Today was the what I've been praying for, but the how I didn't foresee.
This has been a struggly season. I have been struggling greatly within myself.
Overlooking all the beauty and looking at all the frustrations. Pouring out for others and then pitying myself. Missing all the gifts and dwelling on the garbage. Knowing full well all He's provided, yet worrying for the future.
This morning I did something I've never done...took the whole morning off to hike to an abandoned, 200 year old fortress with girlfriends, and then spent some time praying with and pouring into a struggling friend.
After a truly horrific and heart-wrenching week, far heavier than the cloud I've been fighting the past several weeks, she shared with us a really clarifying and powerful moment in which the good and the evil clearly separated, when the lines were clearly drawn, when she truly saw her God and His enemy.
She described the circle of peace, the huddle of His presence, the earnest seeking of His face in the middle...the strong desire for His nearness. And she described all around it the agitation and threats, the anger and the darkness, the pacing and the fury of lives full of jealousy, anger, greed, violence and fear.
I reminded her of Easter.
I reminded her of the greatest missionary, the greatest ministry, the many highs and many lows of the powerful and quiet ministry of He-We-Follow.
Jesus's was the most powerful ministry the world has ever known, and yet his end was not surrounded with appreciation and glowing in glory. Jesus' great finale was the butt-end of cruel mocking, abuse, whips, being spit-on, humiliated, stripped naked, and nailed to a rough cross.
If that is He-We-Follow, then we must have some kind of likewise expectation for the ministry He's called us to, shouldn't we? Pain and struggle doesn't mean He ISN'T there...it means we are carrying our crosses alongside of JESUS.
And yet that dark finale was not the end, the God we follow isn't still the little gold Jesus permanently welded to the cross around our necks.
He STRUGGLED. And suffered. And was faithful. And died.
And conquered death, overcame darkness, was, is, will be victorious.
So we suffer, so we struggle, so we are faithful, we carry our crosses alongside our Jesus, and He has the victory, and one day we will r-e-s-t in the sweet peace of His eternal presence with no. more. pain.
The visual that day for her suddenly made it so clear: that which would remain, and that which must be painfully cut off.
My struggle had muddled it, too, making room for the worry and self-pity and frustrations that choke out our joy and our trust and our confidence in Christ. And I've been asking Him for the clear cut...to release me from myself and return me to the freedom of full confidence in Him, return me to the full sufficiency of simply being His child.
Hundreds of years old, you can only hike to the old fortress at low tide. The coastline is gorgeous, dotted with little homes seemingly piled on top of each other, the road full of young people, their first day of Easter break, the mountains rising as a backdrop for all of it. The sky is blazing, the sand is almost red, the ocean is crashing with huge rocks rising up to meet it. She is gorgeous, Haiti is.
And it is here beautiful, made-in-God's-image young people gather to get high, to get drunk, to get pregnant, to drown out lots of struggle with that which never satisfied.
And we hike the gorgeous coast, the well-washed path to the fortress, and it is here the garbage lies thicker than the stones.
And we climb higher and higher and walk the coast to the amazing remains of the looming fortress, and the path is well-worn...not from tourists, for there are none, nor from villagers, for there are no homes, but from the hundreds of people who come several times a month to do sacrifices at the "place where the demons live," the Fort Picolet.
The flowers are abundant, but cut our legs with their thorns, the paths are mighty but all broken by 200+ years of waves.
The stones are amazing and the background picturesque, and our guide points to horse legs hanging in the trees, and symbols spray painted on historic walls, to candles from ceremonies melted to the rocks, into the lighthouses, into the caves.
As we hike between huge boulders in this silent garden and past caves that remind me of my childhood hiking through Old Man's Caves in Ohio, our friend points out all the places the demons live, each demon's presence marked by the stones graffittied with blue paint for one, yellow paint for another, red for another still.
This demon lives here, he shows me, pointing to a little cavern littered with trash and haphazardly painted green, and this is where they do his sacrifices, pointing to the charred ground of this historical landmark.
When I point out this amazing root, growing into the rock and then wrapping around to find the sun, he points out instead the demon that lives there, and I rhetorically question him, befuddled by his respect, "If these demons are so powerful, why do they live in trashed, graffitied holes in an obliterated fort on the side of a mountain? Sign me up for the Living God, God with us."
The beautiful trees, unlike any I've seen in Haiti, housing the sounds of a dozen small birds, are signs of evil I don't understand.
The caverns, deep and cool and winding, are littered with the same sacred garbage you find at any voodoo sight, and the prime places for sacrifices, often filled with hundreds of people, searching out the darkest darkness to do the darkest darkness, when the beauty of His Hand is all around them, while He is waiting for them.
His beauty was everywhere, and in this place where all I could see was His power and love were tales and signs of hideousness and bondage and the sin that kills and destroys.
This great ministry, reconciling the world to Himself, that you and I are a part of?
It is beautiful, but it is greatly scarred by sin.
His work is to and for and by a broken people.
So we must cling to the beautiful, ugly cross. We must watch for the times that He draws the lines, and draw them as deep and painful as He does. We must watch for the times of His pruning in our lives, we must learn to love His discipline (Hebrews 12:6), we must rejoice in His beauty and absorb all the freedom He is offering, all the while--at least on this earth--bending painfully low for painfully broken people.
It is a journey a lot like Haiti...so full of so much beauty, so littered and scarred with so much pain.
There will be no thanks. There will be little gratitude. There will be invisible reward. There will be painful times and gut-wrenching betrayals and times of hunger and need and beatings and shipwreck and humiliation and tear-filled nights, pursing His foolishness that the world never could understand (1 Corinthians 1:18). There will be watering and feeding and painstaking discipleship that will bear no fruit. There will be needs that seem to fester and prayers that seem to be unanswered.
But our Firm Foundation is unscathed, unpainted, unaltered, immovable (Hebrews 12:28). He is the one place un-littered, the one fortress untouched by the waves, the one beauty unbroken, the one death undone.
Today I re-found my beautiful Easter, the one free from myself and full of Him. The one that includes suffering, includes tears, includes struggle, includes pain...but is in His cherished company, and dawns the brightest day.
There is hope, friend. There is hope, Haiti.
There is hope, Stacey.
For the lines are drawn, and there is much painful, sacrificial, joyful faithfulness to be persevered...
and the battle's already won.