Saturday, January 12, 2019

9 years ago - Nou pap janm bliye

Phoebe, Hope, Isaac Livesay - photo taken 3 Days before the Palace fell - 2010


Link to First Post after EQ

Link to Google Doc of the memories we took time to write out.



Collette as she waited on a helicopter to the ship
She had a broken pelvis and was 9 months pregnant
Collette gave birth to Esther on the US Comfort Ship
Esther was the first baby born for their Haiti EQ deployment


We saw news people everywhere we went 


Jean lost his foot in the EQ - he had surgery days later to finish the amputation and prevent infection.
After surgery he worked with Physical Therapists to learn to walk again.

Dokte Jen worked with dozens of kids that lost limbs and fingers.

Troy described the airport as the Wild West in those early days after the EQ

A photo we took a few days after the EQ, life must go on.


Life Does Go On.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Dad to Five Daughters: A Newly Discovered Passage


 1 My children, these things write I unto ye, that ye be wise and endangereth not your life with cluelessness. 

And hereby I do proclaimeth until the end of days that we do not fully know what your earthy father doeseth for us. 

3She that dare sayeth, “Mom, I know that!”, and, “No, you are wrong”, keepeth not their cool, is a liar, and the truth is not in her/him.

I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye should have heard from the beginning. 

5 Geteth this and geteth it now, for ye hath heard not what I already dun said.

Again, I write unto you, be grateful for your good Dad because the darkness is past, and the light now shineth. 

7He endureth for the ages to picketh up your boyfriends and he comlaineth not and he keepeth his cool even though he be quite afraid you will geteth hurt. 

Fathers be good to your daughters ...
Daughters be good to your father too.



Troy Livesay married me many moons ago. He instantly became a dad to two daughters, they were eight and four years old at the time. 

He rocked the protector Dad role from day one. He made the oldest daughter's first boyfriend come to our house for apple pie with his parents before he would consider any other dating. We moved to Haiti when she was 15 years old. He watched as she fell in love at age 16 (with a boy on a short term mission trip to Haiti, no less!) and went off with her Prince Charming by 18.  (Totally working out - year ten anniversary trip happening right now.) 

He drove Paige to and from dates in Haiti before she graduated from High School. One time he drove her to break-up with a boy and witnessed an awkward teary scene. Once Paige was in college he invited her new boyfriend to spend six weeks with us in Haiti because it was the right thing to do and time was of the essence.  (Thank the Lord, that one worked out too! Year four anniversary was this week.) 

Troy is now on to daughter number three (of five) that is entering the "Daaaaddddddy, will you please allow my boyfriend to come visit" stage.  This (our norm) is not the regular way it happens in developed nations.  

Here in Haiti we have limited vehicles, limited time, and unlimited traffic jams. If a boy is to come see our girl, they must travel far - & for infinite amounts of time in order to reach a meeting spot where Troy has also traveled for an infinite amount of time. There has never been a boyfriend date in Haiti where a young man showed up in his own car and took our daughter for dinner and returned her in a few hours to our door. 

Dates in Haiti require Troy's participation and mercy. 

Hope was excited to see her male friend this afternoon. Troy made it happen.

Paige wrote me today and said, "The number of boys that Dad has had to awkwardly pick up for his gals, bless it. He has a special place in Heaven." 

Amen. I think so. 

Friday, January 04, 2019

People are Not Statistics - But Statistics Help

Sandra gave birth to her baby December 26, 2018
Baby Isaac was the last baby of 2018 for HMC
Let us look back on 2018 at the Heartline Maternity Center.

The tendency in doing any work is to look at the outcomes from a purely statistical approach.

How many? What categories? What cost per person? Was it "effective"?

At the Heartline Maternity Center we transparently report statistics and share our outcomes. Please always feel free to ask questions!

We also believe that some of the best things that happen, cannot and do not show up in a statistics report.

These numbers will never tell you how many hours were spent massaging backs, how many tears were shed over abuse, loss, or betrayal, or how many words of encouragement or prayers were offered.

The day to day work is incredibly relational. Because of the environment created by decades of material poverty combined with corrupt governments, the relational needs are intense. They are also  vital to the work of Midwifery.  It is not possible to work with a woman in child-bearing years (in Haiti) that has not had trauma.  That person does not exist here.


To know that the mother in labor has lost one baby to what she believes was a curse, and another to entrapment of the head during a breech delivery because of inadequate care, is to approach prenatal care and the birth with a unique empathy and tenderness that cannot be quantified with statistics.

The statistics do tell a story, they just don't tell the whole story.

Hopefully we have done a decent job of sharing a few of the stories this last year.  It is with the weight of responsibility that we share anything. Our hope and prayer is that we honor the women we work with, telling their stories is something we do with caution and intentional forethought and discussion.

The stats below will possibly mean more to people that work in the area of Maternal Health, and especially to those that work within a developing world setting.  We are so pleased with some of these findings and excited to continue to gather data in the years to come.

One note on our culture of care. Because our organization values Haitian medical professionals, we want to invest in, and employ as many as possible. We don't take students or medical volunteers from North America to get or have an experience here. We cannot help students get their clinical numbers. We need and want to be sure we are investing in the local workforce, doing career development and further training. They will always be in Haiti and their skills being fine-tuned to serve and help their neighbors is our first priority. Our goal is not to disappoint potential volunteers, our goal is to invest in the women that can make a difference in Maternal Health in Haiti for the long-haul. 

We welcome tours 6 days a week when an appointment is made and are happy to show you the Maternity Center and the work happening here. Email KJ or tara.livesay@heartlineministries.org to set up a tour!

The only rare exception is for coverage when we have two or more staff members gone on vacation or an emergency situation. In that case we ask for CNMs or CPMs with Haiti experience and ideally some (Kreyol or French) language skills. If you are that person, and are interested in helping sometime in the future, please contact us to be added to our list.

We love what we do at the HMC and we hope to share our model with anyone that wants to copy it. Our next Starting Place class will likely be held in May of 2019. Details to come.

THE STATS - IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

118 Babies were born to Moms that were in the Heartline Prenatal Program in 2018

(We made a mistake and counted wrong, we apologize for putting out a number that was not correct in late December.)


116 Babies lived
1 baby died due to prematurity at a hospital,
1 baby died due to a cord prolapse at the hospital
(we are working on meeting with that hospital)

53boys (2 passed away) 65 girls

0 Maternal Death 

Two years ago we started something new. We began giving any G1 or higher risk for Pre-E woman  calcium and aspirin every day for the duration of the pregnancy.  We needed to give it time in order to report the findings, but we now have three-year stats to compare and see how well it is working.

(SIDE NOTE - in 2015 we did NO Calcium and Aspirin and we had a 26% Pre-E rate)

The 3 year Pre-E rate for 2016-2017-2018 is 10.3%

2016 Pre-E  11%
2017 Pre-E  6.3%
2018 Pre-E 13.5%

For the last 3 years - The transfer (to another hospital due to complication) rate is 25.7%

Last 3 years rate for C/Section is 13.2%

In 2018 only we had a  - 2.5% PPH rate - due mainly to active management of the third stage

First time Moms made up  52.5.% of our clients

1,725 - Prenatal Visits in 2018
4,050 - Vitals Signs on Thursdays in 2018
Oldest Mom to Deliver  42 years old (in 2018)
Youngest  15 years old (2018)

The last three years: 3.3% Preterm labor (prior to 37 weeks)

10 people lost their spot in the program due to poor attendance. For us attendance is key. We don't allow anyone in the Prenatal program to miss a Thursday without contacting us first and having their consult rescheduled. When there is "buy-in" outcomes are so much better.  Coming weekly creates buy in!

In 2018 2 babies born at home (because Mom could not get out fast enough) and 1 baby born in the street in front of the MC.

830 Women received Family Planning (Depo Provera mostly) (just 2018)

2018 - 2.5% miscarriage rate

Average woman begins the program at 9 weeks gestation

3 year miscarriage total 16-17-18 - 3.4 miscarriage (loss of baby up to 20 weeks gestation)

0 - IUFD in last three years (baby that dies 20 weeks to term)

Biggest success story of the year, Baby Ruth born at 32 weeks and is thriving.

Biggest challenge of the year, Baby Wisler born at term in November - still hospitalized and undiagnosed .  (January 2019 update - he was released with a G-tube for feeding. He will have his surgery to close his palate when he is six months hold.)

2018 -  Two shoulder dystocia -- with resuscitation  - the more difficult one was 5 minutes long with a 4.5 min resuscitation

85% of the babies born at HMC were delivered by Haitian Midwives !!

We have increased the number of women we serve by 31% over the last two years - we will hold at these numbers for 2019.

LASTLY ...
Here is to another great year.  We ARE INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL FOR YOUR INVESTMENT AND PRAYERS!!! THANK YOU.

2019 Births were kicked off last night:

Midwife Mica with Guetly in early labor

Guetly and her daughter right after she was born,
pictured with her sister

Monday, December 31, 2018

Your Mourning Will Turn Into Dancing





There are three needs of the griever: 
To find the words for the loss, 
to say the words aloud 
and 
to know that the words have been heard.

 -Victoria Alexander 




I don't know how many hundred photos we take in a year. 
Too many hundred.  

This is the one photo that defines this year we are about to usher outI remember what we were crying about and I know what we feared. The months ahead proved to be disorienting and painful.We are all grateful to bring a year of confusion and disappointment to an end.
(I recognize that this reference to the troubling events is vague and it is intentionally so. I apologize for that.) 
I have previously shared here that during this challenging year I became a daily evening cocktail person. 

In October when Troy and I went to Alberta for our 20th wedding anniversary I had the space and time to examine the way my habits had grown more and more unhealthy. 

I was pushing away anger, sadness, and grief by having a drink or two every night. Occasionally I waited until the kitchen was empty to go have a third drink. It happened so gradually without me really steping back or seeing myself and how often I was choosing to numb out. I believed and told myself, "You deserve this. Your life is stressful."  

On our trip to one of the most beautiful places on earth (HI CANDADA!) I had a lot of time to sit in the beauty of creation and talk with God. I had time to listen. I chose to allow myself to not be ALWAYS busy so that I could hear. I think staying busy and never sitting in silence is another way I numb out. I decided while we were in Canada to work on feeling all the terrible feelings and to attempt to not numb anything. I stopped drinking 61 days ago. I am still uncomfortable with the clarity it provides and the extra time it gives me to feel and think, but I am trying to be less numb and less busy in order to intentionally meet with God. 

I am so shocked by the number of people (women especially) that shared that they feel they are also in an unhealthy relationship with food or alcohol or internet or or or any number of things. To each of you that wrote and said, "me too", thank you for choosing to be vulnerable with me. You made me feel less alone in my struggle. 

There are so many great resources out there for "gray area" drinking habits. I found these two articles especially helpful:


1. https://medium.com/@caylavidmar/the-dangerous-gray-area-of-casual-drinker-9-ways-i-stopped-drinking-7c8db1137aa7

An excerpt that explains my motivation for sharing from the link above: 

It’s one thing to want to stop drinking in private, it’s another thing entirely to tell the people in your life that you’re actively cutting back. This makes a massive difference in your success.
When you privately want to stop drinking, you’re still living within the same relationships and environments that are leading you to drinking in the first place.
It’s easy to justify drinking when no one is holding you accountable, when you haven’t changed the dynamics of stating you’re no longer drinking.
This was a hurdle for me, because if I told people about wanting to be sober, I actually had to do it.
If you don’t tell people, you’re basically planning to fail. So tell someone, tell your friends you’re cutting back, you’re only drinking 1 night a week, or whatever goal you have set. Make sure it’s a concrete goal (ie. I’m not drinking during the work week) instead of vague (ie. I’m cutting back on my drinking). That way it’s discernable and measurable for you and everyone else around you."
** ** ** **

I don't have a lot of advice to offer at day 61, but I do know that a lot of folks are dealing with wounds and you are not alone.




In spite of the challenges we faced, God faithfully and generously provided. He worked with our wound. Heartline Ministries had a really good year.  




If you are interested in reading a brief year-end summary, please visit HERE .

If you are interested in giving a year-end gift before midnight brings us to 2019, go here.

If you are interested in seeing the 12 Days of Christmas featuring all things Haiti, see this:




Happy New Opportunities for wholeness in 2019.

T & T & Crew 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Dog Angel


On a hot June afternoon in 1989, the summer between my Junior and Senior year of high school, my little sister somehow convinced my parents that I needed a dog for my seventeenth birthday. I am not sure why she was working this idea so hard when my birthday was still five weeks away. I had not ever been given a dog for a gift, I was not some sort of dog fanatic, I wasn't asking for a puppy. 

I cannot say I understand what motivated her to begin this crusade on my behalf, but she is nothing if not persistent. You don't know the number of dogs that have joined my family as a result of my sister's fierce passion and perseverance.  

You don't know, because I can't tell you.  It is that many.

The guy I had been dating for almost two years had a Samoyed. Even though we didn't herd reindeer, or even regular deer, my sister begged my parents for the same breed.

My sister is the youngest and we know now that youngest children have magical super powers. The youngest can make parents do things those same parents would otherwise label as utter nonsense.

Lydia suggests things and confetti falls from the sky in celebration of her wonderful ideas.  Ask our oldest, Britt, this was not her childhood experience.

My little sister Tina, at age 14, knew that she had a window of opportunity.  She broke their will and got my parents to see a Samoyed puppy right away, even though it was not time to give me a gift.

When Tina is involved, seeing a Samoyed puppy is buying a Samoyed puppy; and that is exactly what happened.

On that particular Saturday in June, I was with my boyfriend. I was 16 and he was 18.  We both had July birthdays, so we were nearing the wiser older ages of 17 and 19.
Saturday 24 June 1989
The US president was George H. W. Bush (Republican). Famous people born on this day include Teklemariam Medhin . In that special week of June people in US were listening to Satisfied by Richard Marx.
{Go ahead and google Teklemariam Medhin.  I don't know him. He's not that famous.}

It turns out that teenagers without fully developed frontal lobes make choices and decisions that are totally and completely hormone driven.   

This is how, on the same day my boyfriend and I lost our virginity (and ALSO MANAGED TO make a baby),  I also received a Samoyed puppy. 

Now you may be wondering what the point of this story is, and why I chose to share it.  

Me too.

That puppy was named Angel. She was not that.  

My family has laughing fits remembering the winters of 1989 to 1995. 

The most vivid Angel memories involve my Dad running through deep snow in his rose colored bathrobe trying to catch that defiant dog and get her to come back in the house.

The baby came 40 weeks later. 
She was named Brittany.
She is a dog lover.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Our 12th Annual Christmas Extravaganza



The Twelve Days of Christmas, Haiti Style.

From our family to yours, wishes and hopes and prayers for supernatural pockets of peace this coming weekend and Christmas Eve and Day.

In the midst of the sorrows and brokenness around us we pray rest.

For just a few days maybe we can stop and breathe in the deep and abiding love of Jesus and remember what his birth, life, death, and resurrection mean.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none

Antoinette and her son Aiden with Doctor Jen Halverson
Aiden was born at the same time his Mom lost her leg, January 25, 2010

Once upon a time there was a little island in the Caribbean that was picked up, shaken around, and dropped down. 

When the little island stopped shaking the warriors began to fight their way out from under the rubble. 


Today, you meet one such warrior. 

 Here you see Antoinette and her son Aiden. 

On January 12, 2010 Antoinette suffered an injury during the shaking that caused her to lose her leg. It had to be amputated. She was 8 and half months pregnant at the time the earth shook. Imagine you are in excruciating pain for 12 days, wondering if you'll die from infection, wondering if anyone can get to you in time, wondering if the baby you are carrying will die with you. 

Heartline had a "Field Hospital" (this means we did our best to create a hospital to help injured folks."

The U.S. Navy sent a ship. On that ship people that had been hurt were offered medical care and miracles.


Wikipedia says:
Operation Unified Response (2010)[edit]Main article: 2010 Haiti earthquakeOn 13 January 2010, Comfort was ordered to assist in the humanitarian relief efforts following the 2010 Haiti earthquake as part of Operation Unified Response.[7] Three days later on 16 January Comfort left the Port of Baltimore bound for Haiti. She arrived Wednesday, 20 January 2010 and began medical treatment early that day.[8][9] The deployment marks the first time the ship has reached full operational capacity, utilizing all 12 operating rooms and 1,000 beds, since she was delivered to the Navy in 1987.[10] The mission also saw the ship's first on-board delivery, of a 4-pound, 5-ounce premature baby named Esther.[11]Although the ship is less capable than a traditional hospital on land, she offered the most advanced medical care available in Haiti following the earthquake.[3]Between 19 January and 28 February 2010 the ship's staff treated 1,000 Haitian patients and performed 850 surgeries.[12] As of 8 March, Comfort had discharged its last patient.[13] On 10 March, the ship ended her mission in the Joint Task Force Haitiarea as part of Operation Unified Response, and returned to her home port.[14]

(FUN SIDE NOTE - We also know Baby Esther and her Mom and remain in contact with them as well! That is another crazy-good miracle story of a broken pelvis and a baby and Mom that lived.)

Antoinette did not die.  Her son did not die.  

Life has been incredibly challenging and there is more than a novel in what has happened in their lives since 2010, but here they are alive and hopeful and coming to see Doctor Jen Halverson. 

Jen is the Doc that helped coordinate and serve them in the many many months of recovery after they left the USNS Comfort ship.  

EARLIER THIS YEAR Antoinette was able to get a NEW LEG at Healing Hands for Haiti. 
Heartline MInistries paid the $800 fee to have her new leg crafted. 

WHEN YOU DONATE -- YOU ARE "Heartline". When you donate YOU ARE healing, you are new legs, you are hope, you are investing in babies and mommas. 
Your gifts are what keeps these relationships alive.

IF YOU WISH TO HELP keep us going, please consider a YEAR END gift.  ANY questions you have about year end giving or our organization are valid and good and we want to answer them.

PLEASE contact:  Ashley Leonard or Danielle May or myself with questions. 
Our emails are on this page: https://heartlineministries.org/staff/

TO CONSIDER A DONATION - HERE IS OUR WEBSITE:


CHECK US OUT --  Please give THIS DECEMBER.

A and A in 2010 


PostScript -
We remain grateful for the work of the United States Naval Comfort ship and EVERY SINGLE volunteer and donor that helped us offer a field hospital for the year of 2010.  
What an insanely difficult and gorgeous time that was. 
May we continue to love all, trust a few, and do wrong to none.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

All the Christmas



"But this child was a new kind of king. Though he was the Prince of Heaven, he had become poor. Though he was the Mighty God, he had become a helpless baby. This King hadn't come to be the boss. He had come to be a servant."

-the jesus storybook bible








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.

Written by Rick Porter, Spirit Lake, Iowa 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 




A tradition that causes some snapping (Troy) 
and joy and laughter every December ...




Heartline Maternity Center, Port-au-Prince, Haiti 

 SARAH STYLES BESSEY originally posted on DECEMBER 14, 2011




If more women were pastors or preachers, we’d have a lot more sermons and books about the metaphors of birth and pregnancy connecting us to the story of God. (I am rather tired of sports and war metaphors.)
The divinity of God is on display at Christmas in beautiful creche scenes. We sing songs of babies who don’t cry. We mistake quiet for peace. A properly antiseptic and church-y view of birth, arranged as high art to convey the seriousness and sacredness of the incarnation.  It is as though the truth of birth is too secular for Emmanuel, it doesn’t look too holy in its real state. So the first days of the God-with-us requires the dignity afforded by our editing.
But this? This creating out of passion and love, the carrying, the seemingly-never-ending-waiting, the knitting-together-of-wonder-in-secret-places,  the pain, the labour, the blurred line between joy and “someone please make it stop,” the “I can’t do it” even while you’re in the doing of it, the delivery of new life in blood and hope and humanity?
This is the stuff of God.
There is something Godly in the waiting, in the mystery, in the fact that we are a part of it, a partner with it but we are not the author of it. How you know that there is life coming and the anticipation is sometimes exciting and other times exhausting, never-ending. How there is a price that you pay for the love love love.
I was fortunate to give birth to three of my tinies without complications. I find myself thinking of those experiences often during Advent; they are still very fresh for me. My eldest daughter was born in the hospital in a fairly usual way. My littlest girl was born at home, in water, with midwives, a beautiful and redemptive experience for me. But it’s the birth of my son, my Joe, that stays with me in these winter months.  His was an unintended free birth in our building’s parking garage while we were on our way to the hospital. We were alone – no midwife, no doctor, not even in our own home with a clean floor but instead a garage filled with gasoline and tire smells. My husband was scared; a lot of things could go wrong in this scenario (he had the good sense to act like he was in control though). And we were surrounded by strangers – helpful, concerned strangers but strangers nonetheless – and they were witnessing me give birth.
And yet my body had taken over and all we could do, all I could do, was surrender to that moment fully. Every muscle in my body was focused, my entire world had narrowed to that very moment.  And then there he was, born while I was leaning against our old truck, standing up, into my own hands, nearly 9 pounds of shrieking boy-child humanity, welcomed by my uncontrollable laughter and his father’s uncontrollable relief-tears. A few people applauded.
There wasn’t anything very dignified about giving birth.
And yet it was the moment when I felt the line between the sacred and the secular of my life shatter once and for all. The sacred and holy moments of life are somehow the most raw, the most human moments, aren’t they?
But we keep it quiet, the mess of the Incarnation, because it’s just not church-y enough and men don’t quite understand and it’s personal, private, there aren’t words for this and it’s a bit too much.  It’s too much pain, too much waiting, too much humanity, too much God, too much work, too much joy, too much love and far too messy. With far too little control. And sometimes it does not go the way we thought it was supposed to go and then we are also left with questions, with deep sadness, with longing.
My entire concept of God shifted in that moment, leaving my brain and my life and my theology to catch up with what my soul now knew deep. I could never see God as anything other than through the lens of the Incarnation, of his Father-Mother heart and his birth now. No theologian or counter-circumstance-experience can take away from what I know, what many mothers the world over know in their heart of hearts about loss and birth and raising babies and real transformation: it’s Love and it is sacred and it is human and it all redeems.  The very truth that God put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood through birth, even – especially –  that experience of birth, now showing us what it means to be truly human.
Women can tell this part of the story this Christmas, the glimpse behind the veil, the life lived in the in-between of the stuff of God. There is a story on your lips, isn’t there, mama? of how you saw the face of God in the midst of fear or pain or joy and understood, really understood, Mary, not kneeling chastely beside a clean manger refraining from touching her babe, just moments after birth but instead, sore and exhilarated, weary and pressing a sleepy, wrinkled newborn to her breasts, treasuring every moment in her heart, marvelling not only at his very presence but at her own strength, how surrender and letting go is true work, tucking every sight and smell and smack of his lips into her own marrow.
God, Incarnate, Word made flesh, born of a woman. We can tell the true, messy stories of the Incarnation. Emmanuel, God with us. May we recognise the miracle of the Incarnation, not in spite of the mess, but because of the very humanness of it.



Monday, December 10, 2018

O Holy Night

beautiful-christmas-holiday
Every direction you turn, images of Christmas..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

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 hot 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 and utterly tidy? 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 perfectly placed 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. 
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. Where no refugee is left to sleep another night without clothing and food or a place to lie down. 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 can freely 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 or the magazines 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 a baby, to live a sinless life, to clear our debts for us, to teach us how to love one another … 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

(originally written December 2010 - republished at A Life Overseas)