Stephanie

Becoming a Friend to Stephanie

It’s an ordinary weekday afternoon at the Lighthouse, and Stephanie and Odette are preparing rice for when the kids return from school. I pull up a chair next to Stephanie as she grates coconut into a large metal bowl.

My eyes rest upon her face. Despite the trials life has dealt her, she remains one of the most radiantly beautiful women I know. But today, she looks defeated. The joy has left her eyes and I can tell something is heavy on her heart.

I carefully pose a few questions out of concern for this woman, a woman I regard as my friend. She lifts her tired eyes to meet mine and gently tells me that she only shares the personal details of her life with her friends, those who are intentional in taking the time to know her deeply. 

She is gracious to me in the way she words her response, but I understand the implication, that I am undeserving of the privilege to know those intimate details because I have failed to give value to our relationship.

Those words stick with me and even a year later, still linger in my mind. Yes, Stephanie is technically my employee and I am technically her boss, but I see her as so much more than that. She has challenged me not only to redefine the way I view our relationship with one another, but also my relationships with the other three women who are employed at our home.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take Nellie, Erlange, Stephanie, and Odette to the beach as a way to express my gratitude and appreciation for their labor. Though they live only an hour down the coast, for two of these women, it is their first time ever visiting a beach resort. We swim, sip on fresh juice and enjoy a Haitian meal together. It fills me with joy to sit together with them at the table and watch them be served by others. 

The Lighthouse women at the beach

poolside

But my most cherished moment of the day is one shared with Stephanie.

When she hops into the back of the truck that morning, I notice she is donning a beaded choker-style necklace, one I have never seen before. I comment on how beautiful it looks on her and how much I like it. She shares with me that she purchased it in the market the day before yesterday.

Mid-morning, as we are chatting in the pool, I ask her if I can give her money so she can buy me one the next time she goes.

But rather than agreeing, she unlatches the one around her own neck and gives it to me.

I try to convince her to keep it and she could just buy me another one, but she refuses. She tells me it is her pleasure because she loves me and I am her friend.

The memory from a year earlier flashes in my mind, and I know that in this moment her words are sincere, because she gives to me out of what little she has. She clasps the necklace around my neck and assures me it makes me look beautiful.

Stephanie and Lauren

I constantly thank these women for not only their hours of service, but for the love they pour into the Lighthouse. I remind them that God knew exactly who the Lighthouse kids would need, exactly who I would need, at exactly the right time, and I can honestly say the state of the home has never been better. I credit the four of them with much of that.

I am humbled to not only call them employees, but beloved friends and sisters in Christ.

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 Richmond, Virginia. Check out her photography at www.laurenneal.com.