We were supposed to be at the airport by 4:40 am to meet the rest of our group for a 6:40 flight. When Prince Charming dropped us at the St. Louis airport, I was surprised how emotional I became. As we said our goodbyes, he told me he had put letters in my journal –one for every day I’d be gone. I was touched by his kindness and immediately felt like the bad wife for not thinking about doing the same for him. Selfishly, I’d been too wrapped up in my own pity party to stop and consider how he would be feeling with us gone. As he drove away, I felt vulnerable – an uncomfortable and unusual feeling.
At the airport, we found our gate and eventually all 47 of us from The Crossing, our church in Columbia, arrived safely. We were off. A stop in Detroit and six hours later, we were in Montego Bay. Each of us drug our two, 50-pound suitcases off the luggage carousel and were thrilled to get it outside to stack up for our bus ride to the mountains of Jamaica. Imagine 94 big suitcases - nearly 5 tons of clothing, toiletries, shoes and school supplies – as well as the 47 of us with our carry-ons. It was quite a site.
As we made our way up the mountains, the scenery was breathtaking. So were the near misses of on-coming cars, pedestrians, goats and chickens that were in the road. The roads were narrow and the curves were sharp. Our driver, whose name is Creamy, honked as he approached and made these curves to warn of our arrival. Lucky for me, I got the very first seat on the bus, which had extra leg room. I was suffering from a leg injury that caused my leg to grow painful and stiff, so I appreciated stretching it out.
Three hours later, we arrived safely to the village of Harmons, where we would be doing our work. As we drove through the village, residents stopped and waved and children ran alongside the bus smiling and waving too. The people of Harmons knew why we were there and the reception was warm. I caught myself feeling good about what we were going to do for these people and immediately asked God to adjust my thinking. I didn’t want this week to be about me and what I needed to feel good about myself. I really wanted it to be all about the people of Jamaica. Shamefully, I realized that only with God’s grace was that going to be possible.
Our accommodations at the Harmony House compound were modest, but manageable. We had 21 women in a dorm room with 12 bunk beds. At the far end of the room was the one bathroom. Yes, I said one. No, it’s not a typo. The bathroom had two sinks, two toilets and two showers, where we got to use our two (cold) minutes of running water per day! Let me assure you, two minutes of cold water is all I wanted. It’s amazing how quickly you can get your business done in the shower when you have to.
The directions for the toilet were posted on the wall and then later reinforced to us by the staff; If it is yellow, let it mellow. If it is brown, flush it down (Just like the scene from Meet the Fockers). I thought I was being smart when I grabbed one of the beds closest to the bathroom, in case I needed to visit it in the middle of the night. By the end of the week, I would grow weary of crawling in and out of my top bunk. By Wednesday night, I found myself lying in bed checking the clock, weighing what would hurt more; to hold it the rest of the night or hobble down the bunk with my nearly non-functioning knee.
On Monday morning we learned all about the history of the organization we were serving with, Won By One to Jamaica. Then we took a walking tour of the city. I was struck by the beauty of the island and the smiles on the faces of those we encountered. The living conditions were hard not to notice too. Homes with a roof, running water and electricity were the exception. Most of these wouldn’t even be considered shacks by our standards.
After lunch we got our first service opportunity assignments. At first I laughed at how the staff called our work “service opportunities.” After hauling bag after bag of maul (a mixture of sand and gravel used to make concrete) up a narrow path on a steep hill for the afternoon, I secretly decided “service opportunity” was code for “working your butt off.” The days would be filled with building three homes, working at the greenhouse, working at the store and serving at the infirmary.
I have written all about these experiences in detail, which is being posted in several installments on our church’s blog. If you would like more information on our work, the mission of Won By One and the lives that we touched and touched us, please go to http://www.everysquareinch.net/2010/07/called-to-jamaica.html.
On a more personal note, the work was hard – emotionally and physically. Building homes was a cross between Extreme Home Makeover and working on a Habitat for Humanity home. But just like the last 15 minutes of every EHM leaves you teary-eyed, so did the home dedications on Friday afternoon. Three families got homes – their lives changed forever. The homes were modest; 12 by 16 with no running water or electricity. But these families were as thankful and happy as anyone I’d ever seen on television. They appreciated this step toward independence, toward improving their quality of life. They weren’t consumed with having it all and having it now. Their joy was inspiring.
Joy was also abundant when My Princess and I worked at the store, where Jamaicans get to come once every 12-16 months and fill two Wal-mart bags with much needed clothes, shoes and school items. It was like Christmas morning to those people and we got to be their Santa.
But perhaps the most profound displays of joy came at the infirmary. The infirmary in Jamaica is the place where people are discarded and left to die. I can’t adequately describe the sensory overload I experienced the first day I went there. Imagine the most horrific nursing home and then add very limited staff, few hygiene practices, flies and bugs everywhere, and an abundance of physical and mental disabilities.
Then imagine these same people displaying an unexplainable joy. A joy that came from us sitting with them, holding their hands, playing Dominoes, reading scripture and praying with them. One lady, named Birdie, told us that she loves it when people like us come to visit because it reminds her that God has not forgotten her. Another lady, Mabel, sat up straight as a board in her bed and talked to us about how she knows she’s going to be called to heaven soon. Tears streamed down my face as I told her that I felt confident that God had sent us to love on her here in Jamaica and that God had called my sweet mother to heaven to welcome her home when Mabel’s day arrives.
Thinking of Mom overwhelmed me with emotion. Does she see this? Does she her granddaughter showing love to the people that the world tells us offer nothing of value?
Did Mom see us the night that we read scripture into one another? It was a night that neither of us will forget. We chose scripture for one another earlier in the day and then we shared it by candlelight. I cried that night too, as Madison read to me from 1 Corinthians 13, “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres,” and thanked me for showing God’s love to her in this way.
Unfortunately, the week wasn’t filled with these mountaintop spiritual moments. It had its share of valleys too. For example, my heart broke on Tuesday night when I opened up my journal and realized my letters from Tom for the rest of the week were gone! Gone. I searched and searched, asked everyone and dug through the trash. How could this happen? God, how could you allow something like this to happen?
And then there was my leg and the immense pain that I was experiencing. Because I am addicted to running, I continued to try to run a few miles each day, despite the pain and the sensibility of it all. On Thursday, as I came down a big hill, my leg gave out. The pain was so intense that I broke out in a sweat and my breathing became rapid and shallow.
Was this some kind of a sick joke? First I lose my job, then the only connection I have with Prince Charming and now the ability to run? What was this supposed to be teaching me? Let’s just say I wasn’t feeling the patience and kindness that the verse above speaks of. But how could I feel sorry for myself when the people around me had real reason to complain but yet never did. How could I say poor me when I would soon be headed back to the comforts that many Jamaicans only dream of?
How could I not trust God to prune my heart, to hit my reset buttons and to adjust the lenses by which I was determining what is important in life?
Thankfully, God did that. While in Jamaica, God revealed that amidst the many things that appear to need fixing, I am the broken thing that needs His attention. God wanted this week to be about me and Him – not the other things that I’ve tried to find my identity in. He wanted to do business with me and it took stripping me of nearly every prideful thing in my life to make it happen.
It was painful. It’s still painful, but I’m learning to embrace my brokenness. I’m realizing that I have been living the lie, chasing the American Dream. Chasing a finish line that I’m never going to find. Feeling like I have to make more money this year than last year, that I have to run more miles this week than last week, like I have to run faster and further than I have before, like people need to look at Prince Charming and I and be convinced that we are a happy couple who has it all figured out.
So my secret is out. I don’t have it all together. I’m broken. I am weak and on my knees.
But I’m moldable and yielding - and so excited to see God build something beautiful from my wreckage.