A Meaningful Life

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The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.” – Donald Miller – A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I had the opportunity to read two fantastic books over the course of my week in Haiti (mostly in airport terminals, airplanes and the wee hours of the morning after the rooster gave me my 4 a.m. wake-up call.)

The above quote is from one of those books. I will have more to say about our trip once the words dancing around in my head settle into cohesive thoughts, but while I wait for that to happen, I wanted to share this.

I (and I’m sure mom agrees) want what I choose to do with my years on this earth to make a meaningful story; a meaningful life.  A life in which my words and actions point people to Jesus.

And I want to thank all of you who prayed for us and supported us in other ways while we prepared for this trip and during our week in Haiti. You play a role in making 500 Dresses meaningful.

(Now go enjoy some turkey and some Black Friday shopping 🙂 I’ll be back with some Haiti stories after the holiday. )

 

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The Poor and The Prideful – A Mission to Haiti Experience Changed My Worldview

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I wanted to walk into their homes and see and feel and know what their lives were like. The day-to-day lives of sponsored children in Haiti.

Traveling down the pot-holed back roads of Port au Prince with Mission to Haiti’s Bill Nealey Jr., two sponsored teenagers and an interpreter, I expected this day would conclude with Kim Harms feeling pretty good about Kim Harms. That I would go to bed encouraged in my gifts to the poverty-stricken.

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STEVE

But when 15-year-old Steve opened the rusty corrugated metal gate that led to his two-room home, I sensed this afternoon adventure would not end with the proverbial pat on the back.

“Welcome,” his mom Elmase ushered us to sit down on hand-carved wooden chairs. I was suddenly ill-at-ease; a long sheer curtain in the doorway tickling my leg as I glanced down at a page of prepared questions that now seemed trivial.

I had anticipated stepping into Steve’s home and taking pride in my generosity that was providing for a Haitian family’s comfort. I would ask questions about his life and be satisfied that my money was doing a great thing. That I was successfully answering God’s call to serve the poor.

The poor.

That was my problem. Sitting in a tiny Haitian home a world away from my own family, I realized that to me they had simply been the poor.

The tall lanky teenage boy seated beside me in a slightly unstable wooden chair. The boy who likes soccer and probably enjoys watching an NBA game when the electricity is working. Up until that very moment in his home, to me, this boy Steve was the poor.

As I was struck with this new insight, my pride dissolved into shame.

   Steve spoke,

and I realized

he could be my own son.

The language was unfamiliar, but the sentiment was the same. He’s fond of some subjects in school and could do without others. He loves his little sister, but sometimes she’s annoying. And he wouldn’t mind a little privacy.

“I dream of having my own room,” he laughed at the unlikelihood and glanced at the door leading to a small room he shares with two younger siblings. I caught a glimpse of my oldest son Carter in his humor, but his eyes revealed something my three children do not have; a somber understanding of their life circumstances.

 If he were my Carter, my heart would house a continual ache from seeing the world at large strip him of his identity and lump him into the broad and undesirable category of the poor.

Conviction started weighing me down as I thought about the apathetic attitude with which I often walk through life.

“What is it that gets you through each day?” I asked Elmase thinking of how exhausting it must be to work daily for survival, and feeling guilty about the times I’ve grumbled about having nothing in the pantry.

“We’re living by the grace of God. Day-to-day we struggle to live.”

I knew as she said it that she understood the depth of God’s grace and mercy. And I began to wonder if I did.

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KEVIN

By the time I sat down at the second stop on my excursion, I felt completely unworthy of this Haitian hospitality.  Shifting my weight in a cheap white plastic chair in Kevin’s one-room home, the bright bubble gum pink walls mocked the darkness that was being unearthed from my heart.

 What must they be thinking of me, this rich American coming to satisfy my curiosity by peeking into their private lives?

   I wanted to go home.

I wanted to go back to feeling comfortable with me.

But once God shows you something, there’s no going back.

And He had a purpose in mind for this trip.

So I sat and I talked and I listened and I learned.

Kevin’s cousin Rosanna opened up her home to Kevin’s family after theirs was destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. Since that awful day, six people have been existing in this space smaller than my bedroom. Neither work nor food was a sure-thing in thing in this household.

   “Sometimes we only have one meal for the day,” said Rosanna. “And some days we have nothing at all.”

Kevin’s father and mother, who are a mechanic and a factory worker by trade, often go months without work, making feeding a family nearly impossible.

It is relatively easy and unconvicting to think about the collective poor who do not have enough to eat. But I found it almost unbearable to sit in the Haitian heat next to Kevin, a growing teenage boy without enough food, and Rosanna who selflessly opened her home to her extended family yet often goes to bed with a hollow in her tummy.

CONVICTED BY MY WORLDVIEW

By the end of my afternoon with the Mission to Haiti sponsor families, I was deeply convicted by the shallowness of my worldview. God used that experience to clear some junk out of my heart. Instead of obtaining that pat on the back that I was expecting from this experience, I received a change in perspective.

As I thought through the day’s events, I became aware of a few areas in which God wanted me to change my way of thinking.

The first was that of presumption.

To an extent, I had presumed the poor were without individual identities. And when I did so, I stripped them of their God-given uniqueness.  Just as God created me with a set of gifts and passions, so he created Steve and Kevin. When I lump the poor into one category, it’s like dumping the pieces of a hundred puzzles into one box. There is no hope of seeing the beauty of each individual picture.

I will be much more apt to love my Haitian brothers and sisters and all monetarily less fortunate Christians around the world when I see them for who they are, beautiful individuals created by God.  Carefully knit together in their mother’s wombs just like me.

I also became sickened by my pride.

I am no stranger to pride. There are arenas of my life in which I struggle to get off the teeter-totter ride of pride versus insecurity. But my charitable giving is not an area where I expected to be convicted.

God showed me that I have a tendency to give out of my abundance and then to expect to be blessed. I was reminded that he did not call believers to give so we could feel good about ourselves.  He called us to give because we are his children and that’s what his children do.

When I give to get something in return, whether monetary or emotional, I am stealing the glory from God and missing the point of the call. I do not want my actions to steal God’s glory.

The final area in which I’ve had to shift my perspective is that of entitlement.

That feeling that because I am an American I deserve a certain standard of living. I am not saying that hard work doesn’t lead to opportunity, nor that taking advantage of opportunities that will improve our status in life is a bad thing. I am saying that at the root of all opportunities or lack thereof, is God’s sovereignty. Steve and Kevin may become the hardest workers in the world, but because of circumstances beyond their control, they will likely never reach the state of physical wealth with I am blessed.

Doesn’t it make sense that to be the best stewards of what God has given us, we should do what we can to provide opportunities for kids like Steve and Kevin? That maybe instead of feeling entitled to what we have and feeling a little too good about ourselves when we give mechanically out of our abundance, we should strive to be more aware of just how and what God wants us to give; not to the generic poor, but to his own children living in poverty around the world.

I’m just a regular American mom, leading a regular American life. And I plan to continue to enjoy an occasional caramel latte, family vacations and a membership to the rec center.

But I will never again look at giving to the poor in the same way. The poor could be me. The poor could be you. And it took sitting in a tiny little home on a back road of Port au Prince Haiti for me to realize it.

**Head on over to Mission to Haiti, if you are interested in changing the life of a Haitian child.

Disclaimer: Pardon the length of this post. It was originally written for magazine specifications, but that publishing opportunity fell through. Also, as the publishing world can be excruciatingly slow, the things I’ve written about are not new to me. They are things God awakened me to a couple years ago, but I am definitely still in the process of learning to see the world the way God sees it.

Choosing What Matters

Choosing What Matters

I am a  freelance writer and an avid reader.

Those of you who aren’t in love with words like me may find what I am about to say very weird. When I read a book, I highlight all the phrases, sentences and paragraphs that give me pause or that say something I’ve heard a million times, but say it in such a way that I am struck by how a very old thought feels new. (Okay, so that’s not really out of the ordinary, but you might find me weird are after reading the next sentence.)

When I’m done with the book, I type up all those things and save them in my writing resources folder. Then I go back and read them over and over and over, trying to learn from them how to write phrases, sentences and paragraphs that will make an old idea feel new to someone else.

What does this have to do with 500 Dresses? Nothing really. Except that the above quote from The Secret Life of Bees got me thinking about how I make choices and how often I don’t choose what matters.

Giving to others matters. Doing what is best for someone else instead of myself matters. I know that through this whole crazy dress thing, God has given mom and me many opportunities to choose what matters, and I hope it is providing others opportunities  to choose what matters as well.

Merry Christmas!

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The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

God Provides. Always. Period.

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I can’t even blame this mess on my boys. 🙂

This is what my spare room looks like with 100 sundresses, 68 pairs of shorts, 21 formal gowns, 6 sewing machines, 5 flower girl dresses 4 mother of the bride dresses and 3 bridal gowns in the midst of being packed.

Sometime next week this chaos will turn into four filled cardboard boxes. 🙂

We usually ship these boxes via UPS down to Miami where they hop on a ship to Haiti. To get one 40(ish) pound box from Huxley, Iowa to Port au Prince, Haiti costs approximately $160. To get four there? $640.

We have been blessed by people who send money for shipping. And we always have enough. Always.

Well, this time around, something very cool is happening. We are going to take these boxes to Sheldon, Iowa, where they will join a truckload of building supplies en route to Miami. Free of charge. Did you hear that? FREE OF CHARGE. And what is even cooler is that we have had 3 people offer to take these boxes to Sheldon for us. Wowzers.

That there is saving us at least $320 my friends. (We will still make a donation to Mission to Haiti to cover the cost of getting the boxes from Miami to Haiti.)

If I ever need reminded of God’s provision, all I have to do is read through the stories of what he has done with 500 Dresses.

Seriously. God provides. Always. Period.

(Thanks to all of you for providing too. It’s awesome. Really it is.)

Dresses Delivered Near Les Cayes, Haiti

 

 

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Thank you to Rick Brown (To The Feet of the People in Haiti), for taking this photo when he delivered some of our dresses.

From what I understand, his team spent a week loving on orphan children and building some playsets at an orphanage near Les Cayes.

Thanks again to all who have sewn for us and donated in various ways. I’m looking forward to seeing what God has for us this fall 🙂

Sharing About 500 Dresses

500 Dresses Jan and Kim

 

Yesterday Mom and I had the opportunity to talk about 500 Dresses at the Evangelical Free Church of Britt: the church I grew up in and the church my folks are still involved in. They asked mom to tell the congregation a bit about the ministry, but if you know my mom, you also know that she’d prefer scrubbing a floor with a toothbrush to public speaking.  (A few years ago there’s no way I would have done it either.)

As I tried to figure out what I wanted to say in my little 5-7 minute time frame, I was reminded of just how much God has done, just how big He is, and just how fortunate I am to be along for the ride.

There were a dozen more stories I would have liked to tell, but I refrained. So if you are stopping by our site after hearing from me yesterday, feel free to peruse some of the previous posts. Our God is a big God, and I’ve got some big God stories here that I wasn’t able to share  in detail yesterday.

Here are a few

All Because of a Little Shoebox

 From Iowa to Uganda

A Change of Perspective in Haiti

The Treadle Battle

I also would have loved to tell the story of Jean Jacques. That story will actually be posted at floatingleafpress tomorrow and has previously been posted at A Soothing Voice.

As always, thanks to everyone who as supported this ministry through donating sundresses, shorts, formals gowns, sewing supplies and more. (The more you sew, the less I have to 😉 )