water

Water takes on so many forms…Colorado has educated me on even more forms than this Missouri girl realized even with a multitude of icy experiences. The beauty I find in water is the ethereal quality it possesses. It constantly keeps you guessing and you never know what you will get.

Someone else was like that, especially at a wedding where his mom tells him to save the family from embarrassment and do what he needs to do: “Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, ‘Fill the pots with water.’ And they filled them to the brim. ‘Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,’ Jesus said, and they did. When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, ‘Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!’ This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” [John 2:6-11]

God is also saving the best for last…because the Kingdom of God is what we yearn for. Even as things around us change, and we constantly fight to see the good of the Kingdom realized in our world…the best is saved for last.

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spirit

The big three. (No, not ‘This Is Us’)

The trinity.

God. Jesus. Holy Spirit.

Outside of the standard Sunday School answer of “Jesus is the most important,” sits the reality that the Holy Spirit is the insanely strong Kingdom unifier among us.

“I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” [Matthew 3:11-12]

Jesus continually told the disciples that when he ‘left’ he was leaving a connector with them. No matter what the name used for the Holy Spirit, the intent is clear…we will still have direct connection to the One we serve.

“He told them, ‘You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.’” [Acts 1:7-8]

That interaction with the Holy Spirit is different for everyone, as each of us naturally communicate and feel things differently.

It’s the tingle on your spine when you ‘know’ something is wrong.

It’s the 3a random wake up that you can’t fall back asleep and find yourself praying for someone someone specific.

It’s the ‘intuition’ that guides what we think is right and wrong.

It’s that surreal moment when you know the words were not your own as you speak into people around you.

It’s knowing something is wrong with a friend and the incessant prodding to reach out to them.

It’s the electrical current that courses through your body head to toes when you find yourself in a significant spiritual moment in worship, studying the Bible, praying, etc.

It’s that firework display in your chest that leaves no room for denying the Holy Spirit is alive and active not only in your life, but all those around you.

As we grow in our belief and continue to experience the Kingdom in all areas of our life, the Holy Spirit is the guide that will never steer us wrong. One of the most blessed things God ever gave me was the ability to acknowledge when the Holy Spirit was at work around me and how to hear God’s voice though those moments. It’s not a perfected practice, as humanness and sin are massive road blocks to active interaction with the Holy Spirit.

Because it is in the willingness to surrender.

Because it is in the willingness to seek the Kingdom of God.

And because, it is in the willingness to relentlessly pursue God’s heart.

Those alignments bring about a purity with the Holy Spirit that consistently blow my mind.

This Lent season, God is leading me to dig into his scripture, seek his heart and surrender to the Holy Spirit so that my voice is used for the Kingdom. I think it is perfectly planned that the first word was ‘Spirit’ from the Rethink Church Instagram photo challenge I am using, because so many times negative, disbelieving conversation and opinion suffocate the reality of the Holy Spirit. That suffocation denies God being able to actively work through us, and we need to come to a place where we are willing to talk about real things and refuse to be told to be silent on spiritual issues that God speaks very clearly on in the Bible. Lent is a journey of fasting, which is meant to draw us near to God through denial of self and genuine worship. Let the journey begin as we invite the Kingdom unifier to speak into our lives and draw us together.

go

It’s Easter.

Today I woke up, put on a dress (my least favorite thing to wear, ever, which is why Sunday afternoons are basketball shorts/sweatpants capri days to reward my morning sacrifice), and walked to church with Dexter (also known as Rogelin, who is a student living at the Pathways building). Who consequently got some friendly teasing from the guards on the way out the gate for walking with one of the white chicks to church. Amy would have been with us, but I have a group coming tomorrow that I am leading, so she had to take the one that came yesterday and they are out at Leogane.

It rained last night, thank the Lord for rain to knock down Port-au-Prince dust, so it was muddy on the way to church. The Chacos didn’t fail me as we navigated muddy rocks, large puddles, the part of the path we affectionately call ‘the bush’ because it really needs a good machete chopping, torched patches from neighbors burning their trash and gravel piles as our neighbors work to build up their homes. Really, this is how everyone should have to get to church, because riding in a car is so easy. There is something about the walk soaking in the morning sun and Haitian humidity that makes church a place you have to make an effort to be present.

Turning the corner on the home stretch, we came upon the woman who goes to the market for Jumecourt and a friendly ‘Bonjour!’ was tossed her way. She was in a beautiful coral colored dress and high heeled shoes with her hair resting in perfect ringlets around her face. My frizzy mop knotted on top of my head, long dress and sandals paled in comparison.

When we walked up to Ebenezer Church, a couple of the girls from Source de la Grace were making their way across the street and one grabbed my hand. We all got stopped by the ushers at the door, because they were praying inside. As I stood in the doorway, I couldn’t help but notice the man decked out in ALL white sitting at the front. White suit, white shirt, white vest, white tie, white socks and white shoes…Pastor Claude was in his Easter suit.

Dexter came to my side and said, “I’m going to sit with the kids.” I replied, “Great! Me, too.”

As the prayer finished they beckoned us inside, and started walking toward the kid side when the usher tried to redirect us. Telling her we wanted to sit with the kids got us the Haitian hand slap basically signifying ‘whatever.’

I slid into the row with some older girls and Dexter sat next behind me with his ‘village son’ who still lives at Source.

The singing began and I pulled out my Chants d’Esperance to sing along. I wasn’t listening well, so I missed the song number and the girls next to me were quick to help out. Several of the kids turned around and saw me there, sending big smiles and small waves. The fresh scent of soap drifted into my nostrils as I took in the kids in all of their Sunday morning finery. Girls with perfectly twisted hair, barrettes and bows. Boys in slacks and polos or buttoned down shirts. Haitian men in perfectly ironed suits, and women in beautiful dresses. Haitians dress for Sunday, Sunday doesn’t dress them!

As I started singing, some stared at the white chick singing in Creole. For whatever reason, it always mesmerizes them that I am really participating in the service and it makes me smile to myself every time.

Stand up. Sit down. Sing. Pray. Sing some more. Announcements…these can go on for well over 30 minutes. This is their community time to let everyone know what is going on in the life of the church, and they do not waste it. The choir sang, and then more prayer. Friends, talk about storming the gates of heaven, Haitians know how to pray. Complete lack of caring that anyone else can hear them. Their voices are released into the atmosphere as the most beautiful chorus reaching out to their Savior.

Merci Seigneur. Thank you, Lord.

Jesus vivant. Jesus lives.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Prayers for Pastor Claude’s message came next, and then we dug in.

Matthew 28

Isaiah 53

Matthew 18

The most poignant moment of the entire Easter service was Pastor Claude weeping while reading Isaiah 53. Weeping, friends, weeping…

“He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed…It was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs…” [Isaiah 53:1-5; 10]

I was so caught up in the text he had read thinking about being in Jesus’ lineage as an heir that I would have missed Matthew 18 if it hadn’t been for my friends looking out for me and pointing out we’d switched back to Matthew.

I am accustomed to Easter services in the States being all about joy and light and resurrection. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are for the somber services, right? Easter is reserved for joy and new life! It’s not that Haitians don’t have those services, we could hear them singing over the walls at Jumecourt the other night. And it’s not that they were not celebrating resurrection, because they definitely got their praise on with ‘Jesus vivant!’

It’s almost as if the bearing of their sin and the call to go is so intense in their lives that the hope in resurrection lives through each of those moments, instead of having its own separate time. Truly, new life and the new Kingdom is such a strong focus here that it does make sense. Though, remember, my Creole isn’t stellar and these are simply observations merged with what little I understand.

Pastor stopped in the middle of the sermon and had the congregation stand and sing this chorus:

A toi la gloire – O Ressuscité! A toi la victoire – Pour l’éternité!

To you the glory, O Risen! To you the victory – for eternity!

Death became life. Life defeated death. However you want to look at it, what happens after is the call to go. The call to be love. The call to move forward the message of the Gospel. The call to live out the resurrection. Without living out an answer to Jesus’ taking on the pain of the entire world’s sins, without accepting the reality and miracle that was his resurrection…who are we? Definitely not one of his heirs.

There is a reason Jesus didn’t appear to the disciples and say, “Fellas, I know it’s been hard, so hole up here in this room and they won’t kill you. This is the safest place to be and I want you to be safe.” That looks weird even to type it. Instead, Jesus sends them out with the exact radical message of love, grace and championing the least in their world that got him nailed to a cross.

The entire chapter of Matthew 28 was read during service this morning. This is what happens after resurrection:

“Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this; I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

Complete authority, not partial, complete.

Go and make disciples. Or the “Stephanie Interpreted Version,” go and love Jesus so much that others are drawn to do genuine Gospel life with you.

Baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Teach to obey all commands.

I am with you always.

Read between the lines…the Trinity is real, God’s love justifies, Jesus fulfilled every single prophecy and that is a message people will be thirsty to hear and learn in doing life with you. You are a redeemed people. There is hope for this world to be restored. God has not forgotten his creation. The Kingdom is present now.

A large part of that Kingdom surrounded me after church was over…as Pastor Claude had read from Matthew 18:1-6. Kids shaking my hand and giving the customary benediction that for today changed from ‘Bondye beni ou!’ or ‘God bless you!’ to ‘Bon fet Pak!’

Happy Easter, friends!

Jesus is resurrected and says GO.

believe

My heart was broken the other day. Not just a simple broken either, it was more a shattering, deep pain that was busting forth in front of my eyes that I couldn’t stop and in the end it tore me to shreads.

I was sitting at a village and there was a young one asleep in my lap and several kids hanging out around me. We were joking around when the conversation suddenly took a turn for the worse, and while I am super impressed with my Creole abilities to participate in this conversation, my inability also left me at a loss of complete words to help.

“Stephanie, did you know both of his parents are dead?” we shall call this kid, Little Shit, LS for short.

“That’s a lie!” we shall call this kid the Tortured Little, TL for short.

“It’s true! Both are dead!” LS stated plainly.

“That’s a lie!” TL said, grabbing my hands in his, “My mama is dead, but my dad is in prison.”

“His dad stole something with a gun,” LS said.

“That’s a lie!” TL shouted.

“It’s true! He used a gun,” LS said.

“A lie!” TL shouted as silent tears started running down his face.

“I believe you,” I said gently straight into TL’s eyes as he silently nodded, still combating the onslaught of lies coming at him.

“Go away! Stop hurting him,” I told LS, who by this time was smirking at the reaction he was getting from TL.

I pulled TL to my side and repeated again, “I believe you. I don’t believe him. You know the truth. He doesn’t know,” as tears continued to fall down his cheeks.

“Do you understand my bad Creole?” I asked him.

With a direct look in my eyes, he silently nodded yes.

“I believe you. God knows the truth. God loves you a lot,” I told him.

Little Shit is on my radar now. Up until now, I’ve noticed some things he has done, but couldn’t understand enough of the words to really know what was happening. It angers me that he feels he needs to make other kids feel that way in order to feel powerful or to deny his own story. And truly this could happen with ANY kids, emotions and situations are difficult when you are a kid. In these moments it is hard for me to remember grace. LS didn’t ask to live with a multitude of other kids in a village run by a Pastor. The sin of this world has gotten so rampant that it led him there in whatever way sin has kept his family in poverty and manifested there.

If there is anything that makes my heart break more, it’s knowing the defense mechanisms of the orphan culture can be mean, harsh and ruthless. It’s awful, but the sin of this world is ridiculously appalling and it is painful to see when it becomes visible this way. So many get caught up in how cute and adorable most of the kids are – and they are – but if we don’t acknowledge that the life of those that have no one to champion them sucks, then we do them a disservice. Acknowledgment comes in small forms, not big gestures. We are talking about young lives that God created and has a path for in this world…who need to be encouraged and repeatedly told they have value.

It is three small words I was able to use with Tortured Little…”I believe you,” and I am incredibly thankful in that moment I knew that verb. Our stories are our own, and no matter where the truth really lies…they are still our stories. No one else has the right to them, and they certainly don’t get to use them against us, though many try. When in those moments, we can feel so very alone and as if no one else would have the guts to stand with us. We feel like everyone is against us, and that no one actually values the truth of the story or would attempt to see both sides.

As I reflect back on this conversation, since it has stayed with me for several days, I hope that the next time someone tries to use my story against me…someone is there to say, “I believe you.”

practice

Thirst for culture and language is a large part of who I am. During my time in China, my favorite class was language class and learning the characters of Mandarin. Over the years I have spent some time trying to make sense of Russian. I will never forget the trip to Kurlovo in Russia when I’d picked up enough phrases to make it sound like I spoke fluent Russian. Little Dima got in my face and just kept jabbering. I think I understood every 10th word. When I said in Russian, “I don’t speak Russian!” He told me “Yes, you DO!” And thought I’d created a new game to play. Ha!

And now I find myself having spent enough time learning and submerged in Creole that I can translate small conversations between visiting Americans and the kids in the villages. Emphasis on SMALL conversations. However, definitely at the point the kids think I speak more than I actually speak and tell me all sorts of things I have not a clue what they are really saying. Contractions in Haitian slang will be the death of me!

But the key to all of this is practice. I spent almost seven years learning French in school and university, but could not have kept a conversation going even if someone held a gun to my head!

Really great practice for me is when a lot of the kids like to test me. Lovesonnes is on a color phase, and yesterday he kept at me with saying a color in English and I would tell him the Creole word. Easy. I know my colors well! Then we switched to animals. Not so good there!

One of the things I cherish most at the villages is knowing the kids. One of my friends has been sick for a couple of weeks. Tacura has slowly been healing, and yesterday was the first day in a while that he was completely back to his highly energetic, goofy, lovable self. He was on my back and would shimmy up to where he could rest his head on my shoulder and put his cheek next to mine with our ears pressed together so it sounded like I was in a tunnel when I talked. Then he was acting like he was driving a car and squealing like a horn…in my ear. Good thing we have a good friendship and I know how sick he’s been, or that screaming *might* have been annoying.

At one point he asked to go to the cafeteria and we sat in a quiet corner where he started asking me questions in Creole. He knows my language limits and phrases things so I understand him. It was precious time spent with my friend, but also excellent practice for my language skills.

Before we left last night, a new American friend was holding Onelson…who was almost asleep. Everyone else is getting on the bus and she looked at me with the question of “Do I just put him down?” We took him to his room where he decided he wasn’t that sleepy, as toddlers do, and kept saying, “No!”

Tacura thought this was hilarious, but they live in the same room, so this was not new to him. Soon, Onelson was out and dead weight. Tacura immediately, started pulling the American’s arm while tip toeing making hilarious contortions with his face down the room length, simultaneously holding his finger to his lips…the international sign of please shut up. I hadn’t seen that animation in his face and eyes in weeks, as I stood in the doorway I couldn’t help but smile at this sweet scene that transcended language barriers.

Language barriers have never bothered me, and I fully acknowledge I am unique in that trait. I find myself so thankful for practice with my American friends, and translators who get that I am at the point where I am just going to go for it and say the sentence in Creole that they will need to correct.

But even more so, I love the quiet, memorable moments of when I practice language with the small friends in my life that speak Russian and Creole…all because it leads to a deepening of trust and being known within the relationships God is nurturing.

stop

Jesus rarely shows emotions beyond love and compassion in the stories we read. The images of grace for a sinner, children coming to him and deep love for his disciples come to mind.

But…isn’t there always a ‘but’? But, there is an instance where Jesus looses it like a redhead with a temper. *I can say these ridiculous things, I’m a redhead. But don’t YOU dare say it!*

Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!” That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house consumes me.” [John 2:15-17 MSG]

Righteous anger. Jesus had it. We have it, but our version sometimes comes through the judgmental filter lacking broad perspective. We like to see only our side and justify why it is righteous anger. We actually get really good at it.

Being passionate about justice involves a LOT of righteous anger, but being angry the wrong item got delivered from Amazon does not involve righteous anger.

Jesus’ anger was pure. He was royally pissed off at how they were using his Father’s house. It was sacred. It was holy. They were desecrating it. And they were using it for their own gain.

I love in The Message version when he yells…and I picture this with very red face, veins bulging out of his neck and a lot of crazy coming out of his eyes…”Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall.”

We get that, right? A shopping mall is the epitome of suburban life. A place to consume anything your heart desires from food to clothes to jewelry, name your price, but where else do we consume the things around us?

Frankly, coming from Haiti and landing in the states, it seems most everything is based on consumption. But if everything is based on consumption, are we still desecrating holy spaces?

Pause. Evaluate. What is a holy space anymore? What are the places set apart for us to encounter our Creator? It seems the term is looser now than every before. It could be on a walk. In a conversation. At a dinner table. What do you consider holy space?

Once you’ve figured that out, ask yourself a tough, honest question of how that time and space is desecrated by what is happening there. Would Jesus walk in with his face contorted into horrifying realization that unholy things are happening there?

Would he yell with righteous anger, “Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!”

wise

We’ve concocted a beautiful little children’s story out of Jesus’ birth.

You have a barn, a mom and dad, and then there are some sheep, donkey, probably some goats and in my mind there has to be a rooster there somewhere. Of course, don’t forget the angel, they are very beautiful in the Christmas pageant every year. There are some raggedy shepherds too, naturally they smell awful.

The fact that Jesus’ birth can be brought into the lives of children in a visual way that makes them excited every year is wonderful. But as we grow older, I think we have a tendency to get too comfortable with that version of Jesus’ birth.

Some of the events surrounding his appearance in our world were life and death. Herod killed every single boy that was two years and younger in all of Bethlehem and its vicinity. It was a massacre. How the parents must have felt as the soldier forced their way through the town, killing as they went house to house.

It’s intriguing how God chose shepherds for the angel to appear in front of on that hillside. They were the lowest of low, the dirtiest of the dirty. People avoided them because they smelled of sheep. And they were terrified when an angel appeared to them, who wouldn’t be, honestly? Yet, they have the highest honor of an angel appearing with news of the Messiah.

Finally, my favorite part of the nativity scene as an adult…the wise men.

Somehow over the last several years, God has morphed that imagine of kings on camels majestically coming into the presence of the baby Jesus into this beautiful image of men so full of hope for God to restore the world and so full of faith to travel thousands of miles to see the Messiah in person. Men who were most likely proclaimed as crazy by those who knew why they were following a star to an unknown destination. They chose extreme risks in their adventure over continued study of the scriptures. They chose to hope with reckless abandon.

If these wise men were high and mighty where they came from, at the feet of baby Jesus they find themselves in complete humility and in awe of the honor of physically being present with the Messiah.

I see them as dusty and road weary. Exhausted, but supernaturally energized at the prospect of seeing the Messiah they had only read about in the scrolls of the prophets. They had traveled a long way to reach that point in the journey. How many different animals had they ridden? How many miles had they walked? How many new experiences had they had? How many challenges did the face? Or attempted robberies on the road?

The wise men put a lot of faith in hope in following their maps and the stars for thousands of miles. I could never imagine every challenge they faced on this crazy adventure as they crossed in and out of new cultures.

The star the wise men followed was hope that they carried with them for a new world, and a hope that carried them through a long journey.

That hope is just as real today as it was thousands of years ago. The wise men must have had so many questions and a million reasons to turn back, but they put their trust in how God spoke through the prophets. They remained focused on the one God who would send a man to redeem creation, and bring all back to the heart and grace of the one who sent him.

May you embrace the supernatural hope, extreme adventure and tunnel vision to Jesus today as you embrace inspiration from three wise (albeit crazy) men.