Who knew that Canada has a different day for Thanksgiving? I really didn’t know that. And it took me moving to Haiti to figure that out. Apparently in the same fashion that dialects and cultures change (a modern day example), so did the Canadians change the day of Thanksgiving. Or it may have been the US that changed it. I really don’t know.

But I do know that I grew up cutting out paper cornucopias in school and learning about how Pocahontas celebrated Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims. I love Thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday. I love the time together with family and being reminded to reflect on the grace that God gives us, every single day. I love the football and parades, the fun and the naps. In my opinion, it is our culture and cuisine and country at its finest hour, even with those potentially awkward extended family interactions that can accompany it (read this for some sound advice on that.) All of that said, I hadn’t given much thought to how Thanksgiving is strictly a North American (even though the Canadians changed it) holiday. That is, I hadn’t thought much about it until celebrating Thanksgiving in Haiti last year.

But then it got me thinking, and asking questions. And with Thanksgiving right around the corner, I started pondering all of this again.

Basically, everyone gets a turkey because they fall out of the sky.The first thing I learned is that many Haitians believe that in the US, once a year, on Thanksgiving day, all of the turkeys that are flying around (I have never even seen a turkey fly) all across the country suddenly descend to the ground and submit to be eaten. Basically, everyone gets a turkey because they fall out of the sky. That’s a crazy belief, but when you think about it, it is not that far from the truth. Almost every American (except for our vegetarian friends) does get a turkey that, though unwillingly, submits to being cooked and eaten on the same day all across the country.

I have also found that Haitians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Thursday is not a holiday here, so I may just be missing from the office after about noon this Thursday. Haitians though do know that it is a holiday in the US (who wouldn’t declare a holiday if turkeys were dropping out of the sky?) and the day is aptly translated from Creole as “Turkey Party.” They would however celebrate it in Haiti if the turkeys were dropping from the sky here too.

I’ve also been thinking about what it means to give thanks, wrestling what I have traditionally thought it means, compared to what deep thanksgiving should be. I assume that in reading this blog, and being reminded of Haiti, it would be easy to thank God for all that he has given to you and to me. For the food he gives to eat and the health we live with. I think that is good. And everything we have is a gift from our Father who provides. But I think that stopping there misses the entire point. Let me explain…

Honestly, this is uncomfortable for me to even wrestle with, because I am reminded of friends of mine here in Haiti. One of my friends recently told me he hadn’t eaten in two weeks. He had told me we had not seen each other in 16 days, and I didn’t know how he knew that, but when that time coincides with your last meal, you can count the days that have passed much more specifically. And while I thank Jesus that I can’t think of a time I have involuntarily missed two consecutive meals any time in my life, this is hard to do wholeheartedly when real friends share the real hardships of life. Other friends know people who have died unexpectedly from treatable Cholera, or we have friends who are still living in tents from an earthquake 11 months ago. These stories are not just isolated to Haiti. People all around the world have similar stories, as I sleep every night with a full stomach in a bed, in a room, with electricity, windows, doors, and a roof.

So this Thanksgiving, I will be thanking God for the gifts he has given me, for the food I get to eat, and for the home I get to sleep in. He gave us all of those things, and he deserves our gratitude. But I think we have to be very careful. This gratitude can easily turn to arrogance, feeling like we deserve the blessings we are thankful for, and in turn – seeing it from the Haitian side of the proverbial fence – this can be very demeaning to those people who do not have the same comforts.

So, with this awareness, may all of our gratitude come from deeply thankful hearts, and may it make us ever more humble.

We don’t have to be in the US (or Canada) or discussing Pilgrims to live out and celebrate this redemption with gratitude.I say all of this to say, our real thanksgiving is only real thanksgiving when fixed on what God has really done for all of us in giving us Jesus, so that he could give us hope, atonement, redemption, blessing, joy, and life. We can’t do anything to earn these gifts, and all we can do is give God our heart of thanksgiving. All arrogant entitlement to blessing should then fade away. Every one, regardless of what country they are from, where they sleep, or how much food they eat, can thank God for his real gifts, and can then live out a life of humble thanksgiving in response to the grace we have been given. That is real Thanksgiving, and we don’t have to be in the US (or Canada) or discussing Pilgrims to live out and celebrate this redemption with gratitude.

And I thank God for my Haitian friends who have taught me that.

me (Jay) lining up a free kick (I didn't score)
I have some favorite times of the year. For example, I love it when the weather changes and it gets cold (this does not happen in Haiti) or when football season starts. I love when the days are long during the summer. I, of course, love holidays and when school gets out for the summer. And that “favorite time” feeling is multiplied exponentially once every 4 years during the World Cup, which is especially fun to watch in a country that loves soccer as much as Haiti.

So, needless to say, I was noticeably excited when our site became a World Cup training facility a few weeks ago. This was not for the standard World Cup, but for many reasons, I was even more excited; we were hosting the Haitian National Amputee Soccer Team as they trained for the Amputee World Cup in Argentina – which I did not even know existed – and which this team was passionately training for. By hosting the team, we opened up our Inpatient Ward Hospital Tent, provided meals for them, and provided transportation for them to the local soccer field twice a day for practice. The accommodations were far from spectacular, but the team was contagiously grateful, and we were all excited.

I was intrigued by how amputees play soccer, as you may be too, so let me break it down: They play with mostly all of the same rules as regular soccer. They do not play with a prosthetic leg, but instead they play with crutches. These crutches, though they don’t have built-in pogo sticks, seem to be launching the players as they sprint around the field. Each player only has one leg, with the exception of the goalie, who has only one arm.

During the week, we formed a team of Americans play the Haitians in their first “international friendly” match. Our US side struggled our way to a tie, 2-2, thanks to the help of the visiting (if slightly aging) and agile team from Watermark Community Church in Dallas, in what will be remembered as one of the most fun games of soccer I have ever played. In the process I became a huge fan of the amputee team. I tracked them as they travelled to Argentina, where, though they were defeated by competition that had been practicing together much longer, they emerged as icons of victory, as earthquake victims who have fought for survival and live with great joy.

I wish I could capture the joy on their faces as we spent the week with them. They attended our church service and we prayed for them. We laughed together, and truly thanked them for spending the week with us, even as they kept thanking us. I hope to get to play some more soccer with them soon, and they are now working to raise awareness to create an amputee soccer league in Haiti.

As we spent the week together, we started to learn their stories. Some of them were pre-quake amputees, but many had lost their limbs during the earthquake, and mostly all of them had stories that amaze me, with joy that infected me.

It is pretty cool to get to see them practice, which you can see in this piece that TIME made about the team after we hosted the training camp. The only disclaimer I have here is in regards to the title of the video, as many of the players I talked to had not found their hope in soccer, but out of humility, already had their hope for today and tomorrow set in Jesus.

Now that you know about this incredible team, start training and then come on down to Haiti and let’s try to go play another match with our World Cup friends. You just may experience the most fun soccer game of your life.

both teams recovering after the match
My heart is literally overflowing with joy right now.  A few blogs back, I shared with you all how an entire tent city was blown away from a tropical sand storm.  In that tent city were about 30 of our amputee patients; more than that, I am blessed to call these beautiful people my friends.  Thankfully, they were taken care of right after the storm, and given more temporary shelter.  After talking to many of them on the phone that night, the storm was nothing to them.  Sure, their houses blew away and they lost a few of their things, but it was nothing compared to the earthquake.  Haitians were strong before the earthquake.  Now, they persevere like you wouldn’t believe.

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier for anyone in my whole life than I am right now for these friends.  Thanks to a mission called Love a Child, every single handicapped person in that tent city has been given a BEAUTIFUL three room house, with a beautiful wooden kitchen table, a queen bed, and a bunk bed.  
Let me tell you HOW PROUD they are of these houses!  I had the chance to go visit all of my friends there today, and I literally cannot describe how fun it was.  Hope was restored, as finally, almost a year after the earthquake, they have a solid roof over their heads.  Life is somewhat normal now, and many of them were saying how they were ready to work again.  So many of them were walking around on their prosthetic legs, which made me feel like a proud mama!  At one point, I saw Solandine, the 5 year old patient we had come through a few months ago, RUNNING around, literally, playing with friends.  It was incredible.  (She was the first patient I’ve seen run yet!)

Thank you Jesus.

Now I’m even more excited for Mission of Hope to build homes for displaced people in our area, which they’ll start doing in just a few weeks.

Here's a few more pictures from today:  

We recently returned to Haiti from a trip to the US and it is sweet to be back “home.” Every time we make the trip, I notice many distinct, and obvious differences between the two worlds. And I try to process and reconcile the differences, wanting to understand the causes for them, and the problems they cause.

There are, of course, the general expected differences, that though seem simple, still amaze me. Basically, I am still blown away by the presence of common luxuries in the US—and how normal they feel to me—and by the lack of them in Haiti. These are things like stoplights, lined roads, sidewalks, public parks, garbage trucks, forests, trash cans, drinkable shower water, fast internet, good (or rather, any) sushi, clean air, good sanitation, fat pets, the idea of pets, working cars, no reconnaissance helicopters, free education, etc. And when trying to process the difference, I realize the privilege of American life, and the tough road along which Haitians walk. However, I think I am now used to being amazed, and saddened, by the disparity.

But this last time I was in the US, I found myself shocked—truly shocked—by something different. I realized that I had—in the course of a couple of weeks—completely forgotten about a part of life that is so evident in Haiti, and which should be in the US too: brokenness.

I was talking to a dear friend of mine, Ruben (see Ruben), who was in Haiti and was telling me how one of his friends had called because that friend’s daughter had just died of Cholera. She was 5. And his friend was broken. Thus so was Ruben. And then so was I. And it slammed me. I was sitting at a Starbucks, reading the newspaper, sipping an iced-pumpkin-spice-latte and felt shocked by pain. I was then stunned that I had forgotten so quickly, how truly broken this planet is. And this brokenness is present everyday on Earth. Everywhere.

In Haiti, stories of brokenness abound. In the US, brokenness abounds too, but I had fallen into a mode of forgetting about it. And yet we are born into a broken world, where sadness is real, pain pierces, and hearts hurt. Ignoring it doesn’t eliminate it, but avoiding makes it impossible empathize with anyone, and it makes me forget how needy I am too.

I think that regardless of how people handle it, everyone’s life is lived out of brokenness. And apart from grace, it is impossible to handle brokenness well. Still, in Haiti, it seems to be easier to see it as clear and present. Or maybe it is just harder to hide it here. But when I was in the US, I saw how easy it is to forget that life is broken, even though every American has a broken story too. Somehow, the comforts of seeing garbage trucks, drinking shower water and walking fat pets seem to make me forget about how broken the world we live in is.

I am acutely aware of my tendency to avoid pain and brokenness. I saw this past week how quickly I do that. And I hope to learn to embrace brokenness, and to live out of that. Because I believe that when we do, true hope, deep joy, and real life become all the more precious and sweet.