Playdates with God: College Summit

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One of my fellow Writing Coaches, Jamecia. What a gifted and passionate young lady she is.

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There were about 39 kids in our workshop, from various schools and counties.

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Here I am with our Writing Coach Coordinator, Lionel. He is awesome.

I look into his dark eyes and think about my own children—this brown-skinned boy who towers over me is someone’s son, someone’s grandson. I don’t know all of his story; but I have watched him shine among his peers for four days—boldly daring to step out from the crowd and be noticed.

For the past few days, I’ve been volunteering at a College Summit Workshop. College Summit is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “transform the lives of low-income youth by connecting them to college and career.” It was founded on the belief that every student deserves the chance to go to college. Through them, at-risk kids from at-risk communities all around the country are invited to stay on a college campus and work with volunteers to learn about financial aid and the college application process, craft a college application essay, help a college coach compile a list of possible schools to apply to, and grow in confidence that they can further their education.

My job has been as a writing coach to a small group of students—we call them peer leaders, because that’s what they are: leaders. They are daring to believe they can be more than a statistic. They are reaching for more than what their communities have told them they are capable of.

A funny thing happens over the days as I coach the kids. We hear stories of loss and trauma, violence and addiction, abuse and neglect. And we see resilience, strength, beauty. We watch kids of all different color, from diverse backgrounds and stories—we watch as they hug and lean on one another, laugh and cry together, lift each other up and celebrate the uniqueness of one another. As I coach these kids, a funny thing happens. I not only grow to believe in them and their beautiful hearts, but I am reminded to believe in myself also.

These kids teach me about acceptance, about love, about grace. And I begin to understand that our struggles are what make us human in each other’s eyes. I begin to understand once again how important it is to share our stories. This is the only thing that will help us see past skin color and invisible social barriers this world has imposed upon us: Sharing. We were created for each other. To share our stories.

On our last day together we have “closing circle.” The adults and kids join hands and form a circle. Anyone who wants to enter the circle to share words or acknowledgement does so. After that, we form two concentric circles. The volunteers and staff join hands and form a circle, facing out. All the kids join hands and form a circle around us. We stand, face-to-face, and the leader tells us to thank one another with only our eyes. No words. She talks us through this uncomfortable exercise.

“With your eyes, tell this person how thankful you are that they are here. Tell them how valuable they are, and what this weekend has meant to you.” After a time, she tells us to take a step to the left. We make our way slowly around the circle like this, looking into the eyes of each student.

This is how I come to be standing in front of him, this beautiful, sloe-eyed boy who towers over me. The exercise draws to a close and the leader says, “As the music fades, I want you to move toward the person in front of you in any way you are comfortable doing so.” Before I can even take a step he reaches for me. I feel small as the strength of his embrace wraps around me, consumes me. But he whispers gentle words in my ear—a blessing, his gratitude, his heart.

I could be holding one of my sons. It feels like I am.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

Playdates with God: Notes from Haiti, .3

“You hear about all these people who go on mission trips out of great compassion—a desire to help. That wasn’t me,” he says. “The first time I went to Haiti it was out of a morbid curiosity to see how the poorest people in the Western hemisphere lived.”

We are sitting in a circle on the rooftop of the guesthouse, just as we have every evening of our time in Haiti—gathered for a devotional and some decompression time. But this night we are joined by Dr. David Walmer who has just gotten in country. His wife, Kathy—the leader of our team, asked him to share his vision for Family Health Ministries with us.

He tells us how he first came to Haiti on a mission trip with his church. “We were painting walls,” he says. “And when they found out I was a doctor, they graciously arranged for me to hang out with one of the local physicians…”

It changed his life. The state of health care in Haiti opened his heart in new ways. (Read more about this part of David’s story and about an amazing way he is helping fight cancer in Haiti now in this New York Times article, “The MacGyver Cure for Cancer“).

“I had a near-death experience when I was young enough to do something about it,” he says. “What I found was that God was here in Haiti waiting to change me.”

That was over twenty years ago. That was two health clinics ago, an orphanage, a school, plans for a women’s health and birthing center … these are just a few of the programs Family Health Ministries founded and supports. The Walmer family has dedicated much of their life to improving the lives of the Haitian people.

As I listen to David tell his story, I think of the people we have served in the clinic this week—each one full of grace and gratitude. And I know God has changed me too. Later in the week, some of us go walking out in the streets of the town. I’ve seen the bougainvillea growing wild over the walls and I’ve been longing for a picture. So we take our cameras out into the street—five women, three with lily white skin and two a beautiful brown. Everywhere we go, the people stare. We told Nicole we’d look for some passion fruit for her, and little bananas. Theodora helps us haggle in Kreyol over fruit. We leave with some mangos and green plantains.

My eyes are big from all there is to see.

On the streets of Haiti, there is color—from the garishly painted tap-tap trucks and bright-hued murals on walls, to the wide array of fruits the people sell—color everywhere. And noise.  The incessant sound of horns honking and voices and dogs barking … throngs of people everywhere. Port au Prince never sleeps.

Morbid curiosity. I keep turning those words around in my mind.

I carry with me now the faces of the patients we served in the clinic all week. Almost 600 in four days. I carry with me now the faces that stared into us as we walked the streets of Haiti looking for fruit. Each a life with hopes and dreams—each one loving and making a living under the hot skies of Haiti.

God is still changing me through what I saw in Haiti.

The people gape at our pale skin and western dress and I want to take a picture of every beautiful face I see. I don’t want to forget.

But instead, I frame up the bougainvillea and I snap shots of the streets on fire with her pink.

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To learn more about the good work Family Health Ministries is doing, visit their website here. You can sponsor a child or give in many ways. You can like their Facebook page here.

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Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:
 
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Notes from Haiti, .2

 

 

The windows in Haiti are always open. One never knows when a new wind might blow through to lift the heaviness of the air. We slept with the breeze blowing the curtains; sheets kicked off and sweat beading.

The people we met in the clinic seemed little bothered by the heat. They sat for hours in the pews of the church we were working in, faces shining with expectation, waiting to see the medical staff on our team. After their vitals were taken, they came to us—three on the team who were working triage. It was our job to listen, and through our interpreters, write down on paper the patients’ primary concerns. Everyone was recovering from Chikungunya, it seemed. They complained of headache, stomach distress, pain all over their body, and itchy skin. They would lift their shirts to show me their bellies covered in rash, gesture to their legs and swollen feet. All the time, smiling shyly.

Except one mama.

She brought her eighteen-month-old daughter in for a checkup, and also wanted to be seen. She sat in front of me with her little girl on her lap and offered a fleeting smile in greeting. But the smile, it never reached her eyes. Her skin was like a plumb, dark and beautiful, and those sad eyes seemed to hold a thousand sorrows. When we came to those last two interview questions—Are you pregnant? Are you breastfeeding? When Marc—my interpreter—asked her those questions, she looked away as she responded.

Marc was quiet for a moment before turning to me. He lowered his voice to a whisper and swallowed hard.

“She says, no. She hasn’t. Not for eight months since her baby died.”

I wasn’t sure I heard him right at first and the silence grew around me. I didn’t know what to say. A mother’s grief is the pain of all mothers. It’s a world language, a language of the heart. But I didn’t know how to say, “I’m sorry” in Kreyol. And it didn’t feel like enough anyway. So I touched her hand and rubbed her daughter’s cheek, the ribbons in her hair shimmering satin.

Later that week, our triage team had to move out of the church. They were having a kindergarten graduation for the school that was adjacent to the church. When we arrived at the clinic around 7:30 in the morning, the Haitian families were already pouring down the street to fill the pews. The men were dressed in suits and ties, the women, long gowns. The children wore their special best and they were a sight to behold.

We sat in a tiny room in the downstairs of the clinic, interviewing patient after patient. For three hours we listened to the singing and the bustling noise of celebration drift through the open window.

Later, as the team gathered for our devotional on the rooftop of the guesthouse where we were staying, we all marveled at the elaborate celebration. “It almost felt like prom,” one of the nurses said. “Or a wedding.”

But Kathy Walmer, the leader of our team and head of operations for Family Health Ministries…Kathy opened our eyes.

“Kindergarten graduation isa cause for a big celebration. If you think about it, what these parents are celebrating is their child reaching this milestone safely. They have reached an age when they are safe from most of the childhood illnesses that can take their life. It is cause for much joy.”

That night, I awoke with a start at 2:30 am. I could hear dogs barking and street noise below. Suddenly, I was filled with an ache for home, my arms felt empty. And I thought of that mama from the clinic, the painful process of her milk drying up with no babe to suckle; how her body must have wanted to forget but that constant physical reminder would not let her.

I opened my eyes wide in the dark, and I stared that sorrow right in the face.

Just then, a new breeze stirred the curtains, rippling over my body, lifting the air around me. I turned my face into that new wind, letting my prayers fly with it.

West Virginia Morning

Today when I awakened and looked out the window, the beauty of the morning took my breath away. The day was just beginning to ripen and the cascading sun warmed the colors of the earth and trees. Dew clung to each silvery leaf and the grasses stirred a shimmery song. I stood on the cusp of the day and felt the hope of morning awaken inside of me.

Standing there, bare feet wet from the dew-drenched grass, I remembered these lines from a poem by Rilke:

Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now

the immense loneliness begins.
(Rilke’s Book of Hours, II, I)

One week from today I will fly to Haiti for a week of missions with Family Health Ministries. And though I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, it is stretching me a bit. Those who know me will tell you that I don’t often venture far from the hearth. I’ve never been out of the country—not even to Canada. Adventure, for me, is seeing how much the tomato plants have grown overnight.

I’ve always been content to be right here, to treasure the ministry I brush up against every day. I still feel this is my calling—to tend this life well, loving those I encounter each day, seeing the beauty in the ordinary moment. But lately I have been wondering about God’s people. I’ve been wondering about God’s world.

One of the doctors I work with gifted me with a book on the Creole language. He has a heart for the Haitian people.

Pou Zanmi `m, Laura, he wrote in the front of the book. Bondye bene ou.

For my friend, Laura. God bless you.

And so I have been practicing saying God bless you, in creole.

Bondye bene ou.

Because this is the message I want to carry across the ocean. To know God’s people is to love God better. My heart is a vast plain and there is room.

There is room for more love.

Playdates with God: What Ought to Be


The medical students and volunteers who helped with the medical outreach.
“I thought that in order to help people, I had to go to medical school,” she said to me, with a smile. “But Missy has shown me that anyone can help.”
We were down by the river, surrounded by a makeshift tent city hastily erected that morning. This is where some of the medical students of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine come once a month to provide free medical care to those in need. Along with checkups, social services, eye examinations, immunizations and other medical procedures, those who come are served breakfast and a lot of love.
My new friend Missy invited me to come and help out this past Saturday. Her passion to help the homeless population in the area is contagious, and I understood what this young medical student meant when she said Missy inspired her. I was grateful to be part of such a needed ministry, in any small way.
Since I was a new volunteer, I was put in the registration tent. All I had to do was talk to each person and fill out a little paper work. 
“These people have often been marginalized. They’ve been treated so poorly sometimes that they won’t seek the help they need,” Missy said to the newbies as she explained the registration procedure to us. “It’s really important to show them respect. Just talk to them.” 
And since ours were the first faces in the process, hospitality needed to shine. But how do you make a person feel welcome when all you have is a tent and a metal folding chair? It didn’t take long to see that the amenities were inconsequential. But something happens when you sit down with a stranger and look them in the eye. When you smile and aren’t afraid to touch a shoulder. Just the sitting down together changes the mood. And offering a person a seat in the shade might earn one a most grateful smile. We had to get folks through the line and on to the docs but I wondered about their stories. I wished I had more time to listen. 
There was too much to see it all. Follow up appointments were made, glasses were given out, people reclined in the shade with bottles of water. And the blue of the sky dipped down to color each moment, the warm of the sun seemed to radiate the love of all those busy hands. 
I looked out over the diverse congregation and this was my prayer: Lord, help us change what is into what ought to be. 
Only love. Only love can do this.

*The winner of the signed copy of Paula Huston’s  A Land Without Sin is janetb1! Janet, I’m not sure how to get in touch with you but I’ll do some sleuthing to see if I can find you. If you see this before you hear from me, email me at laraj@suddenlink.net.

How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

The Playdates button: