Friday, August 31, 2012

August Gilmore Gazette: Gilmores move into new season

Dear Family & Friends,

We find ourselves at a crossroads once again. We have completed a year of mission work with Christian Friendship Ministries splitting our time between Pignon, Haiti and Fresno, California where we have been sharing about the ministry, building new partnerships and raising funds for special projects. We have been very prayerful on this journey. Our hearts desire is to follow God every step of the way and not run ahead of His plans. We continue to feel confident that God has called our family to this ministry in Haiti for the long haul. However, we see that our role is going to be traveling back and forth from Pignon to Fresno (especially during the summers) rather than living in Haiti full time. One of the main reasons we do not feel we should live in Haiti full time is that we see the dependency on American missionaries and non-profits. Our long-term vision is to continue to offer a hand up rather than a handout to Haitians.

For the last two years, we have tried to raise financial support for our family's needs so that we can continue focusing on Christian Friendship Ministries and Haiti. At this point, we see a need for Ericlee to work part-time during the school year to supplement our family income. We have lost several financial supporters in recent months and we now have a family of five to support. For several years, Ericlee has worked at Crossfit Combat Fitness gym in Fresno. This has been a great opportunity to make connections with people and share about what God is doing in Haiti. Ericlee desires to continue working a few hours a week at the gym coaching classes. Ericlee is also launching his own personal training business this fall using the facility at Crossfit Combat Fitness. We pray this will enable us to continue the partnership we have with the owner, Erik Traeger, as well as generate the additional money our family needs.

We want to be clear with all of you. Ericlee's goal is to work a minimum of 20 hours a week for Christian Friendship Ministries and 20 hours a week as a coach/trainer. His focus while in the United States will be fostering more partnerships with local churches and businesses, organizing 6 fitness fundraisers to help with the needs of the Haitian schools, and leading the board for the non-profit. This year Dorina will be giving most of her energy to caring for our three girls. She will also be working on marketing and coordinating the many volunteers needed for The Haitian Bead Project. This past year the project has grown from 10 artisans to almost 60 working in the Northern mountains of Haiti.

We ask each of you to pray specifically for balance for our family as we are moving into a new season with different roles. We also would like to invite you to partner with us. We are still in need of financial support. We lack $500-$1,000 monthly to pay our bills because of inconsistency in giving. We recognize not everyone can give financially but many can offer their time. We need volunteers to help with our fundraisers. We are also looking for people to help host Haitian Bead Project jewelry events in their homes, churches or workplaces or give a helping hand in preparing supplies for the artisans.

Six teams of rowers competed raising money for Haiti's schools at Crossfit Combat Fitness gym in Fresno.

We want to celebrate some of the things God is doing in our midst. Ericlee and our friend Tanner Munro organized the first "Rowing for Resources" Row-a-thon in August at Crossfit Combat Fitness. There was a great response for this event raising $2,500 for Haiti's schools. We also started up training for our 3rd Annual Remember Haiti Half Marathon team. We have 22 runners/walkers including us!

Our Meilani also just started first grade a few weeks ago. She is attending the Valley Arts & Sciences Academy, a charter school in Fresno. Her teacher, Mrs. White, is a Christian. We are finding a new family rhythm as we have to get Meilani off to school each morning. Dorina will also be leading the In His Steps Bible study group at our church this fall. She is looking forward to diving into the book of James through Beth Moore's study called "Mercy Triumphs."

Our oldest, Meilani, just started first grade this year at the Valley Arts & Science Academy in Fresno.
We can't express to you enough how grateful we are for each one of you. Thank you for your continued prayers and words of encouragement on this journey!

Saying Yes to God,
Ericlee, Dorina, Meilani, Giada and Zayla

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

When life is full of goodbyes

My heart is tired.

For the last three weeks, I have been saying goodbye to so many people I love. After a while all those goodbyes start to take a toll on the soul. I can only stuff down the sadness and the tears and the longing for so long before they spill over.

Our parade of goodbyes started in Haiti. We concluded our nine weeks of living in Pignon and serving with Christian Friendship Ministries. In those final days, I finished up my last meetings with the ladies of The Haitian Bead Project. Over time those women in Pignon and Savanette became my community. And that's saying a lot considering how we started. We went to some hard places together and persevered to see reconciliation, even progress.

I remember sitting in a circle on the last Thursday with our new group of Savanette artisans. These ladies (pictured below) were truly an embodiment of joy for me. I started from scratch with them in May: teaching them how to form the beads from strips of recycled cardboard, talking through our business model and values, pouring over the Bible together in search of wisdom and truth.

On our last day there was no breeze, no rain. Our faces glistened with sweat. We shared melting chocolate truffles (brought from a friend in the U.S.) and joked in Kreyol. One by one they sent me off with hugs and heartfelt gratitude. We said goodbye but it was accompanied by a "see you soon."

That weekend our family had many other visitors at the mission house in Pignon. Friends brought goodbye gifts - roasted cashews, pineapples from their gardens, hand-scrawled letters. Some asked us to leave behind flashlights, batteries, shoes or other items that are expensive to buy in Haiti.

Our sweet friend Dartiquenov came to offer a helping hand with the baby while I cleaned the house and strategically packed our suitcases for the journey back to California. This summer he was like a dad/grandpa for my family. We joked about getting him in the suitcase too. He kept telling me how he would weep for days when we left.

My kids, too, were preparing their hearts to leave their friends. Over those nine weeks the kids at the orphanage next door had become their siblings. Meilani, who is now 6, burst into tears on Sunday night before bed. "I don't want to leave," she whimpered. I let her cry and kick, rubbed her sun-tanned shoulders. "It's ok to cry," I whispered.

We talked about how exciting it would be to see Nana and Papa, Nama and Grandpa and all our friends in Fresno again. We tried to ease the pain with thinking about the future.

On the Saturday before we left Haiti, we went to go visit our dear friend Madame Degloire (Degwa) in the hospital. She is another Haitian friend who has become like family to us. She started working as a cook for Ericlee's grandma and grandpa at age 16. Through the years, she has welcomed teams of American friends who have visited the mission in Pignon. She has prayed for Ericlee since he was born. She has been a close friend to Ericlee's mom and even befriended my own mom a few years ago when she started coming to Haiti. She was the master chef for our engagement dinner 10 years ago when we returned from the Citadel where Ericlee proposed. No one - I mean no one - makes Haitian rice and beans the way she does.

She was a grandma to our girls. Meilani spent many hours this summer in the back kitchen helping Madame Degloire dig through beans and arrange vegetables. She has been a mother-mentor-friend in so many ways. How she loved Jesus and showed it every day in her actions. A year ago a bad infection resulted in the need to amputate her leg. She suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure.

When we saw her in the hospital bed that day, I knew deep in my gut it would be the last time. I was so grateful for the chance to pray with her. She had a look of recognition on her face when I squeezed her sweaty hand. My Giada and Meilani neared her bed and bowed their heads too.

Monday afternoon in the airport in Fort Lauderdale en route to California we received word from her youngest son (Ericlee's godson) that she died. Another goodbye. A hole in my heart. What a legacy she left behind. I imagine she's up in heaven right now cooking up a massive pot of rice and beans for Grandma and Grandpa Bell and all the angels. We will see her one day.

Last week my sister, niece and nephew met us in Fresno for a week of family time. They had already planned their trip to California but in the midst of it we also had to make a trek to the Bay Area for my uncle Erwin's funeral. He died at 52. This seemed an early goodbye. A goodbye we certainly were not expecting. We remembered his jokes, his laughter, his love for the barbecue.

Parting is always such sweet sorrow, they say.

On Friday night, we all hugged Caron, Sophia and Giovanni goodbye. I tried to focus on the sweetness of our visit: watching the Olympics together even though we were bleary-eyed and exhausted, rising early to steal away on a sister walk, playing Scattergories, making lemonade stands and shopping the sales on back-to-the-'80s clothes at Forever 21.

We've already synced calendars and made plans for a Christmas visit but it's still hard to part. I wish my sister lived closer. I long to share the day-to-day with her - not just a text message here and a phone call there. More than just two visits a year.

Sunday we hosted an Open House for our dear friends, Jeremy and Marcy Pusey, who are embarking on their own overseas adventure. They are committed to teaching at Black Forest Academy in Kandern, Germany. They sold everything and packed up their lives and their four kids.

We have known Jeremy and Marcy even before they got married. We have watched their family grow through biological kids, foster kids and adoption. We have walked the missionary journey with them. They have traveled to Haiti with us. We have raised our kids together, cooked together, worked out and run marathons together, studied the Bible together, prayed over each other, faced the daunting task of support raising together. Last year we even enrolled in the Perspectives World Missions college class and spent every Monday night together.

We've known for more than a year that the farewell party was inevitable but it didn't really make it easier. It's hard to open your hands and let someone you love fly away.

Our little rental was filled to the gills with people who wanted to say goodbye to the Puseys. Their lives, their journey has inspired so many. Some 25 kids raced through our living room and backyard as we celebrated for and mourned over our friends leaving. We laughed, we ate, we embraced them like family.

I couldn't help but smile when later that night I caught my 3-year-old Giada "reading a book" about her friend Hannah and her new house in Germany. (She's also frequently on her pretend phone talking to one of the orphans in Haiti and inviting them over to play at our house in Fresno.) It's how she copes with goodbyes and to this mama heart it is beautiful.

Last night I was making dinner. I was lost in the kitchen with loads of fresh California produce. Cooking is my therapy, and I was getting it on. (So is chocolate but that's a different story.) My heart was heavy and every song was making me misty-eyed. Meanwhile, my kids were melting down from little sleep and all the days of goodbyes. I heard them hollering in the family room. I slumped.

And I found myself asking this:

Why must I always say goodbye?

Why risk loving someone deeply when parting will be inevitable?

It wasn't until later that I found my answer:

I could draw back. I could avoid goodbyes altogether. I could keep to myself, shelter my kids from friends. I could stay put, never travel, never follow my dreams.

I could turn my back on my calling.

I could keep my relationships surface so it doesn't hurt so badly when people go away.

I could.

But is that what I really want for my life? Is that the mission? Are those the values I want to teach my kids?

I know the deepest love because I've risked that pain.

I know Moise and Genise and Angeline and Dartiquenov and Madame Degloire and Erwin and Caron and Marcy and Jeremy because I've said yes to the goodbyes. My kids love Astrude and James and Bethia and Amanda and Judelene and Nathanael and Corban and Hannah and Giovanni and Sophia because we've said yes to goodbyes.

We've said yes to goodbyes.

We've made them into see-you-soons and meet-you-theres.

We've promised letters and blogs and photos and Skype dates. And when we promise, we follow through.

My heart might be tired, but my heart is full.

When life is full of goodbyes, life is so much richer.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)