Forever Changed: The Story of Izzy.
On September 1, 2012, I was in the midst of one of the scariest and simultaneously exhilarating days of my life. I had moved out of my apartment, packed up my things, sold what I could, dropped my dog off with a friend, and was moving my life to another world. After an emotional day of travel, I landed in Port-au-Prince with relief to finally be home and with excitement to begin my new life as a missionary and therapist in this distant land where God had called me to live.
While in baggage claim (which at the time in Port-au-Prince was equivalent to a large room with a hole in the wall where they threw the suitcases in from the outside), I searched for the two suitcases that held all of my new life’s possessions. It was here that I first met a person that would forever change my life. Her dad had arrived on the same flight as me and she had come to greet him at the airport. Over a pile of suitcases, our lives collided in an instant that would turn into lives forever changed.
Izzy greeted me with her characteristic huge grin that fills her entire face, and a sweetness that was so intense, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was fake.
No one could be that nice, I thought.
I was wrong.
Shortly afterward, Izzy became my roommate. At the end of my first week, the team that I had arrived with left and I was able to move into the room that I would share with Izzy. In spending so much time with her, I began to learn more about this long-haired, beautiful girl. I have to admit that I was intimidated. I have been told that I love people hard, but Izzy loved harder. I have been told that I am generous, but Izzy gave her all. I have been told that I am caring and nurturing, but when the third-world illnesses hit, Izzy was the one taking care of me.
This young girl had so much to teach me.
Izzy had moved to Haiti two months earlier, in July, to begin a special education school for children in our village with special needs. As a new college graduate, she had no experience as a teacher, but no one would have known. By the time I had arrived, she had transformed a dingy old room into a bright and beautiful classroom using anything she could get her hands on. It is the most beautiful classroom I have ever seen, mosquitoes and all. Not only had she created a physical space for the children, but she had already begun to create an atmosphere and a warmth that no room could ever create.
Any walk through the village with Izzy would tell you how loved she is and allow you to experience the warmth of her love. Within a matter of minutes, children’s voices would cheer, “Izzy! Izzy!” as they scrambled off of their front porches to run to her. No matter how smelly or dirty the children were, Izzy would embrace them, kiss them, and make them giggle with her outpouring of love.
When one of our children died a month after my arrival, Izzy and I shared the responsibility of caring for the other children while the rest of the staff members were at the hospital. I saw her enormous heart break that day as she waited for the news of Jay’s fate and then learned that he was never coming back to us. Izzy was one of the first people to truly love Jay, a child with disabilities that we had adopted just months earlier. Jay’s death opened the eyes of many people in the village to new possibilities and a real demonstration of God’s unfailing love. At his funeral, one man told us that he had known Jay before he came to live with myLIFEspeaks. He said that he had seen people treat Jay like a dog, kicking him and throwing rocks at him… but that on that day, he had seen Jay buried like a king. Izzy played a role in opening the eyes of not only this man, but others also took note of the fact that this child, despite his differences, was worthy of love, too. Even in the short time they knew each other, Jay’s life was forever changed because of Izzy. And Izzy’s because of Jay.
Izzy played a huge role in opening the eyes of others in the village to the worth of other children with disabilities that we call our own here in Neply. One day, while taking the children on their daily morning walk, a man (we’ll call him Nolan) approached Izzy, and in reference to Cammie (our 10-year-old with Cerebral Palsy) condescendingly asked Izzy what her purpose is. Izzy stood up for Cammie and told the man that Cammie is very smart, but he didn’t believe her. She told him that she would show him one day. That day upon her arrival back to our house, I saw a new side to my roommate that I had never seen. Anger.
Her passion to fight for these children was raw… and real. It is this very Christ-given passion that was the driving force in the changes that Neply would see during Izzy’s 5-month stay here.
The same man that approached Izzy to look down his nose at Cammie that day caused trouble more than once. Often, he would sit with his buddies and laugh at Obasen, a young child in the village with special needs. Obasen rarely wears clothes, and demonstrates many atypical social skills much like a child with autism. He doesn’t talk, he walks with an ape-like stature, and spends his time playing in the dirt. Naked. The shame of having a child with special needs has caused even Obasen’s father to ignore him. How could he love his child when the onlookers would laugh at him?
One day, Izzy found Obasen by himself, covered in dirt, crying hysterically by the road. He had no parents in sight, but Nolan watched as Izzy scooped up Obasen, rocked him, and then took him inside his house and put him to sleep. She told me that when she walked out of the house, Nolan was still sitting there. He asked her how she was able to care for Obasen. She explained that because she has the love of Christ in her heart, she has the desire to take care of others… even different (and dirty) children like Obasen.
Just a few days later, it was one of Izzy’s final days in Neply. On the way to Obasen’s house to pick him up for a special education field day, she noticed Nolan sitting nearby again and began talking with him. When Obasen’s mother exited the house
to bring Obasen to Izzy, Nolan shocked everyone, probably even himself. He took Obasen, completely naked and covered in dirt, into his arms and held him. Apparently, he felt so proud of himself that he asked Izzy to take his picture with Obasen. As if that weren’t shocking enough, when Obasen’s father showed up on his motorcycle, Nolan told him that he should take a picture with his son… and he did!
The same man that, three months earlier, had condescendingly asked what purpose Cammie had, was now not only scooping up a dirty, naked child with special needs, but was encouraging others to do the same. Why such change? I think it is because the Lord moved through one person’s courage to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8). He used one person that was willing to stand out and speak up in His name to change other lives… to change a village in Haiti.
Now that Izzy is no longer in Haiti with us, I often reflect on her time here and memories we shared. I began writing this blog the same day that she left with the intention of sharing it publicly soon afterward. I wanted the world to know the affect that her life had had on MY life… the lives of the children here… and the lives of those here in Neply, Haiti. But I stopped writing because I didn’t feel I had adequate words to express such deep emotions. It had been so hard to say goodbye. She had become not only my roommate, but my best friend and my little sister. Most importantly, however, and most beautifully, she was a living, breathing, light of Christ. Everyone loves Izzy because Christ lives in her. Lives in Neply were changed while Izzy was here because CHRIST changes lives and HE lives in her!
Lives FOREVER CHANGED… including mine.
Now that I arrive at that thought… my mind lingers. Forever changed because of ONE LIFE. It seems, when digging down deep and searching for our purpose in life that we might often arrive at this conclusion: that we would want others’ lives to be changed because of ours. Right?
The alternative is that our life is a meaningless speck on a page… a page that’s turned quickly.
Psalm 144:4 says, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”
Can you look back on a time in your life, maybe while you were working a particular job, and say that your workplace was forever changed because of the time you were there? Can you look back on your college or high school years and say that your friends’ lives were forever changed because of your life?
Izzy would never admit it herself, but I can attest to the fact that because of her life, others are forever changed. It is because Christ lives in her that she, herself, has been changed… and that allows her to go out into the world and change lives by loving others with Christ’s love.
It begins and ends with Jesus.
When we open our hearts to Him and take each step of life in obedience to Him, He changes things. He changes lives.
For the time that Izzy was here with us in Haiti, I will be forever grateful.
She was a teacher, an encourager, a lover, a giver, a listener, a nurturer, a friend, a sister… but most importantly, she was a servant of Christ.
A servant forever changed by Him… to change the world FOR Him.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:8-10