The alarm wakes me early, a flashing light rather than the raucous beep rousing Phil. Morning hours in my Northwest home are dark, frigid, chilling me as I push back the comforter. No time for tea to chase away the sleepiness while I rush to get ready.
Excitement fully caffeinates me. We are going to Haiti!
Flip-flops, cotton skirts , bug spray, a couple of good books to read along the way.
Did I forget anything?
By the time we arrive on the other side of the country excitement is waning, worn thin by weariness. Disloyal thoughts push persistently in.
What are you thinking? Haiti? Land of sweltering humidity, rodent-sized bugs, mud-flecked waifs with pleading eyes.
Pushing through the dread, I edit and add and delete and rearrange my notes.
Still too many words.
How do I tell my story short when it must be told in two languages? How do I talk about pain to a people who hurt every day? How dare I?
I sleep uneasy in a worn airport hotel, unacknowledged fears causing crazy dreams.
3 a.m. Bleary eyed, I follow Phil mutely to the shuttle. A Haitian driver blesses us for traveling to his land. Five duffel bags of gifts for the women I will be teaching cause a ruckus at the check-in counter— the official bumps us to first class when he learns what we are carrying to the land of his birth. Two brothers in line talk to Phil. One, an American citizen now, is escorting his brother to the airport as he heads back to Haiti. Both are pastors and they embrace Phil when they learn the reason for the hold up.
My fears subside as I realize I am being escorted by Believers sent to guide and guard us on our way.
7:30 a.m. Just a few steps into the Haitian airport and we are met by a man wearing a crisp white uniform, hand extended, welcoming us. Madame Juene wheedles her way past security to embrace me, face damp with that delicious moisture the women wear like make-up on their smoky skin. Sisters, bound by the same Father, on similar paths in different lands. Mike joins us, Zebby too! A van full of welcome weaves through chaos I barely see as we talk and question and chatter and digest a year’s worth of living. Doris stares silently at the pictures of my granddaughters. The blackness of Sunday’s skin glues us together and she laughingly agrees she has my nose. We arrange marriages to keep us all in the same family.
After a tour of Grace Village, presentation of a plaque still sticky with varnish, speeches made by Bishop Juene, Pastor Mike, Pastor Phil, Sister Phil (!), and the school principle, I am drenched in not-so-delicious moisture.
The hotel that night feels decadent.
6:30 a.m. I’ve slept in!
More work on my notes, strong coffee, we get on our knees by the bed and remind God what He clearly knows— we don’t know how to do this.
A half a dozen times people have asked me if I am excited to go to Haiti. They want me to say yes, I want to say yes. But the real truth is no.
The real truth is that I am here because my Father told me to come. Yes, we were invited, but how easily we could have said No, not this year. We’re too busy, too much work at home, too many people will be inconvenienced, we will be inconvenienced.
But both of us felt that persistent push. As if God wasn’t impressed with out busy-ness. As if He was waiting to hear a different answer. A yes.
I remind myself on our way to the venue. Over and over as my insides clench and that voice on my shoulder reminds me again and again that I am not adequate. Over and over my spirit fights back. My adequacy is in Christ. I am here for Him.
And then I see these Haitian women. Dressed in their best, timid, as afraid of me as I am of them. We worship and sway and sweat and sing and all fear flees. Of course I am excited to be here! Yes, yes, yes!
For almost an hour I talk. Madame Juene translates, two sisters wrapped in different shades of skin, side-by-side, given courage to give courage to courageous women.
I tell my story of failure in suffering.
A white woman born to privilege hurts too?
They cry and we laugh and they embrace me as one of their own. And suddenly it dawns on me that the only reason I have anything at all to say to these Haitian pastor’s wives is because I suffer.
Deafness is my platform. Failure is the door to intimacy.
Next comes the teaching.
Now they sit forward, they take notes, the literate flip through their Bibles, grey heads nod and catch my eye and say something I understand without words, young women listen.
For another hour we talk. They’re my girls now, my daughters and sisters.
The heat feels fine, I love this land!
For lunch the men join us. When I see Phil he is as white as a ghost. I push water and worry until I realize that his paleness may have more to do with my looking into beautiful brown faces all morning than illness. He’s fine— full of laughter and all that charisma and the camaraderie that comes with men in ministry. A man’s man, he is welcomed into a world not all that unlike his own.
In the sweltering afternoon we teach together for the first time. Mics fail, the fan doesn’t work, there’s not room on the pulpit for both our notes… and we love it!
I listen amazed at his uncanny ability to admonish and encourage all at the same time. The men laugh, they take notes, these men who have learned a different way of fathering.
Phil waves his big black Bible and I tell stories. The men clap for me— and I think they’re really clapping for Phil as I tell them how he enamored our children with the Scriptures.
We have no idea until later that we’ve inadvertently taught a way so long hidden that these men are shocked by the truth that no one teaches here.
To teach and love and encourage your children? To eschew anger as a method of discipline? To listen to your wife as she hears their hearts? Really?
Phil’s long lists of specific Scriptures for each point nail it.
Back in our air-conditioned hotel we both fall in bed exhausted, exhilarated, wondering how in the world we’ll do it again tomorrow.
5 a.m. More editing. Slash, cut, we’ve got to make this shorter.
I am hit by a dark wave of insecurity. I want Phil to tell me that I’m a great teacher, riveting, hilarious. Man-like he’s all about the task. Faintly I hear the echo of my own notes but manage to ignore wisdom and get myself to the edge of panic.
What am I doing here?
I fake my way right up until I get up to teach, but that dark voice won’t leave me alone. I think it’s me talking sense to myself. My sista, Zebby,watches from the front row and spots it. She prays. All of a sudden everything changes. My tangled tongue straightens, the women laugh and I don’t know why, we’re clicking again and I know it, feel it, love it.
Afterwards we know a demon is defeated by Zebby’s praying. I wonder what would have happen if she hadn’t.
I sit on a plane humbled. Again.
How is it that God keeps insisting on using this weak woman? Why would He? I fail again and again and He just sends someone along to help and sends strength to do what I cannot and takes the words that stumble awkwardly out of my mouth and turns them into something good.
And I haven’t told you half the stories of all the nice things He did along the way. Bumped to first class, switched to the exit row, a chance to pray, eyes wide open, with a new Believer who needed courage on the other side of the ticket counter in Florida. New friends, reunions, time to hear stories and marvel and laugh and tease and hold hands and be together.
Tonight Matt will take us home. He’ll fill us in on Monday’s Jesus Pizza at Grant High School, on theology classes at Multnomah, on friends and people and jokes and fun. I’ll soak polluted pores in a hot, scented bath and sleep under mounds of fluff.
I’ll be home. And happy.
From my heart,