I am not a very well- traveled world traveler, but I have seen a few places thus far in my life. To date, hands down, my LEAST favorite is the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Every time I am forced through there going to or coming home from Haiti, my list of reasons grows; most recent trip was no exception, sort of . . .
To be fair, I will admit I was especially tired on Saturday, October 28, both physically and emotionally. The truck ride from Les Anglais to Port au Prince usually takes between 7 and 9 hours, traffic depending. We left Les Anglais at 5:30 am Friday morning and did not arrive at our hotel in Port au Prince until just about 5:00pm, after literally creeping foot by foot for the final 3 1/2 hours of the trip in 95º heat with >90% humidity. Compounding the physical exhaustion, during clinic that week in Les Anglais, we lost a 9 month old baby girl to overwhelming sepsis, most likely caused by a vaccine- preventable illness. We have lost patients on nearly every trip for the past two years. The clinic administrator told me they are losing an average of one child per week right now. Those losses weigh heavy and long on this heart of mine.
In Ft. Lauderdale, getting through immigration and customs was relatively smooth, but then it was time to recheck my bags. I have grown accustomed to the moving target that is rechecking bags in Ft. Lauderdale, but this day, help was scarce and I saw not one sign directing folks towards American Airlines’ baggage recheck station. I went ahead to the terminal I knew I’d be flying from and found an elevator to go to the appropriate level for ticketing/ baggage/security/etc. I could not find the call button for the elevator. I know; I know. Ridiculous. I was just so tired. A man with airport uniform pushed the button while giving me the side-eye. I said something like, “Thank you (for pushing the call button). I know this has nothing to do with you. You are just doing your job. This airport is just really hard today.” His response, all side-eyed and snarky, “Especially when you’re this cranky, eh?” That’s when the tears began threatening.
I am a tender-heart. Always have been. I think of the snappy retort hours after a biting comment; wear my heart on my sleeve; yada yada yada. I recognize I should have thicker skin than I do much of the time, and that was definitely true on October 28. I take full ownership of this issue/flaw. I’m also working really hard on accepting myself as is and moving on. Self-loathing can be even more self-centered than the arrogance of a narcissist.
Getting through security was yet another cluster, the details of which I will spare you. By then, I just kinda felt like I was in a bad comedy. I sat down on one of the benches just past security to take a moment and collect myself. And that’s when the miracle started. A woman and her family were walking by, and she stopped, “Honey?,” she asked, “Are you okay? Can I get you some water or something?” I assured her I was fine just tired, and her family pulled her along. Sitting there, the tears came. Sometimes, I have to pray for the strength to keep them in. Sometimes I have to pray for the strength to let the tears come…
I was just trying to breathe.
There she was, again, gorgeous in a black and white dress with heels and bag coordinated, brown hair and skin perfectly done, nails manicured, coming up to tearful, disheveled, barely clean, come un-done, white me. How many barriers did she have to cross walking back to me? Perhaps, simply her embarrassed teenaged son? Dressed to travel well versus disheveled and pitiful? Skin color? I do not know. I want to honor her for being a Spirit whisper into an aching soul.
“Honey? God says you need a hug. May I give you a hug?” I nodded yes, and she wrapped me up in a Jesus-with-skin-on-hug, and it’s like a cool handkerchief patted my face dry. I told her thank you and that I was just tired and sad, and a little bit about the work and loss in Haiti. She looked at me right smack dabb in the eyes and said her son was embarrassed by her coming back to me, but she needed to tell me this: “You were born for this work. God said you were. Don’t give up.” She cupped my face with one hand, “From one angel to another, you press on,” and she bent down and hugged me again. I wished my shoes were off my feet because this was holy ground. I whispered, “Thank you. I will,” and she walked away.
One of the themes of my life is “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”. This work in Haiti? Yes, I was born for it. I have learned in countless ways that “poor” is relative, and the more I acknowledge my own poverty of spirit, the more broken I admit I am, the more I am met, face-to-face by the Christ who’s death and resurrection is the only tool possible for making a work of art out of my shards and pieces.
My gorgeous lady saw through the shaggy hair and unkempt clothes to a sister in need. Perhaps she had to really consider whether approaching a woman of a different race was worth all the risks the entailed.
Perhaps, though, those risks did not even register with her. It was later upon reflection that I realized all that her gentle approach might have required. Perhaps, all that registered with her was the Spirit’s gentle nudge in my direction, and she simply followed it. Isn’t that how the kingdom of heaven is supposed to work? Isn’t that what the kingdom is like…?
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field. Matthew 13:44
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3