She tells me she doesn’t know how to go back—not after all that we’ve witnessed. And I tell her that going back might be impossible anyway. We can’t un-see what we’ve seen.
She's my 11-year-old daughter. And now, we sit in the silence, hundreds of miles from our comfortable life in Iowa, but especially close to our Christ in us. Her skirted legs stretch out next to mine on this seaside porch. We watch the sun sink into that thin line where ocean touches sky. Across the bay, sparse lights begin to light up the Port-au-Prince hillside. The nearly-full moon peeks its round face over our village—a reminder that even in the darkest places, we’re never without light.
In the long shadows behind us, a Haitian boy sings a song, repeating a single word in Haitian Creole that crosses every language barrier: Al-le-lou-ya. He sings it over and over again, in this place where life is a hardscrabble fight for survival, where villages are all bone and sagging skin. This is Haiti: the land of the jutting ribcage, the bare feet, the swollen belly and the persistent Allelouya.
My daughter exhales a long sigh, and holds up the book she’s been reading while we’ve been here. She shakes the book in the air, like a banner. It’s “Kisses from Katie.” The book is about an American teenager named Katie Davis who moved to Uganda and is in the process of adopting thirteen girls.
“Katie says that Jesus wrecked her life,” Lydia tells me. “God turned everything upside-down, and later she realized He actually turned it right-side up.”
I wonder where Lydia might be heading with this conversation. The most human part of me—the part I call “mother”—is scared to know. What if Lydia won’t go to college, because she is called to Africa? What if she thinks that the only way to serve God is by serving in a third-world country? Or this: what if I try to sway her from serving where God calls because I’m more concerned about her 401K and convenient access to my future grandchildren?
Then again, isn’t this what my husband and I had prayed for before we brought our two daughters to Haiti? Prayers answered: Because, like Katie, we’ve all experienced our own beautiful wrecking.
But unlike Katie, we aren’t staying in the third world. Our family of four will return to Iowa. We will go back to five brands of cereal on the shelf, a full freezer, iGadgetry, report cards, work assignments, workplace evaluations, farm chores, standards, benchmarks and the American cultural ideal.
On the sandy shore, I shake my head. Like Lydia, I don’t know how to go back either. I want us to keep our dirty feet. I suppose, in some ways, we will. Because our two daughters can’t un-see what they saw in the orphanages and schoolyard. They can’t un-feel the hand of the orphan or the tight hugs of Haitian sisters. Lydia can’t unread Katie’s words, or unravel whatever God is weaving in her small heart.
The haze of years might blur some of the details, but my daughter has already been changed. I can see that here, on the shore of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Lydia hurls her words into the dusk, like a prayer:
“Mom, I don’t want to live an average life.”
She’s only 11, but she finds the right words to wrap around her 40-year-old mother’s heart. I don’t want average either. I want to fight the comfortable middle. I want "the road that leads to awesome."
I am not sure either of us can articulate what our aspirations might mean for our family, and like I said, part of my two-faced mother heart is scared of the answer.
We really do have to go back to Iowa, but I know this much: we don’t have to go back to average. Sure, we’ve got average moments ahead of us, at the kitchen sink, the farm gate, the front of the classroom where I teach. But I tell my daughter that any average moment in this life is never really average, if we’re living each ordinary moment for an extraordinary God. And who knows? Maybe our not-so-average lives will bring us back to Haiti someday.
For now, we'll sit on the seashore a while longer, pondering what it might mean, while Katie's book sits, with its spine gleaming in the moonlight, and while the city lights across the bay shine stubbornly into the dark.
And I hear it again now: the echoing praise of the boy with his Allelouyah.
Note to Readers: This is the second of two stories about our family trip to Haiti (you can read the first here). Thank you for praying. We were honored to share this journey with you.
Image and post by Jennifer Dukes Lee.