catty wampus and the invisible organization

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{Photo caught by the “Lion Man“}

I’m not surprised that I’m hurting on the insides or that my equilibrium is catty wampus. I’ve caught myself wandering through the rooms of my home in something of a culture shock trance and nothing seems to lessen the literal stabbing ache in my rib bone region or the feeling that I am out to sea without a boat on a moonless, starless, navigation-less night. I read a nonsense book all day yesterday to keep me from feeling things for a bit because I needed a break from the emotional wrecking. But the nonsense book-reading didn’t help assuage the pain…somewhere around chapter fifteen I couldn’t keep the geyser in my guts anymore and I’ve been drowning in tears ever since. I want to hold my Haiti babies really tight and long and put my nose to their necks one more time. Please, God, just one more time.

Maybe then I can stop all this drench-me waterfalling. Maybe then I will know what to do with myself again. Maybe then my skin will stop being so sensitive and taut, like I’m stretched out X-style with one arm and leg and half my soul still pining for Haiti and the rest of me trying to carry on here.

My body is too clean. My clothes are too nice. My food too abundant. You know the drill. This is the way one thinks and feels when returning to privilege from an impoverished place. But I still ask myself: how can THIS be real and at the same time all THAT be real too? We are living in a paradox world and I am a paradox girl–chafing against my soft sheets, lying flat on my back in my too comfortable bed at night and beseeching the Sky-Rider: How can this be? How can such polarized world’s co-exist mere shores from each other?

I’m fragile and a smidge afraid to feel “normal” again, to adjust fully to my “real” life. I hope the memory of Haiti keeps me a little bent over like on my knees.

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The following is part 2 of my pilgrimage with Haiti. You can read part 1 HERE.

We wound our way through a bona fide labyrinth of jagged dirt roads less than the width of two cars (see “Haitian handshake”) on our way up the mountain to our hotel. Everywhere my eyes landed I drank and drank and drank–guzzled–the unfamiliar and unusual sights and sounds of Haiti like I was a ten-days-dehydrated person. I wasn’t going to miss a single thing while I was here so I consciously became a human sponge and let it all hit my body hard; inviting the full spectrum experience to be a part of me so that this country and her people and I could be bound together as one.

I expected to see wall-to-wall poverty, but what smacked my face was way below the lack line of anything I had witnessed since standing in the slums of India. There are huts glued together like ill-fitted puzzle pieces with craggy scraps of corrugated tin, broken chairs and boards and pieces of dead plastic covering holes and making make-do roofs. The dwellings run willy nilly into each other for support, strung like misshapen beads along the roads and  aimlessly landscaped with rubble and open sewage and more trash than China has tea. I got spider-webbed by the desolation and dirt; the real life dystopia looks of starving dogs and dog-tired eyes. I heard no birdsong in the atmosphere–unless they all chose to hold their collective avian breath as we passed through–and saw very few trees to provide shelter or shade or something lush to look up to.

This was to be a trip where we declared hope for Haiti. But I didn’t feel I could offer any kind of hope until I digested despair and here in the first 30 minutes of being in Port Au Prince I was choking it down by the shovel load…just so I could turn it around and say NO. No, this is not the framework I choose to be motivated by or minister from or even worse–be manipulated with. It’s not my personal gig to be a storyteller that uses plight as a platform to get gain. Jesus himself, the Hope of glory, is the central inspiration for how and why and what I do and because He has commissioned me to declare the good news of anywhere and anything, you won’t hear me speak despairingly anymore in this series. Instead I will make a full-throttle, full-throated declaration again and again that Haiti’s whole song will be Hosanna.

Our cars kept winding this way and wending that way and steadily up to our final destination for the day. We snaked and seesawed so many times between the airport and the hotel–my mind couldn’t fathom how in the world our drivers had memorized the meandering maze of roads.

Throughout the twists and turns and appearances and audibles what kept resounding in my soul was this simple truth: this all belongs to God–sons, daughters, animals, land, air. Each microscopic detail originated from God’s breathe and how did it get to be so backwards? There is no doubt that a usurper lurks here and there and everywhere, but in that moment I needed to say it softly and release it to the Wind around me: “this was Yours first, I don’t care how it looks to the contrary”. I might’ve decided right then to become a watchman standing tall on the walls; a prayer warrior reclaiming what’s been stolen from Haiti–until all of God’s creation is retrieved by Light and Love and with hundreds of hands that look like Jesus’.

The whole dusty crew of us rolled up to the Royal Oasis Hotel and it no longer felt like we were in the desert parts of Port Au Prince, but rather a tropical vacation destination. Every corner and crook was brand new, neat and shiny. There were vibrantly colored modern art pieces decorating the lobby walls and back-lit nooks, flourishing greens and shrubs and flowers livening up the landscape and air conditioning to dry our sweated-wet bodies. The paradox comes closer.

We checked into our rooms for an hour of refresh time before coming down as a team for our first meal together. The table was long and spread with foods ranging from Margherita pizza to hamburgers to native Creole-style chicken with red beans and rice. We laughed and learned and looked at each other and knew true communion on foreign soil. Chris Marlow had promised us all a beer if we didn’t miss our planes or forget our passports so everyone clinked their Prestige bottles and toasted to each other, but to Haiti most of all. We smiled to split our faces and I’m pretty sure my eyes got misted across–we knew we were in the right place at the right time. Gratitude was our dessert.

After dinner and gratitude we found a lounge in the hotel where we could circle-in to get briefed with itinerary and all the itty bitty details about who Help One Now is–their current projects, core values, structure and social justice philosophy. I do believe the first words Chris spoke as he looked in all our attentive, but tired faces was: “As an organization, we’ve made a lot of mistakes.” And my ears perked even more because I always hear close to men and women who are openly humble. (And to men who openly weep, which Chris did two days later.) For the next hour we listened to him say, in my opinion, some of the most important things the leader of a justice organization can ever verbalize. I’ll give you the nickel version:

He talked about how Help One Now is 99% invisible as an organization (as friends they are very visible) in order to honor the visibility of the “high-capacity” local pastors who are already doing relief work in their communities. One of HON core values is to submit and succeed leadership to these pastors who they’ve become intimately bonded with and continue to keep them at the front and center of the relief work while HON works tirelessly behind their backs to support, equip and empower; to be the safety net that catches them when needed, the thinkers that guide their vision when asked, the hands that launch them higher when the time is right and the resource for funding their projects. In short, Help One Now values a servant-hearted partnership that innovates Haitian-born thought and solution. HON believes this value allows Haitians rise up and see themselves as priceless, irreplaceable, contributing leaders in their community and country. In short again: Help One Now built an infrastructure that undergirds, enables and assists while Haitians do the actual on-the-ground work of helping each other. (You can read more HERE.)

Chris asked us at the end if we had any questions and by that point I had literally gripped my flesh in the area of my aorta because the thing that beats inside my ribcage was thumping double-time. THIS is something I can get behind. With tears welling in my eyes, I told Chris how much everything he just said meant to me; it meant that I could be wholehearted on this trip. And if I can be wholehearted, it means that I won’t engage half-arsed, which means I wouldn’t hold back even a percentage of myself. It also meant that I could come back to you, my readers, and share Help One Now’s stories with full confidence and integrity–I would never ask you to get behind something if I didn’t believe in it myself.

Only God knows why Haiti broke apart the way it did in 2010, but I believe it will take an earthquake of love to put it back together and from what I’ve seen, Help One Now is standing in those gaps, pulling the earth back together; filling the cracks with love.

I’m the WORST at asking for things and when I do it often comes off real unnatural sounding, so let me just put it this way: if you feel a resonance with the ways Help One Now operates and would like to hook your heart next to theirs, they are doing the good Kingdom work. (I saw it. I felt it. I heard it.) Specifically right now, they are trying to raise 100 more sponsorships for the children of Drouin Village and 100 garage sales for orphans (GS4O) to benefit Ferrier Village.

~ ~ ~

(Part 3 of my Haiti series coming soon…)

(You can also keep up with more Help One Now/Haiti stories HERE.)


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.

~ ~ ~

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 me and I took the opportunity to get to know this man who founded Help One Now, the organization 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…

~ ~ ~

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

~ ~ ~ 

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: