Category Archives: Photographs

Empty

We are always trying to live full lives.  Everyone is fighting to fill their wallet, to fill their stomachs, to fill their homes.  Everyone I know tries to fill their time with as much as they possibly can, racing from one activity to another, making sure to squeeze in as many episodes of their favorite TV show, or spend just one more hour at work.  Many people like to fill their life with experiences or new adventures.  Everyone wants everything to be full.  FULL.  FULL.

I must admit that I am constantly pursuing a state of fullness as well.  I want to have a full relationship, filled with adventures and excitement.  I want to be full of feelings, until they are gushing out from my lips because I can’t possibly hold them in.  I want to have access to whatever I need to fully fill myself.  So I fill my days with work so I can buy new toys, I fill my time off with social media so I can feel loved.  I fill my quiet moments with news so I can be well informed.  I fill my stomach with food so I can feel safe from famine.

I’m always trying to fill myself up.

TheQuarry

The Fort Wayne Quarry on Ardmore. Canon 5dMKIII and Rokinon 14mm. Copyright Joshua Stairhime 2017

There is a concept in art known as negative space.  Negative space is space that is not filled by the subject of the art, but is essentially the nothing that something exists in.  Good graphic design demands that you pay attention to the negative space.  If your artwork is full of stuff, then the whole purpose of your creation can be lost in the extra fluff surrounding it.   Your work goes from something like the Mona Lisa to a  “Where’s Waldo”.  Creating something without negative space makes it hard to really appreciate the beauty of what you are creating.   It makes it hard for others to appreciate what you are creating as well.
One day I was shown the quarry down the road from where I work, and ever since then I keep going back to it.  A quarry doesn’t sound that interesting, it is a place where people dig up rocks and sand.  Instead of filling up, a quarry is a place where people work to empty something.  As the quarry is dug deeper, more and more of the quarry is removed, but at the same time, more and more of the quarry is revealed.  I’ve not yet been to the Grand Canyon, but I know that you don’t go there to see the things that fill it up, but rather how empty it is.  Yes, there are boundaries, but without those boundaries you couldn’t know how empty it is, and you couldn’t be moved by how incredibly large it is.  When something is emptied out, a beauty that can not be taken away remains.

AnightwithStars

A secret location in northwestern Ohio. Canon 5dMKIII and Rokinon 14mm. Copyright Joshua Stairhime 2017

God is a master of using negative space.  He created the sky, something inconceivably large, but something that seems so incredibly empty.  Or at least it seems empty as we run about trying to fill our lives with something.  It isn’t until you stop to appreciate how empty the night sky is, that you start to see the beauty it contains.  It isn’t until you turn off the lights, and slow down that you can see the stars poking through the inky blackness you’re surrounded by.  We couldn’t see the beauty of the stars if they were jammed in tightly next to each other.  It is in the negative space of the sky, that those little pinpricks of light can shine out from and make us feel so small.
I’m hoping to start accepting that emptiness isn’t the curse we’ve made it out to be.  It is, after all, a still small voice that speaks after the wind, after the earthquake, after the fire, that is the only voice that can truly fill us.  After Elijah had confronted the prophets of Bail, after he had won the Superbowl of spiritual confrontations, he had to go somewhere to be emptied out.  He couldn’t handle being full.  He needed a rest, so he hid himself away from the world, and it is in those moments that God spoke to him.  He found peace in those moments.  He found himself in those moments.

So maybe it is time for you to stop trying so hard to be full, and to instead allow yourself to be empty.

Make room for something bigger.

Make room for the breath of God to fill you.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

To be hungry, you must be empty.

Be empty.





Bipolar

Church just wrapped up on our fourth day in Haiti, and if you have never been to a Haitian church service, I can sum it up in one word.  Loud.  The music is loud, the people are loud, and the pastor is loud.   All around you, you will see Haitians wearing their Sunday best.  A few of the men are in full suits, others nice shirts and slacks.  Most of the women are in nice dresses, and a few are dressed up as if they were going to be attending the Oscars right after church.

The effect is somewhat mesmerizing, seeing someone in a full suit, standing at the front of a church that is only a roof supported by narrow concrete pillars.  Watching ladies in dresses sitting on handmade benches while they listen to the message.  Seeing the neighborhood children, some of whom may not eat today, wearing their best while they sit listlessly during the long sermon.

I see this dichotomy everywhere.  On one hand I am sitting right on the ocean with beautifully blue waves gently lapping the palm lined shore, while a quick glance across the surface of the water reveals enough trash to fill at least one industrial sized trash bag.  Yesterday we went to the beach with most of the kids in the orphanage, 48 people jammed into a truck too small to move even a modest North American household in one trip.  The kids ran into the waves with the fervor one would expect from orphans on a beach trip, and as the little Haitian boys jumped off of my back into the cool salt water, the moment was nearly perfect.  Until a used condom floated by.

Just another day in Paradise...

Just another day in Paradise…

If you visit Haiti, you may find it difficult to look past the imperfection of their sagging, leaky homes, and the trash that is everywhere, but I suspect you will also find it difficult to forget the cloud wrapped mountain tops, and the incredible sunsets.

Haiti is bipolar.

The emotional mountains and valleys are even more impressive than the physical ones you find in this country.  On Friday, we had returned from the nearby school where we were doing basic health exams, to our home away from home for the week, Tytoo Gardens.  The general mood was one of a lazy afternoon, the kind where you kick your feet up and watch the grass grow as you become one with your lawn chair.   I slowly brought out interview equipment, hoping to make the most of what we all expected to be a lazy afternoon.

After getting set up, I wandered downstairs in search of my first victim (interview subject) for the day.  I like to circle my prey (interview subjects) before I attack (ask them to talk to me), so I drifted around like a leaf on the wind, trying to get a good feel for who may be the most willing to talk to me.  When the gate rolled open and the truck rolled in, I carelessly filmed it, wondering what I might use the unplanned footage for.  I lost interest in the truck before I saw the passengers get out, and went back to circling my prey.

Densley has already made a new friend on the way to Simonette Wednesday evening.

Denzly has already made a new friend on the way to Simonette from the hospital in Port-Au-Prince Wednesday evening.

I settled in next to one of my potential victims and casually asked where the rest of the group was, making some remark to the effect of “is someone having a baby?”.  The answer was that one of the little boys we had met earlier in the week was not doing well, and the medical people had brought the boy to the clinic to see if they could help him out.  I slowly walked towards the clinic expecting some minor bump or scrape being put right and was broadsided by a child nearing full cardiac arrest.  In one moment my afternoon went from one of peace and tranquility, to one of uncertainty and frenzy.

It only took a few minutes of watching in the clinic to determine that we weren’t going to be able to help this kid on site, and as the medical staff rushed around trying to stabilize the boy, I ran out of the room to throw back together my gear bag which was scattered across the porch I use for our interviews.   I gave some of the other team members a quick update as I hurried to fill my water bottle.  As the water poured out of the cooler, I did my best to keep the tears from falling from my eyes and the fear out of my voice.  I had stayed in the clinic long enough to see more uncertainty in Kori’s eyes than I had ever seen there before on any of our other trips together.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect next.

Densley just two days later...

Denzly just two days later…

Fortunately the gear went back together quickly, and as I rushed back into the clinic I started trying to find a way to help without being in the way.  I ran back out again to ask Beth, Alitza, and Jenna, to put together water bottles and other necessary stuff for Kori, Jen, and Troy.  I ran into the clinic again and snapped photos as I waited for what seemed like the inevitable decision to get this kid to a hospital.  Without any portable oxygen, Kori wasn’t too thrilled with the possible outcomes for the kid. It seemed that the chances for the kid surviving transportation to the hospital were not great.  Cell phones buzzed across the room as the Tytoo staff sought the fastest path and the closest vehicle to get to the hospital in Port-Au-Prince.

The nearest ambulance was 30 minutes away, and they were still looking for the driver as Webert (pronounced Way Bear), the director of the school we had worked at in the morning pulled into the compound.  Kori, Jen, and Troy carried the kid out to the back of the truck as the staff tried to decide who needed to go with us to the hospital.  I quietly took the last spot in the back of the truck and asked if I could go.  After a few moments of indecision, they seemed to forget about me, so I stayed in the car as we sped off towards the hospital with Webert at the wheel.  Jen steadily pumped air into the kids lungs as Kori and Troy did their best to monitor the kids vital statistics.

The roads in the little village of Simonette where we serve are not great, but Webert managed the truck well, slowing down only when absolutely necessary.  Once we were out of Simonette the road turned from rough stone into fresh pavement, a brand new road that lead to Port-Au-Prince from a port that is being built in nearby Minotree.  I grew up in the country, and am no stranger to riding in the back of a truck, but I can say honestly that I have never gone that fast in the open as we did on that trip.  Quickly realizing my medical uselessness, I started watching the road so I could shout out direction and speed changes for the team as they worked on the boy.  Driving in Haiti is nothing like driving in the United States, and for a North American driver, what Webert did to get us their safely was akin to a miracle.

Holding on to life...

Holding on to life…

The roadside flashed by as we sped towards the hospital, each mile measured in breaths given by a bag being pumped by hand.  When the truck made the final turn onto the street with the hospital on it, the truck horn, previously strangely silent, became a constant drone as we pushed through the still crowded streets to the hospital door.  The doors opened ahead of us and we dropped the tailgate as Hillary, a Canadian Paramedic working with Tytoo came out of the hospital to bring Denzly into the emergency room.  I grabbed a corner of the mat, but was stopped outside the door, relieved of my duty for the moment.  For me, the time for adrenaline had passed, and I waited outside with Webert, Kayla, and Troy.

After the storm...

After the storm…

For some reason it didn’t surprise me that our little medical team kept working on Denzly.  It wasn’t until several hours later when they came out exhausted that I stopped to think about how odd it was that they were not able to just drop Denzly off and head back to Tytoo.  When we arrived, the emergency room staff were dealing with a pair of gunshot wounds, and Denzly was not getting the immediate attention his situation warranted.  Our team kept pumping air into his lungs while the other patients were taken care of.  They worked to stabilize Denzly as he seized for what they described as hours.  When we finally left nearly 2 hours after we had arrived, the outlook was still grim for the boy, but he was admitted into the pediatric section and our team could do nothing else to help.

Hillary, Kori, Allie, and Jen are finally getting ready to head home to Tytoo for the night.

Hillary, Kori, Allie, and Jen are finally getting ready to head home to Tytoo for the night.

As we drove back to Tytoo through the darkened streets of Port-Au-Prince, the mood of Haiti seemed to change again, from one of frenzy to one of relative calm.  The team members discussed the events of the day, reliving the moments that seemed like weeks ago now, just a few short hours later.  Allie sat quietly on the side of truck, I suspect reflecting on this moment, and all of the moments like it that she has experienced in this country so far.  While the medical  conversation drifted from the events of the night to other experiences and stories, Allie sat looking into the darkened distance over the hood of the truck,  as the headlights reached furtively into the night in an attempt to illuminate the coming unknown…Allie hoping to discern what Haiti might bring her next.


 

It turns out this wasn’t the whole story…you can find the continuation in “To Be Used“.  

 

My Favorite Photos from Nicaragua.

 

“Poverty can be a prison”IMG_8150 (2)

“A mile in his shoes”IMG_8193 (2)

“Home sweet home…”IMG_8226 (2)

“Looking into the future”IMG_8276 (2)

“Caught Looking”IMG_8305 (2)

“Innocent Curb”IMG_8342 (2)

“Difficult Streets”IMG_8343 (2)

“Hope found in a smile”IMG_8349 (2)

“Courage”IMG_8379 (2)

“Not what is wrong, but rather, what is right.”IMG_8721

“Now it’s personal”IMG_8800

“Worship”IMG_9018 (2)

 

You can see the rest of the photos from the trip on Facebook.

Nicaraguan Rain

As we climb aboard the dilapidated yellow school bus after an exhausting day and start the long drive home, rain begins falling, as if to gently remind us of the last 8 hours. 

The steady rain must be swelling the puddles and rivulets we jumped over today, as we delivered a small token of food to our friends here in Nicaragua. Like the rain that falls now, the small amount of oil, rice, and beans may dry up again before we leave for home. As the rain drips down the sides of our bus and slips between the rusted metal sheets that are the roofs of too many homes here, it brings needed relief and nourishes the ground, the animals, and the people. We hope that our own small rain of provisions and blessings will do the same for the people we love here, the people we came here to serve.

The unexpected rain is like the arrival of the Holy Spirit, who prayed with us and through us on behalf of and with our Nicaraguan friends. It calms and restores, bringing hope where there once was none, and washing away the dirt of past sins. As each drop mingles into a larger whole, we are reminded of those we met today, and our mingled futures, no longer able to be separated into its original state. Forever, parts of us will be together, changed, made more full by our time in prayer with the Father who loves us all. While our lips spoke many languages, and our ears could not understand each other, our hearts knew the others intent, and petitioned God for the same things.

The cooling rain washes away the memory of the intense heat and humidity that we swam through in the small church we spent our day in. Nicaraguans and North Americans sweat, laughed, and played together as we shared about our fears and our God who is larger than the sum of all our insecurity. Drops of little kids flooded the floor around our feet, photos were taken as though they were flashes of lightning and the fluorescent lamps flickered to life as our team completed repairs to a modified electrical system.


We pray that like the rain, that continues for a while, and then is done, our Nicaraguan friends will soon find the storm of poverty that surrounds them has finished, and they will be able to contentedly share their new found abundance with the less fortunate around them. Though the rain continues for the night, the sun must break through eventually, bringing with it a many colored reminder of God’s promises to us, his people.

The rain falls on the righteous and the evil, the strong and the weak, the deserving and the spoiled. May the rain find us deserving, generous, and firm in doing God’s will.

10 reasons I’m going back to Nicaragua

There are plenty of reasons for me to want to go back, I chose a few and put them together below for your enjoyment.   Continue reading