A note, before I open the story I’ve held close. I drafted most of these words last week, while still in Alabama. I had to put this post on hold due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s now March 20th and I’m in Florida, home for tests and to be with family while we wait for answers. This wasn’t the plan, really, but that’s okay. All is well and all is being made well. The writing is on the wall; He’s still the Author of it all.
I’m blinking back tears in Starbucks, and I just think you should know that before I share this story I’ve held close for a year now.
Elevator music is playing in the background, everyone is bent over their laptops or phones, and I won’t bother attempting to put words to the fact that I feel like half of me is in Alabama and the other half is in Haiti.
Several of my people are there right now, serving and loving on and continuing to build relationships with the people of Boukeron, the people I’ve loved for four years now. This is the first time in years that March has come around and I haven’t boarded a plane for the country that stole my heart. And though I know this was the right decision for me this year, my heart still breaks more than just a little bit. I’m here, not there, and that isn’t easy for me.
That’s not why tears are filling my eyes, though.
There are stories and blog posts that spill out quickly, times when the words rush out like water pouring from the tap. And there are times when everything is stopped up inside, blocked somehow.
There’s an in between, too. Because every once in a while, you simply want to hold a story close. It isn’t stuck inside and if you sat down to write it out, you know the words would come. But you aren’t ready. God says to wait. He lets you hold it close. But then, sometimes, He says “it’s time.”
And it’s time.
I won’t do the story justice, but I hope that it will encourage you. I pray that I find the right words, that I don’t leave anything out (this will be much longer than a normal post), because there are many moving pieces and still somehow He weaves each one together.
This is where the story begins.
It is March and the year is 2015.
I’ve struggled for several months with night terrors and spiritual warfare, but I’ve been quiet about it. I can count on one hand how many people know the daily battle I’m fighting. Slowly but surely, light is becoming brighter and the darkness is receding. I am learning and struggling and growing. It’s hard, but it’s also beautiful because I’m finding Him here, too.
One night while in Haiti, I experienced the worst night terror of my life. (Nothing prior to that time was as bad, and nothing has reached that level since.)
The next morning, our team loaded into the two vehicles to make the daily trip to Boukeron where we would host another medical clinic. Schedules don’t exist in Haiti like they do in America, so we patiently sat there waiting for who knows what.
I was completely shaken up inside, still reeling from everything just a few hours before. We waited, I clutched my water bottle, and desperately tried to blink the fog away. A friend opened her Bible and said, “Hey, we have a few extra minutes. Anybody want me to read anything out loud this morning?” Someone suggested Psalm 91 and I worked real hard to keep my jaw from dropping as she read a passage of Scripture about God being our refuge in the night when terror comes.
It is January and the year is 2016.
While listening to a podcast from Passion City Church (on the difference between memorizing and meditating on Scripture), the Holy Spirit very clearly convicted me.
I grew up in the church, went through the AWANA program, gradated college with a minor in Religion, and am pretty decent at memorizing Scripture. But when it comes to meditating on Scripture, I struggle. It doesn’t come naturally to me and although I knew I needed to begin, I wasn’t sure how or where to start.
It felt daunting, to be honest. I asked God a very simple question (“Hey… I want to work on this. Where do I begin?”) and one memory almost immediately came to mind.
The morning in Haiti, hours after the night terror, when Psalm 91 came at just the right time.
It is March and the year is 2016.
For two months now, I’ve purposely dwelt in Psalm 91.
I wrote a post here, sharing for the first time about that night/morning in Haiti in 2015. I shared several iPhone lock screens with you, explaining that this is how I both memorize and meditate on Psalm 91. For two months, every time I pick up my phone I find a verse from that Psalm staring back at me.
I wrote these words 12 months ago:
“As of today, I have almost the entire Psalm memorized but honestly, I don’t really care. What matters is that my heart has been soaking in truth and when the darkness comes, as it most certainly will, I can hold out and hold onto the Light.
In fact, as you read these words I am somewhere in the air on my way to Haiti. And most likely? I’m repeating Psalm 91 under my breath.”
It is March 17 and the year is 2016.
The blog post with the lock screens went up early in the morning, scheduled ahead of time. But now afternoon is slipping into evening and I am on the plane. After multiple delays due to mechanical issues, we’re nearly there. I am excited and nervous. Though I go willingly and happily, I know what I’m entering back into. Day becomes night as we fly, light seems to turn into darkness, and somewhere over the ocean below, I am far from okay in my window seat. I wrote the following words and I haven’t touched them since 7:02pm on March 17th (thank you, iPhone Notes app, for this information).
They’re far from perfect and I hesitate to include them here because it feels too raw. (Honestly, as I read over the note again, I’m beginning to wonder if all of the air has been sucked out of Starbucks. My chest suddenly feels stretched tight and I’m reminding myself to breathe. It’s amazing how words can transport us right back into a moment from the past.)
But because I know what comes next in this story… I think it must be included. I think it’s important that you know how much Psalm 91 has impacted me, and equally important is the battle that continues to rage. But most important of all? It’s His presence in the middle of the storm. My words from the airplane, never shared anywhere, in their entirety:
My throat tightens as I reach for my phone, quietly tucked away on airplane mode in the top pocket of my backpack. My body rocks back and forth involuntarily and although I don’t cry, no matter how many times I swallow I can’t clear my throat.
An hour ago we flew through a pearl white cloud. If I could reach out, I’m convinced I would discover it feels like cotton-candy, a nearly non-existent substance.
45 minutes ago the clouds were tinted pale orange as the sun began to set. 10 more minutes and the orange turned to pink and then, slowly, a pale purple.
Before I know it everything out my little window with the rounded corners has turned glorious and bright, light streaming and reflecting off the sky and the clouds and the wing of the plane.
And then, before I can count the number of minutes on one hand, darkness begins to fall and the only light remaining is one thin, blood orange line above the deep purple clouds. They no longer look like cotton candy; I blink and swallow as tears sting and my throat aches.
Emily Freeman speaks of the importance of paying attention to your tears, and so although I want to put in my earbuds and think on anything else, I simply sit.
The plane dips down abruptly and the light is suddenly gone, the world outside the window plunged into darkness. We are in the clouds again but now I just want to get out.
I stare into the thick darkness and repeat Psalm 91 as I wring my hands and clear my throat for the 35th time. Nothing is working. I remind myself to breathe while wondering what in the world is happening inside.
And then I get it and I reach for my phone to hurriedly type these words into the Notes section because this feels strangely important.
The night has come. Light swiftly faded and as those around me listen to podcasts and turn pages in their books, I realize all of the other window coverings are closed. Maybe it’s easier to pretend it’s still light outside if we don’t watch the progression. Maybe it’s easier to hide under the artificial lights than look into the pitch black. But it is there and as much as I want to ignore it, I cannot deny it.
I know He is the light. I know that even in the dark, I am never alone. I know that no moment is wasted and there are lessons to learn in the fluffy white and thick dark clouds.
It is March 20 and the year is 2016.
Sunday morning dawns, I put on a short-sleeve gray t-shirt, slip on my striped maxi skirt, and clip my hair back. We make the short walk along the dirt streets. It is almost 9am and we are going to church.
We file in and join two Haitian men sitting on the left side near the back of the room. But I’m somewhere in the middle of our group, and so a handful of my friends fill up that row and I naturally follow behind, beginning to fill the row directly behind them. To my left is a cement wall, to my right is Ms. Cathy, and in front of me are the two Haitian men.
It is 9:03am. I know this because I took a picture from my wicker seat, and the timestamp on my phone tells the story. The service begins and I find myself looking around the room. I’m searching the faces, taking in their radiating joy, and listening to the sound of worship in a language I barely understand. Eventually I open my phone again, tap on the Bible app, and follow along in English what they’re studying in Creole.
It is not until 9:45 that I look up and to my left, and suddenly I’m struggling to breathe and silently crying in my seat next to the cement wall.
I don’t know how I missed it for an entire 45 minutes, but there it was. Psalm 91. Written hours, days, months, years before? I don’t know. I’ve never been inside this room, never seen the writing on the wall. I quickly scan the rest of the wall, but there’s nothing more. I turn my head from side to side, looking over the other three walls, but there’s nothing to see, no words or verses or quotes or song lyrics or art — nothing.
The only thing written on the walls is Psalm 91 in Creole. And it’s written right next to me. I sat there shaking my head, barely hearing the rest of the sermon, wondering if a little child, an adult, or God Himself picked up a piece of chalk and wrote that message right there, in that particular spot, for me.
Nine minutes later, as soon as the final song ends, I stand straight up and ask Ms. Cathy to take this picture. It’s 9:54am and I’m sweating and the day is only just beginning but there’s God, there’s His love so specific and perfectly timed and intentional and never failing, right there written in chalk on a not-so-random wall in Haiti.
When day turns back to night, we all gather on the rooftop to talk, to laugh, to share stories. It’s my third time here and at first, sharing my testimony with this group of friends seems a bit ridiculous. After all, they know it by now. They’ve heard it more than once.
But they don’t know about March 2015 and the night terror.
I haven’t told them about meditating on Psalm 91.
They don’t know about my struggle to breathe on the plane.
And so I share. I tell about the darkness and I choke up and it’s hard to speak of, but I keep going because it’s the truth and also because I know where this story is going. Not because the story ends and I can wrap it up with a bow, but because I know the Author.
I admit struggling. I’m honest about how difficult it is to return and choose to be present in the country that has stolen my heart, a place where joy has no limits, yet spiritual warfare hangs heavy in the air, thick on your skin.
But I start talking about Psalm 91. I look right at my sweet friend who read that Psalm, never knowing how deep it would touch me. And she says it so happily, “Did you see it on the wall today? Did you see?” And even right now I can feel myself smiling so wide, and tears are in my eyes again, because yes I saw it.
In the summer of 2014, on a March morning in 2015, as I daily spent time meditating on Psalm 91 in January and February of 2016, as I boarded the plane and as the sun came up on March 20th, He knew what would be waiting for me on the wall. Maybe it was written two minutes before I walked in. Maybe someone scratched it in chalk back in the summer of 2014. I have no way of knowing, and it doesn’t really matter, because He knew all along.
There’s always more to the story, and our stories are always worth sharing again, for He is always doing a new thing.
And somehow, in some crazy way, He’s always doing the same ol’ thing again and again, too.
Loving, coming, staying, holding, listening, giving, caring, knowing.
The writing was on the wall.