When You Can’t Afford to Forget

April 3, 2012 | 50 comments


I felt the deep ache of a broken heart today.

I suspect there’s a cure — the elixir of time perhaps — but that’s what I’m most afraid of. I’m scared that time will cure this ache.

I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to stop remembering. That would cost me too much.


It’s been eight days that I’ve been home. Eight days since the nose of the jet turned north. Eight days since the tin shacks and tents on hillsides grew smaller and smaller from the window next to my first-class seat.

It’s been eight days since I crossed their thresholds. I remember how I took off my shoes at one of their doors — an old habit — only to find bare dirt when my toes met the kitchen floor.

And when you do a thing like that — when you cross a threshold — there’s no turning back. I have real friends there. Last night, when I heaped steaming squares of lasagna onto plates, I wondered if my Haitian friends ate at all.

After dinner, I scraped half-eaten pasta into the garbage. I tried not to let guilt have its way. In fact, I had vowed that I wouldn’t trade grace for guilt. I pledged that I wouldn’t come home and berate myself for being born in America.

But I can’t help but notice I have enough food in my cupboards and freezers to feed our family for months.

And I can’t help but ache for friends. I miss them. I know how their hands feel in mine. I know what it feels like to press my cheek next to theirs while mugging for a silly photograph.

I miss the touch, the holding out of a hand to touch the curve of a face. I miss the laughing, and her silly hat, and the way we called each other “fou,” the Haitian-Creole word for “crazy.”

My, how we laughed.

I miss how — even though we couldn’t speak a lick of each other’s language — we were fluent in love.

I miss real people.

I’m afraid that if it’s true what they say — that time heals all wounds — I’ll stop hurting. I’ll stop missing them. I’ll be cured.

I can’t afford that.


It’s 3:45 p.m. and I feel the trickle of tears down my cheeks. I wonder: what if I never go back again? Selfishly, I want to. But what if God said “no”?

I wipe a palm across my wet cheek.

Like flowers,  would the bloom of memory eventually fade? Someone, please, tell me it won’t?

I remember that a wise friend, Ann Voskamp, had written about the ache of her own return from a mission trip. At 3:50, I Google the words: “Ann Voskamp Guatemala.”

She knows. She knows! She wrote:

“I miss the fresh bruising of my heart and I miss the witnessing, the ways the eyes feel when they are seeing for real, and I miss children and volunteers and love and I miss the way her smile curved and opened the lid right off the world. Like we were changing the world.

I miss being so close to help I could hold out my hand.”

At 4 p.m., the tears roll, in steady rivulets down my face.  I change my Facebook status:   “I feel a deep ache in my heart right now. I am pretty sure it’s the part that got broken off … that part of me that I left back in Haiti.”

I don’t want the flower to fade. I want it to bloom, ever-bloom.

And then the doorbell rang. And rang. And rang and rang.

The girls! They were home from school. And their mama was crying. I found my smile again, brushed away a tear, and opened the door to this:

The promise of ever-blooming grace

upon grace

upon yellowing grace…


And then I cried some more. And can I just tell you? They were the happiest tears.



The photos of the ViBella women from Haiti were taken by professional photographer Teresa Blankers, of ViBella. I traveled with with ViBella to Haiti. You can read more about this great ministry and business here. Follow ViBella on Pinterest here.


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by | April 3, 2012 | 50 comments


  1. Lyla Lindquist

    Someone tell you it won’t? You know what I’ll tell you. Over 25 years, and like yesterday.

    • dukeslee

      I needed that. Right now.

      Yes, you told me before. But I needed the echo tonight. I so appreciate you, and your past experience, and your present ache, and your prayers, and your care. Thank you.

    • Diana Trautwein

      Over 45 years here – and still fresh…not as frequently, but still there. Two years of our lives and a large chunk of our hearts. And we brought a baby home which marks that beautiful land as the birthplace of our own family as well as our connection to God’s worldwide one. Let the tears come. (and I lOVE that last picture of your cutie pies with their precious gift.)

  2. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    Oh, Jennifer, that heartbreak of yours? It pulls tears from way out here in California.

    Much love to you, my tender friend.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Sheila. Thanks for feeling it with me. I needed you here. Feeling very tender. And just quite suddenly, really! It was quite a day. xo

        • dukeslee


          Somewhere (Facebook maybe?) you left me a message that even though I left a piece of my heart somewhere, it actually grew bigger. I’ve been holding on to that. I appreciate you.

  3. kd sullivan

    Doesn’t the Holy Spirit just melt your heart? Flowers from children…compliments from strangers…breezes kissing cheeks…He is just over the top!

    • dukeslee

      Oh friend … kd.

      Thank you.

      Thank you for feeling it with me. And yes, it’s heart-melting good. Every bit of it. He is such a Grace Pourer.

  4. Dea

    I am right there with you my friend. Packing my husband and son to Haiti at the end of May. This time I have the “no” from God.

    Why it has to be THIS way? If I had curly hair, I’d want straight. If I were tall, I would wish I were short.

    I am rich and I wish I was poor—because in my heart I am.

    And why can’t it be the same here as there?

    Sharing your tears… Thankful for you and praying that you will get the “yes!”

    • dukeslee


      Thank you for understanding, for being here, for walking with me, for passing the Kleenex. 🙂

      Love you friend… Praying now for a Spirit-filled time for your husband and son.

  5. Kathy Schwanke

    I am crying with you. Feeling what you must feel. Not having had the blessing to travel to an area like that, I have often wondered at the contrast of our lifestyle to theirs after hearing stories…but the report is “they have more joy!” while “we have more stuff…”
    I love that the Sovereign God determines the exact places where we live and that he wants us to be content in all circumstances. It clears away guilt and turns faces upward to praise. You wont forget. You have lived it with them for just a time, but still. Touched their world…what a gift! Bless you sister! Love, Love the photos!!!!!

    • dukeslee

      Hi Kathy,

      I observed that as well — the immense joy. I had heard about it, then saw it. I was so inspired by my new friends.

  6. Shaunie Friday

    Despite a lifetime of leaving places and people I love, I’m no good at it . . . but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Once people are in your heart like that, they never leave–you won’t forget, Jennifer, they’re in too deep! So happy for you to have the ache of missing precious new friends and a place that won’t let go of you on one hand, and your darling daughters with hand-picked bouquets for their momma on the other!!

    • dukeslee

      Oh wow, Shaunie. You totally “get” this. I needed to hear from you today, to know that the roots are in too deep.

      And yes, those bouquets! I just noticed that my post here was bookended by doorways — one in Haiti, and one here at home. No matter where we cross thresholds, we have the potential to be a blessing, … and to be blessed.

  7. Laura

    Spent two summers….7 weeks total, helping friends in Honduras who have taken in 24 orphans. Haven’t been back in two years. I don’t know how they feel, but they still feel like close friends and some of those perspective lessons from God…they stay. But the ache isn’t so deep. Accept sometimes, when someone says the wrong thing or a store’s display of un-neccessities punches me in the gut, it comes back.Like mourning. Or pray promptings. Thank you for sharing.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Laura, for your helpful perspective here.

      And seven weeks with those orphans! Oh my. Have you written much about those experiences? I’d love to read your thoughts.

  8. Christina

    “once you cross the threshold there is no turning back.” Very true. You’ve been changed and there is no going back. And may it be the same for the lives you touched when you were there. Blessings!

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Christina. Changed, indeed. …

      Cool sidenote: One of the ViBella women with whom I worked has a Facebook account! She is not able to be online very often, but it’s so wonderful to have that occasional connection. There are many beautiful things about social-media, and this is one of them!

  9. JoAnne Potter

    Agreeing with all the previous comments testifying that you might think a vivid memory fades, but then a smell or a smile brings it all back. Beth Moore says that memories are always present tense. You’ll see.

  10. kelli

    Perhaps the only way to really open . . . is to break open.

    Beautiful, authentic post.
    Thank you.

  11. Victoria

    Oh, our Daddy loves us so. I’d say more about your beautiful words, but I can’t see through to tears just yet. ♥

  12. caryl dukes

    Oh the tears are Still coming and I felt the Grace of God in every word and photo..The door bell rang and those wonderful precious daughters’s timing was perfect..another memory you will NEVER forget.

  13. Mrs T

    Tears are in my eyes right now… Thank you for sharing your story. I will pray for the people of Haiti.


  14. Rebecca LeCompte

    Thank you for writing this. A dear friend of mine is in process of adopting a sibling group from Haiti. We have laughed together, cried together and prayed together over these precious children and their country. You brought tears to my eyes all over again.

  15. Gramma T

    Remember the words of challenge at our Bible study? Reach out to someone and get out of our boxes. A stranger in a store was wearing what I knew was ViBella jewelry and I HAD to ask her if she knew anything about it. Thank you God for giving me the courage to ask and then the opportunity to tell about my friend & those women that are touching the hearts of soo many Framily and Family members! Our hearts are so big and now it is stretched bigger after your trip. Room for more lovin’ for those you meet each day.

  16. David Rupert

    Memories are such amazing things. I’m constantly taken back to those times and places that meant something.

    I’m good about referring to photos, writings and retelling stories about those memories. It keeps them fresh

  17. Joe Pote

    I love this post, Jennifer!

    It reminds me of…so many things…so many sweet sorrows and longings…

    I wonder…is this how Jesus feels as He remembers His time on earth?

  18. Megan Willome

    You won’t forget. Just as surely as you have a scar from your car accident, you have a scar from your trip to Haiti. It will always be tender, just like your other one.

  19. Shelly Miller

    I can understand your ache Jennifer. I expereience it every single time I leave Rwanda. I have real girlfriends there who I feel more at home with, almost than the ones here. We laugh hard too. I think the real gift in going for me is the ability to see differently and be grateful. It sounds like that could be the gift for you too. Oh how I love you and that heart of yours.

  20. Tiffany

    Oh Jennifer….my heart aches in ways untold for your story! For the people of Haiti, for missions in general, for the comfortable existence I lead and ofttimes forget to show outward thankfulness for. Thank you, thank you my friend. May the Lord never allow that ache to heal and may He stir our hearts again in a new and fresh way.
    Abiding in Him,

  21. Alyssa Santos

    Crossing the threshold — yes, this makes all the difference! We return different, graced deeply and etched with the experience that colors all our choices. There’s some pain in this process, but you know, it is sweet and real and palpable. He increases the faith of many through experiences like this, and the name of Jesus resonates over seas and continents. It always comes down to Jesus!

  22. Nancy Franson

    I don’t believe it’s true that time heals all wounds. Jesus heals all wounds. Only Jesus. And he does it through beautiful souls like you and Ann Voskamp and the women in Haiti who are making this beautiful jewelry.

  23. Dolly

    somehow with your tender heart, Jennifer, I don’t think you will forget…I’m sure you will be praying and loving as God leads…Yes, how He blooms in their hearts, yours, and in those lovely flowers from your sweet girls…wishing you a Happy Easter, early, my friend 🙂

  24. HisFireFly

    I could have written your words upon reutrning from our three weeks in Uganda. I was afraid to forget too. No need for fear — forgetting is impossible!

  25. Audra Silva

    Your heart for your friends comes shining through – beautiful. You won’t forget even when the grief eases. I imagine they are imprinted on your heart forever.

  26. davis

    you Love with an open heart 🙂

  27. Kathleen

    Hugs, Hugs, Hugs… What a fabulous experience.

  28. TUC

    A wound like this will leave a heart scar… every now and again it will itch, and you will trace your finger down it remembering the details… and then who knows what God will do with the love that is rekindled.

  29. laura

    That picture of you in the hat? Pure joy. So why am I crying? Oh, you. You are so beautiful. So beautiful.

  30. Lori

    Beautiful post, Jennifer. Brought me to tears. And then because I haven’t visited since your “finding a son” post, I went on and read what I missed. Wow, as always, you are really bringing it home, making connections, and making me FEEL. I hope you can keep what you are feeling right there, at your fingertips, to continue encouraging the rest of us. Thank you, as usual.

  31. Angie Vik

    Glad you had a good trip. The pictures are great, particularly the last one of your two little sweeties. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen them. They’re sure growing up.

  32. Diane Bailey

    Hey there dear friend. I am crying with you. Know that just as you trust Christ to navigate you life, he will navigate you heart to be as tender as it needs to be to accomplish all that He has instore for you. You are a blessing to me. Thank you for sharing. ~Di

  33. Michelle Eichner

    So beautifully put, Jennifer! I can relate to that feeling after 2 different missions trips. You are forever changed! The acuteness of your feelings might change, but you won’t. Even my son, who is unable to go on the annual youth mission trip this year, is realizing that missions is everywhere. He doesn’t have to go anywhere, his neighborhood is coming to him! That’s the perspective that doesn’t go away. God Bless You – give yourself a hug. 🙂 Michelle

  34. Tiffany Stuart

    Hi sweet Jennifer, I love this post, actually I love all your posts. Your heart is beautiful. I, too, would have cried happy tears seeing the flowers from your girls.

    I still dream of having a broken heart through going to another country and touching the hands and hearts. More like, being touched by their hands and their hearts.

    Hugs and love

  35. r.ellott

    This is just beautiful…I have never traveled to a foreign place(hopeful someday…but I do know when God breaks my heart…when I feel a new place in my heart awakened…I too fear time will come a callous the wounded place. Blessings to you as you find your footing.

  36. Laura

    My son said the same things when he returned from Haiti…never wanted to forget. That trip taught him much about what really matters. Blessings to you!

  37. Michelle DeRusha

    My heart is breaking for you, Jennifer, even though I don’t totally “get it.” I’ve never served overseas, so I don’t know that heart pull. But someday, maybe…


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