It’s the first week of Advent.
The days are short and dreary. I just pulled on an extra sweater and resorted to socks and slippers. But my heart is thinking of my friends in Haiti.
And I’m fairly certain they don’t even own a pair of socks, or would, even if they could afford them. Because pretty much, Haiti is the hottest place on earth.
One of the reasons I love Haiti so much is that it strips away all that I know or pretend to know. When I step off that plane and the first blast of hot air hits my face, I start to recalibrate. The things I think are so important start to slip away and I’m reminded of what really matters.
The greatest thing happened because I was able to visit these people three times in just over a year… It quit being a “mission trip” and instead became a trip to visit friends. Having so much concentrated time in their lives means I can remember their names, their stories. The rhythms of the days, the conversations, the landmarks all run through my head almost every day and they’re reshaping my thoughts and the way I want to live my life.
I walked through those dusty streets, with four kids on a side, all clambering to get closer, rubbing their hands on my pale skin, chattering 100 miles an hour. Adults would look at us with empty eyes, not a trace of a smile until we called out, “Good morning!” to them and their faces exploded into a smile.
I can’t explain it, really, but we spend our week walking and talking. Not really doing anything earth shattering or life changing. We simply build relationships… and they teach me so much.
I stood in front of a Haitian church full of people, talking about my Annie and what it means to be blessed. And I cried— because I always cry— but it was more than the sorrow I feel over losing her. Instead, I cried because I was speaking to a whole church of people who have suffered deeply. Who have lost so much and still rejoice. Who have gone without and still declare that God is good.
We’ve been home now for six weeks, but in many ways we are still processing what we saw and heard and what to do with what we’ve been given. Because these trips don’t end when you get home. They get buried in your heart and mind.
So when my inbox is flooded with black friday deals and I have to begin a clipboard of lists in order to keep everything in December straight, I find myself caught in a mental tug of war. What really matters? If Aldine or Lovely or Ricardo were visiting me, what would they think about my life?
We have been trained to be overwhelmed and busy during this season. Oh sure, it’s not what we wish for, but what can we do about it? Before we know it, we wear our stress like a badge of honor.
And I can’t help but wonder if we subconsciously pile on a layer of stress in order not to face what’s really going on in our lives. After all, if we spend every minute preparing and rushing, then we don’t have to face our feelings of sadness, of disappointment, of emptiness that are buried under all of our errands and anxiousness.
If we keep our minds on the surface, on the next place we have to run, then we have no space in our heads to think about what it means to anticipate the birth of Jesus. When our heads hit the pillow in exhaustion, we quickly forget the significant, the eternal, instead overcome by menial tasks.
So we buy more presents, make more food and keep adding to the lists, convincing ourselves this is the way to have a meaningful Christmas… but in the end, our hearts feel hollow and joyless.
Paul writes, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God.” (Romans 12:2, The Message)
What would happen if we quieted our hearts and our minds? If we risked buying less for everyone and instead focused on loving deeply? What if— gasp— I decided to cross a few things off my list without doing them? Surely the world wouldn’t stop spinning?
What if I’d be intentional about giving more to others? Not just collecting hats and mittens locally, or giving to people around the world, though I’m certainly advocating for those things. I’m talking about giving my time to really sit and talk to someone who is having a hard time this season. I’m talking about inviting a family over that needs some encouraging. I’m talking about stopping my busy frenzy when the kids come home from school, sitting and looking at them in the eyes when they walk in the door, ready to tell me about their day.
My Haitian friends are teaching me that there’s so much more to life than I think. They, who have lost so much and have so little to give, have given me the biggest gift of all. They’re teaching me to move slowly through life, digging through the sorrow to find the hope Jesus brings.
May you find these treasures during this month, even if it means you must cross a few things off your lists without doing them. May you be brave enough to reach out for the great joy that Jesus is handing you… because only then will you be able to fill your hollow heart.
The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp (And here’s the version we’re using as a family)
Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch (I’m part of a launch team to promote this amazing book, so you’ll be hearing more. When you preorder, you’ll get a great Global Family Kit)