Ayiti Cheri

Motherhood doesn’t come natural to me, especially not in Haiti. But, it does wrap around you fiercely as you watch other mothers, out of obligation, drive home from the hospital with their newborns on motorcycles. My chest felt perpetually clenched, a tightening I’m not sure has yet begun to loosen, to unravel, inside of me. Right now I’m sitting by the light of the Christmas tree, the earth covered in snow around me, Levi sound asleep.

The white. The white has come, and just in time.

The first news we received when I got into the back of the pick up truck in Haiti was that our good friend had been in a car accident that morning. I wiped the sweat from Levi’s forehead as his eyes began to droop, already exhausted from the heat. Then the real news comes. Four school children died. Nine more were seriously injured. My instinct was to jump out that car and run back to the airport, get back on that American Airlines plane and never look back. Instead I took a deep breath, held Levi’s little hand, and prayed.

I have not stopped thinking about those school children. They were my shadows through my two weeks in Haiti. It was as is they were etched into me, their ribbons and bows and plaid colored school clothes.

I received a bit of animosity for taking Levi to Haiti while he was only 6 months old. I get that, I do. Why wouldn’t I protect my child?? Why would I be so selfish?? I really only have one thing to say to that. There are mothers in Haiti. There are babies in Haiti. Are they not human? Are they not exactly who I am? We went with all the caution we could, because that is what we should do, but in the end, I’m just a mother with a baby.

I woke up this morning to write. I slept fitfully, words getting all bunched up inside me, banging to be let out. Now that I sit here, coffee in hand, they are all jumbled together, a big mess of Haitian words stuck inside of me.

I still cannot figure out if returning to Haiti felt as though I had never left, or if I had never lived there before. The beauty was the same. The people were the same. The enormity of the freedom there was the same. I longed for home. To bathe Levi without boiling water first. To not cover him with a mosquito net. To not worry about water getting on him. I didn’t like being hot. It was as if my patience for that little country was pushed to the limit. And just when I kept thinking I couldn’t take it anymore, grace would show up, and something good would happen.

That first night Levi screamed all night long. At 3am Michel’s mother, who was recently diagnosed with cancer (and very possibly now healed of it), sat with Levi at the kitchen table while we closed our eyes for an hour. I called my mom the next day and said very calmly that I would like to come home now. Michel wouldn’t have any of my weakness, and he consistently reminded me, in a good way, that I’m levi’s mother, it’s my job to care for him, so suck it up and be uncomfortable.

And that is what it comes down to.

Being uncomfortable. Living in the uncomfortable.

I always thrived off of messiness and grittiness and being able to adapt to anything. Living in Haiti was so easy for me, so much a part of who I already was that I didn’t notice that it wasn’t always pleasant. The old me wouldn’t have minded the tarantula crawling around the rooms upstairs. Or waiting for hours for church to start, only to have it be cancelled until night time, and then waiting for hours again. Or sweating perpetually. Or being bitten by every mosquito in those mountains. But I have changed. I just wanted a carpet to put Levi down on so he could crawl. I wanted paved roads so Levi’s head wouldn’t be so thrown around I had to pin him down. I wanted to be comfortable.

And my soul wanted my Jesus. In Haiti, Jesus is so much a part of the soil, a part of the makeup of the poor, that He goes disguised sometimes. I would look to the heavens, under the most fascinating display of stars, and ask Him to visit me for a moment, but I knew He would not. Jesus is constantly asking us to see Him in everything, reminding us that He dwells in the hearts of every person we pass throughout a day. He is deep, crying out to deep. This has always been my challenge in Haiti. To not get mad at the women who ask me for money over and over again, to not turn my back to an elderly man with no shoes, to have an overflowing cup of compassion that never runs dry.

I am constantly failing. And that’s ok.

This trip I asked for the grace to see differently. To know that I am a mother now, not the same adventurous Johnna that I used to be. Christ reminded me that He gave me my son, and that I am supposed to take him on the adventure too. Levi responded beautifully, reaching out to his family members, laughing, playing, be so much a part of his community there that sometimes I wouldn’t be able to find him, he’d be swept away by his grandma, crawling all over her, tiring her out in a way I believe brought her back to life. God surrounded me with people to help. Michel’s brothers and friends would spend hours with Levi, caring for him in a way I have yet to see an American do. And Katie, who is more my mom than I ever realized, who has been covered in the gift of motherhood, was right beside me the whole time. We fell back into step, we remembered and rejoiced in how two people can be so beautifully united. After a week she looked at me and said, “I think I may love your kid more than you love your kid.” It’s a funny way to put things, but it all made sense.

There’s so much redemption in this life. There is day to day rising and falling. A resurrection for every sunrise. We brought Levi back to where it all started. Back to where my heart was stolen in the best way possible, in that little country, and the place where I lost my footing. Levi came and laughed his way through it all. I learned in a new way how serving the Lord and serving others is sometimes supposed to be very uncomfortable. But that God gives us hands and feet to do it. The same way people have been Christ to me, that’s what I have to be to others. Especially to Levi. Every child we have deserves to be given the chance to be a saint. That means it’s my job to be Christ to him, to introduce him to the world through the eyes of a son of a King.

But God I am happy to be home. I am also happy that i recognize where my home is. I don’t feel as lost anymore. It doesn’t feel as though I’m balancing between two lives. I have there and I have here. Kendy and Francesca and Barbara. Those three stayed with me the whole time we were there. They forgave me for my actions, for leaving them. When Kendy came over to me, a crying and screaming Levi in my arms, reached out and said, “give me my baby,” I didn’t hesitate. As he walked away with levi in his arms Levi became silent, staring at Kendy’s face with amusement, and I knew my two worlds had become one. I knew, somehow, that everything was ok.

So now we’re back home to the normalcy, and it feels good. I am looking forward to going back to Haiti in a few months, but for now, I am perfectly content with here. I’ve hung a picture Francesca drew of Michel, Levi and me over Levi’s crib. It’s enough to remind me of all that I have.

I never thought my heart would be so thankful for the tiniest of things. Our God is so much bigger than we know. We’ll simply never get it. That while we were still sinners, He died for us.

Still sinners.

Enjoy the normalcy of your day. And thank you, from the deepest parts of me, for your prayers.


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