Too Much and Not Enough

Several months ago, I told myself that I should write a blog about our trip home. After all, six weeks is a long time to be away; surely there were things that happened that I should share. But before I ever got a chance to do anything, we learned that we needed to return to the states again. Change of plans!

So many of you know most of the story, I’m wondering why God won’t let me let this go. But he won’t, so here we are.

Too much and not enough. Too much and not enough. Too much and not enough. These words have been playing over and over (and over) in my head since last October. It’s almost like a theme, or a tag line, for our trip home. Truth-be-told, it makes me a little nervous. The last time something like this happened, I kept hearing, “You have more than you need.” That message played in my head for nearly 18 months. Little did I know, but at the time, God was preparing me for what He had in store: living in Haiti.

You can see why I might be nervous, right?

For those who don’t know, Tim and I flew back to the States on October 1st for six weeks. We knew it would be a busy time, but we also counted on having a little R&R (ha!). We spent some time in Alabama with my mom, who is battling stage IV melanoma, and her husband, who had had a stroke the week before. We met with people about Water Project for Haiti work, there was an engagement announcement from our son, a visit from our nephew and his wife, we accompanied Mom on doctor visits and scans, there was an accident that resulted in a trip to the emergency room, and some really, really, really difficult decisions that had to be made. When Tim and I pulled out of the driveway in AL to head to PA, no one felt good about us leaving, but there were other commitments awaiting us. Too much going on and not enough time.

We ended up driving through the night and arrived at our daughter’s house at 4:00 a.m. After all, I had appointments beginning at 10:00 a.m.; commitments that had been made six months in advance. Over the next few days, there were dentist, doctor and hair appointments, we spoke at a churches, met with Rotary, visited former colleagues, saw some friends we didn’t get to see our last trip home and had a surprise 50th birthday party for Tim, complete with a visit from his best friend from college. My dad and his squeeze drove from Maine to visit with us since there was no time for a trip north. Ten days after arriving in PA, we pulled out of our driveway ready to head for our next destinations. I was a mess. I wasn’t ready to go. All that time, yet I didn’t feel like I’d had a chance to really visit with those I love. I felt cheated and robbed. Too many commitments and not enough quality time.

Our fourth week home was a travel whirlwind. We spent hours in the car driving all over the eastern seaboard, setting Hilton Head Island as a destination. We made several stops in NC, getting to visit with friends and family we hadn’t seen for some time – 18 hours with the Jenkens family in Cary; 21 hours with Darrell and Kate in Edenton; and 20 hours in Ocean Isle with Uncle Tom and Marie. We arrived in Hilton Head on a Friday night. By Sunday, I was back on the road, this time without Tim, and heading west, to my mom’s house in Birmingham. A week later, I reversed the route to go fetch him. Too much travel time and not enough visit time.

Our last week home flew by. We managed to squeeze in a trip to Pensacola, FL where we met up with a brother and sister in Christ who drove in from Panama City to meet us. Following our two hours at Chick-fil-A, we set out for a reunion with some of Tim’s family. You know it’s been too long since you’ve seen someone when you can’t remember the last time you saw them. We spent the night with Uncle Mike and Aunt Hazel (best night’s sleep the entire time we were home!) and enjoyed some time at the Naval Air Station the next day, revisiting some of the places Tim hung out at as a child. Too many places to see and not enough time to see them.

When we finally returned to Alabama, there were a few more doctor visits, rental cars to turn in, decisions to be made, and things to be bought and packed. Those who depend on others to carry much-needed supplies understand best… too much stuff and not enough luggage! 

And then, it was time to go. Six weeks had passed and we barely had time to catch our breath. I can’t speak for Tim, but I certainly didn’t feel rested, relaxed or rejuvenated. On the contrary, I felt exhausted. And concerned. Because this place has a tendency to wear you down, no matter how strong you are and how big your faith is.

A few days after returning to Haiti, God gave us a do-over. I need to write about that separate from this post; hopefully, I can get it done before a certain young couple celebrates a first anniversary.

Still, I keep hearing his words… too much and not enough… and I wonder what it is others might be dealing with:

  • Too much debt and not enough money?
  • Too much busyness and not enough down time?
  • Too much selfishness and not enough sharing?
  • Too much materialism and not enough philanthropy?
  • Too much giving and not enough discipline?
  • Too much fear and not enough faith?
  • Too much anger and not enough love? Patience? Kindness?

Whatever it is that stirs you, I believe that God is in the business of do-overs. He knows exactly what we need.

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365 Days Later

I can scarcely believe it myself. One year ago today, Tim and I boarded a plane for Port-au-Prince, having no clue what God had in store for us. Has it really been a full year since all those people from our church showed up at Harrisburg International at 5:30 IN THE MORNING to pray over us and see us off? I remember tearing up when I saw them there, waiting for us. What an amazing feeling to be loved that much. And then I remember how hard it was saying goodbye to our kids – oh, it makes me cry just thinking about it. And I’m not a big crier!

Yet here we are, sitting in a house with no electricity because the solar batteries are out of juice and it’s an overcast day. I can hear singing from the church across the street. The dogs occasionally bark; the roosters crow incessantly. (Shortly after I typed this line, the dogs went nuts – it took me over an hour to resume writing. This, my friends, is life in Haiti.)

All week long, I’ve been trying to figure out what I should say to commemorate our anniversary date. After all, I have to write something, right?? It’s a special day, and it’s been forever since my last update. Do I write about what we like and what we dislike? Do I write about things I (we) have learned? Do I focus on what we miss and what we don’t miss?

The only thing I’ve come up with so far is, yes. And all I can say about that is, crap. Because it means my thoughts are unorganized, which means the writing will be disjointed, which means it’ll take me forever to write something that should come easily. “Oh, Lord, please let me just write what you want me to share and help me to quit obsessing about the minutiae!”

So, I will attempt to capture some of the things that are on my heart and in my head, knowing in advance that I may lose some of you along the way.

Part of me wants to tell you of the many people and things I miss the most.

I miss our kids. I miss the opportunity to spend a day with Alex – just shopping or grabbing a bite to eat. I miss how Tim used to show up at my office unexpectedly, often times with flowers. I miss seeing their cars in the driveway, hearing their laughs and conversations around the dinner table that inevitably deteriorate into something inappropriate. But I’m so thankful that they are competent, capable young adults who can thrive without Mom and Dad. I love that they have significant others who love them unconditionally. I love that Alex and Shane can spend an entire day at Midtown Scholar, and that Tim will unexpectedly send flowers to Lindsay. Goodness, I can’t wait to see them again.

I miss our cats. It may sound silly, but I do love my kitties. They are cheap therapy for me, and I miss them sleeping on my lap, or on the bed. I miss being able to scoop them up and nuzzle their bellies. But I know that they are cared for very well, and I sometimes get pictures to prove it.

I miss our church. I miss seeing our son and his friends lead worship on Sunday mornings. I miss hearing sermons in English. I miss talking with people before and after service (sometimes during!), and some of the special events. But I know that the church isn’t limited to a building; church is wherever we are.

I miss being able to call my mom and dad whenever I feel like it. I miss fast, reliable internet. I miss being able to do things (anything) quickly. I miss quiet mornings, and nights without voodoo drums. I miss the ease of buying things – knowing where to go to get stuff and how much it will cost, without haggling over the price. I miss not being itchy all of the time. I miss Pennsylvania roads and drivers. (Yes, there are places with much WORSE roads and drivers.) I miss knowing that electricity and water are a given. I miss Outback, Jimmy Johns, Texas Roadhouse, Chick-fil-A, Turkey Hill, Giant, Lowes, Target, Costco, Deer Valley, Dauphin Highlands… should I go on?

Lest you think I’m really whiny, there are also things I don’t miss, like the constant barrage of commercials telling us how much we “need” something. Perhaps we don’t have it, or we need a bigger, better, stronger, faster version of it. Trust me, Tim and I have learned a whole lot about wants and needs. There’s a Haitian saying that says, “Tell me what you think you need, and I’ll show you how you can live without it.”

I don’t miss the political battles caused by self-inflated egos. There are people who are passionate about their work, and that’s necessary, but let’s keep things in perspective, people. If we compared much of what we have in America to the rest of the world instead of to each other, we might have a slightly different point of view.

There are some things about Haiti that I don’t like at all – like the lack of justice, the mob mentality, the difficulty in getting things done, and the inability to tell time. Several months ago, I wrote a blog entitled “Tough.” And trying to break through some cultural norms is really, really tough.

There are also things I have fallen in love with – scenery that never gets old, the weather (seriously, I so prefer this to being cold all of the time), the work that we get to do here, the way people jump in to lend a helping hand, the connections we’ve made, the simplicity of life. It’s like stepping back in time 50-60 years, which is sometimes endearing (except when I’m trying to do something quickly). More than anything, though, it’s the people. So many of them just make my heart SMILE, and I wish so badly that others could experience that same feeling.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” –Nelson Mandela

And I can’t help but have a few favorites. It’s bound to happen when you work with people on a regular basis. I’ll tell you what, when we head back to the states on October 1st to visit family and friends, I will miss them dearly:

  • The one who insists that I sit in a particular place so he knows I’m safe.
  • The one who so patiently translates for me when I get stuck.
  • The one who gently says, “Ou kapab (you can)” when I’m trying something new.
  • The one who is so grateful for an opportunity to advance his skills.
  • The one who tells me when his next soccer match is so we can watch him play.
  • The one who excitedly grabs my hand and leads me because he can’t wait to show me what he did.

It’s hard having your heart in multiple places.

We’ve learned how to do so many things that weren’t even on our radar screen before last year. Oh sure, I know the formula for mixing concrete now, but I also understand a little about solar power, battery systems, and generators; goats and chickens; how to pack food so critters don’t get in; how to cohabitate with critters (making a lot of noise when you enter a room and opening drawers slowly helps). I know that a good rock makes an excellent hammer, and a tree branch is a handy tape measure or flare if your car breaks down.

I’ve learned (anew) that not everyone is looking for a handout; many are just looking for an opportunity, a chance. Many of those who “beg” do it simply because they’ve got nothing to lose. The other day, I was reminded of a trip to a minor league baseball game where t-shirts were launched into the stands. Everyone there was clothed, but the crowd went crazy trying to snatch a free t-shirt; something they probably didn’t even need. If people who have the means to purchase clothes go that crazy when free stuff is given out, why should we begrudge those who don’t have the means from behaving similarly?

It was a good reminder for me.

I’ve heard incredible stories, like the pastor who tried to make it on his own before giving in to God’s calling. It seemed he could never get ahead when he tried things his way, but now, his needs and the needs of his family are miraculously met. The young man who wants to be a doctor, because he doesn’t want other people to have to go through what his father went through. The woman who thinks that God must have white skin, because He answers the prayers of white people while Haitians are made to wait. And wait. And wait.

Maybe those are the stories that need to be written down and published.

So where does all of this rambling and babbling lead to? Over the past year, we have had some really great days and some really not-so-great days. Not once did we feel that we weren’t where God wanted us. And not once have we sensed Him saying, “It’s time to go home.” On the contrary, He has told us that this is our home, at least for now.

So we soldier on, tucking away the lessons that we’ve learned and grateful for what has been provided for us.

I can’t help but wonder what the next 365 days will bring.

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The Gift of Friendship

Every once in a while, something happens that I know I need to write about. And then there are times that I want to share. And occasionally, those two worlds collide and I get to write. Well, folks, this is one of those rare times.

Tim and I were blessed, blessed, blessed recently by a visit from some dear friends, Pat and Beth. It’s hard to believe they’ve already been gone two weeks. In that time, I’ve struggled with what to say about their visit, and how to say it, because there’s so much to share! Tim told me to “just write,” so that’s what I’m trying to do.

It really is hard to convey how excited I was for their visit. I knew I needed it; I could feel it in every fiber of my being. I needed the spiritual guidance and wisdom (did I mention that Pat is also one of our pastors?), I needed conversation about familiar faces and places; I needed to be with my peeps! And while we have special peeps here, there are some things that only a visit from home can accomplish.

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I knew that their visit would help rejuvenate my spirit. The truth of the matter is, this place wears you down. But the thing about Pat and Beth is, they don’t know how to not minister.

We covered a lot of ground while they were here, but even ordinary things became special. Like the trip to buy concrete – something Tim does two or three times a month. Unbeknownst to us, he dropped his wallet after paying; something we discovered when two young men showed up at our door offering to sell it back… for $300 US. I negotiated with the guy because that is the culture here, but Pat saw the bigger economy; God’s economy. He used the opportunity to minister to Junior, and explain some things about grace and mercy. I’m convinced that had I kept my nose out of it, we just might have gotten the wallet back for free, but I jumped too soon. We paid him $75 for the wallet (we really needed the driver’s license and passport card), and while I’m not sure Junior got what Pat said to him, I do know that the conversation had an impact on the young man who was translating, and the old man who stopped working to watch the exchange, and our employees who came once they heard what was going on. I have no doubt that they’ll remember what they saw and heard that day.

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We visited the beautiful waterfall at Saut d’Eau, followed by a picnic lunch overlooking the Caribbean. We drove to the town of Montrois so we could hike up to the watercress springs in the village of Piatre. (It was during this hike that Beth said we tried to kill her – not true!) We had quite an entourage on the way up – people from the village who were eager to see if the Blans had anything to give away, but we didn’t. Nothing material, anyhow. Smiles and hugs? No problem. All of us cooled ourselves in the cold water, and then enjoyed the show as a group of young boys vied to be the best jumper or the best diver into the water. Their joy was contagious, and we all agreed that some things are universal, regardless of the culture.

When we left the springs, we ran into the pastor from the Church of God – someone had called to tell him that we were in town. He showed off his church, and told us of their needs. And then, the pastor from the United States laid his hands on the young pastor from Haiti and prayed for him, his family, and his church while complete strangers looked on. It was and will remain one of my favorite encounters in Haiti.

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Another day, we prayed over a friend’s mom who had recently broken a bone, and the mother of a Project Help employee. The women were anointed with oil, and we prayed American style (one person at a time), and Haitian style (everyone at the same time).

Pat and Beth joined us for some water filter installations and saw the joy of children playing, and felt the darkness of voodoo. We visited the market at a town across the river, and I think they were thankful for the stores back home. We spent half a day looking for guitar strings – simple errands that take so much time – but at least we were successful, this time. They rode Haitian style… seven people packed inside a vehicle that seats four comfortably, five if they’re small… and they never complained. We went swimming at a local pool, and met another missionary family who work and live nearby. And throughout it all, our friends, our family, did what they do best – they simply loved.

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On Friday, we donned our swimsuits and headed for the beach for a little rest and relaxation. I swam out to the buoys that border the swim area for a little alone time with God, and as I looked back towards the beach, I could see Pat engaged in conversation with another missionary who had joined us for the day. Though I couldn’t hear the words that were spoken, I was pretty sure there was ministry going on, and I knew it was good.

When Sunday arrived, I didn’t know what to think. I was downright giddy because Pat was going to preach at our Sunday night church service. Our fellow missionaries were in for a treat! I wanted and needed to hear a good word – a God word. Actually, I think all of us who live and work here needed to hear it. But I’ll save those thoughts for another post.

I was also giddy because I couldn’t wait to hear Beth sing again – something I’ve missed so very much. It may sound silly to some of you, but just worshipping in the same room with them brought me to tears – so very thankful that they were there, with us, yet sad that our time together was coming to an end.

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We sang some songs, we listened to a great message (about peace, go figure), we prayed, and then Pat and Beth did what it is they do. The loved and ministered.

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Oh, for all of us to know this kind of love.

Before leaving on Monday morning, our beautiful friends stopped by our worksite and gathered our employees together for one last prayer. It was obvious to everyone, EVERYONE, that these were no ordinary visitors.

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As we said goodbye to our friends at the airport, there was just a little sadness. We could tell they were ready to leave, but they also needed to leave. Their assignment in the Kingdom is different than ours, and we both have more work to do in our mission fields.

Throughout the visit, and since then, I am overwhelmed by how grateful I am. Grateful for God’s timing, because of all the choices of a travel date, the last week of June was perfect. Grateful for close friends who don’t judge you when you show your ugly. Grateful for ministry opportunities that are ever present if you’re willing to open your eyes… and respond. And grateful – oh, so grateful – for church leaders who recognized the need to care for and feed some missionaries serving in Haiti.

One final thought… I don’t want or intend to put Pat and Beth on a pedestal. I’m quite certain they would detest that. I know and they know that none of this is about me, us, or them. It’s about living a life totally sold out for Christ. We just happened to be blessed with good friends who do that very well.

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If you’re interested in more pictures, you can view them at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10201450998821656.1073741827.1375991144&type=1&l=e49939523e

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