Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Constant in the trial and the change...

I have no doubt that this blog post will be the longest and most personal post I have published here. For me to try and make sense of all God has been doing and then try and convey His work to my readers seems almost impossible. There is so much to tell. So much has happened. So much has changed. But the Lord has given me clarity. He has allowed me to somewhat process what has happened and after many nights and days of crying out to Him from the pit of my soul, He has answered this child's prayers and has enabled me to continue in what felt like the end. Very few will understand, and while I know there may be many people who stand in opposition and possibly judgement to all I have to say here, I am willing to walk that road because God has done so much for me.
I have learned countless lessons this year and the biggest thing I have recently learned is that no one can truly understand what another person has been through. We can relate and try to "get it" but in reality, we cannot fully understand what someone has walked through. Humans are so quick to look at each others' lives from the outside and make judgements and comments, without fully understanding anything. Knowing this, the pride in me has not wanted to post this for all to read because what is written here are not just words, but my life. My heart. And once these words are typed out on this blog and reach the eyes of any and every willing reader, they can be used however people see fit. I don't want to be misundertsood. I don't want my heart to be used against me and I certainly don't want anyone questioning my character, intentions, or purpose. Baring your soul to someone is always scary and baring it on the internet puts you in an even more vulnerable spot. Through all of these fears and insecurities about others not understanding and what they might think, say or do in response to this post, the Holy Spirit has continuously pressed me to get over MYself and MY worries. This is about Him and HIS perfect understanding. Someone in this world needs to read this post and because of that, I am proceeding. 
The past year of my life has been lived in the public's eye. I am no celebrity and in NO WAY am making much of myself, so please don't infer that. What I am saying is that almost every move I made had to be relayed back to my supporters, people who prayed for me, and people who don't know me but are simply interested in my calling and life. I have definitely not shared every detail there was to share (some things on the foreign mission field can't be communicated for those back home), but for the most part, what I did and how I lived was communicated to thousands on Facebook, hundreds through this blog, and countless others through word of mouth, prayer groups, etc.
Many of you reading this post now have stuck with me every step of the way. You have cheered me on from American soil, laughed and cried with me from your computer screen, read most (if not all) of my blog posts, and have prayed for me daily/weekly. You have witnessed all God has done, and even when I wasn't as thorough as I should have been in my communication, you stuck with me because you love me and believed in what God had called me to do. From the bottom of my heart and soul, I thank you. I thank you for praying me on. I thank you for letting me into your life. I thank you for strengthening me through your encouragement and support. I thank you for being a real family to me.
Others of you heard about my life in Haiti and came across my journey a little later. You may not have kept up with every move I made, but you kept up as you could and cheered me on as I crossed your mind. You were interested in what God was accomplishing through me and maybe "checked up" on me every now and then. Thank you, also, from the bottom of my heart. I could not be more grateful for your love and support as well.
And I know there are a few people who stumbled across this blog and don't know me from Adam. You left comments here and there on some of my blog posts and, even as complete strangers, I thank you for being a part of this past year, too.
There may be others whose situations are different. I don't know and never will know all who has followed my journey in Haiti, but to everyone reading this now... I pray that this entire blog brings you face to face with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I pray you see our God, who is huge, at work in a small person like me. He is the Creator of all things. He is a God who formed all nations, peoples, tribes and tongues, and yet is so intricately involved in even the smallest details of our lives. A God who loves us in a way our human minds cannot comprehend. A God who has a plan for the world and is victorious in His glory and power. God Himself, who has a plan for your life. Who equips those He calls for each assignment and task laid before us. A God who uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. A God who completes each work He begins in us. A God who never changes- our Friend, Healer, Comforter and Father.
I pray this blog stands as a testimony to what God can do in and through a sinner seeking to serve Him. 
For the past three weeks I have purposely secluded myself from the public's eye. What I have been walking through has been the most difficult season I have walked through yet, and I did not want to be swayed or confused in any way. I wanted to hear from God Himself and I desired to be sensitive to what He was doing. I sought the Lord and cried out to Him. On my knees, I begged for His direction. I sought counsel from very few people whom I trusted. I stayed in the Word. I breathed deeply and sorted out what were simply my own emotions, what were my own thoughts, and what the Holy Spirit was speaking. My thoughts and feelings were deafening and blinding. I couldn't see past my own plans and emotions, but I wanted the Spirit inside of me to speak louder than my own voice. I wanted to understand what had happened, how I got to this particular point, and I wanted to know when it all started.
What is it that I was walking through, though, and how did I come to this point?
In one of my last few posts on here, I wrote about a new non-profit some friends and I started called Immanuel Missions. My heart was fully behind it and believed in the type of ministry we were going to take part in. Because my teammates were going to be Stateside all summer, I had to move from the orphanage into a guesthouse up the mountain in Haiti. I had planned on taking Elijah with me and we were going to spend the whole month and a half we would be there bonding, studying the Bible, and preparing for our new chapter with Immanuel Missions. Upon the completion of the school year at the orphanage, I went to the US for 3 weeks and when I got back to Haiti, my plan was to go to the orphanage for two days, pack my things, and then move to the guesthouse with Elijah. The day I came back to Haiti from my 3 week stay in the US, however, Sandra (who was in my care for two months before her mom came and took her back) showed up at the orphanage. I hadn't seen her in 5 months and it was a complete surprise when I saw her walking through the gate. Sophonie (Elijah and Sandra's mom) said she was giving Sandra back to me. I did not immediately take Sandra back into my care and moved forward with my original plans of packing and getting to the guesthouse. After three days of being up the mountain with Elijah and praying about taking Sandra back in, I felt strongly led to do so. I met Sophonie and Sandra at the orphanage, went to tribunal and got custody papers completed, and brought Sandra up the mountain with me. It took a few days of adjusting, but the three of us got reacquainted as a family pretty quickly. I was now planning on adopting 2 children in Haiti, but would have to wait at least 10 years before I could move forward in attempting to do that because of the Haitian adoption laws.
While we were in a safe and beautiful environment in Haiti during this time, survival quickly became the goal. The first week with both kids was a huge struggle. I did not have enough funds to pay for transportation to get to a grocery store or a Western Union to have more money wired to me and our food supply was non-existent. The guesthouse provided complimentary breakfast each morning and I found myself having to use this one meal for Sandra's breakfast and lunch. Elijah was set with formula, food, and snacks because I had brought all of that back with me from the States. He was well-fed and happy. The struggle was getting and keeping drinking water stocked. I found myself grabbing random containers and asking the guesthouse to fill them with their purified water for us, and making sure Sandra was getting her three meals a day- snacks were only a plus. The guesthouse would make supper for me in the evening for a cheap price, so I took advantage of this every now and then, knowing the expense on my tab was adding up quickly. I would let Sandra eat what she wanted of the meal and would finish whatever was left. I had brought beef jerky and Welch's fruit snacks with me to the guesthouse and would eat this to fill my hunger pangs when necessary. I had never been so hungry in my entire life, but I was not going to let my child starve. My friend Rhyan lived a good hike down the road at GLA. There were many nights she shared her own dinner with Sandra and I, and I will forever be grateful to her for that.
Two weeks after this type of living, Rhyan connected me with a free ride to the grocery store. What money I did have left was spent on food for Sandra and me. We didn't have much, but I learned very quickly that we were going to be okay because God had always provided for us. While I was now getting one, sometimes two meals a day, Sandra had 3 meals plus snacks. I was so thankful both of my kids were getting the meals they needed, plus vitamins.
While meals were easier and drinking water was in supply, I was unbelievably lonely. I loved my kids so much and was happy to care for and invest in them, but I was aching for intimate fellowship, rest, and other warm bodies. I would visit Rhyan at GLA when someone from there could provide a ride for us to and from the guest house, but those times were few because the GLA staff had their own jobs and lives to tend to. Life went on like this pretty much the whole time I was at the guesthouse. I was okay with it because I knew my Immanuel Missions team would be in Haiti soon, so I mustered enough "big girl" courage to stick it out, take it one day at a time, and I called home weeping more than I'd care to admit- though I never fully communicated the situation I was in.
When I had about 3 weeks left before leaving the guesthouse to move into the Immanuel Missions house with my soon-to-arrive team, my friend, Ayla, came to live at the guesthouse with her little Haitian brother, Amasiah. She has been caring for him in Haiti while working on getting him a medical visa to the States. I was so thankful to have a person there with me and we spent a lot of time together. The three kids (Elijah, Sandra and Amasiah) all played together and our days were spent hanging out with them and watching movies on Ayla's laptop. I didn't realize it at the time, but I became very clingy to Ayla, which she handled like a champ. I spent as much time as I could with her and soaked up her company.
The very same day I was leaving the guesthouse to stay with my friend's Ashlee and Claudy for two days before moving into Immanuel Mission's house, I woke up with a horrible rash all over the top part of my body. My legs, though rash free, felt like tiny ants were crawling on them. I kept looking down to wipe them off, but never saw anything. I had a headache over the past several days and it was even worse this particular morning. Sharp pains kept shooting through my stomach, but I just thought I had eaten something bad. I packed up everything and got myself and the kids ready. I was super nauseous and struggled with motion sickness the whole way down the mountain. We went to eat lunch at Dominos and I ate what I could, but just felt "icky." We got to Ashlee and Claudy's house late that afternoon. I spent the evening hanging with them and other friends. I bathed the kids and my back was killing me afterwards. Around 8:00pm, I developed a fever. It was a low-grade fever, so I took some Tylenol and went to bed. I woke up two hours later with a high fever and horrible body aches. It kept me up the rest of the night. My fever would sky rocket to 103 degrees and then drop a little bit later. My body ached so much that even the sheets hurt me. The next morning, I drank two huge cups of water and immediately took Ibuprofin. The rest of the day I was okay, though the rash looked a little worse. That night, it was the same story- fever and body aches. I got our stuff packed up and told Ashlee I needed to go see a doctor. She took me to our friend Teresa (the same American PA that saw me when I had the mumps) who examined me and asked me my symptoms. Almost immediately she told me she thought it was Dengue fever. She told me that when she had it, she had horrible pain behind the eyes and was in bed for 2 weeks. I was having pain behind my eyes, but I just thought I needed a stronger prescription for my glasses. All of my symptoms suddenly made so much sense. She told me to rest, stay well-hydrated, alternate Ibuprofen and Tylenol, and come back on Monday to have blood work done. In my mind, I knew resting would not be an option because of the moving and the demand of caring for two children by myself. The rest of the day, hard as it was, was spent moving everything into the Immanuel Missions house. I could feel myself wearing down, not only from the sickness, but from life over the past month and half. But there was no time to process anything that was happening and I was struggling to care for these two children the way I knew they deserved. By the time I had them fed and cleaned, I was wiped. The fact that I had been unable to unpack my belongings meant that I had to dig through piles of suitcases in my room to find even the smallest things. I wanted help SO BADLY, but didn't have it in me to ask my team members because they had their own things they wanted to accomplish. The last thing I wanted to do was set them back. I could feel myself sinking into what I felt for sure would be a total mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional breakdown if something did not change soon. And while I was now surrounded by people, I felt even more alone because no one really knew what state I was in, including myself. Was I sinking into depression? I just could not help but look around and be so disappointed in what I was doing. This is it? Is this what I am going to spend the next ten years of my life doing, raising these kids alone and waiting until I was legally old enough to adopt them? But I love Haiti. And I have been called here. And these struggles are part of it. This is the part of denying myself for the sake of others. Still, though... where was the joy? Where was my passion for being here? I seriously needed some relief. And I knew that I was about to go crazy if I did not get it soon.
Monday morning came, and I went to the clinic to have my blood work done. Although the clinic I was at did not have the actual Dengue test, through a negative malaria test, another thorough physical examination, and review of my symptoms, Teresa inferred that it was, in fact, Dengue fever. From the clinic, I went back to the house and asked my friends if on Tuesday morning, they would watch the children so I could go to Claudy and Ashlee's house alone to rest. They said that would be fine, but they needed to leave again on Wednesday to purchase a generator and run other errands. That was fine with me. I just really needed some time away.
On Tuesday morning, I went to Ashlee's, sat down on their couch, and took a good morning nap. I woke up and all I could think about was going home to the States to rest. I messaged my sister to see what she thought and we weighed the pros and cons for a good thirty minutes. After consulting a few others and reviewing my funds, it was decided that I would come to the States for a week to a week and a half in order to get well. The next day, I was on a flight back to the US.
From this point on, for about five days, everything is very foggy for me. What I do remember is crying my way through all three airports it took to get me to Jackson, weeping on my sister and brother in law when I saw them in the airport, a miserable and empty drive to Hattiesburg, a hot and fast shower at 2am, and crashing into my bed. The next morning, I woke up in complete culture shock. The air conditioning was overwhelming. The fact that I had cold, clean water to drink at my fingertips, plenty of food choices- though I wasn't even hungry- and a Christian radio station playing in the background was so different than what I had been experiencing. The few days after that, everything was hard. Thinking for myself was hard. I couldn't make a decision on anything, including what I wanted to eat. It felt as though I couldn't function. I forced my stomach to accept three meals a day. It was all my sister could do to care for me the best way she knew how while see me in this state, not fully understanding what I had been through, and not really knowing what was going on inside of me. I knew there was something more going on than just the Dengue fever and I knew that I had to seek counseling.
Little did I know the Lord was about to start speaking to directly to me through multiple individuals.
Over the next two weeks, while my family supported me fully but were careful to not share their opinions and allow their emotions to sway me, I met with several Godly people whose counseling I knew I could trust. These people selflessly spent hours listening to the burdens of my heart, helping me assess all that has happened and was happening, and pouring Spiritual wisdom into me. It was in these sessions that I began to realize that this was more than just sickness. This was more than just exhaustion. This was more than just needing a break or being homesick. This was more than spiritual warfare. This was, in fact, God completely stripping me of any and every plan I had set for myself in Haiti. He was calling me back to the US and releasing me from the expectations I had put on myself. In order for this to be clear for me, however, they encouraged me to constantly stay in God's word and to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading.
THIS is what I was walking through during the three week period where I secluded myself from the public's eye. THIS is why it was important for me to not open myself to the thoughts and opinions of others, and THIS is what I wanted the Lord to make clear to me. Was He in fact calling me back to the states? If He was, could I be obedient in that knowing it would mean giving up my kids?
I knew what my heart was saying... it was saying to go back to Haiti. Be with my people. Be with my children. Finish out what I started.
I knew what the mother in me was saying, "Are you crazy?? You are NOT leaving your kids. What will happen to them? Get back to them and take care of them. You love them and they need you. They are YOURS. Go. Now."
I knew what my head was saying, "What?? You are a missionary to Haiti. If you come back, you will be a failure. You will have abandoned Elijah and Emily, and you would not have fulfilled the call on your life to serve the Haitians."

It was overwhelming. What I wanted more than anything was for the Lord to speak clearly. For Him to show Himself faithful and will me to be obedient. What I needed was for Him to prove He would take care of my kids if I did come back. I needed Him to work everything out, because this seemed like the end of the world to me. The last thing on the map for me was ever moving back to the US. Maybe once my adoptions were through I would come back for a year or two with my kids, but I had dedicated my life to serving the Haitian people. This did not make any sense at all. I wanted to hear God speak and I did not want to hear opinions from people who didn't have a clue what was happening. So I stayed as close to home as I could and sought the Lord with all my heart. As I was seeking, I reflected on my call to Haiti. What was it that brought me there? What is it that kept me there? What made me think I was going to be there for the next 10 years? What were the expectations for me? Who placed those expectations on me? I needed to answer these questions and I needed a Holy clarity in this mess that could only come from God Himself. And He provided all of the above. The only way I can really describe the way He responded to me was like a warrior stopping at nothing to save his beloved. He came to my rescue and pulled me out of the garbage disposal. He honored my prayers and searching. He filled my soul with answers and empowered me to move forward in obedience. There is no way I could have done any of this on my own. He did it. What looked like a disastrous mess I had gotten myself into was really the Lord thwarting my plans and proving His sovereignty above all else.
During all of this seeking and hurting and searching and finding and praising, I began eating three meals a day again. I started taking vitamin supplements, drinking lots of water and milk, and rested as I could. I soaked up true sister and brotherly fellowship. I attended church service again with community worship and sound doctrine. As each day passed, I could literally feel the Lord strengthening me and ministering to my very being. And as the Lord began speaking, my joy came back. As hard as this season was and as difficult as I knew this decision to leave Haiti was going to be, I had peace and assurance. I knew the Lord had made it clear to me, and because of this, I knew He would work out all of the details.He stripped me of everything including my health so that He could speak to me in a way that I would listen. I wondered why I couldn't have just been laying in my bed in Haiti and the Lord have prompted me to come home. Why did it take all of this? Why drain me of everything I thought I needed in order to redirect my path? Because I am stubborn, that's why. Because I had claimed Haiti for the rest of my life based on the adoption laws and nothing God had said. Because I said I was going to take care of my two kids and that is what I was going to do. I knew it was the Lord that led me to take in these children. And in the beginning, I knew it was simply to foster them during my time in Haiti. As I grew attached and allowed other circumstances to creep in, however, I moved into an area of adoption that I was never supposed to venture into. Suddenly it was the adoption process that was moving me to stay in Haiti. Not the Lord. Not my calling. Not even the Haitian people, but my kids and my desire to adopt them.
There is more to share and all of it cannot be relayed here in this one blog post. There will be two more following this one. One will be about Elijah and Emily, and the other will be about my last trip down to Haiti this past weekend- complete with pictures.
What I want to do now is share several things with you that God used to speak to me during this time. There are so many more than these, but I obviously can't share all of them.

Before I knew God was calling me home, Philippians 2:13 is what I clung to. If I was going to be called to return to Haiti, it was going to be the Lord in me to help me obey in doing that. I was worn out from Haiti and even my kids, and the thought of returning was difficult, though it is what I wanted to do. God would have to will me to do it. And His purpose in that would be good.
If I was being called back to the States, it was going to take an act of God and it would have to be Him in me that willed me to obey. What is there for me to do here in the US? If I come back, I will have nothing to my name. No kids. No money. No job. Few friends. Almost nothing. I would be starting all over, again. I would have to adapt to a new culture, again. If this was the Lord's will, it would have to be Him in me that allowed me to walk in obedience. And His purpose in that would be good.
"... for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." Phil 2:13

When God did make it clear to me that He was moving me to return to the States after my year of serving Haiti, I was scared to death. I knew it would require faith and action. I had begun a study called "Experiencing God" during this time. In that study, it talks about the 7 realities of experiencing God. Day 5 of the study is what really stuck out to me once I knew what I was to do. It was walking me through Moses' call and ministry:
Reality 4- God spoke to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways. God told Moses He was going to rescue the Israelites from the hand of the Egyptians.
Reality 5- God's invitation for Moses to work with Him led to a crisis of belief that required faith and action. When God told Moses He was going to use him to rescue the Israelites, Moses had a crisis of belief when he asked the Lord who he was to go and complete such a task. What if they didn't believe God had sent him. He told the Lord to send someone else.
Reality 6- Moses had to make major adjustments in his life to join God in what He was doing. Moses' obedience was based on faith alone, despite his doubt and fear. He had to make major adjustments in his life to complete each task the Lord had asked him to do.
Reality 7-  Moses came to know God by experience as he obeyed God, and God accomplished his work through Moses. As Moses obeyed God, God accomplished through Moses what Moses could not do in his own strength. God completed the work he wanted done through Moses because Moses was obedient.   
Day 5 could not have been more dead on with what I was experiencing. I saw myself in Moses because of his doubt in the beginning of not only his capability to complete the task the Lord had placed in front of him, but also his request for the Lord to ask someone else to do it. He had to walk by faith in order to obey and his obedience required action- the same way that my obedience in coming home would require action. Moses then had to make major adjustments in order to follow God's plans for him. Coming home from Haiti would require seriously major adjustments, much like moving to Haiti in the beginning required major adjustments. In the end, the Lord was able to accomplish His work through Moses... and I want more than anything for God to accomplish His work through me.

In all of this I was so worried about what I would look like to people. I thought I would look fickle. Whimsical. Weak. A failure missionary. A failure parent who abandoned her kids. A liar. Crazy. Confused. While I still recognize people may think these things, this is the scripture the Lord kept bringing to my mind- "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." Gal 1:10
This is not about anyone else, or even myself. It is about God and His ultimate will He is accomplishing on the earth. He has shown me the way I should walk in and ensured me that MY kids are not MY kids, but His kids and that they would be taken care of. Who cares what I look like? If I am following God, that is all that matters. "Who cares? We are led by the Spirit!" -Michael Wilkinson

"The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?" -Jer 17:9

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord" -Isaiah 55:8

"The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations." -Prov 33:10-11

"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps." -Prov 16:9

At one point, someone who had heard what was happening told me I was passionate about Haiti and that they believed in my calling to be there and that I should return after I rested. My brother-in-law looked at me and said, "Laura, you are passionate about following the will of God and the Holy Spirit's guidance- not Haiti." And this could not be more true. I was passionate about Haiti because the Lord called me to be there. I was passionate about my kids because the Lord moved me to take them in for a time. I will be passionate about whatever is next because of God and God alone.

If you made it to the end of this blog post, I want to thank you. Please pray for me as I rest and seek what is next during this season.
Stay tuned for the next post.