Stick with me on this one. All the pieces will come together at the end…hopefully.
There have been a few times in Haiti where I hear this comment, “Why don’t the Haitians want to do anything about their situation? Why would they just throw their garbage on the ground and add to the problem? Doesn’t anyone want to fix this? Why don’t they want more for themselves?” The questions sometime differ, but the point is the same.
There is a small sense of judgment on the people for the lack of response to the problems that the Haitians face. Not always, but I hear it creep it out every now and then.
My family and I try very hard to live to love others. Mission work and service projects have been apart of my life since I can remember. We would go to local homeless shelters, we would go to other parts of the country, and then we ventured to Haiti. There all different levels of helping others out. We try to be aware of the needs of our immediate neighbors, those living in our city and then thinking globally.
This is the first time in my life where I have lived where the mission exists. The only word that was used for days after the tornado was “war zone”. It was surreal, the whole thing. The streets were black and quiet when night time came. Police shut down our neighborhood to keep people out and to keep those who lived there safe. There were wires and trees down everywhere, no one could see where they were going. The red cross food truck would drive up and down the streets three times a day offering free food to anyone who needed it. Churches were coming down by the bus load to help remove trees and debris. Friends were coming and bringing meals and groceries. Other friends were taking the kids so we could clean. The city brought in 2000 volunteers this last Saturday to help with the final debris and clean streets, alleys and sidewalks.
It was overwhelming. It still is, and we aren’t even one of the houses hit the hardest. We can still live in our home. We can stay. We have insurance to cover our damages and take care of us. My whole family is alive.
I remember sitting on our stoop, my kids playing in the front yard, our windows boarded up, debris still in our yard and the Red Cross truck came. My kids scurried to the truck to get a water and an apple. They were so delighted for the free snack.
The parallel universe hit me then.
For my life before the tornado, I was metaphorically in the truck. The one bringing aid. The one helping. I would see people out sitting in front of their metal tin shacks or half finished homes. They were chatting with neighbors, or doing a chore, their kids playing in the yard. Here we came handing water or treats or clothes to anyone who wanted them. We were happy to share and to give, but also wondered if it did any good.
(This is where comments of infrastructure, economy and what not enter. This is not the point of this conversation. I am all about those things and helping for a lifetime not hurting the long term solution with short term guilt giving. Please stick with me.)
Now I found myself as one of those women. People were coming from all over to help. Emergency food was being delivered, volunteers coming to help clean, it was all so bizarre.
One of my first thoughts was “wow in any culture, if you’re going to hand it out for free, doesn’t matter who you are, you run and go get it.” The next one was a bit more difficult for me. I was wondering if the volunteers had judged me for cleaning my whole yard. Why after two weeks was there still so much debris by our garage and in our backyard? What was I doing that I didn’t want to improve our situation? I was just sitting on my stoop, not helping.
Let’s pause this train of thought real quick for a new one.
What I love about our Almighty God is that he provides opportunities for our world to be turned upside down. For us to loose control of what we think we can control. That he allows to know pain, failure, fatigue, mistakes, bad choices, and just generally crappy life stuff. I believed but am now convinced that it is to open our minds to others and understand their story a bit more. To carve out the judgment in our hearts and replace it with compassion, empathy, and understanding. It allows us to truly just love others, releasing us from understanding their actions, and leaving that to God.
My family went Gluten free/Dairy free two weeks before the tornado. That means we had just gotten past the detox, almost, and we were starting the “I would really like a sandwich now. Where’s the mac and cheese? Why can’t I have a yogurt? phase.” The mountain looked bigger than I anticipated. Then a tornado hit our house. How does one even start to process that?
I’ll be honest, this past year I have said that having a third kid kind of felt like I was sinking. All year I’ve struggled with how to manage to demanding kids and a baby. It’s been hard. Where I was sinking before, the last month has sunk me completely. I was feeling like I was drowning, that I couldn’t breathe and all I wanted was a pizza, or ice cream, or anything I was allowed to have anymore.
I didn’t know what to do first. I didn’t know what to do at all. My house was unsafe for my kids, but I had to clean it to bring them home. Once they were home, I still had to clean the yard, but they want to be with me, and I can’t have them in the grass where glass is still imbedded everywhere. I have to call the insurance guy, the car guy, the window guy, the adjuster guy, the tire guy, the other insurance guy, the contractor guy. I have to pay our bills, return phone calls, discipline my kids, feed my kids, pay attention to my kids, clean up after sick kids, and somehow return over 400 emails.
So I sat on my stoop.
It was a break from the pressure in my head and in my heart. It was my time to breath under the weight of my current life. That’s when the volunteers showed up, and I was off to take my kids to a T-ball game. I was going to leave my house, while someone else cleaned it up. Wow, talk about hard. I felt guilty, ashamed, disappointed in myself.
Then I remembered that my kids need this. We live here, so we are constantly reminded of all that needs to be done. We work a little bit each day to try to make it better. This was our break from our reality. Maybe I was judged for that. Maybe you judge me, but I can’t take that on.
It’s funny. The pastor who we worked with in Haiti always said, “We want you to come. Then you see our life and you can share it with others. You can be our voice.” Even more than that, I think people with an outside perspective can see things that those who feel overwhelmed can’t. I can’t see the forest past trees right now. I live one day a time. Truth be told, I just try to make it to nap time, and then start over again.
But when others came and stepped in and took my kids to swimming lessons so I could stay and get our car fixed. When groceries came, and friends visited, and they listened, and they offered their tools, most of them thought of our needs before I did.
Those in need rely, depend and can’t survive with the generosity of others. The mountain is too big to climb alone. The ocean’s too deep. We need each other to pull ourselves along, without judgment.
I also have a great new found appreciation of the little things that matter. How a meal being provided changes my whole day and frees up mental and physical space in my life. How a friend coming over to just do my dishes lifted my load by tons. Another friend taking my three kids along with her three kids and wouldn’t even accept a Thank you.
Knowing that people are there to help changes my attitude. It makes me want to fight to improve things quicker. To try harder.
I don’t feel alone in my mountain.
Never underestimate the power of helping.
Never underestimate the power of helping in small ways. They are never small to the one who needs it.