(Excerpts taken from my personal journal from 3/31/13 – 4/5/13)
Sometimes, I feel like my life is surreal.
Like I’m just an actress playing a part in some Eat-Pray-Love sort of movie, chasing Jesus and frequently finding myself standing in the middle of a postcard, breathless. Or playing out some hilarious and entertaining scene with an audience of gawking Haitians.
Yesterday, four of us made our way back from the neighboring city of Gressier on motorcycles and took a detour through fields of sugar cane… the pavement turned to gravel roads and then to dirt paths carved out of the worn-down grass.
We stopped in the middle of one of the dirt roads and shut off the motorcycles.
So much beauty.
Ahead was a small village. Its backdrop, crystal blue waters and outlines of distant mountains. To our right, a large sugar cane field making the breeze appear to take form. Neply, our village, was beyond that, only made visible by a few tall, landmark trees. To our left, a large, flat pasture with cattle grazing as far as each of their ropes, staked into the ground, would allow. And behind us, carved out of the grass was the path that brought us here; wedged between two sugar cane fields and backdropped by the most beautiful, majestic mountains.
I was standing in a postcard.
Maybe those few quiet minutes standing in such a beautiful place, the sunshine on my face and breeze blowing through my hair teased me with a reminder of the Lord’s presence.
If only I would just STOP.
So last night, because I knew my heart was restless and I needed quiet time away with the Lord, I planned to do just that. Stop.
The sun was setting and I had to hurry before I could stop.
I grabbed my backpack and in it, I placed my Bible, my journal, a towel… and pepper spray (hey… you never know).
After retrieving my bike, I rode through our courtyard, out the gate, and turned the corner at the end of our house to head west.
I stopped dead in my tracks. The sunset. Was. Brilliant.
I quickly turned around, parked my bike inside the gate, and ran to my room to get my camera. Throwing the strap over my shoulder, I ran back out to my bike, and pedaled towards the sunset as fast as I could.
As typical of any time I make my way through the village, the children I passed yelled my name, but this time, I couldn’t stop to offer hugs and kisses. I had to hurry to race against daylight and create my quiet time with Jesus. As I headed west as fast as I could, I cut through several properties, over rocky terrain, and nearly tumbled when the small path opened up to the main road and I sharply turned. I pedaled parallel to the creek, sunset to my left, looking for a place to capture the incredible colors painted above a field of sugar cane. Throwing down my bike, I quickly removed my lens cover to capture the fading colors reflected in the water of the slow-moving creek.
Mounting my bike again, I continued in search of a quiet place to seek my Lord. The church I currently attend (in a picnic shelter on the beach) is constructing a new building between the villages of Neply and Bord-Mer. Because the new building is not yet finished and nestled in the middle of a sugar cane field, I thought it might be the perfect spot for the quiet time I was seeking. I turned off the main road and followed the dirt and gravel path to the church, a concrete foundation with concrete pillars. Simple yet so beautiful. Surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation.
I noticed a flat plain beyond the church where several young boys were playing soccer. Some of them had spotted me coming and were making their way towards me. Shoot. It’s hard to blend in when you’re the only white person in sight, kicking up a cloud of dust as you ride in fury. I hated to feel disappointed that I had been noticed. I love attending to children… but the sun had set, darkness was coming, and I NEEDED quiet time with my Lord.
One of the boys asked me to take him to Neply on my bike (it is very common to see more than one person awkwardly sharing a bike). I told him that I was sorry, but that I wasn’t going to Neply and that I needed “silence with God.” As they became more rowdy and started pulling at me and my bike, I pulled away from them and pedaled as fast as I could. They chased after me for a short while, but realized this white girl had some really long, fast legs and she must’ve really wanted time away with God. I felt a twinge of guilt to leave them in my dust, but again, I knew the Lord needed to be first.
As I turned back on to the main road in search of a peaceful, quiet place to spend with Jesus, I continued to head away from Neply and towards the beach at Bord-Mer. Along the way, I noticed a small bridge leading over the creek and in to a field on the other side. Not knowing whose property it was, I decided against crossing the bridge and continued heading towards the ocean, where I had made up my mind I’d go sit. But I felt the Lord saying, “Turn around.”
I crossed the small bridge and found myself facing a huge expanse of land… sugar cane fields on either side of a path cut in the grass. I had faced this same field earlier in the day – from the other side – as I had stopped with my friends to take in the postcard view. I hesitated.
I didn’t know whose property this was and didn’t want an angry sugar cane farmer to come after me with his machete.
As I paused to look around in my hesitance, I noticed a tiny elderly man crouched in the pasture. I called out to him, and, pointing ahead to a small grove of trees, asked him in Creole if I could “sit over there.” I’m not even sure he heard me, but he waved me on like a green flag.
I rode down the worn path until I saw my spot. Just off the path was a small flat spot of grass nestled between the edge of the cane fields and a small grove of bushes. I leaned my bike against a tree stump, pulled the towel from my backpack, and spread it on the grass, making sure I didn’t sit in any natural fertilizer.
My time before dark was short, but it was so wonderful to sit in the peace of creation and just experience the Lord’s presence. I had stopped.
I opened my Bible and read the resurrection story. Fitting, as in the morning, we would celebrate Easter. I journaled a prayer to the Lord.
The colors of the sky were fading and the breeze picked up and cooled my hot skin.
I felt like God was teaching me the reward of seeking Him. Of stopping.
It may be a challenge to make happen (especially with no space of my own and people constantly bustling about), but every time I purposely seek quality time with Him, I am rewarded and come away feeling so rejuvenated.
On my way back to the house, I strapped my headlamp to the handlebars and turned heads as I made my way back through Neply. I had to laugh to myself that I must provide the Haitians in my village quiet a bit of entertainment.
A couple days later, I laughed to myself again as I realized I was having another “living in a movie” moment. Because the children had spring break, I had a rare day with no therapy visits. I took the opportunity to work in the therapy rooms, painting some doors and windows I hadn’t had time to tend to yet. I had opted against make-up and my hair was a mess. My paint-clothes were covered in dust, dirt, and the sticky brown paint. It was hot and the job lasted me all day. My mind fantasized about jumping into a large, cool body of water.
As I fantasized about the refreshing water, it hit me.
I live less than a mile from the ocean… and I’d never jumped in.
On the rare occasion that we go to the beach, we usually drive an hour to go to a “clean” beach with white sand and crystal clear waters. Our beach here is a fishing spot for many locals and its black, gritty sand is often cluttered with fishing boats and trash. But suddenly, I didn’t care. I felt young and free and could only think about riding my bike to the ocean as fast as I could and jumping in.
I shared my fantasy with one of my roommates and she was sold. After work, we did just as I had dreamed about as the sweat had dripped in to my eyes. Still fully dressed in our work clothes, we mounted the bikes and pedaled as fast as we could, through the village and over the dusty, rocky terrain all the way to the beach.
As we arrived, a group of about 7 young girls gathered around us where we parked our bikes against a chain-link fence.
In Creole, they asked us if we were “going to bathe,” which is what many people do in the natural bodies of water here.
I smiled really big, and, running towards the ocean still wearing my clothes, yelled in Creole, “YES!! Right NOW!”
My roommate said that the girls’ faces were priceless. Their jaws dropped in disbelief as this crazy blanc (white person) charged full-force into the ocean still wearing all her clothes.
It felt amazing. Exhilarating. Rejuvenating. Freeing.
My roommate joined me and we laughed as we swam and enjoyed the refreshing ocean water.
I thought that biking to the beach as fast as I could and jumping into the ocean wearing my clothes had been a pretty entertaining scene in this movie I’m living. But nothing prepared me for the moment I looked back to the beach and witnessed the seven young girls excitedly stepping out of their skirts and shoes to join us. I laughed so hard as they all ran into the water, joyfully screaming and laughing. They had probably never swam in the ocean with a couple of crazy blancs before. (Blancs wearing clothes, at that!) They tried to get us to take off our clothes, but I explained in Creole that “I take my baths inside my house… where boys cannot see me!” haha!
Already feeling so free and young, my inner child couldn’t believe it when one of the children pulled a live starfish from the water. We turned it over and watched its tentacles dance in the sunlight. I wanted to keep it but couldn’t bear the thought of it dying, so after everyone had a turn feeling its smooth body and tickling tentacles, I threw it as far as I could back into the sea.
When we grew tired of swimming, my roommate and I said goodbye to the girls and pedaled away towards Neply. I could have sat on the beach with them for hours, just enjoying the freedom and the beauty of life. Who says you should only swim in the prettiest of waters? Who says you can’t just jump in, clothes and all? Who says it’s embarrassing to ride all the way back home dripping wet? Not me. Not anymore.
I’ve been given the freedom to live my life joyfully. I’ve been given the freedom to notice the beauty of creation and how it was made for me to enjoy. I’ve been given the freedom to live my life according to no one else’s standards or expectations. I’ve been given the freedom to know my purpose on this earth and to not waste any time searching for something that can’t fill the void that only Christ can fill.
Just the day before, on Easter morning, I considered how fulfilling my life has been since knowing Him. How my heart aches to worship Him because of how good He is.
The team visiting for the week went to the main church in Neply with our staff, but since Sunday is my day off, I had the freedom to go to the small church on the beach I mentioned earlier. I selected a lightweight, cotton dress with sleeves (shoulders must be covered at church), packed my bag with my Bible, a snack, and some water, and set off on my bike towards the church.
It’s about a mile to the church on the beach, most of the trek on what we jokingly refer to as “Main Street Neply.” Main Street is a dirt/rock road that runs alongside a creek and marks the border of Neply. It is, at nearly all times of the day, bustling with activity. When motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians aren’t making way for each other on the road, there are still always people sitting. All day long, they sit in shaded spots, just watching. Staring. Some gather in small groups and talk all day at the edge of the road. But they all sit. They all watch.
Sunday, they watched me ride all the way down the road to church. I wonder if it’s not considered rude to stare in this culture… (or maybe it’s just not rude if you’re staring at a white person. We are pretty strange looking, afterall). I felt extremely on display and out of place as, make-up and church clothes on, I pedaled my bike alone down the rocky road, my dress blowing in the breeze. (I was a bit worried the breeze would pick up a little too much and cause a scene on Main Street if I revealed more white skin than the sitters have ever seen!)
I arrived at the church and some guys who work security for our ministry offered me a seat near them. I was the only white person in attendance. As usual, the staring continued throughout church. I don’t typically like being made “aware of myself,” but in this case, the stares of the children have become a normal part of my life, and most of the adults at church are familiar with my presence there and no longer stare.
Because I don’t understand most of what is said during church, I got out my journal to begin writing. Drat. My pen was out of ink. It had run out the night before as I had sat in the pasture and journaled my prayers to the Lord.
Next to me, my friend was holding his baby and I was itching to take her from him. I did, and she quickly fell asleep in my arms. I zoned out and the unfamiliar language became like white noise to me as I got lost in thought.
It was Easter morning and I just ached to worship Jesus in my own language. It’s my favorite day of the year to worship. When considering the absence of spiritual leadership, gospel-teaching, and corporate worship, I feel like my time here has been so difficult. I miss those things so much and, when thinking about beginning my new life in the States in a couple months, look forward to those things more than anything. But even in the struggle of missing those things, I have felt so very close to Jesus and have learned so much about the joy that comes from His presence alone. Being stripped away of my American way of worshiping has taught me that His presence is real; it’s not just an emotional high during a heart-thumping worship set.
It’s the quiet peace. It’s the joy in all things because of Him.
And I hope that when I return to the States that I will experience so much thankfulness and joy in the ability and the privilege of worshiping with other believers coupled with the simultaneous blessing of knowing the reality of His presence.
I never want to forget what I’ve learned here. I never want to forget what it’s like to feel Him near, to experience His peace, His joy. I hope that whatever it was about my American lifestyle or habits that prevented me from experiencing Him fully will cease to exist. Also, I hope that as I move back to an environment that might not feel as surreal, I will still continue to seek Jesus so much that my life can’t help but play out like an adventure movie. And I hope that when people witness my story, they see that it’s different… and that the difference is JESUS!
He has set me free. He’s the one that makes my life feel like an awesome movie. An adventure movie. Sure, some scenes are really difficult and leave me wondering how long until the scene is over. Some scenes even leave me wondering if the Director left his chair. But each scene leaves me more in love with Him as His unfailing love makes me feel like a star.
And the best part about my movie?… it never really ends!!
When the curtain closes on this life, I get to move on to a scene that lasts for eternity. A scene where the main star is Jesus, and it’s a constant celebration, where all of life has been redeemed, and the joyful adventure goes on forever.