Thursday, October 13, 2016

One-Uppers - Natural Disaster Edition

Beautiful Haiti 

We have been running non stop from task to task and haven't yet taken the time to write much about the passage of Hurricane Matthew.  The short version is this:  Port au Prince did really well and the storm did not cause damage to very many homes in the densely populated area where we live. We stayed near home and waited for the storm to pass and kept our kids home those days. Thankfully their teacher travels and she came and did school with them at home. 

The bad and really overwhelming news is that the damage caused to the south west corner of the island is unimaginable. Many lives, homes, and all the crops have been lost. Cholera is starting to spread in that area. Many areas have so many trees down that they have been unreachable since Tuesday the 4th of October when the Hurricane passed over our island.  

The good news is this:  It seems we all learned a lot from the 2010 Earthquake.  Faith-based groups and larger NGOs mainly seem to be working together really well right now.  People are trading information, supplies, and equipment and setting aside personal or mission agendas in order to quickly respond to the needs.  That part is really beautiful to see.  It appears that any group interested in their own agenda only will quickly be left in the dust, this is about cooperation and a response driven by the needs and desires of the Haitian people. That is our commitment. 

Today Troy is leaving his role of logistics coordinator and headed on a flight to Dame Marie to help a friend get set up treating water out there.  I was able to go to Texas for three days to see Graham and Paige and Britt (and my parents too!) for a quick birthday celebration for Graham. It was weird to be away from home when I knew Troy was working his buns off trying to keep everything going, but we always try to prioritize family and the trip was planned and felt important.  Graham is a package of joy and he delivered much therapy to me in the form of laughing, dancing, kisses, and funny conversations. On the way home from Florida I was listening in on conversations around me as Haitians and Americans compared notes about what they were hearing and seeing in the South. It made me think of this old post I wrote at A Life Overseas and I need to laugh right now.  Maybe you do too.

(Most of our Haiti and relief-work updates right now will be on the right side of this blog in the Instagram Feed.)


by TARA LIVESAY on JUNE 2, 2014
For some reason 2014 is the year that I cannot seem to formulate many serious or deep thoughts when discussing my “life overseas”.  I would like to believe it is simply “a season”, and not some major personality flaw.  
With a virus spreading like wild-fire, life in Haiti has been especially rough for the last several weeks, it doesn’t appear that it will let up anytime soon.  My husband and I are walking through new things with our adult kids that we launched not so long ago while trying to be present with the five we still have at home.
Things just feel a little more intense than usual. Maybe laughing at myself (and you) is my favored way to remain positive.
When things get rough, find something to laugh at, even if it is yourself.
A few years back there was a skit on Saturday Night Live based on a character named Penelope.  She was the person who was always driven to one-up everyone else, in every situation, even when it was to celebrate how much more miserable she was than everyone else.
Perhaps you stated that your relatives came over on the Mayflower. Well, Penelope’s came over a month before yours did on the “Aprilflower.”
You got in a bad car accident yesterday? Penelope had been in three that very day.
She was often not even invited into a conversation, but still, she would interject and get the spotlight and out-do all other stories being shared with her over the top competitive one-upper neurosis.
I get a kick out of the way humanitarian workers, missionaries, and expats can come off a little bit like Penelope without even lying or trying.  Sometimes we scroll through our Twitter or other social media accounts and see our friends in the developed world airing their legitimate grievances and we nod in agreement.  Often times the Penelope in us comes out.
Now, remember, most of us are being totally honest and not necessarily trying to be a one-upper, but by default and by life circumstance, we just ARE.
Here are some possible examples,
A pal in Minnesota says, “I have been so sick with this nasty cold for more than a week.”  Expat/M/HW says: “Yeah, I have had Dengue Fever, Cerebral Malaria, and Chikungunya this last year, being sick really stinks.”
Your little sister says, “Please pray for my daughter to do well in marching band try outs, she is very nervous.”  Expat/M/HW says: “Yeah, my daughter is getting on a puddle jumper in a few hours to escape civil unrest in our country and she is nervous (about being shot) too.”
Person says, “Oh my gosh, our hot water broke and it has been a week without it!”  Expat/M/HW says: “Yeah, we don’t have hot water (like, ever) – I hear that!”
Your aunt says, “The storm took out our power and we have gone without power for three days!” Expat/M/HW says: “Yeah, our batteries and inverter got stolen and the generator is on the fritz too, we won’t have power for six to nine months – we have to fundraise 5K first.”
Friend says, “Oh.My.GOSH. I sat in traffic forEVER today on the way into the city.”  Expat/M/HW says: “I totally understand that. I do that every day of every month of every year. As a matter of fact, last night I slept in traffic.”
Brother says, “I paid $4.20 per gallon for gas this morning, how atrocious.” Expat/M/HW says: “Oh, gasoline? We haven’t had any here in three weeks. I would love to pay $4.20 for some.”
Co-worker says, “The grocery store was totally out of my brand of Greek yogurt, I was so bummed.” Expat/M/HW says, “The country I live in never built the store that had refrigerators for Greek yogurt. So, yeah, also bummed.”
Your buddy says, “We went out to eat and it took 45 minutes to get our food! Can you believe that?”  Expat/M?HW says, “We did too, there was nothing available on the menu so we had warm Coke for lunch.”
While the truth may be that your day-to-day inconveniences consistently trump those of your friends “back home”, I advise you to leave your Penelope responses in your head.
If you do,  you will always have friends.
Is it ever hard to offer others your sincere empathy or a listening ear when the complaints seem smallish from your point of view?  
Do you bust out your Penelope on them, or hold your tongue? 

 ~         ~         ~          ~          ~
 ~         ~         ~          ~          ~

LINK to Hurricane Relief Giving ONLY HERE  -
Prior to the hurricane’s landfall in the southern provinces, thousands of Haitians were still living in temporary camps set up for displaced people following the 2010 earthquake that killed over 200,000 people. The region has also been ravaged by a devastating cholera epidemic. The number of cholera cases will dramatically increase without clean water and sanitation.

Heartline Ministries and partners are committed to the following principles:
  • Locally sourcing and purchasing all food, supplies, and other emergency materials.
  • Working through well-established and trusted grassroots organizations led by local Haitian leaders.
  • Adhering to the SPHERE universal minimum standards in humanitarian response.
Please Help Now:
  • Pray. Please pray for safety, protection, and relief assistance for victims of this disaster.
  • Give. Please help us respond quickly during the critical first hours and days of this response.
  • Follow. We will post real time updates to our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram pages. Please follow us there to stay connected.
A note to faithful Heartline Ministries donors: The children and families served through Heartline programs are counting on your continued support. We appreciate your ongoing, regular giving that funds our existing ministries.

To donate by check, please make checks payable to Heartline Ministries and designate "Hurricane Relief." Mail to:
Heartline Ministries
P.O. Box 898
Sunnyside, WA 98944

About Heartline Ministries
Heartline Ministries has been working in Haiti for over 25 years. Based in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Heartline Ministries works to strengthen Haitian families and prevent children from becoming orphans by empowering Haitians with education, employment, maternal and infant health care, job skills training, and Christian outreach. For more information, visit

Stewardship is of utmost importance to Heartline Ministries. We are committed to excellent financial management of the resources entrusted to us. Donations will be used for emergency relief and long-term recovery efforts in response to Hurricane Matthew.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Good Word - Every Virtue Is An Expression Of Love

If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. 

Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. 

Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love.

Richard Rohr 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ode to NutDog One Point Oh

Peanut 2008 & Noah, age 4
Thank-you to all of you that did not OPENLY eye-roll our dog drama yesterday.

(If you openly eye-rolled, you get zero thanks.) (Just be discreet!)

We get that the world is chock-full of real and terrible problems.  We do.

Actually, we sometimes see those problems from the front row, which means we get that losing a pet is sorta kinda a first-world (person of privilege that has money to feed a pet) type prob.

Yesterday, we took a moment away from the real world problems to grieve the loss of our dog, Peanut. None of us are so shallow in depth that we think this is of huge importance beyond our own family --- but for a few hours it felt very big.

I actually understand if you eye-rolled while also leaving a sweet word.  That seems pretty appropriate too.

We arrived in Haiti early in 2006.  Prior to our arrival, in December of 2005 a litter of Mastiff puppies was born.  John and Beth McHoul's male Mastiff was the dad of the litter, meaning they got to choose a puppy as payment.   That puppy became our first pet in Haiti and also the first pet any of the Livesay kids from Isaac on can recall.  Britt and Paige had a Cocker Spaniel before Haiti, but none of the other kids knew that dog.

Peanut was named by our oldest daughter, Brittany.  She was such an amazing pet right from the start. We loved her. We had never owned a big dog before. Mastiffs are BIG dogs.  In her first year she ate way too much rat poison and almost died, but thanks to the internet we figured out how to get her to puke it up just in time.

She came to the USA when Britt moved to college.  (Because stupid is as stupid does.)  Peanut then had to return to Haiti, but only after a bunch of ridiculous crap happened.  (THANK YOU, DAD!)

Here is what I know from that time:  Lactating women that are ALSO saying goodbye to a child that is heading to college - yeah - those women will make shit happen.  They are not women you should mess with.  Ever.  That is a hormonal cornucopia that nobody should challenge.

Peanut was a faithful, loving, protective friend to all the kids. She never hurt anyone. She loved and protected. Even when Lydia and Phoebe were babies and we had the foster kids in the house, Peanut was never an obnoxious big dog, she didn't knock babies over.  She was way too smart for that kind of nonsense. We had her for ten years and ten months, making her older than both Phoebe and Lydia.  She was smart and protective and gentle.

She started acting ill on Thursday. It did not get better or worse.  I texted our  wonderful Vet friend and just said that I wasn't sure what was going on with Peanut.

On Monday the kids arrived home from school to find that she had died not very long before they got home.  Thankfully Troy was with them and Beth McHoul was able to come over too to talk with them and be here at our house with them until I got home.

Our kids have quite distinct and individual personalities and approaches to life.  Each child here is experiencing their first loss of this kind.  (Troy's brother died in 2010 but they were all too young to really get that and they had not known him well because we had been in Haiti four years.)

The kids all responded in their own precious and unique way.   Isaac is the biggest dog lover of the group, he also is not one to exhibit outward negative emotion.  It was a lot for him to lose his dog.  I wondered if he would cry for the first time in several years.

As he went to bed last night, he asked that Troy please be sure whomever was going to put Peanut into the grave/ground  please not just throw her in it. He wanted them to gently set her in the ground.

I was at a birth in the night last night and arrived home this morning around the time the kids were waking up.  I saw Lydia first and noticed she was wearing something I had never seen her wear before.  I said, "Lou Lou - what are you wearing today?"   She made a big sweeping motion up and down with her hand and said, "Funeral clothes, Mom,"  A few minutes later Isaac came down into the kitchen looking pretty dressed up and I said, "Oh are you wearing funeral clothes too?"  He told me that Hope had called for dark clothing for the day.  He said, "Hope said wear black or grey."

I love it.  Nobody would question Hope.  She knows things.  MANY things. She is the big sister of this house, and big sisters have  a leadership role. They all left the house this morning wearing black, grey or navy blue.  They were appropriately somber.  Lydia wondered why I was not attending the funeral.  I told her that her Dad was our representative and I was going to return to work but I would be with them in spirit.

Troy said that they arrived at the land this morning and the dog was already down in the ground waiting on them.  They all put their notes into a box and placed them in the grave with the dog. A few of the kids said something.  Isaac very carefully set big scoops of dirt down around the dog.  He did not want to just toss it carelessly down.

The two sweet Haitian men that dug the grave were kind and understanding even though it is super duper first-world to cry about a dog.   They stayed quiet while the kids did what they needed to do.

Apparently word of the boss-guy-Troy out there crying with his kids was big gossip around the mission. Troy has less than zero cares to give about that.  Tender dudes cry with their sad kids. It is okay if that is mocking material.

Rest Peanut, you were the best dog ever.


Your People

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On Race and Inclusion

A few years back our family experienced the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN.  What a gift that day was for us.

Standing in that place and learning more together as a family about the racism and hatred that did (and does) divide us was transformative. Perhaps it was transformative especially for Troy and I, the parents charged with raising children who are experiencing the world from diverse and uncommon vantage points. The children adopted and born into a trans-racial family.

At one time we were a transracial family of seven living in a rural and white part of Minnesota.  Then we were a transracial family of nine living in the black country of Haiti. The lessons we learn (are still learning) in both locations are valuable and sometimes difficult.  Unfortunately, the curse and sin of discrimination and racism exists on all soil and in both of the places we have lived. 

I cannot easily quantify the things we have  learned on this little island, but I do know that learning what it is to be the minority and to experience a bit of judgment and skepticism based mainly on my skin color has been an immeasurable gift, especially to my Haitian children whom I can now better empathize with and honor. 

**        **        **

For our kids, the most comfortable place is hanging out with another family just like ours.   The fact is, when we are out and about in Haiti, we stand out. When we are out and about in Texas or Minnesota, we stand out.  (And we aren't total dummies, we know the standing out has much to do with our sheer numbers and Lydia's Nick Nolte-mug-shot-hair- it is not only our colorful family-members.)  

The place the kids (both black and white) felt best understood and known was with the family we were close with that also lived and worked in Haiti and had two brown and three white kids that were similar ages. Perhaps the gift of this particular family and the way they were especially able to "get" us is why their necessary return to the USA sent a couple of our kids into an especially long grieving process.

It is important for all of us to have a place we feel we belong. A place we are known and accepted. A place we don't feel 'other' or odd or different and alone. I know that is true for my tribe. I assume it is true for us all. 

Over the years our second to youngest daughter (Phoebe) has wished aloud to be white. The baby of the family (Lydia) has wished aloud to be Haitian or adopted. One time she told me, "no-fair, I am not adopted and I have only one mom!" I think what they were both saying at the time was, "I feel different or alone right now and I want to feel the same and included." 

When our daughter Hope was just four years old we were walking together through a toy section of a local store. She has always been short in stature but unusually feisty, introspective, and observant. She had the tiniest little Mini-Mouse voice combined with the fierceness and moxie of Muhammad Ali. She said, "Momma, why don't any of these doll-babies have my color?"   

I have not forgotten her question. It reminds me that she needs to see herself when she looks out at the world.  She wants and needs black female role models that she can relate to and identify with like our friends Dieula or Agathe or Angela.  

A deep sense of belonging is more important than I once cared to admit or recognize. As a parent I hope and pray and desperately want my children to grow up believing and feeling they belong to God, and it is my responsibility to show His love to them by reflecting it. One way Troy and I are choosing to do that is to be careful not to discount the fact that each of our children experience our world in unique ways and as a result they need different help and encouragement from us.

I am loving the new series that Bryan and Angela Tucker are working on right now.  If you are an adoptive parent, or honestly even if you are not, they are doing us all a great service with their new series called The Adopted Life. It specifically points to issues of race and inclusion but also it reminds us that we are all seeking to be known and understood. 

The article below was published last year, but I just came across it this week. I found it fascinating which is why I am sharing it here. It is the story of a woman named Harriet asking that a black child be included in the Peanuts comic strip. 

**          **          **

Why Charles M. Schulz Gave Peanuts A Black Character (1968)

(Click title above to read the entire article at 

But would his publishers go for it? Would the readers?
In the 1980s, Schulz recalled the fight to feature Franklin:
“There was one strip where Charlie Brown and Franklin had been playing on the beach, and Franklin said, ‘Well, it’s been nice being with you, come on over to my house some time. [My editors] didn’t like that. Another editor protested once when Franklin was sitting in the same row of school desks with Peppermint Patty, and said, ‘We have enough trouble here in the South without you showing the kids together in school.’ But I never paid any attention to those things, and I remember telling [United Features president] Larry [Rutman] at the time about Franklin—he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, ‘Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?’ So that’s the way that ended….

Monday, September 12, 2016

Education is Prevention - Troy's Thoughts

I really want to communicate something well and I'm afraid I can't do it justice. Sometimes I don't do very well promoting our work in this social media space, because I'm uncomfortable with the hyperbole and lack of nuance that so many ministries and causes use when telling stories. 

Development/missions/cross-cultural work is rarely, if ever, quick and clean and easy enough to package into a post or advertisement that will sell or raise funds in our fast-paced society.

With all that said, here is what I've been struggling to share:

This year Heartline came very close to making the hard decision to close our Women's Education Center for financial reasons. The women who need it and benefit from it the most often can not pay enough for it to be sustainable. We are charging fees this year and offering scholarships when possible in an attempt to keep the school going. During our last meeting to go over the 'plan' (in which the math doesn't work and we realize we need to step out in faith) - the Haitian director of the school and her husband simply said:

"All around the city of Port au Prince there is an increase in prostitution. Women are increasingly desperate and we are seeing it in areas we have never seen prostitution before. This school needs to open and continue offering an alternative and teaching skills that allow women to support themselves in better ways."

I can't get that out of my head.

The Women's Education Center opened for the 2016-2017 school year today.

Thank you for your prayers and support - from Heartline, the women of Haiti, and their families.

*    *    *    *    *

Written by Tara:

I'm not sure who might follow along on other social media - especially on the Heartline Ministries official page.  In case you may have missed it on Heartline's page, effective September 1, 2016, Troy became the Director of Heartline Ministries in Haiti. The McHouls (John and Beth McHoul, Founders of Heartline Ministries) have laid the groundwork and have given 27+ years of non-stop dedication to this work.  We hope that by stepping into their roles, they might have a chance to rest, relax, and experience a bit of a chance to release the biggest stresses of leadership and ministry. The link to that announcement is HERE.  

For Troy and I -  To say that we struggle with the nuances of sharing the stories of our Haitian friends, co-laborers, and neighbors is a bit of an understatement.  We don't want to hyper-spiritualize or under-appreciate the things that happen here.  We want to be truthful and honest and respectful, and check our emotions and frustrations and our own paradigms and filters at the door.   While it is not entirely possible because, HUMAN, we hope to share with you the work happening here with integrity and honesty.  It is not perfect.  It is not always successful.  It is complicated.  It is real.   Please pray for this work and the people we seek to elevate.  If you're in a position to give, please give.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

On Pain, Sarah Bessey

So I'm still in recovery mode for my back injury earlier this summer (I had a bulging disc in my spine). Thanks to the team of folks who are caring for me, I'm moving much better now, I'm not in a overwhelming pain anymore. It's not exactly good yet but I'll take it, you know? I have gone from excruciating pain to daily discomfort: I'll call that a win. 
Today I had to go to my registered massage therapist to get the muscles in my back sorted out again. In response to the spine issues, my muscles are in a snarl to compensate because apparently you can't hurt your skeleton without hurting your muscles and you can't hurt your spine without hurting your nerves (as I have learned from my numb and useless left arm). She tells me every time that everything is connected, no part of our body lives in isolation from the rest of the body. So when one part of my body is hurt, the rest of the body feels it, too. 
Whenever I say to her "Here is where it hurts" what I mean is "don't touch this part." But when I say those words, she promptly puts her hands right into that mess. Same thing with my physiotherapist: I say, "here is where it hurts," she immediately presses right there and begins to get to work. 
All week long between our visits, I baby those parts of me. I compensate for those parts of my body. I guard them and heat them or ice them and keep them from any exertion. And then I go to these two professionals - the ones who have gotten me from crying in pain to picking up my toddler again - and they lean right into my pain. They see my pain as an indicator, as an invitation, as the place where healing begins. If they avoided the places where it hurt, I would not be healing. 

As I lay on the table today, what we were doing hurt. It did. It hurt a lot, actually. She worked my back right over with her strong hands and she released every single snarl out of my muscles. If anything she did was too much, she would back off and circle the spot and then return to it, over and over, until my body was released from pain. I had to learn to cooperate with my healing by breathing.
My physiotherapist tells me every week she is returning my spine and my discs back to where they belong. And every week they stay there a little better - degree by degree, it's healing. Every week, she tells my spine where to be and every week my spine recovers just barely. All of those "barelys" will add up to whole. One of these days, my spine will remember how to stay in place and then our work will be done. 
I keep thinking of my massage therapist's words: everything is connected. I think that applies to our whole selves, not just our bodies. I think our souls and our minds and our memories all are connected, too, and there is pain in these places and it bleeds over to our lives. I have often spoken about "leaning into the pain" when it comes to our spiritual lives. We run from pain, we are afraid of pain, but by leaning into it, we relax into it and often we can ride that pain right into release and new life. But now I would also say that sometimes the only way out of pain is to embrace the site of the pain as the very site of the healing. 
We want to immobilize during pain or flee from pain or even medicate it (and I have done a lot of that too, no shame here). If I only did what felt good to me during this healing process, I would still be laying on my couch, crying every time I drew a breath. But instead here is the truth of all of our lives, not just of bulging discs: pain means something and the place of pain is the place of healing. 
And we are gentle with ourselves during that process, too, we need warmth and rest and care and recovery before we lean back in to the pain again.
Because the only way to really heal our pain - particularly our soul pain, I believe - is to do the work at the place of the pain, to chase it all the way down, over and over, week after week, moment by moment, to keep resetting ourselves to the truth in hopes that someday the truth will hold, to believe that all of the healing by degrees that we are doing will someday turn into wholeness.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Gracious Interweb Collision

For years we have attempted to make contact, via old-fashioned USPS, with the families and couples and individuals that support us by sending their hard-earned $10 to $200 dollars a month. These generous souls allow us to feed/educate our lard-kids, pay the rent, buy the diesel, and do the work in Haiti.  

I try really hard to send a note with some of my 'personal touch' - which is basically really crappy handwriting, two times per year. If not me, we at least call upon the crappy handwriting of someone with the last name Livesay.  When we know the donor, we find it easy to check in on their lives and ask a personal question or two about them.  If we don't know the donor we feel frozen and always want to say, "WHO ARE YOU AND WHY DO YOU CARE ABOUT US - OR THIS - ENOUGH TO GIVE?"

It had been several years of writing a thank you note to an unknown donor that went by a name that was attached to their PayPal account that was kind of odd  - it was along the lines of "Rainbows and Unicorns". Most of the time we just addressed it the way we had it listed and maybe added a "Dear Friends, the unicorn and the rainbow" - but honestly, for a few of the thank-you notes, we skipped sending them the note altogether because it is awkward writing a note to a unicorn.

Finally, in March of this year we sat the kids down and we all worked together on writing thank you notes. This time around I decided to research more and figure out the address attached to the mystery people and to ask the mystery donors to pleeeeease make themselves known.  We added a note that said, "You have been donating several years and we are grateful but we are also so curious who you are, please tell us if you're willing."

A few weeks later I got an email from the woman behind the mystery paypal account. She shared a small portion of her story with us. Her paypal account name was for a little business she used to have and she donated from there, which is why their real names had never shown up. I told Troy, "I am really excited about these people, they are so interesting."

I wrote back and asked more questions. Both the husband and the wife began writing us. We learned that they work in an area of counseling and psychology in which we were actually needing some specific help and advice. We asked permission to seek their advice, wondering if that was crossing a boundary. They willingly agreed and offered us tons of help.

The timing was divine and providential. I believed that from the moment the first email introduction arrived in my inbox.

That began several weeks of email exchanges in April and May. They sent us a book on the topic we were discussing in our emails. By June we made plans to meet in Minneapolis during the single weekend in August both Troy and I and the Unicorn and Rainbow would all be in the Twin Cities.  

On August 14 we met at a restaurant in Minneapolis for lunch. Troy had a little PTSD because it was the same restaurant he took my Dad in order to ask my Dad if he could propose to me in 1998.  My Dad was not too terribly nice to Troy that night.  

Anyway, Troy overcame that traumatic memory of my mean curmudgeonly father and we had a three hour lunch with " B and T " and learned more about this most fascinating couple, now in their seventies.  (We eventually learned they started reading our blog post earthquake and joined as monthly donors around that time.)

They met while protesting during the civil rights movement. Love happened on a picket line in New Haven, CT in 1962.  One was raised Orthodox Jew, the other Jewish.  Their childhoods, hers especially, was not without significant trauma. They married and eventually moved to a quite volatile, Birmingham, AL were they lived for seven years.  They continued to advocate and work for civil rights, for equality for black men and women. They told us several stories from that time, our mouths might have been hanging agape, it was so insanely interesting. 

They later came to learn about a Jesus and a Christianity they were not familiar with in their early years. B said this to me about that time: "Our continuing spiritual journey led us to a study of Christianity different than we had known of — we’ve found a way to what we believe/think/hope is the original message of Jesus rather than what seems like the more common, popular understanding that doesn’t seem to imply the love Jesus so clearly espoused."

Together with a nurse friend they founded an organization and worked as Child Birth/Lamaze educators as a side-project in Birmingham while he was a Professor teaching at a University. 

He was the first man (gasp!) in the delivery room at the two hospitals their children were born.  One of the two hospitals made him take a psychological screening of sorts to prove he was fit to be in the room. (Because Man - WHO CAN SAY WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THEM WATCHING BIRTH?) 

These people were counter-cultural a decade or so BEFORE everyone else. That is just the CliffsNotes version of their early years.  Since then they have added letters (like PhD) behind their names and they own their own psychotherapy practice and have raised fascinating children and done work that has changed their community and the world. 

Someday I actually want to write about their entire life story, maybe when I am not a midwife in the developing world raising a truck load of kids.  If I were ever going to write a book, these are the people I would want to write about. Their life story is inspirational and tragic and beautiful and redemptive. 

Within their story we found intersection of a dozen little things. 

"Oh us too", we must have said fifteen times. 

These are our friends, the Unicorn (T) and Rainbow (B). 

They support us. 
We support them.

We met for three holy hours in August of 2016.

God is in this friendship.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


There is not a day that I don't learn something new and wonderful (and sometimes terrifying) here in Haiti.  The culture is not my home culture so of course it seems a bit wonky to me at times.  Much the same as some American Midwest middle class culture would be way odd to several of my Haitian friends.  (Without even trying very hard, I can think of several things that would seem whack.)

Dreams are a powerful force in this culture.  People absolutely believe their dreams foretell the future and they pay close attention to what they have dreamed.  People discuss and talk about their dreams frequently.

I did an ultrasound on a first-time expectant Momma recently.  We got a perfect picture of her baby sucking it's thumb and we could even see the mouth movement clearly as it sucked.  We saw a beautiful four chamber heart and two kidneys (which are hard for me to find).  As we looked the baby over and did the measurements of it's head and femur the Momma asked if I would tell her the sex of the baby.   After a while I was pretty sure I was looking at a baby boy and I said, "Here is the thing. I can tell you what I *THINK* it is but you need to understand that I have told people wrong in the past. I once told a mom she was having a girl and the little girl she had named Sarah arrived with a penis."  (The Mom laughed.)  I went on to clarify, "I have experience in midwifery skills but way less training and experience with second trimester 'sonagrafi' - so this is not a san pou san thing."  (not a 100% thing)

She said, "Okay. I understand - What is it?"  

I said, "I think it is a boy. REMEMBER - no guarantee, just what I think."


I said, "Okay, well, I had a dream that I won a gold medal in the Olympics in the 100 meter Freestyle and I still have not been given my medal."  

Either my Kreyol failed or that was a very dumb joke - or both.  She said,  "It - is - a -boy.  You are strong at sonagrafi."   

In 20 weeks we will find out.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Labors and Rotten Shrimp and First Day of School


Labor Day weekend in Haiti has brought two labors and two babies already.  

Saturday morning we watched and supported as MarieWidline ushered her daughter into the world. This morning Celine showed up at 6:30 and meant business too. Her little boy joined us by 10:30 this morning.  

One weekend, two babies, both day-time births is a really nice gift for labor day weekend. 

~~~                       ~~~                            

Last night Troy took me out on a date.  The kids won't let us live down the one time a year ago that we did not come home. (Because a nearby hotel room had A/C and it was just necessary for several reasons that particular night.)  Isaac opened the gate for us and as we pulled out he said, "OK, have fun, but don't do that thing where you stay out very late and make us worry and pace."

We had a very lovely meal and a great date night and got home at 9:30 and put everyone to bed and settled in to watch Stranger Things (only on episode three - don't tell us anything). I fell asleep 18 minutes in like I always do.  

Around 1am, I woke up thinking, "I am dying. For sure I am dying. Or I am dead and there is a literal hell and I am there."  It took me about two minutes to get a grip and realize that I was still alive and drenched in sweat and the sweat was toxic and made it feel like someone was jabbing every one of my pores with needles. The violent scene of heave ho -ing at the toilet for the next 15 minutes proved to me that food poisoning is a very real bummer and also it will leave you not so very fond of date night.  

I am sorry, I cannot recommend the $16 Shrimp Kabob at the restaurant near the U.S. Embassy in Port au Prince.  The violent evacuation of the contents of my stomach is now finished. I still feel strange and oddly sweaty and weird tonight. I currently have an icepack in my waistband and that is enabling me to keep on.

~                  ~                  ~                   ~

The Livesay kids start the 2016-2017 school year tomorrow.  Their teacher, Miss Page, emphatically states a readiness and willingness to start, and that, in my mind, makes her a champion among champions before she even begins.  

I cannot imagine being asked if I was ready to teach five kids in four grades and replying with anything other than despair and a refusal to live another moment. Teaching is hard. Teachers are a special kind of crazy bad-ass warrior. I stand in awe. 

We begin this, our SIXTH school year, in the cool little school-house building that was donated to us in 2011.  It seems a little bit weird to me that Paige was in this little school house not so very long ago, and that very same Paige is cooking up her second baby right now.  

Life is a freight train, and nobody can make the dang thing slow down.

The school house is located on the same property as Troy's office, which means the Principal can show up at any moment without notice and all students and faculty really hope that he does and that when he does he brings ice cold cokes for everyone.

We are SO VERY grateful for Page Butera and her willingness to serve our children and do this huge job of educating them. She is taking her first stab at juggling all five kids and their different curriculum - which is better than stabbing the kids  - that only happens when I am in charge. 

We are grateful to those of you that support us here.  Your love and generosity buys the Algebra and History books and pays the amazing teacher that will help these kids try to grow up and be contributing members of society.  Your love and generosity also allows me to be sitting at the Maternity Center on the front patio that peeks into a room with two healthy newborn babies resting in the arms of their mothers. 


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Asking, What Are We About ?

In the nine years the Heartline Maternity Center has been in existence, we have learned a lot.  

(Prior to the birth (pun!) of the Maternity Center, the McHouls worked with children that had been placed for adoption in the children's home they began in 1989.)

The years have been spent evolving, growing slowly, changing, and becoming.

A learning curve like whoa. 

What Founder Beth McHoul dreamed of so many years ago as she prayed for an end to the need for orphanages, has become a beautiful working and active thing.  Beth is correct when she says, "Maternal Health Care is orphan prevention!" 

We have learned some lessons the hard way, through failure and disappointment.  We have learned other lessons the slow way, by waiting for the statistics and outcomes to speak to us about our model's efficacy. 

Like anything worthwhile, it has taken time - and more time  - and a bunch of patience and hard work.  

One of the most frustrating aspects of the work we are doing is knowing that it needs to be multiplied over and over (and over) in order to vastly improve a dire situation for pregnant women in Haiti and worldwide.  

The problem is, in order to "do more" and help a much higher volume of women, we would have to abandon the model. The pressure to do more means we need to continually ask ourselves, "What are we about?"  When I pose that question to my co-midwives they say: relationship, education, love, support, bonding, respectful care, breastfeeding, beauty. 

The model is this:  High quality care, frequent prenatal visits, great value placed on relationship and building trust between midwife and client, time spent with women listening and interacting with the whole woman, not simply the belly hanging out in front of her.  

Just as important to the success of the model: education is key.  Every woman deserves to have information about her own body and her own health.  If she was born into a materially poor country and has never been offered an education or information, it is our chance (and our honor) to change that for her. Knowledge is power. 

That said, we know the reason the model works and the reason babies and moms are living and thriving and bonding and breastfeeding is because we have remained a medium-size program.  We cannot be about high volume and big numbers of deliveries and also be about a high quality, high relationship and an education focused experience.  It is simply impossible to be all the things at once.   

We know there are hospital and clinic models out there doing the high volume, move them in, deliver a baby safely, move them out approach  - and for that we are grateful.  That, however, is not what we are called to do.  

In our desire to see women in the developing world elevated and treated with the utmost dignity and respect during and after pregnancy, we have come to believe that we need to share and duplicate the model and pray that hundreds of people in the maternal health field will take the model and go plant it elsewhere with their own passion, skills, finances, and gifting in developing countries all over the world.  

This is where Tabitha comes in. She comes to us from Together Rising, the organization that funded the addition of the second floor of the Maternity Center, giving us much needed post-partum space and a gorgeous new classroom. 

Tabitha is moving into The House of Clowns (our house) in mid September to begin the project she has been assigned. She will be Heartline Maternity Center's first official project manager.  Her project - to simplify it into just a few words - write out everything that is happening and make it an organized template to share. 

Tabitha is a recent college grad that will soon be seeking her Master's degree.  Tabitha grew up in Pretoria, South Africa. She was born the year before the multi-racial democratic elections led to the momentous election of Nelson Mandela. She is young and smart. (In Boston, they say Smaaaaht. I know because I work with a Bostonian.) 

Tabitha has a desire to see her sisters around the world receive excellent care as they are loved, respected, honored and treated with dignity in the most sacred time of their lives.  

She is coming to do this specific project for the Heartline Maternity Center and we are excited to say that with Tabitha's help, we hope to be able to share our model with those interested in duplicating it. 

Please pray with us and for us in the coming months as this gets underway.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fair is in August

driveway reunion today

The gang that belongs here is all together again and Momma is sighing a big sigh of relief.  

Lydie makes everything competitive so no shock she was the first to rush Hope and the first to hug Noah.  She was basically in the driveway in a track start position waiting for the car to pull in with her beloved older siblings. Phoebe didn't stand a chance.  It helps that Phoebe doesn't really give a damn. She has all the eye-rolls for Lydia and being competitive about first hugs.

Isaac went to the airport with us, permagrin securely affixed and shining out at the world brightly. 

There was not room for everyone to go to the airport.  Isaac asked to go first and therefore he got the spot, which is apparently "no fair".

Big Families cannot be fair.  


That is not a thing.  

(It doesn't mean nobody ever complains about it, though.)

I dare someone with several children to try and be totally fair. Just try and try and try and die trying, you fool.

Perhaps it is actually a gift to our kids, seeing as life itself is never going to be fair either.

Big families are training for life.

Oh, you didn't get to have ice-cream because kid number 6 ate the last scoop without regard for you. So? You're welcome. This is your free training for life.  Go in peace and unfairnessBye.

To individually list the numerous unfairnesses of life in a large family would take days and days. 

Troy grew up in a family with just two children; I did too.  If I got a new shirt, my sister got a new shirt the next time.  If I wanted a birthday party with friends, I had one.  Same for her. The economics of keeping things fair are far more feasible with two children.  

I can promise you, the birthday celebrations for each kid are all quite different and vary year to year. I have published the written guarantee of unfairness on the wall in the kitchen that it will remain so until death or college takes them out of this home. 

When Troy was growing up if he declared to his father that something was not fair, his Dad would say, "Fair is in August"  -  a very smart ass way to say "there is nothing fair and there won't be so deal with it, kid" - and it was a funny way to say it because also the literal Minnesota State Fair happens in August each year.

This tradition has been passed along. Our kids have heard the phrase "Fair is in August" twelve billion times over the years too. 

While we were in the USA a few weeks ago Phoebe had a lightbulb moment and said, "HEY HEY HEY -- We are in Minnesota and "Fair's in August"  WOOT."   Sadly,  for Phoebe anyway, we left the state of MN before fair happened. Another life lesson, delivered with a little shove. 

The way it works in our family is  this: Mostly things will be unfair. If you wake up in the morning and put your feet on the floor, you can count on at least that one thing.

The jockeying for food and beverage is a sport in this home.  I find treats and beverages hidden in bizarre places.  I watch kids act in gluttonous ways in order to get their share of something good that has come into the home without any guarantee of being replenished. A box of Captain Crunch or Poptarts will disappear so quickly, you'll question if they ever even existed.  

If someone whines, "Aaawww, I didn't get any of that _______  (ice cream, pop, candy, cookies, cereal) before it was gone! No fair!"   That person can count on a choir of voices sing-songily saying, "Fair is in August" and maybe even, "Better luck next time."

Two of the kids got to have two extra weeks in the USA this summer. Three of the kids came home to Haiti with Mom and Dad.  Not fair.

Lydia wears the most hand-me-downs, Hope is short and doesn't have hand-me downs and almost always get new things.  Not fair. 

Isaac gets to share clothes with Troy.  Nobody else does.  Not fair.

Noah gets more lunch dates with Dad because he has braces on his teeth and has to go to the orthodontist.  Not fair.

Phoebe and Lydia got to go to Graham's first birthday. Not the other aunts and uncles. Not fair.

Isaac and Noah have been to Chuy's restaurant many times. They got to go alone to Paige's house last summer. Hope claims she has not had Chuy's Tex-Mex very much.  Not fair.

Hope got to go to NYC last December.  Just Hope.  Not fair.

While we were in MN every single kid went to an amusement park for one day to ride the rides. For a brief moment life was fair and there was peace in the hearts of man.  

But wouldn't you know it, mid day we found a ride Lydia was too short to go on and everything got back to normal.

Fair is in August.