The notification popped up on my phone on October 10th: it’s Danise’s birthday! I remember when she put her name in the calendar of my phone and requested pink shoes, a pink watch, and some snacks. I couldn’t promise her the watch, but I think I’ve got something up my sleeve to make sure she gets a new pair of shoes today.
Danise won’t see this post, but I wanted to share why I think she is so special. Many of my sweetest memories in Haiti come from moments with Danise. We’ve spent hours dancing in the rain, giggling, snoozing through the early morning, and cuddling on the top bunk of a creaky bed frame. But my favorite thing about Danise is the softness of her heart.
In August, Danise came with us for a couple of days to buy and distribute mattresses. As we waited on the street outside the mattress store, a begging man came to our group and hassled some of us for money. Though everyone ignored him, he made his way down the line, even asking our young girls for food or money. We all turned our eyes to the ground. If you don’t make eye contact with him, rejecting a starving man is less convicting, right?
A few minutes later, we bought some crème off the street to cool down. The beggar returned, and gestured at us to ask us for our sweet treat. Cecilia tossed him the remaining third of her crème, and he slurped it down and walked away.
Although experiences like that are common, they make me slightly uncomfortable. As he walked away, I looked at the girls who were with me. Tears were welling in Danise’s eyes, and I asked her what was wrong. She shook her head as the tears streamed down her face.
In a very soft voice – the voice she uses when we need to talk about something serious – she said, “I cry because of that man.” I held her hand and asked if he scared her, but she shook her head no. “I cry for that man. He say, ‘Give me crème.’ I am sad for that man.”
I was completely stunned. This Haitian orphan who has endured more trauma in her 12 years than I ever will, was broken by the thought of another desperate human being. When everyone else turned their back on this man, Danise watched him walk away and cried for him.
I am blown away when I think about that moment. I think about the power Danise has to feel that much, even after all she’s been through. I think about the empathy it takes to feel a stranger’s hunger pains. I think about the courage it must take to be that young, to live in such a broken place, and still choose to hold other people’s burdens.
I think about the hardness that Haiti has brought over the hearts of so many people that live there. It would be so much easier to choose not to feel that pain of suffering for everyone, but Danise still chooses to be soft. After I think about all these things, it reminds me of something: Jesus.
Danise’s soft heart that she demonstrated that day reflects Jesus’ heart for us. Over and over again, Jesus is moved by compassion when he looks at us. God knows the outcome of our suffering and He knows the goodness to come for us. But even so, He does not distance himself from our pain – He goes there with us. Our pain moves Jesus to dive into our human afflictions and weep with us. Our current suffering pulls at Jesus’s heart in the same way that man pulled at Danise’s heart.
Danise reminds me to love like a child. She reminds me of the sweetness that comes from choosing to take on each other’s burdens. Danise chooses this, and sometimes she is overcome with sadness and can do nothing other than weep. But her choice means her ability to love becomes so much like Jesus. Her heart mirrors the Lord. and that is my favorite thing about her.
So, happy 13th birthday, Danise. I pray that this year will bring you learning, security, friendships, joy, and a whole lot of Jesus. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that the Lord has brought us together. I am undeserving to be loved by you, but I am forever changed by your heart.