Haiti, Through a Child’s Eyes
She couldn’t stop saying it, how beautiful it all was.
She pressed her nose against the small oval window of the airplane, this window unto the holy, unto a bit of glory, unto a place some say is kin to a certain Hell.
And all she could perceive was a slice of Heaven.
“It’s just … beautiful, Mom,” she told me. “More beautiful than you told me. And more beautiful than I ever imagined.”
Within moments, our plane would wing right over the tin and tented shantytowns. These are the jagged quarters of our fellow man, in the midst of a hardscrabble fight with hunger or thirst – some days uncertain who will win. And we flew over top of these whole communities heaving with pain. How can a person, I have wondered, make any discernible difference in a country that has become famous by this tagline: “the poorest country in the western Hemisphere.”
Maybe one first step is simply coming to behold the beauty.
And she did.
For this day – her first day in Haiti — Little Lydia Lee saw only the exquisite, and believed only the lovely, and was certain that within those villages — all bones and sagging skin — there would be discernible beauty.
I don’t think I’d ever seen her more certain of anything in her 11 years on Planet Earth – that she wouldn’t have to dig far to excavate beauty. That she might not have to dig at all.
Beauty and homeliness make strange bedfellows in Haiti. But there you have it. If you’ve ever stepped foot in Haiti or watched the news, you’ve seen the ugly part. I don’t have to tell you what hunger and despair look like.
But I wonder, how will these two girls of ours make any sense of this when they see it, not on the living room TV screen, but within inches of their nose? What about when the ugly wants to hold their hand in the coming week?
I had been here 10 months ago. And my husband was here a few months before that. We both knew what to expect. But how do two American children with bulging cupboards and endless cereal choices even begin to process the jutting ribcage, the tin roof, the always-bare feet?
These are the moments when an American parent might second-guess bringing her two kids to a third-world country. But she piles her children into the back of a truck anyway, and the engine belches and rumbles and tears off down a long, cracked road that promises to change you. Haiti becomes a roadside blur of fruit stands and half-dressed toddlers seen at 45 miles per hour.
But she still can’t stop saying it, how beauty is persistent.
“Mom, look! Look!”
It’s not the macabre she sees. It’s something else entirely, and I know she’s not in denial. But this girl can’t stop smiling at it all: How a woman can balance 50 pounds atop her head; how a family’s whole colorful wardrobe is strung out on cactus branches, like an arcing laundry rainbow; backpacked girls in matching uniforms, with fat ribbons curled up in their hair.
“It’s just so beautiful, Mom.”
We both know that we will see things soon enough that will make our hearts twist in our chests. You can’t avoid that. But right now, it’s like she knows she would have missed Haiti entirely if she didn’t pay notice of beauty.
Hours later, we came to see the playground that Lydia had dreamed about for months, that she’d prayed about even longer. It was installed a few weeks before we came, the product of a $6,000 fundraising effort. Her little sister’s basketball court will be installed later.
Our truck climbed up a mountainside, and behold, the playground: a jungle gym, slides, swings, a merry-go-round. We could hear the voices of children, singing in classrooms, clapping. The school cooks stirred pots of rice, enough for 700 children. Both girls would help serve the plates to some of their new friends.
And yes, the girls got to play on that equipment, trying out all the pieces. I don’t remember much about the way that playground was situated or painted or configured. Because I just kept watching my girls, seeing how they saw. How their hair flew when they ran toward it, tangling with the air, how their eyes opened wide, like they wanted to take more of it in. And how Lydia said it over and over again:
“It’s beautiful, Mom. Just beautiful, Mom.”
And it was. And she was. And they are.
Some of our day’s beauty …
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Love seeing you there, Anna and Lydia. Praying for you here. 🙂
So beautiful and wonderful. Praying for you!
tears, happy tears
I love this blog. My heart is to connect the fatherless with people that love them and see the beauty that He created them to be.
I can’t see…
Oh Jennifer – what a wonderful gift your Lydia has. To see this through the eyes of two precious girls is magic. Thank you for sharing these life- changing moments.
Their lives will forever be changed. So will ours…so will those children’s. How good is God?
The vision of a child … so precious.
You girls will forever remember the rest of your lives what “heart warming” really is!! God Loves You and so do I Lydia and Anna !!
This lump in my throat.
Love you so. much.
And your girls like their mama.
Warm regards to your favorite farmer, sister.
The “beauty” of your story overwhelms me.
seeing with the eyes of Jesus. crying at the reminder.
Precious! So glad for your safe travels! 🙂
Keep up the God work
crying here too. oh, my. that last picture…well, all. its so beautiful. yes, indeed.
You know, you had me with the dang words. Gorgeous. But those pictures???? OH MY GOODNESS. Those beautiful people, your girls chief among them. The picture of Anna with that woman looking at her with such love. And Lydia, your mini-me and huge extrovert – laughing with her mouth wide open??? To.Die.For. Thank you, thank you – and thank L & A for their dearness, okay??
This brought tears to my eyes. Your girls have big hearts. Hope you all have a good week. I loved the pictures.
Wow. Absolutely beautiful words and even more beautiful spirits in those two girls. You are all a blessing to many.
You and Lydia and Anna just made my day! Praying and Praising for what is possible in Haiti if we can see the beauty and not just the poverty. (So thankful to go with you in prayer.)
Thinking of you and the family, sending prayers
Beautiful pictures. Crazy that we were sitting around in South Florida eating fast food 18 hours before they were taken. Thanks for sharing.
Those photos! What remarkable people you’re growing…
Dreams turning into reality? Only our Father… Only our Father… What a legacy He is leaving in your witness… Wow… May God go before you and your children…
I keep thinking of how much Jesus loved little children. I see why in the eyes of your girls as they give to the poorest of the poor. Oh, that we could all have a heart like His!
I can’t help but think of how God asks us to have faith like a child. I think this just shows how jaded we can become. Thanks for sharing this with us.
We can learn so much from our children. So often they see things we can’t. To see the beauty beneath the base, a beautiful (yes, beautiful) gift!
Something is swelling inside, reading, and studying the photos.
Yes, swelling. Thanks for the glimpse, Jennifer. Godspeed.
this is just powerful…lydia’s face lights up with pure joy in these pictures…what life changer for each of you…blessings to you~
Oh Jennifer…This is just too, too beautiful! To “behold!” the amazing grace of God in the fulfilling of a little girl’s dream. And to “behold!” the amazing face of God in Lydia and Anna’s ginormous smiles. Their hands serving. They will NEVER forget this day! May God continue to bless your Christ-centred family, as you seek to bless these dear Haitian people! You have given such joy today to those of us who are following your journey. Such JOY!
Priceless joy on Lydia’s face – oh how to see her dream come full circle. Thank you for sharing this God inspired journey with us.
Mercy, woman! Your words here had the tears pooling and then those pictures showed up and now they stream. This – what you are experiencing together as a family is so beautiful. Those girls of yours are so beautiful- and boy do their eyes reflect our Savior. The love and joy in their eyes shines Christ! If only we as adults could clear the lenses of our eyes to reflect Him in the same way.
Safe travels- and I cannot wait to see what He does next!
Excited for you and amazing to hear your child’s response. She is very in tune with something most of us don’t see. Nurture that spirit.
Beautiful writing. . . my wife and I have been living here in Haiti for 18 months and you have captured the beauty in the midst of the poverty that is so perplexing. . .thank you for sharing and for your work in Haiti. . .
Wow, tears, tears at their smiles, such beauty. God bless you.
Your family, your words, your actions, your parenting, your Jesus shining through…it’s no wonder your sweet daughter recognizes beauty so easily.
Love you, friend.
Just. So. Awesome.
I’m not kidding, Jennifer–this is the best thing I’ve ever seen written about Haiti. Ever.
I think it’s because we lose our capacity to take in tragedy. We get overloaded so quickly when images are so readily available. But beauty? Our Creator made us to always have space for that. And so we tiptoe in unaware and get surprised.
So beautiful in every way. Blessed by this.