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Archive for January, 2012

Hot and Cold in Haiti

This is my bathroom sink at home. Last night, returning from a mission trip to Haiti, I got to turn two handles – and get two temperatures of water. Clean water. Plus my first hot shower in a week.

In Haiti, by and large, you get one handle that works. If you even have a sink. And clean water comes in plastic containers.

After a week there on a construction project, my mind and heart are swirling with so many thoughts and impressions that I hardly know where to begin. So, let’s start with something we in first-world countries take for granted (I certainly do). Water.

As you drive around Haiti (warning: driving in Haiti can be hazardous to your sanity. I can’t even begin to describe what it’s like on those roads…!) you’ll see trucks with little plastic containers of drinkable water for sale. You’ll see large jugs and small bottles of water (hopefully clean), and 5 gallon pails being toted around on top of people’s heads, on donkeys, on motorcycles…what you won’t see are nice bathrooms, drinking fountains, or sparkling reservoirs.

Our normal would be Haiti’s top 0.00001%. I made that number up. But I’ll bet it’s close. Haiti is poor in a way that we barely comprehend in “first-world” countries.

Haiti is in the Caribbean. When I think of that part of the world, I think of beautiful blue water and lush, tropical beaches. In Cap Haitien, near where I was staying, there’s a spot called bottle beach. Guess what it looks like. Now envision a landscape where trash is thrown aside everywhere, and almost never collected.

Rough on the eyes. And not so good for the water.

Take a look at this picture. This is the backside of an outhouse – you don’t want to see the inside. Do you and I have a bathroom today with hot and cold water, a flushing toilet, and lights that go on and off? I don’t know about you, but I take that for granted. Or, I did.

Haiti is about daily survival. It’s a land with a paucity of infrastructure, few opportunities, little productive and long-term work, and scarce natural resources. It’s a land where life is eked out. If it weren’t for the mission groups and other charity organizations that continually come in to put in wells, build buildings, support schools, and provide medical care, there’s no telling what life would be like. And yet…this is normal for residents in Haiti. They cope. They make do. They improvise.

Our first-world problems seem pretty miniscule in comparison.

Despite the tragic living conditions, there is something about Haiti that wraps itself around your heart. You see the little children – some with barely any clothes – and they are just like kids anywhere (yes, they loved the give-me-five-then-take-my-hand-away-trick, as every kid does!) You see warm smiles and hear laughter. You wonder about the potential of this nation and its people, and what it would take to move it from a continual state of need and desperation to something better. You realize that with great difficulty comes great opportunity to love, even if it seems like a tiny drop of water in a desert of need. As far out of my comfort zone as Haiti is, I want to go back again someday.

And I have to wonder if one of those kids, privileged to be in an orphanage or a school, is going to grow up to be the one who leads Haiti into better days. Maybe one of the very ones who clung to my neck in a wonderfully-run home for orphans, or got up in unison to say “bonjour!” when the visitors from America came into the classroom.

I was slightly surprised last evening when I was on the plane back to Newark, and using the faucet in the little bathroom to wash up, I felt hot water running over my hands. Perhaps in a few weeks, that will seem normal again. I kinda hope it doesn’t, though.

As I have opportunity, I’ll try to write up some other reflections, but for now, let me close with this. If you are one of those discontent with America, if you whine about being the 99%, I’d challenge you to spend a week or two Occupying Haiti. You’ll quickly realize what percentage group you really belong in. Smell the burning trash. Watch the mangy dogs by the side of the road. See the crumbling buildings. Experience how water and electricity can be unpredictably optional. And talk to the people, who still somehow seem to make the best of it.

We – you and I – have it good here. This is a day for gratitude, not complaining. When we sip that coffee and turn that faucet and open that full refrigerator, remember – we are privileged beyond belief.

And it can be our privilege to help others.

P.S. for those visiting Steve’s Free for the first time (Welcome!), this is my little-known personal blog. Most of my marketing/branding/business writings are over at Connection Agent, and my pharma ramblings are at Impactiviti, if that’s what you’re into…

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For or Against

For those who love the Lord, the answer is quite simple. “If God be for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Case closed. God is for us.

But what about those times when His hand seems to be against us? When a job is lost, a child is sick, a parent dies, a cloud of mental illness descends – has God changed His disposition?

Faith embraces the promise, and sees past the circumstance. God being for us means that He remains on our side, and by our side, through the inevitable rough patches that are designed for our (ultimate) good.

In other words, God’s heart is for us even when, to our puny vision, it seems like His hand is against us. We cannot read His heart by the events of today, or tomorrow. We know His heart by His Word

If Tim Tebow helps his team win a football game, does that mean God is for him – but then when the Denver Broncos are blown out by the New England Patriots, as they were this weekend – is God any less for him?

Nonsense. God is just as much for Tim Tebow if he has a successful 15-year career, or if he suffers a catastrophic injury and never plays again.

Just as He is for you, child of God, when life has more rocks and thorns than clear, wide paths.

Today, put the Word in front of your mind and say, “God is for me.” Then, put all your troubling circumstances in a pile and say it again.

Be grateful that you are not among those who reject His love, who set themselves against Him, and who do not know the comfort of a God who is for them.

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The Attractive Woman

I’m a guy, growing up as one of four brothers, and I have five boys. I also have a wonderful wife who has been my companion for over 30 years. I can’t give you much input on fashion or hairstyles, but perhaps I can give you a more sturdy perspective about attractiveness from a man who sees beyond skin deep.

I’ve had three thoughts about female beauty rattling around in my head of late, and I’ll just throw them out there. Maybe one of them will touch you.

1. First, regarding young ladies: Aspire to be pretty, according to how Pat Archibold describes it in this post (go ahead, read it and come back. I’ll wait…). Yes, it means being counter-cultural. And this is one time, gals, when you need to have some cojones and respect yourself enough to be something other than a commodity.

2. Secondly, for you women who are older: There is immense beauty in vibrant character. Trying to return to your teens is, frankly, unseemly. Your wisdom, life experience, and proven loyalty impart a different kind of beauty than any amount of makeup can. Being smart, hard-working, kind, and comfortable in your own skin brings a more enduring beauty than model-looks.

3. And, while we’re talking models, don’t buy into the current size zero skinny fad. Are you kidding me? Speaking from the male perspective, curves have never gone out of style. Aspiring to weigh as much as a 16-year-old Olympic gymnast is really foolish. Curves are good. <—-Trust me on this one (also, I will tell you something that remains utterly true: when you are pregnant, you really are radiantly beautiful). I’m not saying that letting yourself balloon into obesity is attractive, but you might be surprised how many women can rock the house in clothing sizes that go past one digit.

As a father, I talk to my boys about the various girls/women that cross their path. Fortunately, they have a rare example of female beauty in their mother – and they know it. They can see the shallowness that surrounds them, and I’ve got to say – if you aspire to real beauty and character, you may not have a lot of competition out there anymore! I know what I want to see in a daughter-in-law – self-respect, smarts, appropriate modesty, a strong backbone, and solid character. Hot chicks are a dime a dozen. Real women are rare jewels.

Be one.

P.S. for those visiting Steve’s Free for the first time (Welcome!), this is my little-known personal blog. Most of my marketing/branding/business ramblings are over at Connection Agent, if that’s what you’re into…

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Compatibility

Reading this morning in Genesis 24, about the “finding” of Rebekah as a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac (a wonderful story if you’ve never read it before!), I was struck by the importance of compatibility – and by the remarkable providence of God in bringing together a man and woman to carry out His redemptive purposes.

Abraham had moved away from his  hometown, into the land of Canaan – the Promised Land. But he did not want his son to marry one of the local chicks. He sensed that this would be incompatible with God’s purposes, and a bad match for his son. So he sent his servant back to his home country, trusting that God would lead him to just the right woman for Isaac (He did).

It wasn’t enough to find some woman of outward beauty, or of inherited wealth. To be blunt, those are a dime a dozen in any era. No, Isaac was to have a wife with whom he could be one in soul and spirit. And Abraham sent his servant to fish in the most likely waters.

Today marks the birthday of my bride, a New Year’s baby, whom I met in 1979 in a gathering of like-minded people who were seeking to grow in their faith together. While there was certainly physical attraction a-plenty, we connected on a much deeper level, becoming friends first, and later maturing into a sense that each of us was a half, incomplete without the other.

As God brought Rebekah to Isaac, so He brought Sandy to me. What’s the secret to a long and happy marriage? Well, there are many, but today, let’s point to something right at the foundation, something that has to be right at the very beginning.

Compatibility. If your souls are in sync, you can have great hope that your lives will be in sync.

It’s worth being very, very picky. And, like Abraham’s servant, praying that God will direct your steps.

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