Every year my heart pounds for our hometown Alpenfest Queen’s Pageant contestants during the impromptu question time. I still remember the question I drew when I ran a bazillion years back: “What does happiness mean to you?” I stammered an answer I’m sure was unintelligible.
Afterwards, my mom told me I should have said something like, “Happiness means not having to stand up here and answer this question.” I wish Mom could have answered for me.
I’ve pulled this Haiti post from the archives and edited it to respond to The High Calling’s request for stories about how to embrace the happy life even when life is broken.
We’re sitting on the guesthouse steps under a half moon and a thousand stars that glint like glass shattered across ebony.
Light and singing and laughter pour from the open door. A few team members wander up and down the drive in an attempt to snag a sliver of WiFi. Another’s having some quiet time down by the gazebo. We can hear the surf pound the rocks.
How different this is from a Saturday night in Port Au Prince where masses of humanity swarm narrow garbage-lined streets lit only by flickers from lanterns. Where vehicles stroke sides and Jesus buses hug crumbled curbs and horns pierce the dark.
“What has touched you the most so far?” I ask.
She’s barely twelve years old, and she doesn’t hesitate. “The joy all the kids at the orphanage have,” she says. “They have nothing, but they’re so happy.”
And I think yes, they have nothing, and yet they have everything.
The stories break my heart. A three-year-old (my Lillee’s age) girl shut out of her house and left to starve. A young boy with a (literally) broken heart whose mama died birthing him and whose papa was murdered. Kids orphaned by natural disaster. Another, covered with cigarette burns and cuts, rescued from a trash pile in the worst area of Port Au Prince (yet now destined for adoption.)
These are broken kids starved to know they matter.
And we are broken people who ache to do something that matters.
We weep over bowls of bean-dotted rice and dirty mattresses and for young ones whose treats are stolen. And we want to fix it all.
But we can’t.
Sometimes I think it’s we who need to be fixed.
“Why do you think they’re so happy?” I ask.
“Well, they don’t have electronics,” she says. “They don’t have a lot of stuff to distract them from God. At home we’re always on our electronics, and we’re too busy for God.”
And I think yes, we’re so easily distracted and dis-tracked.
A sweet little guy drags a makeshift pull toy through the dirt and up the steps of his house. Ivelor and I break chunks of chalk to draw flowers and trees and write names on concrete. Kids photo bomb a camera session with a couple chickens. Laughter and singing pours from one of the houses, and the brightness of the sun dazzles my eyes.
During worship I’m drawn to one voice, one face out of 200, and his joy in the song overwhelms me. My eyes brim, and I can no longer sing.
Your love is deeper than my view of grace
higher than this worldly place
Longer than this road I travel
Wider than the gap you fill.
Later he (he’s about 15) gives his testimony, and five boys (one with a team member’s camera dangling from his neck) accept Jesus, and DouDou tells them that this one moment is the most important of their lives.
The team talks about how trying to fix the brokenness is like trying to scoop out the ocean with a teaspoon.
It’s not really up to us, of course, to fix anything.
Our job is to just slow down and be present.
Even if it seems like we’re scooping out the ocean with only a teaspoon, each teaspoon is one teaspoon more. And each of us can do something with one teaspoon more. It could be simply that we drink it, become one with it. And in doing that, we enter each other’s stories to become part of a larger story.
So fixing happens in each of us.
One teaspoon at a time.
And that’s what happiness means to me.
So what does happiness mean to YOU?
In the stillness,