Chasing The Lost

I thought about not mentioning this trip, as I find myself in Haiti again. This wasn’t planned. This isn’t a happy trip. This is the broken, battle-ready heart of missions. When things don’t make for fun posts and pretty pictures.

I’m here to fight for the one. The lost sheep that God’s heart is after. The one who is rooted so deeply in generational sin and this world’s burdens that most would call him a lost cause. But NOTHING is lost to Jesus.

I have been here before; this place where things seem absolutely hopeless. Which is how I know that hope is here and this sponsor son of mine is worth it…to come this far just to sit with him in the mess and the pain. To fight with everything inside of me for his future. Please pray for this trip. That God’s power would come rushing in and miracles would happen. That His will be done.

I refuse to look at another empty chair, with only a memory to hold on to. This is the darkness that missions was made for.

Where It All Began

He’s the reason it all started. I scrolled through the list of children to sponsor and when I saw his face, God nudged me, whispering to my heart, “This is the one”. I came on my first mission trip to Haiti just to meet him. I had no idea that this relationship was just the beginning of all that God had for me. To be honest, I was holding back on that trip. I didn’t want to fall in love with a land or a people so far from my comfort zone. I knew it meant heartache. But that’s part of following the calling on our lives.

We are called to love as Jesus loves us, holding nothing back. That means pain, sometimes beyond what we feel we can take. Today, as I finish up my eighth trip to the orphanage, I am feeling the weight of loving these children as if they were my own. This week has been the hardest my boy and I have had since we met, discovering what it really means to move past the typical mission trip week of Bible school fun and games, and stepping into the mess of what his past has left behind. The abuse and trauma this boy has suffered has a depth to it that may never be known to anyone but God himself. The effects of it, wreaking havoc on his mind, body, and soul; causing issues that can make daily life for him feel like an impossible challenge. The way he’s been conditioned to behave doesn’t line up with the expectations or the rules. He knows that he teeters on the verge of being put back out on the streets, but doesn’t know how to change. The dysfunction runs too deep…right now.

But God’s not finished yet.

This child, like so many, is at the heart of the great commission to reach the lost. For the moment, he has shelter and food. But his soul is wandering in a darkness that only Jesus can chase away. I make the trek to the country of Haiti over and over again preaching hope to these children because, like my “son” here, I was the 1 sheep that The Good Shepherd left the 99 for. His love was relentless. I had wandered so far from the path, plagued by generational sin and abuse, that I had given up completely. But God refused to give up on me. The only way to even come close to thanking Him for saving my life, is to live my life chasing down the lost and hurting with the Truth of a Savior who has come to restore all that has been lost and broken.

So, this is my mission; one that has no end…that this child, and all like him who God places in my life, would know that they are not just loved by God, but chosen by Him, to be extravagantly blessed by a grace that changes everything.

Chosen

So many times, I’d made the trip to Haiti with the mindset that I was the one helping; the one who was going to make a difference…the one doing the choosing. I was choosing to be there. I was choosing which projects to be a part of. I chose when to engage, and when to distance myself. It only took a handful of times stepping foot onto the orphanage campus for God to shake me awake to the truth that I was never the one in control. Sure, I was there by choice…but long before I became a missionary, I had been chosen. God knew all along exactly how the story would unfold and He chose me to play a part that, years ago, I would have disqualified myself from playing. Not knowing how deeply loved I was by my Heavenly Father, I had taken myself out of the race. When, all along, He was training me for victory.

Raised by two people who didn’t know how to love me, meant I didn’t know how to be loved. I sought it out in all the wrong places, people, and things. I gave myself away until I reached the dark place of being taken, without permission. I lost so much of myself in desperation to feel wanted and cared for. I tried to take my own life in desperation to end the feeling of being alone.

But God had chosen me. And He wasn’t giving up.

Years later, when I began doing missions work, I still didn’t understand my worth. I could lovingly tell others how cherished they were by God but couldn’t seem to comprehend that I was equally as loved as those I was serving. I operated as though I could give something to others that I didn’t have. I tried to speak life into traumatized children when I was still reeling from my own trauma, and didn’t see myself as worthy of my calling. It worked for a short time. I was able to put forth truths about identity as I knew it from God’s Word, all the while not believing I counted as someone it applied to. I had heard The Gospel most of my life, yet still believed the lie that someone like me, who’d been through what I’d been through and done what I’d done, couldn’t possibly be worthy of such unending, relentless love from God. As I got to know the kids more and we formed deeper relationships, I realized I couldn’t speak life into them when I didn’t feel alive. I had to learn who I was in Christ, believe that it was truth (no matter what my past looked like), and then walk it out in everyday life. I needed to be healed.

So many of the children in Haiti hold a special place in my heart and I see each moment with them as an undeserved gift. Slowly, as more of my heart took up permanent residence in this country so far from home, I began to see the calling on my life unfold and grow more comfortable with myself as a daughter of The King. I began to spend more and more time alone with Jesus, studying the meaning behind all the verses I had memorized years before. I began opening myself up in His presence, laying out all the uncomfortable, painful experiences that had built walls between us. Eventually, I was able to see that God had gifted me in ways specially made for the work I was doing. He was taking all that had been broken and was making it beautiful; giving my past pain a purpose. Yet, there were still chains that needed to be broken before I could walk boldly, without fear or insecurity, onto the mission field.

The final shift in my perspective came a few months after meeting Aslin. It started as many relationships in Haiti do for me – through time spent talking and praying, sharing experiences; serving him and his family as best as I knew how, and in whatever way God led me to. What I didn’t see coming was Aslin’s perspective of me…

The young man is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. Despite living in poverty all his life, working to take care of his father since the age of twelve, and being traumatized over and over again by things I’ve only seen in nightmares…his faith is the strongest of anyone I know; focused, unwavering, whole-hearted, pure faith that I have always aspired to have. For him, The Gospel isn’t just a story. It’s everything. Jesus is everything. No terror distracts him from his end goal of knowing God more today than he did yesterday. Watching this kind of faith in circumstances so much more devastating than my own…nothing has ever humbled me more. Until the day Aslin called me Mom. 

He chose me. 

Me, who has such little faith; such huge flaws. Me, who is often such a mess on the inside. Me, who has taken for granted the gifts of the shelter, food, and family I come home to after every mission trip. Me, who is still very much in process and doesn’t have all the answers. Me. The same me that had found myself in a car with a bottle of pills and nothing left to give…had just been given one of the most precious titles in life, by one of the most beautiful souls I’d ever met. In that moment, Aslin had shown me Jesus. This undeserved love, this gift of being chosen just as I am, for a position of such honor in the heart of another…this moment took down the walls around my heart and allowed the truth to fully settle in that I am worthy of love. Love without shame, guilt, or condemnation; love without limits and beyond all expectation. 

On the mission field of life, we are chosen. Not because we are smart enough, fast enough, beautiful enough, or pure enough. We are chosen because we are loved. 

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The Why: My Heart For Haiti

I’ve always admired missionaries; anyone really, who’s willing to leave the comfort of home and serve the lost and forgotten in places the rest of the world would rather forget. I always longed to be one of those people myself, but I grew up believing I had no place in that world because I wasn’t good enough. I was raised to believe I was a worthless burden and continued to be treated as such well into adulthood. My believing that that’s who I was meant I also believed there was no way I could bring any kind of goodness to anyone. I prayed constantly that God would free me from the abuse and, in exchange, all I’d ever ask for is a healthy family of my own. Today I’m able to say, out of His deep love and tender mercy, He’s given me all I’ve asked for and more.

With that being my background, when I went on my first trip to Haiti, I fully believed I was doing it for my daughter, who had joined our team. In my mind, I was simply giving my child, who has a heart for serving others, the opportunity to learn and grow in that passion. I had no idea that God was going to use my plan for my daughter to reveal His plans for my own life. During that first trip, I had all the joy that comes with serving the kids at the orphanage, but I also had a deep terror knowing that I was being called to more. (Leaving my own family at home is torture, every time.) I could see the same pain in the eyes of those children that I’d lived with my whole life. The more I learned about their stories, and the more I discovered about how they see themselves, the harder God pushed for me to commit to action- Because He’s not a God who sees devastation without building something new out of the ashes. If not for Jesus, my past is just an evil mess. It’s just pain and darkness. But, because He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, my past is now a weapon against the evil that seeks out the souls of the children in that orphanage. My experiences put me in the position to reach these kids for Christ through the power of “Me Too”.

…And that is my heart for Haiti…

God has instructed me to take the trauma I suffered, combined with the trauma training I’m engaging in now, and use it to draw these kids to Himself through relationship. Through connection on an individual basis. Through prayer and play and teaching and suffering alongside them.

In the past, even as a Christian, I had suffered a pain so deep that I felt the need to take my life. And the root of that pain was loneliness. I felt so utterly, completely, hopelessly alone that I wanted to die. There is nothing quite like the pain of feeling unseen, unheard, and uncared for.

Most of these children feel that, in some capacity, every single day.

Knowing what that feels like, and the possible results of that going unchecked, I refuse stand by and do nothing. Especially when God’s commanded I take the leap of faith and dive into the messiness of their situation.

All of Haiti is traumatized. Traumatized parents raising traumatized kids, generation after generation. Much of the reason for this being that the research and knowledge on trauma and it’s effects has not been shared or is unavailable there. If we go in and teach on trauma, educate the staff and caregivers of the orphanage, and help them apply what they’ve learned to how they interact with the children in their care… it would change the lives of the 130 children who live there, who would then grow up to change the way they’d interact with their own children. There’s a ripple effect of healing that could be felt across the entire country, if a few people would simply take the time and effort to invest in caring for God’s people there in this specific way.

Of course it seems like I’m not doing much now… but my hand is in God’s and He’s guiding my steps, one at a time. I’m likely to never see the ripple effects God’s plan for trauma care in Haiti will have, and that’s okay. Faith means trusting in what I cannot see; leaning not on my own understanding. Being in a faithful relationship with Jesus means I walk out on the water, even if my own storm is raging, and trust that He will not only catch me, but will use the storm to further His Kingdom in the lives of those around me.

To Him be the glory.

My heart for Haiti is aligned with God’s heart for all of His children: To see them. To serve them. To love them…because that’s what He did for me.

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Haiti And The Heart Of God

It was my third mission trip to the mountains of Haiti, where an orphanage full of children hold pieces of my heart that I know I’ll never get back. My specific reason for traveling there had been to continue my work individually with a group of children who not only have special needs, but have experienced trauma above and beyond our deepest fears and nightmares. I thought I was at least a little prepared for the week, having begun research on working with those affected by trauma and gearing up for official training on the subject. God had reassured me that, though I still have much to learn, the most important thing I can possibly do is to love them. To hold them and make sure that they begin to understand that someone sees their pain, understands their emotions, knows of their past…and still believes they are destined for greatness. One main goal was to start to build the bridge of hope and trust; to prove to them that I value them and am committed for the long haul. To begin to share bits of my own personal story of trauma and meet them in the pain. There are few words more powerful than, “You are not alone.”

I soon learned that there is no preparation for hearing stories of the devastation of those you love. Though I’ve been through abuse, rape and other physical and emotional trauma myself, nothing could have prepared my heart for what I’d learn about the people of Haiti. Stories of the past experiences of these precious children hit my heart with violent force and, even after my return to the states, have left me with pain that weighs heavy and often overtakes me. To go back to “life as normal” feels impossible. In a matter of moments, everything had changed. I had changed…and there’s no going back.

I have moved through the past few days in a fog. I go from desperately praying through tears, to becoming numb and not finding the words or strength to pray at all. The enemy’s been whispering temptations to fall into old habits of coping with this level of pain. More times than I can count, sudden urges to drink the pain away or put up walls of seclusion from family and friends have felt impossible to resist. Yet, I’m held by a God who is using this very pain to draw me to Himself. And so I remain still and focused on The One who’s called me from darkness to light.

I’m finding it hard to sum up this trip for those who’ve supported me; to express in words what happened and how God worked in and through me. All that I keep coming back to is the reality that, in feeling this ocean of pain for these children, I’m being given a small glimpse into the heart of God. The pain of His people stirring more and more compassion within and transforming me into someone whose past no longer defines her, but glorifies her Savior and brings healing to the hearts of others. This gift is beyond words and worth every sacrifice. I’m humbled that a calling like this would be placed on my life; infinitely thankful that His grace is taking what was once death and destruction and replacing it with victory. My heart will ever belong to Jesus…The One who loved me at my darkest.

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Resurrection Child

I was born on Easter morning. I was raised to believe that this meant I should really like bunnies and baskets full of candy. Which I do, because of the cute and the chocolate, but that’s not what the holiday means to me today. I actually struggled for many years to figure out my personal views on Easter. For some reason I felt numb…until the pieces fit.

I was a victim of verbal abuse as a child. The message I received: I was a worthless failure. It was my identity. Nothing I did was ever good enough so, my sense of value became tied to what I did rather than who I was. I was a disappointment and a burden in my mother’s eyes. She made little to no effort to hide it. This formed my reality; the image I saw when I looked in the mirror. I was a slave to my shortcomings, always feeling pressured to be impossibly perfect, and always missing the mark. I couldn’t escape the feeling that, no matter how hard I tried, I would never be worthy of love or respect. This led me straight into the arms of an abusive boyfriend after high school graduation. In my mind, physical, sexual and verbal abuse seemed to be exactly what I deserved. Pain was my normal. Before I knew it, two more years of my life were gone. By the time I realized that I needed to escape the relationship, I was staring death in the face. He had completely lost control, and I had completely lost myself. The grace of God landed me back home. Physically in one piece, but emotionally shattered, I couldn’t see beyond the pain. I couldn’t understand what needed to be done. Instead of reaching out for help, I entered another unhealthy relationship. One that ended in rape.

Being raped flipped a final switch in me. I felt cold. Empty. Defeated…and alone. Completely and utterly alone, in the depths of a sorrow I couldn’t bear the weight of. Less than a year later, I attempted suicide. The pain was too great and what I felt I had to live for was too small. I believed the lives of those around me would either be untouched by my absence, or improved by it. I chased a bottle of pills with a bottle of alcohol and went to sleep.

What should have killed me didn’t. I don’t know why. All I know is that I’m thankful. I wasn’t thankful immediately, but immediately I knew that there was a reason God had kept me alive. He’d saved me from my abusers and he’d saved me from myself. I had a chance to begin again. I wish I could say that I picked myself up that day and started a new life…but I didn’t. I didn’t know how. Not at first. I had no idea what kind of person I was beneath it all. I only knew the labels my abusers had given me, and those only led me further down the wrong path. I knew God was there. I knew He was waiting. I didn’t know how to accept what He had to offer.

Then Easter came around again. I listened to another sermon in another seat in another church, the same way I had my entire life. This time, He captured me. Deep inside, beyond the wreckage that had been my life up until that moment, my entire being shifted and I stood face-to-face with GRACE. The message of the cross clicked. Christ’s body broken. For me. Not the me I was dying to become, or the me I’d been told I was…the me that I had been all along; the me He created. God’s intense suffering, chosen. Willingly chosen. For me. For the first time in my life I realized that, there in my darkness…in the evil, disgusting, utterly terrifying spaces of my life…He chose to be. At the greatest of all costs…

I was chosen. 

Today, because of His grace in my darkness, I am living a new life. I’m married to an amazing (and respectful…and gentle…and kind…) man. I am the mother to four incredible children. I am a photographer. I am a writer. I minister to families of children with disabilities and to recovering victims of abuse. I am a survivor. I am a warrior. My identity is no longer forged by my scars, but by His truth: I am a daughter of The King. This chapter of my story exists because of His saving grace; because of what Easter represents: There is no sin too dark, no hurt too deep. He has overcome it…and so can we.

We are made truly alive because of His death. With Him, we are resurrected. From unwanted to cherished. From defeated to conquerors. From victims to victorious. From chained…to FREE. Not because we have earned it or deserve it, but because HE. IS. LOVE.

…and love always wins.

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Survivor’s Love Letter

I’m sorry.

You are all I ever wanted. Now you’re here, and I’m messing it up. I don’t know how to be who I thought I’d be with you. Who I wanted to be. Every day, I try to move towards being that person and every day I seem to fail.

I’m stuck.

I’m stuck in between the person I was and the person I want to be. Fighting. Years of fighting. Somehow, I’m right back where I started.

I’m longing.

I die inside a little each time you try to hold me, each time you ask me to hold you…and I can’t. Not for long anyway. That feeling inside takes over. The suffocating fear, the crippling ache, the intense need to pull away from the ones I love the most…because the ones I used to love the most betrayed all that was sacred.

I’m damaged.

They took. Even in their absence, they’re still taking. What I’m left with never quite feels like enough.

I’m unfinished.

I’m a work in progress. Though I don’t have much to offer in this moment, I can promise that giving up is off the table. I’m weary from the fight but you’re so worth fighting for.

I’m hopeful.

This place is dark and tormenting…but I won’t settle here. Though it feels lonely, I’m not alone. The One who gave you to me offers the promise of victory. I refuse to be defeated.

I’m chosen.

Though I don’t deserve you, here you are. By design. In that truth I find the strength I need. To get up again. To try harder. To push further. Fire-tested and refined. I will forever fight to live beyond what’s left of me…to be recreated and restored. To live and to love beyond the scars.

I’m thankful.

You are my reward. I’d suffer it all over again if it meant that, in the end, there was you. You are greatest achievement. My reason and my inspiration. You love me, even when I feel unlovable. For that, there are no words. Only the eternal echo of a redeemed and grateful heart.

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