together in a Christian environment. The first day, all we did was bring craft supplies, a soccer ball, and other toys and just play. The little girls I hung out with absolutely adored jump rope.

On Haiti Day 3 I felt God pressing several messages on my heart. Many of them were during our Jericho Walk, when I spoke about two words to Him and He just flooded my mind with His truth. He told me that His way is so much better than anything I could ever come up with. His way is so much more than petty jealousies or gossip that could ruin our team dynamic; His way is so much more than letting my stomachaches (which were unfortunately frequent those first few days) get in the way and make me in a bad mood; His way is so much more than worry about what my team or the Haitian locals thought of me. His way is nothing but love. And it’s not that He doesn’t have a plan to use all of those things or to help us through them: it’s that His will for us offers things that are a million times better.

God also gave me the reassurance that I was smack dab in the middle of His Kingdom in Haiti. I am very much a natural worrier who habitually questions whether or not I’m doing the right thing. To hear His voice telling me that “Yes, you are in the center of My will for you,” was pure peace. It also gave me a desire to experience His Kingdom in new ways, to seek out His purpose for my life with a new fervor. I want more of Him.

The other main message that God told me on Monday in Haiti was that we are all His children. He continued to affirm this throughout my trip: Haitian or American, we are all human beings with faults and flaws, gifts and talents… and we are all radically loved by our Savior. We are all made unique in His image. Those who are materially wealthy are not called to look down on those who are “less fortunate.” We as Christians, whether the world sees us as rich or poor, are called to love all of God’s children: to love the world, not just our world. We are one in Christ.

On Haiti Day 3 God continued to speak into my heart about His will, His Kingdom, and His love. His voice gave me the joy and peace that I needed for the day and for the entire trip. My prayer is that, even though I’m back in the States now, He will continue to lead me, teach me, and guide me. After all, the same God who was with me in Haiti is still with me now. He is constant, and He is always speaking. We just have to listen.

Haiti Day 2: With the Hard Things

Haiti Day 2 was filled with a bus ride and a lot of culture shock. In the morning, our team left the hotel (a.k.a. the only air-conditioned building we would see all week) and took a three hour, mountainous drive into Bohoc, the community we stayed and worked in all week. For pretty much the entire ride, the view was fantastic, alternating between gorgeous valleys and the ocean. The mountains in Haiti are beautiful; several times throughout the week, I would be looking down as I walked (to avoid tripping) and only remember when I looked up that I was surrounded by God’s amazing creation.

Upon arrival in Bohoc, we got settled and then set out in smaller groups to pray for people in the community. We visited the homes of several families, and my group got to meet a man who was one hundred and five years old! As the afternoon went on, however, I found myself becoming less and less joyful and more and more angry. I had a front row seat to poverty, and part of me wanted to scream at God. Why was He letting this happen to these beautiful people?

But then our Bible study that night hit me hard: “God so loved the world” is not the same thing as “God so loved my world.” It’s easy for me to think about God loving my friends, family, and those who treat me well. It’s much harder for me to think about God loving those that I don’t get along with or those who are in extreme suffering. As I journaled and prayed that night, I surrendered up the poverty in Haiti to God. I told Him that I trusted His plan not only for myself, but for the people of Haiti.

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me.

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”

This quote from the song “Oceans” (which was our jam on my ukulele all week) perfectly described what God was asking me to do. All summer He had been leading me toward more dependence on Him, and now, facing the poverty in Haiti, He was asking me to simply trust Him. Trust Him with the things entirely out of my control. Trust Him with the things I didn’t understand. Trust Him with the things I wanted to fix but couldn’t. God called me out upon the waters in Haiti, and it was hard. But I am learning to trust Him completely with the hard things.

Haiti Day 1: Overwhelmed by Community

This past week, I went on a mission trip to Haiti. It was only my second time out of the good ol’ USA, and my first time out of the country by myself. I didn’t know anyone on the trip prior to meeting them during the preparation process (meetings, etc.). Needless to say, I was nervous. What if I lost my passport in the airport and couldn’t get into the country? What if I got sick and there was no good medical care nearby? What if no one liked me? These worries bounced around in my head in the weeks leading up to the trip, but God took care of me one hundred percent. He always does. Over the next week, I’m going to blog about each day of the trip and what God was teaching me while I was there. I had an absolute blast in Haiti, and I hope you have a blast reading about it!

The first day was Saturday, July 12, when our team flew into Port-au-Prince and stayed the night there in a hotel. Flying was the most nerve-wracking part of the day, because I’ve only ever been in the airport once without my family, and that was on a school trip where I knew people and was only going into Washington, D.C. This time I was flying into a foreign country with people who were pretty much strangers.

Of course, everything ended up working out fine because Jesus. The airport was actually where I first clicked with my closest friend from the trip – after having about two conversations, we just kind of merged into one unit. It’s part of God’s sense of humor that on day 1, the day when I was most worried about making friends, He gave me this overwhelming sense of community. That night at the hotel, one of the other students came around asking if anyone wanted to come to a Bible study. Most of our team came to this student-led discussion about a passage in Ephesians, and since I had brought my ukulele, I volunteered to lead worship.

The instant I started singing, I was showered with encouragement. I have never been encouraged in that way before. This team made me feel amazing about my voice and ukulele skills, and because of that, I honestly believe I played and sang better than I ever have before. That’s how confident and comfortable they made me. I wrote in my journal that night:

“My heart is so, so full and I haven’t even been here for twelve hours. I am filled with so much joy that I can barely stop my hands from shaking – so much joy that I can barely write. It [the Bible study] was just this amazing community of people gathered together to seek God, and I was so overwhelmed with gratitude. To be surrounded by people who love Jesus and love me… it was so, so amazing.”

On Haiti Day 1, God put some pretty awesome humans in my life. The team He gave me was and still is a huge blessing. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira is about a girl named Laurel and her adventures and friendships as she attempts to navigate the new world of high school and cope with the loss of her sister. She receives an assignment in English class to write a letter to a dead person, and soon, she begins using these letters to pour out her emotions to people who can’t judge her. I really enjoyed both the writing and the main character in this book, and I would give it a 8.7 out of 10 on my magical scale of magic book ratings.

Things I Liked:

  • I was nervous about this book being in the format of letters, because I did not like the writing at all in Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is also written in letters. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought Laurel’s voice was much more mature and compelling: it felt like a high-schooler writing and not an eight year-old. Ava Dellaira pulled off a letter format novel very well.
  • I also really liked the combination of anecdotal and poetic writing. The poetic writing describes Laurel’s emotions, fears, and growth beautifully. Overall, the writing is just on point. One of my favorite passages was when Laurel is deciding to try to be brave and start over: “It was as if an invisible band started playing the sound track to a new life. I heard [Kurt Cobain]. I wondered if this was how May felt when she was in high school… The world she’d disappeared into was here. I looked up from my blush, away from Sky, whose eyes were still on me, and turned to Natalie and Hannah. I laughed out loud, full of the secret someone I could become. Hello, hello, hello.
  • Laurel and Sky are adorable. *melts into a pile of happy, romantic goo* I also like what Sky’s name represents: he is this brand new adventure just waiting to happen, someone full of new possibilities for Laurel. The sky is the limit (literally) in their relationship.
  • I loved Laurel’s friend group. This really made me think, too, about how I need to be nicer to “outsiders.” When I envision Laurel’s friend group, I see them as those kids you might automatically assume are just too strange to be seen with. But they’re super awesome characters! I need to do a better job of being kind to people like them, because they’re actually pretty cool.
  • Tristan and Kristen *laughs for a thousand years*
  • This conversation with Tristan and this quote in particular: “Then he said, ‘Laurel, you couldn’t have saved your sister. But, love, you’ve got to save yourself. Do that for me, okay? Because you are worth it.’ No one had ever said that to me before.” *sobs for ten thousand years*

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • I felt a little bit overwhelmed by all of the… for lack of a better word, immorality. It felt like too much of it happens to one character, if you know what I’m saying, but that feeling wasn’t as overwhelming as it’s been in other books (such as Perks of Being a Wallflower).
  • I was disappointed when Laurel gives her letters to her teacher. I kind of wanted them to remain her little secret, or for her to reveal them to her friends, family, or Sky. Mrs. Buster doesn’t seem significant enough for Laurel to give her the letters, so that part of the ending felt anticlimactic.

Favorite Character: Laurel, hands down. I don’t remember the last time when I related so well to a character right off the bat or rooted so hard for a character. I really, really wanted Laurel to overcome her struggles, to open up to people, and to discover who she is. She is so, so relatable: she’s bad at flirting (I laughed out loud when Sky asks her, “What’s up?” and she just responds with, “I saw you the other day”), she has a hard time opening up to people about her struggles, she loves her sister fiercely. I saw much of myself in her, and that made me cheer her on with the utmost enthusiasm as I watched her grow.

Overall, both Laurel and the fantastic writing make this book a wonderful read. The character development is clear and well-defined, and the adventures and relationships are amazing. The writing tells both the story and the feelings beautifully. Thank you Ava Dellaira for bringing this book into the world!

Emily Hearn Is Just Plain Fun

Emily Hearn has been one of my favorite musicians ever since I heard her open up for a Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors concert this past fall. Her voice is pretty in a very simple, uncomplicated way, and her sound is consistent throughout all of her music but each song is still different and unique. She keeps things fresh and new without ever branching too far out into the “what the heck is in my ears” zone. Her writing covers a range of emotions within relationships. And… she’s also a really nice human.

“But wait, Haley,” you might say. “How do you know that Emily Hearn is a nice human? It’s not like you’re her bestie.”

While I am unfortunately not Emily Hearn’s best friend (yet), I do know that she is a nice human because… I met her. *ensue excited squeals* Yes, yes, I have met this fabulous musician, the writer and performer of such epics as “Like Ships Need the Sea” and “Rooftop.” I have seen her with my actual eyes and taken selfies with her with my actual camera.

Emily Hearn was leading worship at my church retreat this past week, and I tweeted at her pretty consistently to try and meet her. On the last day of the retreat, she tweeted and said that she could meet up with me during free time. I almost died. I showed up with my friend and small group leader in tow, she showed up with her husband (they are perfect together, by the way), and we talked for over an hour about everything from music to Harry Potter. That’s right, she’s a Harry Potter fan. Could this girl get any cooler? (The answer is no because she’s the coolest.)

I got to ask her questions about her upcoming album (which she is currently recording) and meet some other fans, who were also super nice. She even asked me about my music, which I felt totally unworthy to talk about. This girl has songs that people buy, songs that I listen to in my car, songs that she performs in concerts… and she’s asking me about my music? Overall, Emily Hearn just seemed so genuine, down-to-earth, and grateful for her fans. I’m so incredibly glad to have found her music and so incredibly blessed to have met her. Emily Hearn is going places.

Now for some suggestions! If you’re in the mood for songs about heartbreak, check out the album Paper Heart, other than the song “Rooftop” (because it’s not about heartbreak), which you should listen to anyway because it will make you feel better about your heartbreak. If you’re in the mood for songs to listen to as you aggressively squeal with happiness over cute couples doing cute things, try “Found a Heart” or “Gotta Have Him” or “Like Ships Need the Sea.” If you’re needing someone to put into words what you’re feeling about a friend, please please please listen to “Cutting Ties.” My faves are probably “Paper Heart” and “Cutting Ties,” so if you’re just in the mood for some good music, check those out and support this amazing artist!