25 October 2016

That time I did the right thing, which turned out to be the wrong thing, which turned out to be the right thing after all

They always come on my busiest day. Strangers who know a white lady lives here, sitting on my step so the dogs go nuts, desperate, staring at me. I stared back at Christelle, gave her my "go away, I don't know you" stare. It didn't work.

"Garbage," she muttered.


"Garbage, I can take your garbage for you." She nodded toward the two large sacks near the tree.

"I have a service who does that for me."

Her face fell. She didn't move. I looked her up and down. She had a hungry look that can't be faked. No purse. So young, so skinny...except for the baby bump. I think it was the bump that made me do what I did next.

"But..." (It's a sweet word, sometimes, isn't it?) "But I have other trash I need hauled away, if you want to work hard. It's heavy."

"I can do it," she said softly. 

I crossed my arms. "Where will you put it? I don't want it on the street."

She pointed. "Near the market, where the dumpster is."

You wouldn't believe how much trash I had. For the next hour, I hauled stuff out to the curb for her...and she just kept coming back for more. I was impressed. I was sweaty. And...she seemed to be getting...faster. Surprising, but hey, it could be, right?

Seeing that she was ready to be done, I prepared her pay: $4, a tin cup of clean water, leftover beef and pumpkin soup, and a banana. Pick the nicest one, I thought. Pretty sure the thought didn't come from me. I even threw in a plastic spoon.

"Are you from this neighborhood?" I asked as she took the grocery bag.

"No: Crois-des-Bouquet," she said.

"Well, you can go back there now," I said. "Can I pray for you?"

No smile. She shifted her weight uncomfortably. "Madam, do you need someone to clean for you?"

I shook my head. "This was all I can do for you."

She turned and slowly walked away, sat down behind a guard shack and inhaled that food.

The next day, I was walking up the street when I saw it--that's my old breadbox, the broken one. It's under my neighbor's truck. I bent down--and there it all was. Well, almost all of it. She took the first bag to the trash pile...the rest ended up here.

To say that I was seeing red doesn't really capture it. It was more like a deep shade of crimson, the color of a football coach's face when you miss the game-winning field goal.

I gave her my best banana. Yes, I hear how stupid that sounds. More than that, I re-arranged my morning for her. I made time for her. I tried to get to know her. And I got played. It didn't feel good.

But you know what? The title of this blog post stands--I did the right thing. I played the fool, but I did what Love would do. Christelle, I hope that meal kept you going. I hope you and your baby find a safe place to grow. And I hope I never forget what you taught me--that doing right doesn't have to feel right.

Also, always check under the truck.

20 October 2016


I've been cleaning out my email inbox. (Don't be impressed; they're making me do it. Let's face it, that's how all my cleaning happens.) I'm deleting lots of stuff that's pointless: Zulily offers, all-staff updates, people who were trying to get flights when I was scheduling.

But there's some good stuff in here, too. It chronicles Christine-That-Was: all the things she was afraid of before she got here. The stuff she worried about in language school--she sent pictures of her bug bites to the advice nurse. The little things I did for others; the big things they did for me.

Boy, she hardly knew anything.

I'm not picking on Christine-That-Was...you bring a lot of culture when you become a missionary. Take my toaster as an example. I thought you needed a toaster. I thought a toaster was just an indispensable thing that every civilized person must have for those breakfasts when you just cannot pour yourself a bowl of cereal. (Probably because your wife forgot to reconstitute the milk last night.) But you know what? My toaster broke, and when it did, I realized that I hadn't used it in six months because it was such a power hog. And you know what? You can toast bread in a pan...on the stove.


I'm not a "third culture kid," but the idea remains solid--you build a personal culture when you leave your own. It's a little bit of everywhere you've loved. When we returned to Haiti after our first furlough, I was sitting in the parking lot of the hardware store, waiting for David. And the wind was moving through the trees. It hisses, you know. It doesn't woosh or whisper. It's not a sinister hiss, but it's a hiss nonetheless. And I'd missed it, I'd ached to hear that sound, without realizing it. How did that happen?

When did I become a real missionary?

I better go reconstitute some milk.