Eight years back, when I was just an 18 year old college student on the brink of adventure, I met Al and Lisa Gemmen. Lisa and I were both on a team of students headed to Romania for a few weeks. Al, Lisa's husband, was at the Grand Rapids airport to see her off. I remembered him because he was reading Blue Like Jazz, which I had recently read and stands as one of my favorite books.
We became good friends. We all took an Islamic studies class together. My best friend Sam and I stayed at the 'Gemmen Retreat Center' when we got tired of being on campus. I remember being excited to have found folks in West Michigan who were asking some of the same questions as me and just as excited about the Great Perhaps.
Over the years, we've stayed connected across states and countries, living mostly far a part, but sharing a heart for the broken, the lost, and the orphaned. They now have two boys, one of them adopted from Ethiopia. A few years ago, the Gemmen family found themselves in Miami, caring for a little Haitian girl named Sonia, who needed heart surgery and a home. They welcome Sonia into their home for the duration of her time in the States, knowing they would have to bring her back to God's Littlest Angels, the orphanage in Haiti. After the unbearable responsibility of bringing Sonia back to Haiti, Al and Lisa couldn't imagine their family without her. For over a year now, they've been on a long journey of adopting Sonia.
I absolutely love Al and Lisa's commitment to follow the pull of their hearts and the movement of the Master of the Universe in their lives. They are a testimony of faithfulness, patience, and willingness. Things haven't always worked out how they thought (how unusual) and their family has sometimes suffered because of it. It has been an adventure, for all of us. And I've loved the chance to walk through these adventures together.
A couple months ago, when Al and Lisa invited me to join their charity team of runners for the Riverbank Run in Grand Rapids, I balked at the idea of training for a 25K through the winter but jumped at the opportunity to
walk run alongside these friends of mine on another journey.
Together, we are running in support of God's Littlest Angels*, a home for orphaned children in Haiti, and their dear Sonia's temporary home. We are running to raise money for a new facility for the children at God's Littlest Angels. The earthquake in 2010 left a wave of destruction and loss in its path. As a precaution, the Haitian government limited the number of US adoptions to 240 per year. This means a lot more children are spending a lot more time in orphanages.
Sometimes I have a hard time with this because I'd rather that we didn't have to raise money for orphanages because we wouldn't need them because all the kids would be enfolded into families and communities. The same way I wish I didn't need to volunteer at the food pantry every month, because people would have enough food and neighbors and communities would make sure everyone had what they needed. But that's not the case. Yet. Hopefully, we're getting there. In the mean time, we need orphanages and food pantries and after-school programs. And those of us who are blessed to be able to give, need to support these efforts.
Haiti has been described as the 'land of unlimited impossibilities.' Making a difference in Haiti is un upward heave. A one step forward, two steps back kind of thing. It has become even harder for children like Sonia to find a home.
But I believe in transforming Haiti into a land of possibility and hope. I believe that God is a great provider and desires to see the world made whole. I also believe that even in our greatest struggle, even when our economy is heaving and hoeing, when our own jobs and families and homes are at risk, God enables us to give. God calls us to a place of even deeper generosity, to offer ourselves, our resources, and our ambitions.
This. This is why I run. Because when I am on that last mile and my legs are aching beneath me, and the Radiolab podcast is no longer distracting me from the burn in my muscles, and I just want to stop, something (someone) calls out from deep within me to 'go on.'
Like a whisper. 'You can do it. Go on. You can. You have been created with a purpose and you have been called good. Go on.'
It is for Sonia, for that whisper deep within me, for the ache in my bones that reminds me that I live and I am able. It is why I run. And it is how we can make a difference, together.
On May 11, just three short weeks from today, we'll stand at the starting line, staring ahead at 25K, armed with weeks of training and stretching and new shoes, knowing that together, we can.**
**If you'd like to join me in making a difference and support our team, visit my giving page and make a donation today: http://www.teamgla.org/jessica. Sonia and her amigos at GLA thank you.
*Read more about God's Littlest Angels at www.godslittlestangelsinhaiti.org.