My Greatest Adventure: Lauren prepares to say goodbye

Four years ago, I was preparing to embark on a journey for which, looking back, I could have never prepared. I was anxious, nervous, excited and expectant. I distinctly remember the heaviness in my heart leading up to the day of my departure, feeling significantly less than adequate to uphold the responsibility I was about to embrace. Who was I to take on such a task? Who was I that God would use me?

Some days, I am overwhelmed that four years could have passed so quickly. Didn’t I just arrive? And yet others, I feel as if it has been a lifetime, each year marked by new victories and different challenges, years that built me and years that broke me. I scroll through the photos on my Instagram feed, my personal journal, reminiscing on moments of beauty even in the midst ofthe darkness, and all of the memories begin to flood my mind.

A couple of weeks ago, we sat around the table in the bakery at the Caribbean market, arguably the nicest grocery store in Haiti, celebrating Anne Marie’s fifteenth year of life over good sandwiches and extra cheesy pizza. In the midst of ordering food, tallying drinks and selecting the perfect birthday cake, I observed the kids at a distance, cherishing this moment as my time with them draws to a close. The kids have grown up before my eyes, because before me were not children, but young adults, teenagers, each navigating their own journeys, battling their own obstacles, and figuring out who they will become.

I watched them, with pride, knowing and understanding that life will certainly look a lot different without them. It will be devoid of much stress, anxiety and worry as my day-to-day will no longer be consumed by meeting the needs often dependent kids. There will be no more knocks on my door in the early hours of the morning, no more incessant, very non-urgent phone calls that definitely could have waited, no more jealousy or anger or bitterness over who receives more of my attention, no more drama, constant nagging, questions, requests or demands.

All of the things that drive me crazy, that have pushed me beyond my level of patience, will be gone.

 

And yet, I will miss it. I will miss all of it. Because even in all of that which wears on me, which makes me tired, I will miss this crazy life with them. I will miss being called Mama Lolo. I will miss going back and forth with Anne Marie, calling each other sweet names until we run out of them.

I will miss Bony’s tender heart and the way he and Fedner challenge one another in picking me up off the ground. I will miss Robenson’s demeanor, his soft, gentle voice and the way he never gets angry.

I will miss Kimberly’s mood swings, and the way she always forgives when someone wrongs her. I will miss Peterson’s hugs and the way he grabs on so tightly and buries his head into my side, just like he did years ago, when he was just a little boy. I will miss Johnny’s wit, and how he always seems to have a joke ready at the most perfect time.

I will miss Lovely, and how she is just that, lovely, even on those typical teenage girl days. I will miss Ricardo’s smile and the way he grabs my hand when I walk through the gate, and always, always asks to call his brother on my phone. I will miss Adriano and his very unique love for animals, a love quite rare in a country like Haiti. And even though he has since left, I will miss Gervens. I will miss visiting his home, hearing his fingers grace the keyboard, watching him interact with his parents, and witnessing his strength, a strength that had been hidden for so many years.

As we ate together, Fedner to my right, annoying me like always, I couldn’t help but feel only gratitude and joy. To love this group has been my greatest adventure. And as I reflect on the time we have spent together, the ways in which I have changed, the mistakes I have made, I thank God for allowing me the privilege and the honor of being a small part of their stories.

Who am I that God would have used me? I am just a broken human. And after all of this time, I have realized that I have not changed Haiti, but rather Haiti has changed me.

As I prepare to leave in December, as I begin to share with my beloved friends who have become my family that I will be moving on, I am truly overwhelmed to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. Haiti, I cannot explain you in words because you are miserable and wonderful all at the same time. I am forever changed by you.

Lauren Neal is the director of the Lighthouse Children’s Home. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Lauren went on her first missions trip with JiHM when she was 15. She moved to Haiti in December 2013. Lauren is finishing up her degree in psychology from Liberty University.