At the table

Everyone gathers around the table, the one we’ve gathered around a thousand times before. Traditional Haitian dishes await us—fried and barbecued chicken, rice and beans, fried plantains, pasta salad, pikliz. It’s a beautiful spread of food, no doubt. And it’s been so long since we’ve done this. It’s been so long that we’ve all been together. Lovely squeezes my right hand as I look at all the faces, children who grew up right in front of my eyes and I begin to realize that time is even more fleeting than I once perceived. 


Just a few days prior to this particular moment, I find myself sitting at the dining room table with Scindie as we reflect on this current season we find ourselves in—that same dining room table we had built because we needed one longer. I look at the walls where framed portraits of the kids still hang, portraits that are a few years old now. Four to be exact. There are now cracks in the glass, some of the frames are crooked, some completely upside down. Yet, they’re all still there, each and every one of them. 

And suddenly, a flood of memories washes over me like the crash of a wave I wasn’t expecting. In the fours years since those nails were hammered and those frames were hung, much has changed. Eleven kids once lived under this roof and now, only seven remain. 

“There are no longer kids in this house. Only adults,” I joke with a tinge of sincerity. Scindie laughs in response. We understand what the other is thinking without exchanging words. 

It’s bittersweet, watching these kids grow up. The youngest I’ve known since he was two years old. In April, he’ll turn fourteen. Sometimes, I feel like a failure, like I should have stayed throughout this trying season of adolescence. But I know in my heart that I could have done nothing to change the circumstances of teenage life in Haiti. 

Life here is simply hard. When you visit for a week, you see the joy and you might think that it outweighs the sorrow. But when you have the opportunity to sit, to listen, and to learn, you will quickly realize that those smiles cannot always mask the pain. That their “gratitude and their joy for the little they have” is only what you see on the surface. In reality, the level of suffering here is beyond comprehension. 

When I look at these photos, I see stories of redemption but I also see stories of struggle shared, of trust broken and of hurt inflicted. I verbalize aloud to Scindie my disappointment, not in anyone but myself. 

Did we do everything right? Certainly not. But did we try our best? I’d like to think so. 

We have spent so many years with the kids at the Lighthouse. We have celebrated with them, grieved alongside of them, and honestly, just navigated life with them, picking up the pieces of the puzzle along the way. We’ve made mistakes but we’ve pressed forward because sometimes, that’s all you can do. And we choose to trust God to fill in where we have fallen.


January 2020

As we gather around the table, all of us, those who have since left and those who have stayed, I do feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude, not for anything we’ve done but for what this represents. 

Each of these kids will eventually move out and move on. I’d like to think we will always stay in touch. But even if we don’t, these memories will forever remain. Years of life stitched together for reasons I haven’t yet quite figured out. And each of these kids (okay, maybe young adults) has a unique story to write. No, not all will end in happy endings but I don’t think that’s what God ever has planned. He doesn’t always promise happiness but He does promise that he will never forsake us. And I see this tangibly in this group that stands before me. Even if we are all only together for this brief moment, it is enough to remind me that He has been and continues to be faithful. 

We bless the food and give thanks for this small reunion, enjoying each other’s company once again. Because it is not our stuff or our possessions we should feel gratitude for after visiting a place like Haiti. Rather, it is the gift of relationship and of love that God so freely gives us; that he would allow us to be in community with one another through barriers of language and culture and distance; and finally, that he promises us the hope of what is already secured. 

After falling in love with Haiti on her first visit in 2007, Lauren Neal served as director of the Lighthouse Children’s Home from 2013–2017. Lauren currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio. Check out her photography at www.laurenneal.com.