In the left turn lane at the corner of Wildwood and Lakeshore, I stare out the window and hum the melody, sing the refrain under my breath.
Another typical, ordinary day of the mundane and the strain of “returning to normal” is picking at me.
Sometimes I make myself sit and remember and some days I try to make myself forget – even for an hour – and I succeed.
I don’t know how that makes me feel.
I look at everyone else who went and I wonder if I’m being holier than thou, attempting to not attempt to readjust to normal life. I decide that isn’t the case, and then am left with the other option: Something is wrong with me. I am the problem and the one who needs to pick it up, pack it up, and return to what was.
But how can I readjust what I don’t have to adjust anymore? If pieces of your heart are left behind then how in this big wide world can I put it all back together again?
I stare out the side window, oblivious to the words on the radio and the sound escaping my lips, thinking of to-do lists and letters to write, what I need to pick up at the store and oh yes, I should call my grandparents.
I sing the refrain in the middle of all the mundane and within seconds my glazed over eyes are dripping with tears instead of visualizing the layout of the grocery store. I no longer hear the radio singing the tune or see the man outside my window yelling into a megaphone – it’s just me and the expanse of blue sky in Haiti and a crinkly sheet of paper with written words.
Back under the roof of the open-walled church, I hear Kristy’s voice leading the teenagers around us. We sit on eight benches, crammed with people hanging off the edges. A square of song, they’ve come to practice for the Easter service. They think we’ve come to help them practice singing in English.
We’ve just come to love them.
And on a Sunday afternoon, with rainclouds rolling in the distance, that is exactly what we sit down to do. We sit intermingled with them, pale arm touching dark skin, as they hold tight to the words before them and raise their voices, soft at first, to sing.
We have come to help but first we must listen.
The first line escapes and I know the tune by heart. There’s a catch in my throat as I look around at these beautiful dark faces of brothers and sisters I have never met.
Lord I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart
By the chorus Kristy reminds us to jump in and sing, since that’s why we’re sitting so near, that they may hear how we pronounce the words and copy the movement of our mouths. I open my lips and mutter the words, so struck by the power of a Sunday afternoon song in the mountains of Haiti, until I remember I should sing out so they can hear.
I don’t do that. Well, I haven’t before, at least.
When the house is empty I run my hands along the keys and belt out whatever tune comes to mind. I spin in the living room and dance in the dorm room and sing it loud in the car.
Always, when I am alone.
It has always been this way, but this is not the time to be shy.
The whisper turns into singing as mourning turns into dancing and I look at the faces, each of the faces, and I realize they mean the words they’re saying.
Lord I need You, oh I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
I must have uttered the refrain three hundred times but this time it’s different. My voice swells and I wonder if it’s too loud, sounding out above the rest. It’s a choir, not a solo, and my new found freedom is rising up and out. The boy to my right sings louder and I realize this freedom I have found has given him the freedom to learn, to listen and to grow, to sing with confidence in a language he barely knows.
Free people, free people. Sometimes we free them to sing.
A few more times through and they switch to creole, taking their eyes off the papers and singing the words their hearts already know.
He nods his head, inching the crinkled paper in my direction. His arm scratches against mine and I take in the words, all jumbled up into something I don’t recognize, and I sound them out all awkward and sing-song like.
Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where you are
And where You are, Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
My smile is wide and I sing the words in creole that I would believe in any language. The boy to my right, more man than boy, smiles and I know I must sound funny. I sing it louder, all these messed up pronunciations, and at the end he turns to me and says, “good job.”
I stare up at the never-ending blue sky and blink fast, until I realize I’m looking at Alabama sky and Haiti feels a world away.
Tears are choking my throat and the ugly cry is threatening, but I stumble through the words anyways.
I re-member the pieces by remembering and it all comes together, the memories and the sound of my voice, the tears sliding down my checks as the stoplight turns green.
Pulling myself together, I go about my Americanized way of shopping and buying and purchasing anything and everything on my list. I load the car and as I exit the grocery store parking lot I see the man with the megaphone. Now on my right, I pass the signs as I hear the shouting mumblings of confusion, all mixed up in what goes into the megaphone and out of the speakers.
Honk if you love Jesus.
Pull over if you don’t want to go to hell.
Jesus loves you.
I sigh and wonder if it does any good. Do people ever pull over? Does it turn more people off than it invites them in?
Lord I need You, oh I need You. In the mountains of Haiti and the streets of Birmingham, I need You. My hope, my light, will you help me see. Oh Lord, don’t let go of me.
My heart rewrites the words and I re-member the pieces and say it again, out loud when necessary, that He is good everywhere.
I hum the tune through the rest of my ordinary week and I tense when I wonder if this is the “new normal.” How is it that I’m expected to slip back into the routine but be forever changed? And who in their right mind truly believed I could come back whole, ready to change the world from Birmingham with the heart of Haiti?
Without realizing it, I did.
To go and come back would never be the hard part. To give life to the stories would be the challenge. But my word for the trip was OPEN, and I expected it to mean open to sharing what I had seen.
As it turns out, He placed OPEN on my heart so that I would be open to being quiet, open to being still, open to listening and taking in and mulling over. Open to silence and questions and doubts. Open to be – be whatever felt right.
I heard the stories and believed the words. I looked deep and hard instead of turning away and what I saw staring back at me took my breath away.
God’s love story spans the globe and we are only one small line in the story, one swoosh of the brush, and one piece of the puzzle.
Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay
I’m lit white-hot with words burning in my soul and He calls me to still my fingers and close my mouth. I flip the pages of the worn and torn and tearstained Book and find my way to Colossians.
I read the chapters each day in the afternoon time and I cling to the truth that all there is, the only words I have to offer, are Christ in me – the hope of glory. There’s nothing more and nothing less.
The dark skin that brushed my arm is my brother. We found freedom in believing the words when the language wasn’t our own and the glorious mystery sinks deeper into my soul.
He is before all things and in Him all things hold together. We don’t have to whisper the truth, we can sing it from the mountains.
And my Birmingham, Gospel-broken heart, hears the song from service:
Shout it, go on and scream it from the mountains. Go on and tell it to the masses: that He is God.
Worlds combine on a bench with three slats under a metal roof in Haiti and in a green car driving along Lakeshore and there is hope in the tension.
We went to listen, to learn and love by living the Gospel, but maybe it’s the Gospel come to us.
We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. Colossians 1:4-6
Today I am linking up with Holley for Coffee For Your Heart, Jennifer for Tell His Story, and it’s my first time at Holly Barrett’s and also Beth’s for Three Word Wednesday (I chose the three words: Sing the refrain). // Photo #1 taken by the lovely Ann.