Monday, January 26, 2015

Traveling Circus Posse - Part 1

(Entry 1 of 8 - covering late Dec. and January 1st) 

All marriages are different.  I know this. 

I don't know if mine is different better or different worse.  

If I was hard-pressed to say, I would say different better.

Here is a small look at some of the inter workings of our "division of labor"...

In 16 years of marriage, if we are going to go somewhere for more than a few hours, it is my job to pack the kids and myself. Troy breaks into cold sweats at the thought of picking clothing out for them for a day or two. If he were ever to be asked to pack for a 23 day trip, he would lie down on the floor, soil his pants, and proceed to lie there despondent in his own urine until help arrived.

Troy is in charge of passports, maps, (hello - that's way easier now - remember back in the RandMcNally map days) researching the area we are visiting, providing technology (this means having a sim card that will work outside of Haiti and having it activated). Troy is also in charge of encouraging me not to give up when our kids unpack the crap I have already packed. This last thing may be his most important role.  There are days while packing for a trip like this when the kids undo/unpack what I have very meticulously packed multiple times, that I am the one despondent on the floor. He sighs loudly with me, he listens as I lament, he picks me up, over and over again; he is the wind beneath my packing wings. 

~       ~        ~

The end of December 2014 was spent doing all the normal weekly ministry/work tasks. 

Besides the regular work and the kids being out of school for Christmas break, Becky Burton, the wife of Jimmy, (the kids' teacher) gave birth on December 26th at the Maternity Center. We also had our friends from Cali visiting that week and we needed to pack finish things for the wedding and the trip and we needed to clean our entire kitchen out because of an utterly gag-worthy sick and wrong infestation of termites.

Somehow it all happened and the quickly disappearing kitchen cabinet shelving was left to the landlord to deal with while we were away. For the past six months shelves have been turning into sawdust before our eyes and drawer after drawer rotted out of its track. That sounds like a place a person could really create culinary delights, does it not!?!?  Spiders and cockroaches are nothing, if you really want to be grossed out, pay attention to those tiny little wood-eating-nastified-squirmy-white-devils. 

Our friend KJ transported us to the airport early on the morning of January 1st. The kids wake up early on travel day without any complaining - they have made this mistake more than once, I now know that early wake ups with cheer are within the realm of possibility. 

As we left our rooms I made a speech about not being responsible for anything they had removed without approval and said something Motherly and similar to  - "If you don't have something you need on this trip, it is because you messed with my system and you probably deserve it." 

That's true agape love, isn't it?  

We had very few issues in the PAP airport. Jet Blue was our airline of choice this time around and they did a great job of getting us all checked in and ready to roll.  

The lady at the desk told me that Isaac would be pulled aside for a TSA security check. She told me it was random and that it is no big deal.  I happen to know Isaac, so I knew that while it might not be a big deal for some, it would shake Isaac up a bit.  I attempted to prepare him.  "Isaac, sometimes they have a random security check and they pull people aside and look more closely at their bag and their belongings and ask a few questions. They told me they would do that. It is nothing to worry about. It is not because we did anything wrong."  

Fast forward ten minutes when the folks are pulling him aside, Isaac, bewildered and nervous asks, "Mom, why did they pick me?"

"Buddy, I just told you they were going to do this." I said. He replied, "Oh, I didn't know you meant it would be me or NOW."  

Details and listening are not his specialty. 

~        ~        ~

Photos from January 1st, fly day.

Our kids always act like they remember nothing of previous flights. It seems like they have never seen an airplane seat or window. They touch everything and check out every button and device. There is a lot of discussion about who will sit next to whom and the window seats are negotiated with passion and tenacity.

Herding the luggage and the kids always feels very conspicuous to me. I prefer to be calm, quiet, unnoticed, head-down etc. etc.  (The way a person traveling ALONE might act/be.) 

Traveling with these guys is like picking your nose while screaming "WATCH US - WE ARE INTERESTING".  Between the racial diversity, the spazziness, the sheer numbers, the big hair, and Lydia's gas, there is no such thing as inconspicuous. 

"How many in your party?" the guy in the white asks. "Seven", Troy replies. "You are all together?" he asks.  "Yes", Troy replies. "Same last name though?" "Yes" Troy replies. 
Once we've messed with that paradigm they asked us to step to the machine to begin the work of scanning passports.  It was some time during that process that Lydia made her first statement of 2015. It took no less than five seconds for the scent to make it to each of her siblings noses. Nobody had to ask, we all know who the gassy one is. The girl can't help it. The gap where the two front teeth are missing must be a natural inlet for too much air. What comes in, must go out.  

We wanted out of the stench, but still had more passports to scan. Without fail we get an X on my clearance and have to stand in the next line. Hyphenated names are a beastly problem. The struggle is real. Hours and hours of my life have been wasted because of that one stupid little hyphen. 

By the time we got to the luggage area our stuff was all there waiting for us and we camped out while Troy headed out sans circus to rent the mini-van. When Troy pulled up to get us, the kids marveled at the wonders of the Town and Country mini-van. Isaac thinks (and frequently states) that mini-vans are epic

As we drove toward Naples where we planned to meet our friends, we talked about alligators, the Everglades, the upcoming wedding, and the smell of Target. We realized that one of five children had only one pair of underwear and we were given our chance to smell Target even sooner than we had anticipated.  

Next Entry - January 1-4 in Naples where many amazing things like "EYEHOLES in the doors" are a part of the thrill of America.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The 2015 Kick-Off

Anne Lamott said, "I've heard it said that expectations are resentments under construction..."

If expectations are resentments under construction --- holy cow, there just may be some major construction going on here.  

The first 22 days of January 2015 were packed with every joy, beauty, celebration, and fun you can imagine. Intertwined in all that were, family, old friends, new friends, and emotions of every variety. We can only hope that our children are not basing their expectations for the coming months off of the insane-party-life they just lived for the first many days of two-thousand-fifteen.  If they expect that much ice-cream, they need to find a dairy farmer to live with, it's not happening in Port au Prince.

In 2014 I basically made putting quotes on photos my job. I got sick of me, you got sick of me, I made way too many. It's all good, I can mock myself.  My "art" may have gone overboard, but you know I love a good quote appropriately paired with a photograph. 

My 2015 thing has yet to be determined - if I were to go with the trajectory of the first three weeks, the year needs to have something to do with celebration. That is the track we've been on thus far. 

Because we did one thing after the other after the other and just kept moving, we are finally able to reflect on all that we got to see, do, and experience in Florida and on the cruise-trip my parents took us on.

I decided I will preserve memories and history better if I break it down into parts. The kids had non stop funny insight and observations that I hope to find in all the places I scratched them down. My plan is to break it up into smaller sections to try not to get overwhelmed with documenting everything. 
  • Traveling with kids and Prep for travel (end of Dec 2014 - January 1)
  • Weekend in Naples with three other families (January 1-4)
  • Wedding Prep Week in FortLauderdale/Weston (January 4-8)
  •  Wedding Ceremony and Reception(s) (January 9)
  • Goodbyes, time with friends/fam, prep for cruise (January 10)
  • Cruise Week (also known as - this is not your real life week) (January 11-18)
  • Wind down with friends and Paige and Graham in Sarasota (January 18-22)
  • Travel Home and all the things that happen when packing 500 pounds of luggage and five kids (January 23)

Part I - Traveling with kids

All marriages are different.  I know this.  (To be continued...)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Dear 2014,

Thanks for coming to visit and for quickly making us so.very.old.
You may leave now.

Troy & Tara

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” 
And he replied:Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

For posterity's sake, a brief review of the year that was 2014 - of a more personal/family nature.
(Also, see Maternity Center review here).
  • January 7th we returned home after moving Paige to Texas and spending time getting her settled into college/America life and finishing a list of Tara's midwifery requirements that needed to take place in the USA
  • First set of twins (first breech too) born at Heartline Maternity Center in January - a birth and several intense moments none of us will ever forget 
  • Our godson, Alex, went home with his family to CO in February after a year at our house
  • Tara took a trip to Idaho in February to hang with crunchy midwife people and take practice tests and figure out how to use her remaining study time before the exam
  • Mid February Paigey-girl announced a grandchild would join us in October
  • In March Matt (brother-in-law) and Annie (niece) came to Haiti so that Annie could meet her first family - Isaac got to learn his REAL birth date, which he describes as "epic".  What a difference eleven days can make! 
  • Moses went home to WY in late February/early March a very big event for everyone who prayed for that and a beautiful tangible reminder of God's care for each of us as the Reibs inspired us with their love
  • In April we went to Boston Marathon with Beth McHoul and cheered as she put one foot in front of the other and inspired us all with her tenacity and love for Haitian women
  • Friends from Austin, TX came in April. 
  • Dokte Jen came to visit again in mid-May and was the first to get sick with a horrid virus none of us could pronounce
  • In late May Tara went to Texas to meet our future son in law and find out our grandchild would be a boy
  • In late May the Chikungunya Virus stormed Port au Prince. Lydia and Troy were the first to get it in our family
  • Our niece, Whitney, came to Haiti for a week in June - so much JOY! 
  • Chikungunya took the entire family down between early June and mid July, depression and chronic pain became a struggle for Troy and Tara and many of the Heartline staff in the weeks and months that followed - we officially stopped feeling young this summer -  if we wanted to blame our aging and fatigue on one thing - Chikungunya gets the blame
  • Paige and Michael spent six weeks in Haiti and we all decided that Michael is wonderful and kind and worthy of our Paige - when he asked Troy if he could propose to Paige, we all got to help him make it special 
  • In early August Tara passed the NARM exam to become a CPM - three and a half years of nervous tummy came to a celebratory end on that day
  • In September there was a weekend in Florida to update Newborn Resuscitation skills with the Midwives and Dokte Jen
  • We became Grandparents to Graham Porter Gonzales (Mojo and Tito is our preferred handle.) on October 11, a few days after Paige walked away from a serious car accident unharmed, and just a few weeks before Michael had heart surgery to repair WPW Syndrome
  • Troy came to Texas for five days to meet his grandson while friends cared for our kids in Haiti
  • Tara spent five weeks in Texas with Britt, Chris, Paige, Michael and our Graham-son before heading back to the island with a mad crush on the most perfect little baby guy you ever did see
  • November was a month of difficult situations at the Maternity Center, most of the deliveries ended up needing to happen in a hospital due to placenta previa and preeclampsia 
  • December brought a visit from our eldest child and Hope joined Isaac in the teen-years. The rest of December was spent putting together a destination wedding from the world's slowest internet - said wedding will take place in less than two weeks in Florida  - which is good because things were super boring and we desperately needed something to spice life up a bit. <sarcasm alert>  We will be meeting up with #gonzalespartyof3 on Sunday  - I cannot possibly know who is most excited, but it is for sure me.
  • <GAH> 

Tara left Haiti six times in one year. holy cow. No wonder it feels like it's all a blur.

A friend asked "What are you learning about God and what has He taught you in 2014?"

The truth is, the time to really think about everything that we have learned this year hasn't happened yet.

We learned the truth of the statement: "If you can find a path without obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere".

We can say with certainty that what felt big, scary, impossible, and too heavy to lift, ended up being not so big, not too terribly scary, mostly doable, and our not-so-well sculpted guns can do more lifting than previously known.

For sure we learned that God will provide what is needed to face each trial. If you pay attention you'll find Him providing the courage and grace for each new day in unique and merciful ways. When we looked around we found our friends were hoping when we weren't ready to hope, lifting when we couldn't lift.

And so we went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. 
...That is the plan for 2015 - no grandiose statements or resolutions, just going forth and finding the Hand of God. 
May He grip us all tightly as we trod into 2015.
early January, in Miami, headed home. 
January twins! 
Febraury - Our Godson Alex goes home 
Moses heads home! 
March, Annie returns to Haiti (bottom is a 2008 flashback)
Austin keeps Port au Prince weird(er) for a few days in April
April - Marathoning Machine 
Isaac takes his turn with Chik V in June - there is NOTHING sadder than sick Isaac

Kids watching an important proposal happen in late July
Taking NRP in FL in September 
Isaac turns 13 and decides to be 5'7" in September
Graham arrives in October
Tito comes to TX to meet the Graham son in October
Noah on one of many rides to transport to a hospital far outside of PAP in November
Britt came to see us in early December 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Weapon of Mass Destruction (?) - Written by Troy

A few months ago, John McHoul and I were running an errand together and laughing about a friend that seemed to always have great stories as he adapted to life and cultural differences here in Haiti. We lamented that he and I were running out of good stories and crazy adventures of late. We credited ourselves with a great deal of knowledge and wisdom, and agreed this was surely the reason we enjoyed so few mishaps and misfortunes. 

We spoke too soon. Within an hour, we were caught in a torrential flood with two flat tires (including one that left the rim entirely), no working air pump or proper tools to fix the problem, soaked to the bone as we searched out roadside assistance from a mob of helpers and hecklers, and practically floated the truck home over the course of the next many hours. John and I quickly recanted our earlier claims of knowledge and wisdom.

Today, I had a couple of things to get done around Port au Prince. Two errands seemed like a reasonable amount to expect to accomplish in the year-end traffic and general craziness of the capital city. I decided to head out on the motorcycle, as my stops were on opposite sides of the city and in areas guaranteed to be crammed with ‘blokis’ (traffic jams). Before setting out, I received a notification from the US Embassy about the planned anti-government protests around the city today. I took pause and checked the expected route of the ‘manifestations’. The route was much larger and lengthier than other recent protests, and enveloped much of the city including areas I wanted to get to.  This was most likely going to cause blokis of epic proportions, based on recent history in our area. My decision to use the motorcycle for transportation was confirmed as a wise choice, and I scrapped one of the two destinations for today as it was directly along the protest route. 

I set out feeling wise and knowledgable and ready to enjoy an uneventful bike ride on a beautiful cool December day. All of my paperwork and safety gear was in order and in place. I was filled with confidence. As I walked out the door I saw a small can of pepper spray we have on hand for security/personal defense - like Tara carries while she runs - and on a whim decided to attach it to my keychain in the event that I ran into an ugly situation with angry mobs of protestors or motorcycle-thieving bandits (both fairly unlikely, mind you). 

I took the looooonnnngggg scenic route to get to the part of the city I was headed, ensuring I completely avoided the possible protest areas. It didn’t seem long at all, however - given the ease with which the traffic can be navigated on a bike and the beautiful weather and the fact that I was winning at everything. 

I was not entirely familiar with this scenic route, and probably a bit distracted by the scenery and all of my winning ways, wisdom, knowledge, what have you...and ended up a bit lost for a while. The roads were (somewhat) smooth, however, and I was undaunted. I rounded one corner wondering what the large home/compound was that I was nearing - then noticed the helicopter overhead, then the UN tanks/trucks, then the guns waving, then the soldiers and police officers pointing me in the other direction since apparently no one was getting anywhere near President Martelly’s house today. Oops. 

I meandered through the labyrinth of streets and away from the restricted area until I recognized a landmark, and proceeded to my first (and only) intended stop. The stop was a success, everything was prepared and in order and went entirely smoothly. After a bathroom break and a stretch (and a concern that I had broken my coccyx somewhere along the somewhat smooth roads) - I was ready to head back down the hill and take on the rest of the day with head held high. 

Due to the lost time from, well, being lost, I headed back to our area via a more direct route. This route would include part of the possible protest route but I had not seen or heard any evidence of trouble and decided to try it - knowing it would be easy and quick to change course on the moto if needed. I sailed down the hill enjoying the warm sun and cool breeze, very little traffic, and not a protestor in sight. Home base was only two miles away. I expertly navigated the only crammed intersection I had encountered and almost made it out the other side when I saw a police checkpoint. More importantly, the police checkpoint saw me. (It often seems that foreigners are particularly targeted in these ‘random’ checkpoints, but that is purely based on my anecdotal evidence and I could be overly sensitive after many ‘shakedown’ attempts...I digress)

I politely followed the officer’s instructions to pull over to the side of the road and stop my motorcycle. I turned off the ignition and removed my helmet as instructed. I have been through this drill before, and was feeling calm and confident. As I mentioned before, all of my paperwork was in order and I was happy to have a chat with the police to provide some additional entertainment for my exceedingly excellent morning. 

As I handed over my papers and license, one officer’s eyes grew wide as he reached for my keys and removed them from the ignition. He asked me what the small red canister was, and I nonchalantly informed him it was ‘gaz’ - pepper spray - for personal defense. I was starting to tell him about my friends who have been attacked while riding motorcycles and even bikes stolen out from under them in the past, and maybe even throw in a bit about the raging dangerous protests about town (which I’d seen none of) - but before I got very far he was holding the keyring up in the air and motioning others to come to his side as if he had just discovered a nuclear warhead poised to destroy our tiny island nation. 

A couple officers demanded that I present ‘authorization’ papers for carrying such a weapon, and I shakily explained that I had no idea that was necessary and again tried to explain the purpose of the offending item. They asked me who I intended to ‘shoot’, and when I told them I didn’t want to shoot anyone...which is why I wouldn’t carry a gun - they told me that it would be better and more legal to have a gun on me than this little red weapon of mass destruction. “Only the most specialized SWAT team in Haiti is permitted to serve with devices like this!”, I was informed. Even these fine men of the law could not use such lethal weapons, and so on. I begged forgiveness and explained my ignorance, also asking for them to understand my confusion since I BOUGHT THE PEPPER SPRAY IN A STORE TWO MILES AWAY ‘over the counter’, as it were. They were hearing none of it. I was told to turn my bike around and follow them back to the police station around the corner. I could not immediately comply, as my handlebars were locked and the bike was not in neutral - which upset them greatly. Upon pointing out to them that I needed the keys one of them was still waving around in the air - he accused me of planning to ‘shoot’ him with the gaz and then make my escape. I almost rolled my eyes. He took out a pair of plastic restraints/cuffs momentarily, and my good mood started to wane. I asked him to take the can off of the keyring and let me use the keys. Suddenly my good mood was over and done with. 

I walked the bike a couple blocks flanked by three officers. This provided great entertainment for the machanns and moto chauffers lining the streets. ‘Gade yon blan!’, they jeered. I tried to smile. We arrived at the ‘Commissariat’ - a blue and white 20’ shipping container converted into a one room police station - common at many major intersections. A handful of impounded motos leaned against the sides of the box. There were three plastic lawn chairs and a broken metal and faux wood desk inside. Stacks of driver’s licenses and national ID cards were strewn across the desk, along with one steno pad and a folder full of dogeared photocopies.

I left the moto on the street, not wanting it to join the pile of other bikes. I was ‘invited’ inside, and told to sit in a chair that nearly collapsed when I sat down. I found that if it had the back legs propped against the wall behind me it would support my weight. 

I continued to ask for grace and understanding, and was repeatedly interrupted with lectures about the seriousness of my offense. Ignorance was definitely not an acceptable excuse, and the primary officer launched into a diatribe about the dangers of the lethal weapon I was illegally carrying. I repeatedly pointed out that I obviously had no idea or I would not have had this menace bouncing around on my handlebars in the open hanging from my keychain. One of the dogeared photocopies came out of the folder on the desk and was laid before me. I was asked if I could read French, and before I could say yes, the officer expressed in grandiose fashion that he was obligated to arrest me and have me transferred to jail, due to the seriousness of the offense. 

He looked over the paperwork and asked whose motorcycle I was driving. It is registered in John’s name, which I shared and explained, and at that moment John was calling my cell phone. I showed them the name from the caller id, and that it matched the paperwork, then answered John’s call and told him what was going on. He laughed and wanted more details, but I was not at liberty to have a long discussion. When the officers asked what my boss had said, I informed them that he laughed at me and would lage’m net (leave me completely) if I was in trouble. They seemed shocked. They asked what John would do if I ended up in prison, and I let them know the absolute truth: he would laugh even harder. Of course he would help me in any way - but not without a great deal of joy and laughter at my misfortune. Don’t worry - this is how we love.

The officer asked if I understood what a dangerous weapon I was carrying, and what it could do. I started to describe my intentions and understanding of how pepper spray works, but was interrupted again with a long list of the risks - including death to infants, people with heart conditions, and asthmatics. I choked on a laugh I tried to stifle on that last one, mostly because I was surprised the Kreyol word for asthmatics is: asthmatics. All three officers were taken aback by my apparent relaxed attitude and laughter given the grave circumstances, and I tried to regain a deferential composure. 

According to the officers, it did not matter that the gaz was legally purchased at a legally operating retail store nearby, because any store can sell whatever they want and caveat emptor and all that. 

The primary officer made a call and informed someone on the other end that there was a prisoner in need of transport...only I could tell the call was fake because he never dialed or touched a single button on the phone first. I was also informed that my moto was being impounded but I could see it still on the street and I had the keys in the helmet in my lap. 

Over and over again I asked to be given a chance to leave with my lesson learned, but to no avail. Eventually, one officer asked how I spoke Kreyol so well, and I launched into my usual jokes about all the Haitian food I eat and how the language came to me. I sensed them starting to come around. I had relaxed by this point. I knew that I was going to be there a while, and after a failed attempt at accusing them of harassment (which was quickly met with an obviously rehearsed speech about racism and their desire to uphold the law at all costs in the face of the evil overrunning the country), I decided the best play was to play nice and win them over with charm.

I asked them not to ruin the end of the year 2014 for me, and how that would be a very bad omen starting off the new year...and by their reaction I knew I had a chance of avoiding prison. They laughed and agreed that I must be Haitian if I was so superstitious. I played that line for quite a while. During a break (while they arrested another guy and took his moto for bad papers or something), I called a friend who works in the Haitian police at the National Palace (back when there was one). She outranks all of the men I was detained by and agreed to come to help me if possible. Armed with the confidence of backup on the way, I went back to entertaining the officers with ‘Pawol Granmoun’ (Haitian Proverbs), and appeals to their obvious good nature and concern for law and order and the good we are trying to do in their country and couldn’t we all just get along, et cetera. 

I asked if there was any chance I could leave before the planned protests reached the area, and they seemed incredulous that I could have such information. I worried that this would be proof of my spy career and ill intentions with the pepper spray - but their shock was that foreigners in the country could know such information. I told them the US Embassy sent out notices via email and facebook, and they all launched into a long conversation about the superiority of the US and the ineptitude of their own government. One asked where else they could go, to which another answered: “I’m going to his country” as he motioned towards me. I stayed quiet.

By this point we were all being friendly and even shared some bags of labapen (boiled breadfruit), and I ponied up a few gourdes for some bags of water to drink. It was a regular party...only inside a shipping container police office that I couldn’t freely exit. A few other people came in and out of the ‘station’ while we were talking, and it was clear that my situation was not going to be discussed with anyone else present. Whenever the others went out, it was back to feeling like a shakedown. I kept working the New Year’s angle. Giving gifts and bonuses at the end of the year is a BIG deal here. One officer asked how many people I had given end of year gifts to, and I told him it was a lot - since we have been here for many years and have a lot of employees and it is an expensive time of year. They nodded in agreement and another asked how many I gifts I had given. I told them at least fifteen, maybe twenty. They asked how many more I had to give out...and the game was afoot.

I told them I was pretty sure I had taken care of everyone, although I had a sneaking suspicion I may have forgotten a few. Yes, a few - three to be exact. I closed my eyes and exclaimed ‘Yes! It is like I can see their faces before me! There are three people I have yet to give gifts to for the end of the year.’ They were smiling, as they knew we were finally all on the same page. I was smiling too, since I knew my backup was on the way, and that I only had the US $ equivalent of three bucks in my pockets. That would NOT qualify as an acceptable ‘gift’...and I didn’t really want to ‘give’ one anyway. I really layed it on thick as I bent down and prayed into my helmet asking God to reveal to me if there was anyone I had forgotten in my end of year giving (method acting learned from one John McHoul) The officers were quite amused by my antics and we were all getting along swimmingly. 
Shortly afterwards, my backup entered the room and told the men there that their mother had arrived...and I was her father. I was utterly confused but the officers all knew exactly what she meant and straightened up right quick. One immediately handed over my papers and showed her that I had them. I pointed out that he still had my license and that was returned in short order. We all had a nice chat about our mission and work here in Haiti. They gave another speech about the dangers of the lethal weapon I was carrying, to which my friend replied that she carries it (they said of course she could because she was a police officer) and that she has her daughters carry it as well and no permit or authorization was necessary (they had no reply). I told them I was more than happy to leave the can there, but that was treated as a ridiculous idea and said it was fine for me to carry it, but to keep it in my pocket. Say what?

We said our goodbyes, and I bolted out of the area as quickly as possible. The weapon of mass destruction was safely tucked away in my pocket so that all of the babies, heart patients, and asthmatics were protected. 

-Troy the not so wise, or knowledgable 

word made it to the kids at home ...
they texted this photo to me as a possible police intimidation tool

When I got home I knocked at our gate with my helmet still on.  Isaac acted like he wasn't sure it was me and stood staring at me confused.

I said, "Hey Buddy, it's me."

Isaac said, "DAD??? What are you doing here?  I thought you were in jail!"

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year in review, Heartline Maternity Center

The end of year, a time all non-profit organizations try to draw your attention to their work in order to solicit your end-of-the-year donations.  

We would love if you decide to give now or in the new year, but this post is less about that, and more about making you aware of where we are and where we believe we are headed.  
          *   *   *

This year has been one of solidifying at the Maternity Center.  We have a staff that appears to be in place for the long haul.  After several years of turnover and training and shorter-term volunteers, we have in place a staff of women that consider themselves a solid team -  "ekip solid"  - as it is said in Kreyol.

During the calendar year of 2014,  the women we work with at the Maternity Center delivered 72 babies.  We accepted 94 women into the program between January and today. More baby boys than girls were born to the women in the Prenatal program this year. As is common in the world of birth, there were months of baby after baby after baby, and multiple weeks of little to no action.

Each month we graduate the women who have six month old babies, it is common for there to be tearful goodbyes and warm hugs exchanged.  Against the odds, a little community is being built here.

We have boasted a 15% transfer rate for the past few years.  This year our transfer rate was high, 29% of the women ended up needing to be taken to a hospital to deliver.  We aren't sure what that is all about, except that we had a streak in October and November where one complication after another arose and the average year turned into a high transport year toward the very end.

Always the statistic we pray and hope to report, zero mothers died as a result of complications of childbirth. We thank each of you that follow along and pray during the labors and deliveries, your prayers are a gift to the woman and each of us on staff. 

Two new things were added in 2014 -

  1. We began offering IUDs as a long term birth control option in addition to Depo Provera. Our family planning program on Friday has doubled in size this year, word of mouth advertising has made this our largest program.
  2. We began doing a Wednesday breastfeeding education and support "class" at the government maternity hospital. A song was written to enforce the truth about breastfeeding, see the video at the link above. Each Wednesday at the hospital is a new experience, as Haiti is not a place that one would ever label "predictable". 

This year we focused on team building and creating systems that will allow us to grow with excellence.  We now have a full-time staff of eight in place. Our size has allowed us to know each pregnant woman well and to connect with her personally. As we grow, we refuse to give up that important aspect of our programs. 

In 2015 we will be adding a second floor classroom to our current one-story Maternity Center. With the extra space, we will be able to take 60 to 65+ pregnant women at a time, rather than our current 40. 

Additionally, the larger Maternity Center (about three miles from our current center) is still in development and is being built section by section as the funds are raised and available. 

The highlights of a year can certainly be about statistics, but as we have shared before, the highlights for all of us have more to do with relationships that are built and the ability to see the program really work. 

Mothers that are materially poor are not placing their babies in an orphanage. Women that previous believed they didn't have milk to nurse their babies are now breastfeeding well past the six month mark. Statistically speaking, many babies die in the first six weeks of life in Haiti. We just aren't experiencing those statistics. 

The ladies learn and use what they learn to help their neighbors. They exit the program knowing that something unique happened and when their friends, neighbors, and sisters get pregnant they ask for a spot in the program for them as well. 

Rather than a list of statistics, I'd like to point you to three of seventy-two stories from this year. Each of us would likely highlight different stories and people. For me, these standout when I think about 2014.

bottom photo taken December 2014, 11 months old

  • Guerda -  After suffering unimaginable loss (after loss after loss) Guerda carried and delivered her daughter safely.  Baby Sophonie is now six months old. Beth McHoul wrote her story here. 

  • One woman that was pregnant as a result of a rape struggled greatly with depression and hopelessness.  She wondered frequently if she could ever love her baby.  Her delivery was incredibly complicated and she was one of this year's transports - complete with lights and sirens and all the intense driving you can imagine.  After delivery via C-Section she had every postpartum complication imaginable - plus Chikungunya, a mosquito borne illness that took Haiti by storm mid-year.  The hits just kept coming for this woman.  Today she is the mother to an 8 month old son that she proudly shows off at every chance she gets.  She pumps extra milk to donate to a mother that was burned badly and cannot nurse her own baby.  This woman writes songs and sings about breastfeeding with us and encourages other mothers as they labor.  

In the middle of these situations, we all hope and pray for a good outcome. The truth is, we often wonder if love and compassion will matter enough to change anything. It is not unreasonable for a woman in such a traumatic situation to give up on love, give up on herself. Sometimes, even as we are saying it, we have a hard time believing that love can conquer fear.  In this situation, and in multiple others, we saw love work.  

Fanm vanyan
ke nou konnen yo
ke nou leve yo
ke nou tankou yo

Strong women
May we know them
May we raise them
May we be them

To make a year-end donation to Heartline Ministries,  please visit this page. 

To follow Maternity Center news as it happens, find these options:

Beth McHoul blogs on occasion HERE
Beth Johnson blogs on occasion HERE
Heartline Facebook page HERE
Heartline Twitter HERE

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

O Holy Night

Every direction you turn, images of Christmas are evident.You need not look far to find beautiful and thoughtful displays, tastefully decorated homes with glowing trees, and rows and rows of symmetrical twinkling lights. Step into one of these homes and the warm fire will greet you as you breathe in fresh scents of pine and cinnamon. It is beautiful and clean and so.very.pristine. 
Looking upon these exquisite arrangements one senses order and peace.
O Holy Night

In contrast I’m reflecting on the untidy disorder and chaos in the lives of so many celebrating Christmas around the world this year. They experience vastly different surroundings and a much more simplified version of the annual celebration of the Christ child. It looks nothing like the photos in the magazines and has not even the tiniest hint of Martha Stewart. There are no smells of fresh-baked cookies or apple cider to entice them. They don’t string lights around a tree, pile colorfully wrapped gifts high, or build gingerbread houses; yet meek and mild – they celebrate.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,’Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth

How did our celebration of this day become so clean and crisp? Where are the smells and  sweat and tears that were most certainly a part of Mary and Joseph’s journey?
It begs the question:  Do ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ scenes with sparkling lights and gorgeous decorations reflect the Christmas story best? Are the experiences of a frightened and ashamed teenage mother-to-be anything like that?

Do the marginalized and suffering in our world experience Christmas more like Mary and Joseph did – or do we?
A thrill of hope – the weary world rejoices
I’m reflecting on these two extremes.  I love the exquisitely ordered and the beautifully arranged. I close my eyes and picture that sort of beauty in our Heavenly home.
While yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
I long for a day when disparity and injustice ends. I dream of a Christmas were no child is enslaved, abused, and sold. I pray for the glorious morn, where the oppressed are free. I long to wake up to learn that no child is suffering or slowly starving to death. I dream of a day when people from every continent and every nation celebrate Jesus and His birth surrounded by love, joy, dancing, singing and immeasurable peace and beauty and justice.

Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace

Truthfully I also find great inspiration in the simple, dingy, gritty, humble celebrations of those who struggle and toil without access to our unstained images of Christmas. I long for their stripped down total dependence on God. I pray for spiritual wealth like that of the materially poor. I want their depth. I want their undying hope. I want a Christmas less like Oprah’s and more like theirs.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease

Our youngest daughter Lydia has been struggling with choices. When offered a choice of two things she’ll often reply, “I want two ones.”  When she says that, she means I want them both.

As I soak in Christmas this year I find myself wanting two ones.  I want the perfect looking, delicious smelling, pain-free and unpolluted Christmas and I want the dirty, stinky, humble, difficult, but miraculous Christmas that Mary and Joseph and the rich in faith experience.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us praise His holy name

While I attempt to reconcile two very different Christmases, the celebrations only make sense to me in the context of good overcoming evil. God coming to earth in the form of His son Jesus, to live a sinless life, to clear our debts for us … In His resurrection the promise that one day there will be beauty and justice for all.

The end of death. 

The end of suffering.
O Holy Night

(written December 2010 - republished at A Life Overseas)

Hear the Angels Sing

By Rick Porter (Uncle Rick)

Perhaps it’s just the Ebenezer Scrooge in me, but I’m not much of a caroler. When pressed into participation I sing, but rarely with the gusto of those around me. And too often I sing in a rote way, not giving full attention to the words. There is however, one line of one verse of one carol that always captures my attention.

A story is told of a man seasonally employed to bring the presence of Santa to Christmas gatherings for businesses and schools. He was on his way to a gig, an office party, but had been asked to stop by the nursing home to make a quick visit to the residents. This was pro bono work, but if Santa won’t do it who will?

He quickly made his rounds with a “ho, ho, ho” to each room. Just before departing, he peeked into a darkened cubicle where an elderly man lay apparently asleep, curled on his bony side. Santa prepared to leave in a flash. But the man made a feeble beckoning gesture visible in the dim light of a tiny Christmas tree. The volunteer Santa approached. The man whispered something so faintly as to be inaudible. Santa moved his jolly old ear very close to the man’s dry mouth. “Forms are bending low,” the man said. Santa did not connect the phrase, assumed confusion, gave a patronizing pat, and hurried off to his paying job.

As he arrived at the office party, holiday music was filling the room. The words of an old carol floated from the ceiling speakers:

O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

The song was “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” written as a poem in 1849 and put to music 10 years later. The essence of the song is that angels did not just appear and sing at the birth of Christ. They show up and serenade regularly and often. 

Just when we are so burdened as to not hear, at the most difficult of times, when life’s loads crush and our forms bend, they minister most. Immanuel, meaning “God-with-us,” attends us as His invisible person, the Holy Spirit, and He is attended by angels. The heart of God is to meet us at life’s darkest intersections with comfort, encouragement, a touch of heaven, and a breath of hope. The old man in the nursing home wasn’t just complaining to Santa about his lot in life. He was acknowledging that in Santa’s visit, no matter how hurried, there was an angelic grace.

Whether or not you sing the carols this year, be encouraged to live the carols. For you, this season may not be one of happiness, good memories, or togetherness. You may be grieving, regretful, or lonely. Life’s road seems crushing and your form is bending low. That does not disqualify you from the true Christmas message. While others scurry in apparent happiness, the invitation to the crushed and the bent still stands:

Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.