from the beginning (a multi-story haiti series)

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{Image curated by the “Lion Man” a.k.a. “Fire Beard” a.k.a. Scott Wade}

I told you I would speak to you the whole truth as I see it in Haiti; that I would bring you in to my side and help you know like you were there (because you were, I could sense the breath of your prayers brushing the surface of my skin). I told you that I would paint word pictures using the whole wheel of sights and sounds; color and personality. Well this is me kneeling down at your feet with the information that is now a part of us for better or for better. And I want you to know that sprinkled between the descriptions and stories of hope and redemption and beauty so wondrous it will cut you open and make you keep bleeding, will be actual facts of evil and poverty and orphans and hunger and disease and so on. This sprinkling of gritty details is not designed to emotively create despair between your rib bones or manipulate a response from your aorta, but rather to keep my aforementioned promise to be a truth teller offering everything I can remember for this journalistic style series detailing our five day pilgrimage with Haiti.

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I found it ironic to get bumped to first class on my way to Haiti, the comforts of the privileged juxtaposed next to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Chris Marlow was seated beside to me and I took the opportunity to get to know this man who founded Help One Now, the organization that I was leaving hearth and home for. We talked “shop” and asked “get to know you” questions of each other and played with ALL the buttons on our fancy chairs like little children would and laughed at our own young-like behavior. Chris Marlow is a good good good people and became a true brother in such a short time (more on him later). The flight attendants gave us hot towels to wipe the travel grime off our epidermis and warmed us up some cajun-style shrimp with a side of cheesy polenta and our real glass glasses never came to half empty. Being served so studiously always makes me feel a bit weird because I’m the girl who is much more comfortable on the other side of pampering.

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I took a million iPhone pictures of the aqua ocean as we flew over atlantic waters and bahama beaches. And if I’m being completely honest from start to finish, then I’ll have you know that I wanted nothing more than to squeeze my body out the itty bitty plastic window so I could dive birthday-suit-style into the hues of blue below and feel naked creation dripping off my everywhere. Creation plus nothing is my jam; experiencing it launches me into God’s lap.

Just a little over an hour of flight-time later, we landed in Port Au Prince on a Saturday evening and within .02 seconds of walking down the jetway I realized that wearing jeans was a mistake. Tropical humidity is it’s own high level of stick and denim and sweat go together like catfish covered in chocolate. But there wasn’t much time to dwell on my mishap because immediately following our collective burst through the airport doors into the big blaring city I was struck by all the feelings (there’s a word for when every-each of your senses climax at once, but I can’t remember what it is). Oh my God, we were in Haiti and I could hear the spirit of adventure calling us like a lover; come hither and follow closer… This was our time, heaven was sitting in our hands and all we had to do was take one panorama look and the flavors erupting from of a single scope were cascading in waterfalls over my head; I was drinking Haiti through my pores and faster than a snap I dove headlong in love. From the wild and tasty colors to the spices impregnating the wind to the lush growth of rumbles and shouts to hundreds of brightly clad bodies moving like a pile of upright earthworms, I kept pinching my soul to make sure I wasn’t conjuring it all forth from my vivid imagination. God was everywhere and he was smiling to split the universe. Amber and I looked at each other and a simultaneous “I’m just so happy to be here” fell from our mouths. I wanted to throw my head to the sky and let go a worship yell and dance a joyous jig. If I could go back and do it over, I wouldn’t have held it in.

I don’t know if you know this about me or not, but I travelled extensively in my very late teens and early twenties–including five weeks in India. And after a person sees India up close and personal, foreign places do not have shocks or surprises anymore. But in that moment, standing where I was on that tiny square of Haitian asphalt, I felt like I was a bug-eyed toddler seeing a playground for the first time; my vision was brand new again. I could’ve bowed down and kissed the ground in gratitude for being trusted in a small way with the land and people of another country on God’s green earth.

With Spirit behind our backs and Spirit pushing up our fronts and Spirit falling from above, we piled sardine-style into two SUV’s and commenced into plural unknowns. Pastor Gaetan and Brennon picked us up from the airport and whisked us to our hotel. And by “whisked”, what I really mean is that we arrived approximately one hour and 2,000-some-odd car-honks later. Vehicles flow like a mighty river in the streets, there is a rhyme and reason to the way the wheels move, but with no lines or signs to guide the way, I certainly didn’t understand it. All I know is that a well-timed beep from the driver keeps the motorists and pedestrians mostly alive. We learned fairly fast that a “Haitian handshake” happened when the rear-view mirrors of two opposing vehicles hit each other in passing and I might’ve whispered “Jesus take the wheel” a few hundred times under my breath.

In between “handshakes” and car honks, my eyes ate more things I had never seen than I could ever count. Four years after the earthquake and some big hunks of Port Au Prince looked as if it had been jackhammered apart just yesterday, then thrown haphazardly back together on top of one another—like a concrete and earth Tetris puzzle gone completely skweee hawed. I knew I would see poverty layered in spades, but I didn’t anticipate what would slam into my eyes during that first hour alone… To be continued…

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This series will probably go for ten parts or so and I am very much excited to make you words and string you along. In the meantime, follow the stories of my pilgrimage partners HERE.

And lastly, just a few more iPhone photos:

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too much to tell

I have eight or ten or two-hundred stories to tell you about Haiti and there are a million little particles of feels floating to ping and pong off the walls of my insides. It will take the better part of a really long time to dissect, examine, sort, sift and get to a general place of being able to spill my guts and speak the words. God made me a ruminator and sometimes I need to take a shower or go on a walk or stare at the river before I fully understand the largeness of any narrative I’m writing about. And these Haitian narratives? I can’t say one letter shy of nothing but the whole truth as I perceive it; I won’t do even a sliver of injustice to this country or her people because I’ve fallen in love and when you’re in love with him and her or a place, you will honor them at all costs.

In the meanwhile, dive into a few of my iPhone photos. Maybe they’ll whet your appetite for what trails behind them…fulfills their colors  and flavors and lines and shapes and smiles; all the sensations come together.

{When you’re done getting your appetite ready, head over HERE to read some dad gum good stories written by my lady-loves.}

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 I’ll be back soon, y’all. Thank you so much for all the good prayers and such you’re casting our way.

Love,

Erika

i always make it personal

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Dear YOU,

In several short days I’ll be boarding a jet plane bound for Haiti. And I feel… I feel like I want you to come with me – so I’m not alone in the Spirit, so I’ve got Wind at my back, so when I choose to dance or laugh the movement and chorus is much bigger and louder and fills the atmosphere right up. We are always better together, do you believe it? We could make us some heavy and colorful vibrations – you and me and that little Haitian nation. Come with me, I will covet your prayers and love vibes and good juju. Come with me, through my eyes and words I will help you see what I see like you were there too. I will paint words using the whole color wheel of hues and shades and a panorama of pixels and personality. It will not be safe or stale, that’s for darn certain – I’ve got a feral bone in my body after all and I’ve been told that Audacious should be my middle name. Come with me to Haiti on April 12? Hold my hand and lift me up for 5 days, I’ll let you know when I get to the dancin’ part – that’s my favorite – and we’ll bust a move like it’s 1992 and Ice Ice Baby is playing on the jukebox. “Stop. Collaborate and listen. Ice is back with a brand new invention…” You know the song. If you don’t, RUN to Spotify or iTunes or something and GET IT, but not until you finish reading this post. ;-)

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::Images curated by Scott Wade, co-founder of Help One Now::

Dear Haiti,

Come closer for a second, I want to show you something from the inside of me…

These past few weeks I’ve been writing you letters by way of prayers being pushed through my pumping heart and I sent them out to you on Spirit-wings. And those letters passing through my pumping heart lead to certain thoughts in my thinking head, thoughts about how I want to posture myself before flying into your land and joining your people.

I hardly know nil about all your layers and dynamics and nuances, so when I come to you I’ll be on my knees or flat on my face (metaphorically, of course, because crawling or slithering through the airport might be kinda…awkward). And I’ll stay there until I see you and feel you and know you from the within space. I’m clothing myself with this basic posture for learning and I’d love for you to teach me everything you know about your land and humanity; the history of earth and skin embedded from the roots in the dirt up to the sun in the sky.

Oh, I’ve pictured the depths of your soil and all the stories the land beneath your feet has sustained – some stories wild beyond reckoning, some beautiful beyond bearing, some aching like a chest wound, some too tragic to tell, by God. My fruitful imagination travels from those early imprints of creation to the travesty of Christopher Columbus anchoring on your shores with tyranny and infectious diseases to this present day…and every hurt and hurricane between. If I touch the ground, will I feel it? The cry and pulse of the narratives filling your native place?

And I’ve pictured the height of your sky…and it reminds me of something I read about you yesterday, that you are the only nation in the world to establish itself from a successful slave revolt. Your indomitable spirit takes my breath and blows my mind! Not only that, but I am truly awed that your successful revolution by slaves lasted nearly a decade; all the first leaders of your government being the formerly bondaged all broken free. Go, YOU!!! If ever I need an illustration of “indomitable” I will be using your dauntless example. Plus, “The Indomitable Spirit of the Haitian Nation” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Somebody should write a book and use that as a title.

I want to tell you a few things about myself: I am equal parts light-hearted and serious, which is just another way of saying: I’ll dance and laugh with you, make merry and raise the roof or turn to crying on a dime if it’s tears you need. Ok? You’ve got all the parts of me. And do you know what one of my loudest parts is? You should hear me shout about the mutuality and equality of mankind; whether wealthy with lots of dollars or barely scraping by, educated or uneducated, young or old, black or white…I’m always saying that everyone has an equal voice, everyone has a valuable contribution, everyone has the same basic needs and desires. We are made of the same [extra]ordinary stuff. And it is my personal belief that our liberty is bound up in one another; that until we are all free to enjoy equally the fruit of the earth and the amenities of life, then none of us are totally free. Which is why I’m not here to do anything for you, I’m here to do with you. In other words: I give myself to your country and inhabitants because it and they are proportionally and profoundly capable of giving back and together we make wholeness. We make wholeness. We represent the integrity of the global tribe. We.

So this is what I’d like to do: if you feel like you have a words to tell, would you let me be your story steward? I will listen good and hold everything you say with the utmost care, with the intent to retell them on my tiny platform here. In other words: I want to help your voice be heard so more people can get to know the deep places of your soul and side-by-side we’ll do this good Kingdom work of uniting our family across and around the world. How does that sound?

I’ll see you soon and we can chat more then!

Love,

Erika

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I know it was mentioned in a previous post, but THE GALS and I will be traveling with Help One Now, visiting their projects and caregivers in Ferrier Village (click to watch a video!), Drouin and Port Au Prince. If you would like to learn more about the work HON peeps are doing, you can click HERE - the link highlights the story of 32 children Help One Now aided in rescuing from the other side of trafficking, 7 they reunited with their families.

Thank you for spending time with me, dudes and darlings. I am always SO honored to have you.

Love love love LOVE you ALL so much,

Erika

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taste and see – a noah review

There’s something you should know about me. And this may or may not come as a surprise depending on how much time we’ve had together, but I get REALLY turned around by naysayers (and doomsday-ers, come to think of it). For example: if a naysayer writes an entire article about how NOAH is the worst movie to ever arrive on God’s green earth and can’t even make note of one good thing about it? Well, I ain’t gonna listen to his advice and not see the movie for myself. I’m gonna turn around and do the opposite because I automatically think that if a person can’t find a little beauty in something, then their worldview must be leagues different than mine.

So me and my mama and THE BOYS walked to town for a matinee showing of NOAH yesterday, knowing that large parts of our faith tradition bashed in every pixel of the film – from start to finish. About three blocks from the theatre we found Diamond (!!!!!) loitering at the bus stop, she was admittedly high as a kite from smoking dope and just as happy and uncoordianted as a pack of puppies on a playdate – weaving and slapping and speaking volumes bigger than necessary. My mama asked her if she wanted to join us for the movie and Diamond literally skipped right over to tell her “husband” (not actually a REAL husband, but the guy who protects her since she lives on the streets) that she would be gone with us for a few hours.

I had my curiosity about how a high-Diamond would do in a movie and no sooner did we settle in with our popcorn and Diamond with her peanut M&M’s, then she accidentally dumped the whole bag all over the floor. We could hear a hundred pieces of candy rolling down the theatre slope at the same time a blue streak of NOT-quiet cuss words came streaming out of her mouth. Let me tell you something: Diamond’s got curse words you haven’t even heard before, the way she slices apart certain ones, then glues them together different is truly unique – you’ll just have to trust me on this. My mama and I chuckled at her creativity on our way to saying: “Diamond! Shhhhhhh!” Honest to gosh darn goodness, between the boys and Diamond we probably met our “SHHHHH!” quota for a whole month in the first 30 minutes of that movie. But something about not having a “perfect” movie-going experience made Noah and it’s explosive display of the human condition the best experience for the right kind of perfect movie-going. (<—— Did you get all that? Cause I sure didn’t.)

I’m going to say very little here about the actual Noah film because I don’t want to spoil the feast if you choose to partake. What I can say without ruining anything is that this movie felt like taking a boat-less ride on a wild river. The scenes and characters threw me around and tossed my emotions against the boulders and branches and sunk me under the current – there were times when I didn’t want to take a breath so as not to disturb the tender tightness in my water-logged chest. Noah was violently dark, achingly beautiful and merciful in a way that makes a grown woman weep (that grown woman was me). The visuals were a spectrum of savage, mythical, psychedelic and couldn’t get enough of the kaleidoscope of colors and shapes and earth and dirt and people. Everything was so haunting and provocative, I wanted to launch myself through the screen just to get closer to it.

All that to say, I don’t know if you’ve read any reviews about Noah yet, or if you’ve made up your mind to see it or not…but what I would like to gently speak here is: taste and see. Just taste and see. Because I wasn’t looking for this movie to be absolute in Biblical accuracy (what book-turned-film ever is?), my whole self was open to the artistically nuanced festival of one of the most wrinkled stories ever recorded. Without a doubt, the essence of the Noah production was created on the spirit and principles of the Biblical account, rather than right down to the very black letter. But, it was still arcing with the major themes of fear and love, good and evil, judgment and mercy – heaven meets earth. Creator and created. 

We emerged from the shadowed theatre into the grey afternoon day, dropped Diamond off to her people and walked the nearly two miles back. I huddled down with The Boys when we got home and together we talked and talked and talked some time upwards of 45 exciting minutes. We dissected messages and over-sweeping themes about sin and salvation; story arc and sensations. For me, that’s the best part: when I get to sit with the young souls Austin and I have been entrusted with and teach them how to taste and see the Baby in the bathwater and not be automatic naysayers based on hearsay.

Click HERE for an excellent review by Tony Jones (spoilers included) and if you have the time, this video might make you run to the next showing:

 

world vision, culture wars, and soul stigmata

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My hands are anxiously wiping the tingles off my neck in rejection of the nerves crawling up my spine. Because I’m working up the steel to share something about myself that only my husband and two other friends have ever witnessed me doing. Promise the person you’re sitting next to that after reading this post, you won’t think I’m 76 shades of screwball. Honest to gosh darn truly, sincerely and for reals, I’m just your average girl-next-door kind of NORMAL (<—– whatever the heck that means), I swear on Zacchaeus’ wee little grave – may he rest in peace.

Having said that, this is one of those stories where you’re gonna have to take it or leave it and that’s fine by me, but I can’t not share these burn-words anymore because at the end of the day there are people (and you know how much I love people) who need support rods to hold up their backsides before they crumple under the weight of our Christian culture wars.

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It happened last Saturday while Austin and the boys were up in the Green Mountains of Vermont visiting extended family, playing hockey, skiing and doing other random “guy time” kinds of things. I was blessedly alone for three whole days (!!!!!!) and when my life goes down to that level of still and quiet is when a certain Ghost comes to hijack my body for it’s own purposes.

I was standing in the master bathroom making my teeth get brushed when an unseen force punched me in the gut and before I could comprehend, IT was happening again. I went double over my stomach and commenced weeping all over the floor – beserkley, blindly and back-racking with Goliath sobs. Because I have the gift of NOT-tongues, I started praying through the pain with my body and in the midst of throwing my limbs around and guttural-ing my lungs out, I asked the Holy Spirit why and what am I praying for?

For lack of a better term, I call these happenings soul stigmata. Soul stigmata is when I soak into my bones a pain that sits inside the heart of God until it fills every atom I’ve got and I carry that pain as my own until it’s all prayed out. It’s a total embodiment, out-of-my-control kind of invasion; there is nothing left of me except for the skin that holds the cells of this occurrence together – I am just a willing instrument being played by the Spirit’s grief. The grief is always too much and leaves me feeling like drool and mush everywhere from toe to top. I am nearly good for nothing the rest of the day.

I was arching and groaning and raining out my eyes; throwing my body around the room and asking again: why? Why is this happening and who or what is it for?

Right behind those “w” questions came a Voice upfront with the answer: “I love my gay children and they are being hurt. Pray with me.”

(We can all agree that God loves all His kids, yes? Regardless of what else you believe when the word “gay” comes across your seeing space? (P.S. In the wake of the “word” gay is a gay person.))

And with those words, it was like my chest exploded with red-hot shards of hurt. My whole body couldn’t get air as I spiraled deeper into suffering next to Him. On a molecular level I was being injected with the affliction of a person who’s been torn apart by discrimination. Even though I have never truly been discriminated against – in those brief moments I knew what it felt like and I wanted to expire from the utter consumption of it. I felt like someone had mutilated my insides. I felt isolated and alone and dark. I felt unloved and unwanted and kicked. I felt the raw lure of suicide’s escape and knew why the bullied and discriminated go for it as a lifeline.

I have actively empathized with faction-less people for as long as I can remember, but all my days of empathizing have never come close to this invasive, clawing, take-over prayer. And I will NEVER truly feel what it’s like to live with the black hole of hateful bias day in and day out – good God, 30 minutes and I couldn’t even stand when it was over because I was a puddle of melted down identification. I wonder if I will ever not be haunted by this red-devil sensation.

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Coincidentally, two days later on Monday night, I read an article in Christianity Today reporting a shift in World Vision’s employment policy. The organization had decided that it wouldn’t discriminate against professing believers legally united in a same-sex marriage. If you don’t live under a rock, then you have probably seen at least a little something of the maelstrom this announcement has caused. If you do live under a rock, for the love of all things holy don’t come out! (Just kidding, come out, come out wherever you are – maybe only long enough to cast some Love around.)

On Tuesday morning I gathered my three BUBS around me for social studies homeschool-style and taught them what a Christian culture war was and gave them examples from Harry Potter to Rob Bell to Beyonce to the most recent cosmic-sized catastrophe surrounding World Vision. And I told them how little children and gay people were getting hit in the crossfire of another damn duel. I was crying while I was teaching.

The boys told me that they love it when I preach so I leaned in even closer to their faces, took turns staring at all their eyes and fervently invited them to imagine a different experience than the one they were born into. Using my fingers to mark their responses, I asked them what advantages they had arrived on the earth with. We came up with 7 BIG ones and keeping those advantages in front of their minds, I tried as best I could to express what had happened to me on Saturday on behalf of my gay brothers and sisters. I told them, among other things, that with our 7 BIG advantages we can hardly imagine what it feels like to be bulldozed by hate or prejudice. Then we prayed, me and these kids of ours who are learning so early how to see people and identify like they’ve lived inside another person’s story and body.

<This is NOT the part where I try my hand at crafty evangelistic tools, attempting to get you to think my way; it’s not my jam to be your Holy Spirit.>

This is the part where I tell you that I haven’t slept so good the past few nights, maybe if the pain would just get off my chest I could find that even-type breathing that spins you down to slumber. But, no. It won’t leave me and I don’t believe the ache won’t leave because there are people on this globe that disagree with my doctrine smoctrine, I care less than a gnat’s cleavage about our differences in opinion. Doctrine is theory and doesn’t have flesh and bones and faces, an orientation, empty stomach or a soul. Doctrine has been debatable from the beginning of time and will continue to be argued until Kingdom come – we are NEVER going to agree. The pain in my chest and my sleepless slumber has nothing to do with how much we beg to differ, but does have everything to do with all the senseless, needless, staggering “lengths that we go to to much so much distance between us.”

(“We all write songs about life, we just sing ‘em different. You sing the words, but you don’t know the song and you expect us all to sing along, how selfish.” ~Listener)

Dear Jesus, this isn’t a doctrine post or a position post or a straight post or a gay post. This is a Love post – a post about a Love so strong it took over my willing body, lassoed me next to One wounded side so we could keen and growl and bleed and lose our tears together. And I am still losing my tears, right now and I cannot even stop because I’ve read enough thinly veiled disgust in one day to keep me in soul aches for a lifetime. On the other side of Jesus, family is global and I beg you to stop talking about my family like they are sub-human. I beg you, STOP.

On Wednesday afternoon I learned the World Vision reversed their decision. God only knows why and I am out of words. I pray for another take-over in my body – this time it might not catch me by surprise.

Selah.