My friend articulated the Kingdom of Heaven to me yesterday in one of the most meaningful ways I have ever heard.
We were on a walk discussing everything from school closures, to our moms’ health, to the protests in Portland, to a recipe for tinto de verano, when the topic of the Kingdom of Heaven came up. Go figure.
As the midday sun warmed to scorching and we zig-zagged the trail in search of any shade that might leak in from the occasional tree, my friend reflected on last week’s sermon topic from Matthew 13, Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. She offered this gem:
The kingdom of heaven is like the very last breath of this life, when you know you have given everything you have to living, and perhaps even fought long and hard to stay here, and even your rattled breathing is part of the battle and the will to BE; and then an awareness floods your senses and you understand at a soul level that you have no control anymore over anything, and you simply surrender. And in that place of surrender you take one final breath, which is pure peace.
I let the magnitude of her words settle, and then broke into a grin and said, “That’ll preach, sister.”
Surrender followed by Peace may, in fact, be the ultimate definition of the Kingdom of God. Think back to a time when you had no choice but to admit to yourself that you were not in control of a situation, large or small, and in acknowledging that reality you allowed yourself to stop fighting – even just for a few moments – the outcome. I suspect the act of surrendering control that you never had anyway was immediately accompanied by a feeling of peace (however fleeting, because God knows we love to control all the things). That moment – that breath – is the beautiful thing about the God’s kingdom: it’s accessible to us over and over again, whenever we need it.
Peace I give you, my peace I leave with you, Jesus said (John 14:27).
Consider this: When are you most at peace? Most loving? Most accepting of yourself and others? Have you ever felt that something was NOT within your control… and you were ok with it?
In this moment, right now, take a deep breath. And just for this moment – this nanosecond if it’s all you can muster – let go completely of pain, negativity, feelings of heartbreak, loss, loneliness or frustration at the world’s messed-up-ness. And allow yourself to be immersed in one thing only: the beautiful breath of peace.
About a month in to the pandemic that has plunged us all into the unknown, someone said to me, “If we aren’t all using this quarantine as a time of deep spiritual reflection and personal contemplation, we’re missing out on a great opportunity.” I guess I took those words to heart.
Through prayer, forced silence and downtime, changing family schedules and working from home, an idea emerged that I couldn’t stop thinking about. An idea that this pandemic time represents a massive opportunity for growth and change in the way we do everything, including church. Like a dance, we are creating new moves that we’ve never done before, and I wanted to actively learn the rhythm of this new dance (and, yes, that came to me on one of the many quarantined nights dancing in the kitchen!).
The sense of change, of course, was most palpable on Sunday mornings as I looked beyond the sea of empty pews to the camera lens where you invited our worship team into your living rooms. Online worship, zoom gatherings, prayer chains and phone calls have replaced our traditional ways of gathering and no one knows how long this will last. More unknown is how we will meet the needs of children when we can’t gather in Sunday School, what student ministries might look like or small group connections, and how the church will care for the elderly and the sick when our very presence poses a risk to them. For years the Chapel, and churches like ours, have said that church is not about the building but about being the presence of Christ in the world, wherever we are – yet how long can empty buildings stand? And, of course, layered on top of all of that are the issues that confront Christians and all people around the globe: how do we make lasting changes to our health care systems, our homelessness and poverty issues, racism, economic stability that can withstand massive upheaval?
With all of these questions swirling about us, and taking to heart the seriousness of the call to both contemplation AND action, I was given the opportunity to return to the classroom (again!). I am excited to let you all know that I was accepted to Duke University Divinity School, and beginning in August I will be pursuing a doctorate degree in ministry, focusing on the future of the church. I’m not leaving Snowmass Chapel – in fact, thanks to COVID I will be able to complete much of this year’s coursework online right here at home while still serving fulltime at the Chapel – but I will be spending the next two years with a cohort of other ministers diving into The Big Question: what next?
What is next for our beloved church? What does worship look like in the future? How do we care for one another well in the years to come? How do we define sacred? How do we define community? What kind of ministries are needed now? How do we chart a plan for social, spiritual and cultural reconciliation?
As I write these words, I believe they are questions we all should dare to ask. You are probably already discussing them around your dinner table, or as you hike with friends, or gather on your deck for a socially distanced visit. My prayer is that we will all continue to be in conversation together for the next two years and beyond, as we faithfully look for the answers. We are in a vulnerable time of great change in the world. But as Brené Brown wrote in her book Daring Greatly, vulnerability is simply “having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” We have no idea where all of this is headed. But it sure is an exciting time to show up and be seen!
I have no fear of this unknown time. Jesus promises to be with us “even to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20), so I know we are not alone as we navigate the dark new waters. And remember, Jesus knows a thing or two about walking on water anyway, so let’s trust together that he is right with us, urging us to keep our eyes fixed on him as we make our way.
I am beyond grateful for the opportunity ahead and I hope you will join me along the way as you and I get to travel the hallowed halls of academia together once more.
With gratitude, blessings and hope for a beautiful tomorrow,
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see the ubiquitous Nike swoosh?
You probably didn’t have to think very long about that: Just do it.
I wonder if the marketing geniuses who came up with the swoosh and its slogan had any idea they were creating a global call to action and not just an annual marketing campaign for a tennis shoe company?
Several years ago I embarked on my own call to action: a year of saying “yes.” I had begun to notice that when faced with a risk or something brand new (which as you all know OF COURSE translates to “scary”) or something really horrible like too much spontaneity, my go-to answer was often no. So I decided to start saying yes to opportunities and invitations. Just do it. I made the mistake of sharing my new mantra with the congregation one Sunday morning which is how I found myself in an innertube on ice cold waters just downstream of Slaughterhouse Falls on the upper Roaring Fork River after church one frigid fall day. But I digress.
You see, I sometimes get stuck when thinking about a new idea or starting a new venture. What happens to me, and maybe to you too, is that my head gets in the way of my heart. From mountain biking to book-writing I convince myself that everyone is better than me so why bother. And if they aren’t better than me then they already have an edge somehow – they have years of experience or a PhD or a research team or a robust list of contacts or maybe they just have time on their hands to dedicate to being the best at…whatever! It’s a cycle for me: getting stuck, getting unstuck, getting stuck, getting unstuck.
So lately I find myself wanting to be fiercely confident. (Again.) I am reminded that I don’t have to knock it out the park at the first swing, but I do have to step up to the plate and, well, bat! On top of my planner/notebook I have written in big bold letters SO WHAT IF IT FAILS. Not a question. A statement. Because the truth is, all of our grand ideas might fail. And so what.
At the end of the day, after every flop and failure, every mistake and every setback – yours and mine – guess what remains? We do.
We’re still standing and the Lord, who goes ahead of us, will be with us and not fail or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8). They are, after all, earthly things we chase after: experiences, achievements, material goods, accolades. Strip every little bit of that away, move yourself into a tent somewhere in the woods with nothing and no one, and you will be left with one magnificent and holy thing: you.
God has given you a spirit filled not with fear but with love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness and faithfulness. And living by that Spirit, you will be guided by the Spirit (Galatians 5:23-25). So be bold. Just do it. So what if it fails. For goodness sake – for everyone’s sake – be YOU. And I promise I will, too.
When my husband, Tim, and I were engaged, the couple who led our marriage prep classes reassured all the new couples that while partners argue over everything from how to hang the toilet paper roll to who gets the TV remote, there are really only a few major areas couples fight over to the point of causing stress in their relationship: Parenting, Money, Religion and Sex. Oh. Is that all? For goodness sakes, people. WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Basically what our sweet pre-marriage counselors were saying is: at some point you’re gonna need help. Can I get an amen?
People seek help from therapists, counselors, pastors and well-meaning friends with armchair degrees for all kinds of reasons. Stress at work, parenting and family issues, marriage trouble, depression, mental health issues, job change, loneliness, divorce, grief. The list is pretty endless, so don’t you dare think you have something that no one has ever heard of. Still, there is a stigma attached to seeking professional help.
I taught parenting classes for years and I was always disheartened to hear people explain that they were embarrassed to sign up for the class because it made them look like a bad parent. No – you know what makes you look like a bad parent? Being a bad parent! Meanwhile, the people who sign up for parenting classes are busy having healthier relationships, more cooperative kids, and more fun!
So let’s talk about that little thing called “stigma.” It means “something that takes away from one’s character or reputation. A mark indicating something is not right.” Ok. So maybe you’re afraid counseling would take away from your reputation or people would see that something is not right. Fair enough. Wrong. But fair; I see where you’re going.
Now try this on for size: if you wear corrective lenses the chances are good you might have been diagnosed with stigmatism. Stigmatism (or astigmatism as it’s also known) has to do with the way an oddly shaped eye refracts light. (I have oddly shaped eyeballs. Just sayin’.) The stigma in your eyes causes things to look out of whack until you correct it with the help of a professional.
And of course there is the stigma of a flower — that delicate, oh-so fragile part of the flower that stands at attention in the center of the petals whose SOLE FUNCTION is to be a RECEPTIVE landing zone for everything that comes its way in order to increase its efficiency in helping to produce other flowers.
Then there’s stigmata, which – you guessed it – also comes from the same root – and refers to – are you ready for this? — the UNEXPLAINED bodily scars of some CHRISTIANS which mimic the scars of Jesus caused by his crucifixion. Think St. Francis, St. Bernadette, and Padre Pio.
The Apostle Paul ended his entire letter to the Galatians with this: “I bear on my body the marks (stigmata) of Jesus.” In Paul’s day, a mark or a brand might have been used for identification of an animal or slave. But Paul’s scars weren’t completely unexplained; he bore those scars because of his work in spreading the gospel of Jesus. Why? BECAUSE PAUL WAS ALL-IN. And he often paid the price for his relentless pursuit of Jesus by being jailed, scourged and beaten, not to mention shipwrecked a time or two.
So the next time you think, “Oh, I can’t possibly let people know I’m in therapy, it has such a stigma — what will they think of me?” Rest assured, we will think: there goes an incredible human being who is receptive to seeing life in a new way, and who bears the scars of having lived life all-in.
After all – what else is there?
P.S. If you think this blog is a shameless promotion of the upcoming marriage retreat at Snowmass Chapel, you may be right. If you think we’re promoting our upcoming workshop on teen mental health, you might also be right. And if you think we are promoting our Stephen Ministry & Caring Connection which offers peer to peer support for people who are hurting – YOU ARE 100 percent SPOT ON. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:2. No stigma. No shame. Just the marks of life, my friends. At some point, we’re all gonna need a little help.
I’ve been pondering vision lately, and I’m not talking about my eyesight. (Although, since we’re on the subject: what the heck, reading glasses?!)
The kind of vision I’ve been pondering is the one our future holds in our mind’s eye. This kind of vision is meant to inspire us, both professionally and personally, and move us toward the way things could or should be. Vision requires a clear picture of the future rather than the status quo. It’s about God empowering us to change circumstances for the better.
Vision says, What is our reality right now, where is God calling us, and how do we make operational changes to get there?
This past year Snowmass Chapel has gotten very clear on vision. Under Pastor Robert de Wetter’s leadership, the staff, board and lay leaders have prayed, examined, discussed, debated, and drilled down into all areas of ministry. As a result, here is how Robert articulates his vision for all of us as a community of believers living out our faith in the world: Snowmass Chapel will be the most thriving, healing, advocating, affirming, mold-breaking, outward-reaching, life-changing, high impact, loving network of Jesus-followers possible.
DOESN’T THAT JUST MAKE YOU SMILE? You can read here about how Robert views each of those words, but when I read that Vision Statement, I personally see FREEDOM TO INNOVATE! The words are so intertwined – they work together beautifully: you can be thriving AND mold-breaking; advocating AND loving; affirming AND a follower of Jesus.
Robert has always fostered a spirit of innovation here – if you feel the Spirit move and have a fire in your belly to do something, Robert makes sure you have the support and resources to get ‘er done. It’s one of the things our staff loves about being on this team, and it is so REFRESHING.
So with this innovative spirit in mind, here are the top three priorities that a committee of folks at the Chapel has come up with to operationalize the vision – that is, to create action steps that will change lives and build up the kingdom while keeping the vision in mind:
- Connecting: If we want to help people connect to God by coming to worship, engaging in a spiritual life, and truly know what it means to be part of a loving network of Jesus-followers, then we need to intentionally live the gospel wherever we go. How many sermons have really changed your lives? (Come on, really….). But how many PEOPLE have impacted you in ways you will never forget? That is connection, and it makes all the difference. So let’s make it obvious and easy: Welcome newcomers with gentleness and joy. Be hospitable to everyone, not just the ones who look and act like you. Create meaningful, fun programs and activities that help people. Offer a cup of coffee and a smile.
- Deepening: In addition to easy connections, people want deep and meaningful relationships. With God and with each other. Workshops, small groups, mentoring, baptism classes, bible study – it all matters – and every bit of it will strengthen your relationships with God and with one another so that you can heal, find joy and thrive.
- Communication: If we want people to be changed by what God is calling us to do, then we can’t sit in the building simply hoping they will come. We’re all about letting people know where we are, but also meeting them where they are. We value our partnerships in the community which allow us to advocate and affirm the most vulnerable, and we believe this make a difference in the world. We want Snowmass Chapel to be known by the love of its people in the world.
So how does all this “dreaming” become a reality? To a large part, and thanks to you, it already is. Our dream –our aim — is that everyone who is part of the Chapel intentionally acts on the vision in meaningful ways. Your greeting, teaching, leading, offering, serving, smiling – through each of these you represent the Chapel both here and “out there,” and more importantly you are allowing others to see the love of God played out in you. It’s win-win. Just think of what we can do together!
I got my first bike when I seven. It was a green Schwinn with silver baskets over the back tire and a bell on the front handlebar. I had to stand up when I rode it because I couldn’t yet reach the pedals but my parents assured me I would grow into it, and I guess to prove that I could ride it despite its size, we immediately ventured out on a 13-mile ride over shoulderless backcountry roads in the July heat to the next town over. Happy Birthday!
My next bike was purchased in middle school with my own hard-earned babysitting money. A blue Nishiki road bike with curled drop handlebars (so grown-up!). I loved that bike and rode it until someone cut through the lock as it sat perched outside my dorm the first week of college. It would take me years to replace it.
My husband, Tim, and I moved to Aspen the week we got married so for a wedding present, he got us matching Specialized mountain bikes. We were so cool. Our 21 year-old daughter now uses mine as a “townie” and I made her promise to love it like I do.
In my 30’s I bought a Broncos-orange Trek road bike and did my first – and only — triathlon with it. I got a speedometer and got “fitted” at a shop in Montana because that’s a thing people do when they are super serious road bike athletes like I am.
Then a few years ago a little thing called full suspension rocked my world and brought me back to the joy of mountain biking; I can still hear my own laughter echoing off the red sandstone walls around Moab as I bounced around the trails on my new wheels.
Looking back on it, I realize that some of my favorite most joy-filled times have been on a bike. I can think of dozens and dozens and dozens of these moments – from childhood rides to the ice cream store to the little thrill at catching air as I hop over the teensiest baby jump on a single-track dirt trail. There is just something about cruising on a bike with the wind in my face, and the right amount of speed (not too much, thank you) to feel like I’m flying, knowing all the hard climbs are behind me, that makes me feel such JOY.
So, let me introduce you to my new bike: SHE’S THE CUTEST THING EVER. Sassy like a little VW Bug. Classy like an old Aston Martin convertible. She’s a Scandinavian-designed “city bike” which just sounds adorable doesn’t it? And the best part: she’s electric, with a boost like the after-burner on an F16. I commute back and forth to work, to the park, to the gym. And you guys – I GO SO FAST. If you see a blur go by as you drive around Snowmass Village: it’s me! As I pedal up the hillsides, I wave to all the construction crews and the mamas pushing their strollers, like, “Don’t mind me while I just bike up this mountain WITHOUT BREAKING A SWEAT.” I’m in love.
Everywhere I go people want to test my e-bike out and not one person can ride it without shrieking like a seven-year-old girl when the boost kicks in. They all come back with huge smiles on their faces and I get the reward of knowing my bike left them all a little happier.
Here’s the thing about riding a bicycle. Never do you feel more in the moment than when you’re in the saddle. Riding a bike is equal parts attentiveness and unfettered joy. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are capable of being present to joy and practicing it! The more you have the more you get.
The book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament encourages us all in our joy: “I commend the enjoyment of life because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil…” Basically, God loves you and wants you to be happy, the end.
Author Will Bowen, who started a movement called “A Complaint-Free World,” writes that our perspective is a delusion, “so choose the delusion that brings you the only thing that matters – choose to be happy.” And it’s a lot easier to choose happiness when you cultivate experiences that bring you joy, so that in your moments of hard work and challenge you remember how awesome life is.
With enough practice, happiness will be as easy as riding a bike.
It may only be June 14 but we are happily ensconced in summertime around here! I finally spotted the elusive Snowmass Village moose and her babies last night – what a treat to see them galloping across the greens on their way to the golf course pond.
A few familiar faces have already arrived in Snowmass for the summer and were somewhat surprised by our beautiful June weather – not the usual cool with bouts of rain, but rather temps in the 80’s, a rainbow of wild flowers, and abundant blue skies.
If you are reading this from parts unknown, we look forward to welcoming you back to Snowmass Chapel soon! Your mountains are calling….
Camp SMashBox began this week and with it the joyful shouts and songs of kids (human ice cream sundaes, anyone?). This is our 7th season of Camp SMashBox at Snowmass Chapel and this summer we will welcome 400+ young campers throughout the five weeks of camp. And – this is HUGE – our very own Jenna (who started with us as a high school counselor 7 years ago) is opening a Camp SMashBox in Grand Junction in July!
Truly, it’s hard not to appreciate the enthusiasm and natural joy that accompanies almost anything children do at SMashBox. We are blessed by the talents of Kara & Adam Gilbert who founded the camp while working here as youth leaders, and by the amazing college and high school crew who lead each day’s chaos. And while the kids think it’s all about play, at the heart of what they do is a desire to love kids and staff and to communicate, “You are special. You are valuable. You serve a purpose. You matter.”
Now if that isn’t a ministry based on Christ’s love, I don’t know what is.
I’ve been reading the wonderful little book, The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. He contends that the awesome love of God has been hidden from us by churches, parents, pastors and life itself, which would have us believe only in a God of holiness, justice and wrath, rather than in God’s furious love of us. He writes:
We must go into a desert of some kind (your backyard will do) and come to a personal experience of the awesome love of God. Then we will nod in knowing agreement with that gifted English mystic Julian of Norwich, “The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to love gladly because of the knowledge of God’s love.”
So we have taken to the backyard here at Snowmass Chapel, and will mightily endeavor to give kids an experience of the awesome love of God. Served with a heaping pile of chocolate sauce. Which I think is just SMarvelous.
If you were with us last week at Snowmass Chapel you know that we had a special performance immediately after the worship service. One of our young parishioners, Emily Garcia, is home for a brief visit from the school she attends for students with special needs, and she shared a message with us using sign language and set to the incredible song, “This is Me.”* The song’s lyrics are a powerful reminder that every single one of us is EXACTLY who we are meant to be. If you could have all seen Emily up on that chancel last week – oh my stars you’d have been proud. Like, weepy-smiley-jump-to-your-feet proud. When Emily finished, the congregation erupted in a standing ovation. YOU ALL STOOD UP for one of our own like nobody’s business and made me so proud. Love God, love people – it’s what we do.
Never one for much nuance this girl cut right to the chase in her introduction: “In the past I’ve been bullied before for who I am, and this song brings me a lot of joy.” No wonder. Talk about powerful lyrics:
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.
Truer words don’t exist my friends. We have all been subjected to sharp, cutting words that are meant to hurt us. But we cannot be defined by that. Don’t you think for one SECOND that someone else has the power to define who you are with ugliness.
In our schools around this country, one in four students report being bullied. Students with disabilities – like Emily who has high functioning autism and epilepsy – are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers. Just to be clear in case you missed the point: those who need our support and compassion THE MOST are the ones being teased, tormented and bullied. What in the world has gotten into us?
Emily says the problem is with compassion. “To the students with no disabilities, I would say, you need to know that people with autism, ADHD, or mental health issues have a struggle with social skills and with life. Show some empathy. Ask them questions like, ‘Are you ok? What’s happening that is upsetting you?’ Stick up for them,” Emily calmly suggests. And most importantly, she offers this age-old wisdom: “Put yourself in their shoes.”
Emily admits she is not perfect. Because of her diagnosis and learning style, she had to learn many of these lessons the hard way but adds that her school (a private residential program out of state) taught her “how to make friends in a polite, appropriate manner, and I learned boundaries.” In other words, she is learning how to stick up for herself as well as others. Emily thinks these are things ALL schools should spend more time teaching. Amen to that, sister!
Emily, serious and focused throughout the song as she performed on Sunday, finally relaxed at the very end, threw in a little dance hop for good measure, and literally beamed at the crowd. Just: be still my heart.
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.
I had the chance to catch up with Emily this week and this feisty, articulate young lady (who, by the way, gives AMAZING HUGS), is the definition of grace and love. I’d be honored if you scroll down and read her beautiful words shared with me during our conversation. Then do yourself a favor and watch the moment the cast and crew of The Greatest Showman knew their anthem song, “This is Me,” was destined to be something special.
Excerpts from Emily:
I first met Emily when she and her mom, Cecilia, attended a Mother-Daughter retreat hosted by Snowmass Chapel in 2012. Her smile is huge and her heart even bigger. I found her honesty and directness refreshing, though it’s easy to see how some peers might have been overwhelmed by her at times. People with autism don’t have all the social cues all of the time, let’s just say.
Eventually, Emily’s mom made the gut-wrenching decision to enroll Emily in a residential school 8 hours away so she could have the education she needed – in addition to academics, Emily also receives instruction in life skills, behavior therapy, and social skills. She and I caught up after church last week on a rare visit home, and our conversation was just too rich not to share. Here are some excerpts of wise words from our Emily:
On bullying and school culture:
“Bullying is a real issue for kids with special needs. Some kids cope with bullying through self-harm. The bullying causes anxiety and depression and then can lead to more serious things like cutting.”
“Most bullies just want to get a reaction. Don’t give it to them. Ignore them. And if ignoring doesn’t work, then learn to step away from the person and say, “Stop it. You are really hurting my feelings.” If someone is bullying you, be firm and respectful and ask them to stop. If that doesn’t work then go find a staff member or teacher.”
“But teachers (in most schools) need to help students more. They need to help students process their emotions, not just ignore kids who are upset or hurting. Teachers dismiss things by saying, “She didn’t mean that,” or “Go sit somewhere else.” Teachers should be compassionate and consider students’ negative feelings (validate their feelings). I think all kids on IEP (Individual Education Plan) should have a life skills class to help them socialize better and integrate into the school population better.”
“I had to learn a lot of things like how to make friends in a polite, appropriate manner. I also learned boundaries like sexual, emotional, physical, verbal and rigid (too strict). I learned how to have boundaries and how to respect others boundaries.”
“There is no such thing as ‘normal.’”
On helping teens accept each other:
“OK. For kids with special needs: Be who you are.”
“For kids who don’t have special needs just know that everyone with a disorder has different ways of expressing themselves. Kids with mental illness such as bipolar or schizophrenia don’t read cues as well, like body language and other things, so they might have outbursts and get angry. My advice is don’t fight back. They just get angry because they can’t always see what is really happening.”
“People need to know that kids with special needs have a struggle with social skills and with life. They take things personally and get anxious or have outbursts. You can help by showing empathy. Ask questions like “Are you ok? What is happening that is upsetting you?” instead of just teasing them or not wanting to be near them. Stick up for them. Put yourself in their shoes.”
“The same is true for people who are transgender (or LGBTQ). They are just expressing themselves. Put yourself in their shoes: if you were trying to express yourself by the way you dress or wear your hair and people put you down, how would that feel?”
On faith and religion:
“I will get my diploma in a year, and it will come from school AND from God. Because God helps me move forward. God helps me do things I don’t think I can.”
“I want to be a spiritual counselor for other people who are struggling. You can talk to God about anything.”
*This is Me Songwriters: Justin Paul / Benj Pasek, performed by Keala Settle
As we stood in line for customs in the Port-au-Prince airport it was fairly obvious we weren’t the only Americans who’d come to Haiti with some sort of volunteer group. In a country that is 95% African American, I was peering into a sea of white faces waiting to have passports stamped. Most groups were clad in matching t-shirts emblazoned with things like “Hope for Haiti” or “Make disciples of all nations” or “I Heart Haiti.” Clearly we missed the memo; our precious group wore matching elephant pants.
There are so many organizations doing great work in Haiti but after just two days in country I began to ask myself, “why?” As I looked around I saw a nation of people who are among the most resilient, resourceful, joy-filled I have seen. It’s true their poverty level boggles the mind, but to say they are in despair is a gross overstatement and not at all the impression I took away. Haitians are hard-working, hustlers, creative, persistent, enterprising, and I gotta be completely honest here, very easy on the eyes (I mean, I may have been the “chaperone” but I’m not blind, people!).
The Aspen for Haiti club, which started at Aspen High School four years ago and is sponsored by Snowmass Chapel, exists to learn more about the Haitian culture and its history and people. To the extent we can help by bringing down school supplies, books in French or Creole, and fund projects like solar powered lights, we do. But our lead host, longtime valley resident Tim Myers, is adamant that the Haiti I observed – the resilient, clever, hard-working Haiti — is real, and its people are entirely capable of handling the work that needs to be done. Our job, he told us, is to gain a new perspective and just maybe a deeper appreciation of the world’s diversity. Done.
Hailing from a country such as ours, where we often hustle past people head down, talking on the phone, bumping shoulders with strangers without so much as a nod, I am struck by the sense of community among the Haitians. There is a genuine joy when they greet one another, and an immediate, no-questions-asked attitude of helpfulness toward all. Haiti defies our western every-man-for-himself mentality. How many times did we see a truck stalled on a Haitian roadway, or a moto-bike in need of repair, in which no fewer than four people stopped everything to help. At every restaurant or shop we visited employees worked in groups, never alone. In the small remote villages school children grabbed our hands and danced with us and sat on our laps – not because they were desperate for our help as my ego previously assumed, but simply because grabbing a hand, sharing a dance and sitting on laps is who they are and how they live. And what a joyful way of living it is!
Haitians are deserving of our friendship, our tourism, our understanding and compassion, and yes, at times, our help. There are, indeed, opportunities for the US and others to serve, especially since Haiti lacks basic infrastructure, a military, and a government that gives a damn. I can tell you that after spending time with the Haitian people, I would be there in a heartbeat if they needed me. Why? Because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt they would drop everything and do the same for me. Loving your neighbor isn’t something they bother to print on a t-shirt. It’s a way of life.
Now. Who wants to dance?
It’s hard to sum up in so few words the impact of this trip. I expect you’ll read more from me…. I have Haiti on my mind. <3
Words are powerful stuff as we all know. And I’ve learned a helpful new bit of information — sometimes they don’t scrub off.
Last weekend at our Fall Family Retreat we had all the participants write a word on their right hand that describes how they show up in the world; one word that best sums them up. On the left hand, participants were then asked to write a word that describes who they want to be, or a characteristic they want to improve upon. As one of the facilitators, I joined in and wrote “Caring” on one of my hands, and “Bold” on the other (I’ll leave you to guess which word went with which hand!).
Later that night, I noticed the red Sharpie ink was difficult to get off my skin but it was late on a Sunday evening and I wasn’t about to argue with the pillow, so I headed to bed. Imagine my surprise when I looked in the mirror the next morning and had the words “Caring” and “Bold” tattooed on my CHEEKS! Apparently I have a habit of sleeping on my side, one hand under my cheek. Precious, I know.
What isn’t always precious is the words we use to describe ourselves. How many of us would actually want to broadcast to the world the way we think of ourselves sometimes? Today, for instance, my words might be “Old” and “Insecure.” Not sure I’d want to wake up to THAT in the mirror tomorrow morning!
Nevertheless, I kind of like the idea of people walking around with their words emblazoned on their cheeks this way. “Strong,” “Disciplined,” “Centered,” “Zany,” “Laid-Back,” “Reliable,” “Hot Mess.” Ok, that last one was two words, but imagine the instant camaraderie, favor, and grace that it would elicit from others if you just owned it: You’d be like, “My left cheek says I am rockin’ the chaos in my life right now, but not to worry, my right cheek says Imma be centered soon.” It’s a beautiful balance that is honest, raw, and real. Just like life. One word speaks the truth about the way we show up in the world. The other offers hope for transformation and change.
Words have power. Words create worlds. When we focus on what we want more of, we begin to create more of that thing. Keeping our words positive and grounded in hope becomes imperative, lest we bind ourselves up in negativity and despair. Proverbs 16:34 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
Be gracious with the words you place on yourselves and others, my friends. They can be very hard to scrub off.