Monday, November 05, 2018

Waiting on Love to Arrive

New life has always been a symbol of hope. Birth is a new start. On the wall of our prenatal consultation room a sign reads, "Where there is life, there is hope."  

Midwives have the high and holy honor of being with women as they usher in new life and new hope. 

Last night at 10pm Lovely arrived in active labor. She seemed shocked by the pain. I lost track of the count, but she said, 'Miss Tara, this hurts' approximately 73 times in the five hours she labored before her little girl arrived.  

The only thing to respond, 70 times over, is, "Yes, it hurts. It really does."

Motherhood hurts. 

Whether you have an easy life and all the material blessings or a very difficult life with a focus of just surviving day-to-day, giving birth is only the first painful thing in a sequence of events that has literally just begun. 

It is often said, watching your child grow-up and struggle and develop and become their own person is a bit like living with a piece of your heart outside of the protective wall of your own chest. 

Lovely talked a lot during second stage. In between pushes she told us she wasn't sure she could do it.  Once after a particularly long contraction with focused pushing she said, "Am I done?"  

We said, "The baby is still not out, you're not done but you are getting so close."  Lovely told us that KJ had said that it was a little girl during the ultrasound and that she chose the name Chrislove for her daughter but that she would simply call her, Love.

Lovely pushed Love out at 3:13 and ten sconds on Monday the fifth of November. 

Her labor had started at home on Saturday night and  included the extra hour of "falling back", which hardly seems fair.  

In total she worked 34 hours straight. Her labor took her from evening Saturday, through Sunday and into the early hours of Monday before it was finished with a screaming baby girl called Love.

Lovely watched her heart leave her chest last night. 

As we dried off little baby Love I noticed her left foot was formed abnormally. I quickly covered her with a warm blanket to wait and get a better look later.  Love was placed on her Mother's chest and began to nurse.

When it came time to take Love for her newborn exam and allow Lovely to take a bath and clean up, I lifted Love off her Mom's warm chest and saw that both of her feet had not developed normally. Upon further examination we realized her rectum is abnormal as well.

In those moments the very first irrational thought is, "How can we keep this from upsetting her Mother."  As if that is a thing. Midwife Guerline and I whispered about how to tell her.  My brain was busy trying to tell me maybe I could wait and tell her until after she had a few hours to sleep. 

Moms examine their children, and we knew Lovely would come out of the bathroom to really see her daughter for the first time.We showed Lovely her daughter's gorgeous face and perfect hands, we ooohed and aaahhhed over her. We opened up the blanket and talked about her feet and legs.  Lovely shut down fairly quickly.  The words of reassurance and hope fell on deaf ears, she needed time to integrate what she had just seen.

After we had Lovely and Love moved out of the birth room and settled in her postpartum bed, Lovely's Mother in Law came to me. She motioned that we go outside. Then she asked me how we could hide the baby's legs from visitors. I didn't understand. I began to tell the Mother in Law that the main focus for now was to encourage Lovely to bond with her baby and to begin breastfeeding, with our without her eager willingness we need Lovely to hope for Love. I said, we don't have to hide her legs, she's beautiful.

Midwife Guerline saw that I was not understanding what was being communicated. Guerline explained that Lovely's Mother in Law was concerned people that came to visit the baby would say inconsiderate things and believe the baby had a demon or a curse upon her, but if we hid her legs, they would not see it and therefore would not hurt Lovely's chance of bonding. 

We asked Lovely to let us hope for her until she can hope again. 

Will you please pray that supernatural connection is formed today and that by some miracle we can head directly to the correct people that can help address Love's medical needs in a timely manner. 

I read this last night while we waited on Love to arrive .... 

The deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us.
In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming; when we are lost, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path; in all the darkness that attends our life, whether hopeful darkness or horrendous, God meets us. God’s first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it. -Jan Richardson
I pray God comes to Love and Lovely and is present to them now.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

I Find It Hard Enough To Just Be Faithful

Everything in the grey smaller font print below is what I wrote in 2011 about measuring success. I am reposting it for a specific reason.

This year I have begun to struggle more than ever with the stress of this work we do. Instead of easily remaining mainly hopeful and joyful I have had to fight hard to try to be that way.

I just got back from 16 days away from Haiti. It was a perfect trip and Troy and I truly rested and forgot about work. During our time away I never ever felt a physical desire to drink alcohol.  We had an occasional glass of wine and beers many nights but it was not the slightest bit driven by stress or compulsion.

Today around 4pm I started thinking about having a drink. My desire was not simply because I wanted some down time with Troy. 

For the last year due to stress and some specific situations we are facing I have been medicating my pain, anger, and stress with vodka and wine.  I rarely ever drink one drink only and I went from drinking a couple times a week to almost every single day in 2018. 

I decided about a week ago that I have to do better. I decided not to drink anything for at least two months and re-train my habits of using two Vodka sodas or Moscow Mules to make myself feel less angry and anxious.  I decided to begin November 1, 2018.

Tonight I am staying in my bedroom because the temptation to pour my nightly stress-reliever is too great. 

* ** * ** *
In this work we often find ourselves wanting and needing to provide progress reports to the kind and generous souls praying for or financially supporting it.

While we understand and desire that accountability and honesty with anyone investing in us or in Haiti, it can sometimes feel quite discouraging and uncomfortable trying to quantify progress or label success.

We (Troy and I) spend many nights sitting together asking ourselves what is being accomplished. Is it good? Do we believe in it? Do we feel good about it? We never want to get in a rut or get so comfortable with ourselves or our routines that we don't examine both our motivation and our trajectory.  We need to be asking ourselves difficult questions.

We have no desire to take donations from our church, family, and friends to live here if we cannot say at the end of the day that we are walking this path with God, being faithful to Him and doing things we feel honor Him and exhibit His love. Some days are really confusing because the things that happen in the course of a day aren't necessarily quantifiable. Some days we fall into bed asking each other "Is it right? Does this matter? Should we stay? Is God in this?" 

American culture likes numbers, efficiency, and strict time-tables.  You've got to be able to prove yourself with stats and spreadsheets. In the sports world a new coach has just a few years to produce a championship team or he's out of a job. Even the American church wants to count how many butts are in the seats and how many people signed on a dotted line marked "follow Jesus" or how many will commit to come to the quarterly membership class.  In theory those are good things to value. Who doesn't want tangible outcomes? I'm not up for debating the rightness or wrongness of any of that today, I'm only saying that those sorts of western pushes for big numbers drive ministries working in other cultures abroad to produce reports that don't necessarily represent total truth.

Whenever I read reports out of Haiti spewing numbers, I read between the lines and wonder if the numbers are less about actual provable outcomes and more to please a culture that demands numbers. Accountability is good. We want it. More than that, we need it.  The question becomes, how do the expectations of one culture fit into the reality of working in another? 

If we actually believed like Jesus did that touching one hurting person truly matters, that going the extra mile for one lost sheep is worth it, we wouldn't need to spend so much time counting and proving and counting and proving. 

I'm thankful to be able to honestly share the struggles and not fold to that pressure of reporting big fancy numbers. The frustration lies mainly in the self-imposed pressures to chart it and prove it matters. 

Troy can spend entire day(s) with one timid and afraid 20 year old recently diagnosed and already ill with HIV helping to advocate for her medical care.  He can be at ease as one day turns into three while waiting to get her the tests she needs and fighting a broken, inadequate, and unfair medical system - knowing that he is not expected to quantify the outcome of those hours  ....  time with one person isn't usually looked at as success nor is it at all impressive when plotted on a spreadsheet  - but it matters and it's Kingdom work.  

Last night I read this in Gregory Boyle's memoir titled "Tattoos on the Heart" - it jumped off the pages and deeply resonated with me:


"People want me to tell them success stories. I understand this. They are the stories you want to tell, after all. So why does my scalp tighten whenever I am asked this?

Twenty years of this work has taught me that God has greater comfort with inverting categories than I do. What is success and what is failure? What is good and what is bad? Setback or progress? Great stock these days, especially in nonprofits (and who can blame them), is placed in evidence-based outcomes. People, funders in particular, want to know if what you do "works".

Are you in the end, successful? Naturally, I find myself heartened by Mother Teresa's take: 'We are not called to be successful, but faithful.' This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback. You need protection from the ebb and flow of three steps forward, five steps backward. You trip over disappointment and recalcitrance every day, and it all becomes a muddle. God intends it to be, I think. For once you choose to hang out with folks who carry more burden than they can bear, all bets seem to be off. Salivating for success keeps you from being faithful, keeps you from truly seeing whoever is sitting in front of you. Embracing a strategy and an approach you can believe in is sometimes the best you can do on any given day. If you surrender your need for results and outcomes, success becomes God's business. I find it hard enough to just be faithful."

Success, I find it hard enough to just be faithful.

* ** * ** *

I feel the same way I did when I wrote this in 2011.  Success cannot be easily measured and some setbacks are actually necessary to correct a ship that is heading off course.  

The only thing that is different is that now I feel more afraid of my anger and grief than I did then.  

I also feel pretty afraid of choosing unhealthy things to help me with stress.  

I hope if you are a praying person or someone with similar struggles that you could toss up a prayer for me to be healthy and take care of this concern now, before I have an even bigger problem.

I would like to be faithful, but I know numbing myself is not the answer to the pressure of it all. 

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

When you find something good -- SHARE IT

This month is very exciting for us.  We are getting closer and closer to having a completed (printed and in our hot little hands) "How To" manual for the Heartline Maternity Center.

Our model is being shared and we are calling it, "The Starting Place".

The manual contains eleven years of learning things the hard way and the details of the current Prenatal Program, Postpartum Program, Birth Control Program. and Youth/Teen Program. It has taken many years to get here. We first talked about sharing the model in 2013.

We are hosting our first  (pilot) class this week with four participants from other organizations also working in Haiti.  The participants are helping us find what we forgot and are giving valuable feedback before we go to print.

**  See this post for more information about The Starting Place.  **

What is it?
It is a technical manual. It describes everything we do, from the beginning to the end. It includes protocols (medical and practice protocols) and tons of administrative details. It includes ways to start small as a prenatal education or birth control program and and grow into a full service holistic birth center offering maternal health care from early pregnancy until months after delivery. It shares a few case studies. It is practical. It is step by step. It includes all aspects: education, relationship, medical, spiritual, physical, cultural, etc., etc. It is a little bit overwhelming.

What is it not?
It is not hundreds of stories or interesting detailed descriptions of the more than 850 women that have delivered at the Heartline Maternity Center. It is not all or only medical and practice protocols. It is not all statistics about maternal health and information you can find by doing a google search.

Each time a new woman starts the Prenatal program, we do a social and obstetric history interview.  

Often women we work with in Haiti have a hard time recalling and easily verbalizing much of their history. It can take a while to gather the information. It is usually important to ask the questions in a unique ways to get the desired (and hopefully accurate) information.

We are realistic enough to guess that at least half the time we still did not get it all completely accurate because it was neither recalled or shared with that sort of precision.

It is best to ask questions in an assumptive tone.  For example, sometimes women assume if we are asking them, "Have you ever had an abortion?" that perhaps we will judge them if they say yes.

Instead we ask, "How many times have you had an abortion?"  We can also follow that up and pose that same question in four or five other ways, changing wording to be assumptive.

If the answer is zero they are fine sharing that but if the answer is 10, it helps that I assumed it was part of her history because it removes their hesitation or concern of being dismissed due to an answer that they fear we won't find pleasing.  

Daily life is so difficult, it makes survival and the immediate present the priority, which in turn means that recalling history is not an easy task. The blanket term "poor historian" fits pretty well. 

Having, knowing, and understanding your own medical history is actually a privilege. Many in the developing world have no idea what happens at medical visits and more often than not nobody takes the time to describe things to them.

* * * 

We interviewed a 37 year old woman. 

We asked, "You've been pregnant many times in your life, yes?"  She said, "No, only seven." 

That's our bad.  That's a cultural difference.  7 is a lot to me.  Not necessarily true here.

We started at the beginning and walked through each pregnancy and delivery.  Her first four children were all born at home in the house she and her husband have always lived. Those four children, two boys and two girls born in 2005, 2007,2009, and 2012 are all alive and well.

In 2010 their home was badly damaged and some injuries happened due to the earthquake but nobody in their home died. In 2013 she had a baby boy born in a hospital that was never well. She described several anomalies and said he died at 21 days of age. She thinks she was under some sort of curse (persecution) during that pregnancy.

In 2017 she described a situation of a breech delivery and her baby's head being entrapped. She said they had to pull and pull to get the baby girl out. The baby was dead upon delivery. She is now in her 11th week of her 7th pregnancy and will be getting prenatal care for the first time ever in her life. 

When I finished the interview I said, "Wow. That is a lot of trauma you have experienced in your life. That is really difficult."  Tears welled up in her eyes. She nodded slowling in agreement.  So often in a culture of non-stop challenge and frequent trauma, there is not time for anyone to fully acknowledge the pain of what has been experienced. 

Part of the model at Heartline that we are hoping to share with others, is the importance of empathy.  

* * *

From the Starting Place Manual - an excerpt from the Philosophy of care section ... 

Spend any amount of time at a hospital in the developing world and there is one key component to women’s health consistently missing: empathy.

Being a woman in the developing world requires a tremendous amount of grit, resourcefulness, and resilience. But a woman is almost never as vulnerable as when she is pregnant, giving birth, and post-natal.

Trust matters, relationships matter, and empathy is more valuable than we can express. Empathy is communicating a message of great value, a message that says,  “You are not alone.” It is rare. As Tara says, “Several of the hospitals in the city where I live, as well as the hospitals and clinics where we’ve worked around the world, who serve the materially poor are lacking the most valuable resource: compassion. Nothing sustainable and life-affirming happens without warm, loving relationships and a lot of compassion.”

It might seem odd to start off the technical manual of Heartline’s Model of Care with a seemingly unprofessional words like “kindness,” “empathy,” “compassion,” or “love” but it has been our experience that this is what truly transforms women. It can bring calm to chaos, hope to despair, connection to isolation, faith to fear. And all of those things matter every day in life but particularly so in birth.

Working in the middle of devastating poverty, one quickly learns that not every story has a happy ending. There are areas of frustration, despair, and brokenness all around us. We cannot fix everything. But we have decided to embrace love and compassion as our philosophy, as much for our patients as for our own souls. This is even more important to us in the face of despair, hurt, wounds, and trauma.

As one small outpost of health and wholeness in the worldwide maternal health crisis, we choose empathy and love and we center love and we practice love. We are committed to excellence, to integrity, to thorough training, to steady competence. But even our excellence of care, our integrity, our training, our competence must be grounded in a philosophy of love. Maternal health has for too long been sidelined and de-emphasized in the world: we believe women deserve not only competent and thorough care but they also deserve dignity, respect, and to feel loved in their most vulnerable moments.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Send Help

Why is she talking about this again?


She is talking about this because it eventually becomes a thing for half the population. By all means, please, don’t read this if it does not apply to you. 

If you will ever, in the history of always and forever, know a female that is age 40 to age 55, it applies to you.  

Those that know zero females that are currently that age and they also think everyone they know will die at age 40, you are free to leave now. Sorry about your loss.

My doctor recently told me perimenopause is a term that pharmaceutical companies made up.  He said there is before menopause and you know, NORMALish life, and then there is menopause - like you are done forever with bleeding and having a cycle. 

Uh.  Okay???  So the years in between are not called anything?

Whatever, I am talking about this thing that apparently is only created by Big Pharma.  It is a thing to me because I am in that middle time where I am unsure of what the heck each day will be because I am more like a yo-yo than any human thing. 

I feel it is my duty to prepare all of my 20 and 30 something friends for what is to come.  I know that you are tempted to read this and think, Ah, she’s just being over the top and silly. No.  No,  Not what I am being.  I am being real with you. Dead.Serious.Real.

Okay, so first, you’re going to gain some weight in the middle section of your body.  You’re going to think, “Am I imagining this?”  You’re going to realize you are not.  It’s not a big deal, because you have shit to do and some extra adipose tissue is not going to stop you from being totally amazing.  It might cause you to leave your top button undone on your jeans.  That’s all.  No big thing. Carry on.

Second, you are going to go from having your periods at an interval you can predict, to having them whenever.  Maybe you’ll have them every 15 days, then take 60 days off, then that will be boring and it will toss you a new and exciting surprise that is not at all a pattern.  

You don’t get to move away from (Big Pharma created) perimenopause until you miss 12 whole months in a row of having your period.  

Everyone says that once you are done with this middle time, it gets easier. Everyone better not be lying.  If I live through the next five years and eventually reach true menopause, I expect life to be glorious non stop.

Third, you are going to do so many embarrassing things and people are going to mock the heck out of you. Those people are your family and maybe you don't even need them. Who's to say?   

If you do not have thick skin, get to work on changing that. Go drag your hands and feet over hot coals. You are going to need the thickest skin to endure your idiocy and the mocking material it will provide your loved ones.

EXAMPLES that Have been said to have happened - 

1.  You might get up one morning early and put your contacts in your eyes.  You might then leave the house and go do a little bit of work or some errand or something of that sort.  You might come back home and jump in the shower.  You might rub your eye wrong and one contact in your eye will twist up funny.  You will maybe call your husband to come take that contact to the case on your dresser.  After you shower and get dressed you might walk over and put the contact back in your eye.  About two minutes later you might go over to the dresser and start to look for your contact, because you think you cannot see and you need it.  You might say to your husband, who might have the name Troy, "Hey, did you put my contact in here when I asked you?"  That husband might say, "Yep. I did."  Then, I have been told, you might tell him he did not.  You might act like a jerk and say, "Well, it is not here."  Then you might really dig yourself in deep and just claim he must have dropped it.  THANKS A LOT you might say.  THAT WAS MY LAST RIGHT EYE contact I had.  Then maybe your friend, who sort of knows you well might say, "I think you put it in your eye again already."  Then, maybe you'll see that the contact is in your damn eye already. Then you will go bake yourself some humble pie while you eat crow.

2.  You might need to use a calculator to do some math on an accounting report and you might repeatedly open up your phone and start using the dialing pad of your phone to add numbers and then after you put in twenty six dollars and you go to find the add button you'll be so confused because the place where you dial your phone does not have that function. You'll switch to your calculator but that will not be something you only do once. You might need someone to tell you to just stop using your phone as a calculator because it is too frustrating for you.

3.  You will write yourself notes.  You will think you are brilliant to be writing it down to help you later.  That's hilarious. You are not brilliant. You are bad at writing reminders that help you remember. Your notes section of your phone will be filled with meaningless incomplete and unhelpful blurbs such as: 
  • Contact Knoxville person, knows Anne and Melissa
  • Umba dra umba tab
  • Cold sore - Valtrex - risk HSV ensephalitis
  • The wart something dot com
  • Crying out for justice
  • Civil engineer design waste water pump station
  • May 19
  • Taco burrito what you got in that speedo?
  • Things I can't handle for 400, Alex
4.  Perhaps you will get a gift certificate for your 46th birthday for a store you love. You will buy your favorite smelling lotion at 8pm on a Friday night.  Maybe after that you will use the lotion on Saturday morning around 10am and then maybe you'll never ever know where it went and you will never see it again.  You are a person that loses $10 of brand new lotion.  If your kid did that, you'd be uber ticky about it.  So don't tell your kid you lost brand new expensive lotion.  Make a call to the hotel you stayed at and listen as the front desk person acts like you are an idiot to want to know if you lost lotion in their hotel room.  LOTION?? Uh. Okay, I'll check lost and found. He doesn't understand so just give him grace after you swear under your breath.


Saturday, July 28, 2018

GIve thanks for your clear mind and sensible surroundings

Leaving to do an errand today looked like this:

Wake up. Toss clothing on. Get in truck to go to Maternity Center. Go pick up person that needs to be brought somewhere.  Pull out of Maternity Center driveway. Realize I don't have paperwork for the appointment.  Pull back in. Go grab paperwork.  Just kidding. Spend ten minutes trying to remember where paperwork is.  Sweat tons of balls while frantically searching for paperwork.  Find paperwork. Go to my truck with paperwork where person waits.  Pull out to leave again.  Look down, see that I have left with the only key to the ambulance because that was where paperwork was. Pull back in to put key back where it belongs inside the Maternity Center.  Go back to my truck. Pull out.  Realize I have all the money and the ambulance might need to leave while I am gone and might need some diesel.  Pull back in. Go back to get key to ambulance. Open it, put money for diesel in ash tray. Lock it. Go back to my truck. Open door to my truck and realize I have the damn key to ambulance in my hand again. Go put it back.  On fifth attempt to leave, we leave for real.  This is hormonal nonsense perimenopause brain fog.  It is so much bullshit.

I am now sitting in an office in Haiti where they think I should wait for their internet to be fixed in order to pay them.  I have been here two hours for the appointment and they never attempted to fix their internet in the two hours I actually needed to be here and was wanting to pay the bill.  Now that I need to leave here they think I should pay the large bill but they still don't have the internet to do it. They feel like my time is not valuable and I should just wait until whatever time it is that the internet starts working again. 

I don't agree.

If I go totally and completely insane, please know there is no mystery.  It happened because this place  (earth - and - haiti) is (was) working hard to make it happen. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Retrieval Plan

I am so grateful to Paige.  She is a truth teller.  She is no poser.

Instead of telling me how easy it is to handle all the kids and their needs, she is telling me that she cannot keep all the things straight.  

She could easily be breezy about it and act cool. Instead she says that keeping each one and their needs straight is a lot and that if her brain, only 23 young years old, cannot remember it all ... CERTAINLY, I am doomed at my age while in the throes of perimenopause fog.

I love Paige for saying this.  There is nothing more gratifying to me than to hear that she thinks it is kind of a challenge.  

For now, Haiti is very calm. I cannot control when or if that changes.  I assume this relative calm will not be forever. I do miss my people so much. I need them back.

Perhaps when I was a young mom I did not know things about time.  I am not young now.  I know there are limited blink of the eye days and lightening speed years left with the home. 

I saw how fast the first two left and the time is closing in on the next group.  I have to have Lydia and Phoebe in my physical presence every day possible. 

All that to say ...

I am going to go retrieve the three youngest of these five children of mine in less than ten days and my life is getting better by the minute as the time to go get them draws nearer. 

My two boys holding Paige's two boys - Magical

We were face-timing with our kids in El Paso and Lydia told us how she "on purposely" ate lunch early so that when they went to Chipotle for dinner last night, she could eat an ENTIRE burrito because she would be so hungry by the time dinner rolled around. She reported (with disgust) that she could not eat a whole burrito -- and that it was a frustrating to her because it was a "waste of hunger".

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Memory Lane

Geronne has lived with our family since August of 2008. We have known her since January of 2006.
She takes about 10 days off all year, even though we beg and plead with her to go anytime she wants.
**I** need a break from us - and I am part of us.

I can only imagine her misery at being embedded into this family.

I finally talked Geronne into taking time off.

The kids are gone, there is not a lot to pick up. They aren't being inconsiderate in the kitchen six or seven times a day. The laundry is diminished to less than one load a day. It is a perfect time to take a break from all Livesays and Port au Prince.

G, keeps our house going and is the **only** reason we have any order in our lives.  I love her dearly and we get along 85% of the time.  If we are not getting along it is usually because I asked the kids to clean something and she hates when they clean. 

I am not sure if it is because their work is so half-assed compared to hers or if she thinks I am a bad parent to make my kids do MANUAL LABOR.  We go head to head on that topic a few times a week, which proves neither of us is willing to back down. Like ever. I will never ever be okay with kids that don't do a dang thing.  Geronne will never ever be okay with my kids doing things less perfectly than she can.

** ** **

Last week, after dropping the cleanest most perfectionist housekeeper in the world off, I asked KJ if she would be okay if I went down memory lane and drove down the road we used to live on when we first moved to Haiti.

(Geronne's family is all out there and we met her out there in the first year we lived here.)

Now that 10 years have passed since I lived there, I thought I could do it without feeling sad or like I wanted to vomit. I have not done my best work at letting go of the painful things that happened there.

I think I have done some work.  Just not exceptional work.

We drove down the two mile road and I told her stories about different people we knew and things that happened while we living out there. She is the best listener, she either was interested or she really pulled off faking it.

Of course there are dozens of silly and funny and wonderful things that happened out there. 

I tripped over a sketched out and unpredictable goat while on a jog and fell flat on my face in front of tons of people. Noah walked out onto a very high and narrow ledge at age two and scared the crap out of us while we all stood on the ground far below willing him to freeze.

We hiked a lot. We could get to the beach in 20 minutes. I allowed topless women to visit Troy when he was sick because topless women were no big deal out there. We made frantic calls to the veterinarian in the USA and found out how to get a dog to vomit. We forced our Mastiff puppy to puke up rat poison, he narrowly escaped death. We had hilarious language mishaps and misunderstandings. Plus a thousand other odd and funny things.

The tough things always stand out more in memories, which maybe actually only says something about me and is not a gen. pop. problem at all. 

At that first place we lived in Haiti a lot of things changed about our family and about each of us as individuals.

  • I stopped thinking I could simply trust male Christian leaders without question. (Whoa. So much to say)
  • I stopped thinking missions was only about doing good. ( Whoa. So much to say.)
  • I started to understand Haitian culture. (Whoa. So much to understand.)
  • We fired someone that really needed her job but was really stealing a lot. Neither of us had ever done that before. (Whoa. It sucked.)
  • We had threats of physical harm made against us because of firing her.
  • We had weird stressful relationships with leadership.
  • Troy got Malaria 6X, Dengue Fever once.
  • I got Malaria 2X and Dengue Fever once.
  • Britt got Malaria and Dengue Fever.
  • Hope sliced her leg wide open from shin to kneecap. (An ER Doc friend of Troy's was visiting and fixed her up.)
  • We learned we would adopt again.
  • We learned we were pregnant. (The most read post of the last five years - is here - about that.)
  • One of my children was repeatedly badly harmed there. 
  • My marriage was tested.  Mainly we learned that hosting guests 3 out of 4 weeks a month is not super good for a marriage and big family. 
  • My theology was turned upside down. I stopped believing that nothing bad would happen to me if I loved Jesus and tried to do good. That was so dumb and obviously I was a moron but I did arrive with a massively jacked-up theology.

So much happened in those two years and nine months of living the village Haiti life. I could write for days just about those first years. 

The one story that most defines our time out there involves the mystery of God's provision or protection or just the mystery of EVERYTHING.  I say mystery because I know people that didn't get the outcome we got and I find that mysterious. I am not better than them, my faith is not greater. It is a mystery to me that Lydia's life was spared --- but I live in the tension of that sort of mystery every day here.  Some prayers are answered and some are not. Some babies live and some babies die.  Some moms in Haiti find care and many many do not. I'm a mystic and my theology does not give answers to those things like it once did. I believe God is good and that good and evil are at war. That's all I need to know. Love God love others, live in the tension. The end.

Lydia had been born in Minnesota.  I returned home to Haiti with her after the rest of the family because I was moving our oldest daughter, Brittany, to Baylor University.  I returned home to Haiti in mid January 2008.  The other kids were home, Troy was home, we had a friend/nanny helping us with our kids because we also had our niece in our care, so we had three kids under 18 months old. (Phoebe, Lydia, Annie).

I had been home a week when I noticed Lydia was running a fever and seemed a bit off.  She was not terrible and she is my seventh child so I wasn't in panic mode. I had seen some fevers.  I made a mental note of it and thought, 'I'll just see how she seems tomorrow.' I have always been a wait and see Mom. 

A few hours later the phone rang.  My friend Jen called.  Jen explained that she had a situation she needed out of and asked if we could please consider coming to Port au Prince to get her.  I could tell by Jen's tone that she was asking because it was necessary.  I told Jen I did not know where Troy was but I would see if he could drive to Port to get her.  Back in those days, at that organization, I was not allowed to drive. After all, I am merely a woman.   <eyeroll emoji>

I found Troy and he agreed we could leave in a while and go get Jen, about two hours away from where we lived.  I called Jen back to let her know it would be awhile, As an afterthought I said, "Oh hey, Lydia has a fever, do you think that's anything to worry about?"  Jen asked a few questions and requested that I come to Port au Prince with Troy and bring Lydia with us.  Jen said she could at least look at her and decide if she needed anything else before we were two hours outside the city again.

Troy and I finished what we had to do and left for Port au Prince. 

We got to Jen and picked her up.  Jen took a look at Lydia and asked us to go right to a hospital.  Once to the hospital Jen did her uber-professional-but-assertive-and-smart-act. (It is not an act as much as it is a way of being.) Jen helped steer the Doctor there toward a spinal tap / lumbar puncture to check for Bacterial Meningitis.  The test was positive and Lydia was immediately admitted.

For four nights I stayed with Lydia in Port au Prince and Troy was outside the city doing his job.  On the fifth night I was getting SO lonely.  Wanting to be helpful, Jen came to stay with me for the night.  That night we were sitting and talking and just about to share a pizza.  We discussed what a long hard week it had been but Jen thought it likely that we would be discharged after seven days.  As we were talking Lydia started seizing. 
Jen and Lyd 

On a Friday night, it turns out hospitals don't necessarily have Doctors in them, at least not in Haiti.  Jen kicked me out of the room in a loving way and took charge of the situation. She yelled for staff to get the right meds to stop the seizure.  She directed the staff as they attempted to get a new line into Lydia. It happened as fast as it could in Haiti, which was not fast enough for Jen or I -- but she was able to get the seizure stopped. A whole crap ton happened after that all that never would have happened if Jen had not been in that hospital. Somehow Jen demanded and got the Radiologist back to the hospital to look at a scan of Lydia's head.

While I drove down the road to the village we used to live, chatting it up with KJ, I remembered the miracle of everything that happened in January 2008.

BECAUSE Jen called for a ride - so because she called -  I decided to mention Lydia's fever - so because I mentioned it Jen said bring her in - so Lydia got the right diagnosis very quickly instead of a day or two later - so she got antibiotics and care - so then when all is going well - the night there just happened not any doctors at the hospital - that night Jen would choose to help relieve my loneliness - so because she was there on that night she could stop a seizure that no other employee at the hospital was prepared to stop themselves. 

BECAUSE all that ...

Our kid lived, our kid had no hearing damage, and we were spared a devastating loss. 

A trip down memory lane is rough on the tummy, but man, it is also beautiful.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Single Story

Yesterday I came here and dumped my summer stories of adventure and travel in the U S of A.

I forgot to add the specific joys of the waterpark. 

Paige had been gifted season passes for herself, her little boys, and my three teens. (Isn't that a great kindness?!?) 

Because going to the park only two times more than pays for the season pass, I bought Phoebe and Lydia season passes as well.  

The waterpark is a thing of wonder. I felt like it was the best place on earth because they were generally pretty chill about rules and regulations.  I have never been to a park where a kid was allowed to go down a slide on the lap of an adult.  When the little kids can't do anything with their parents it is the dumbest ever, but this water park was NOT the dumbest ever. They even allow people to bring in their own food and beverage. I like this but I also question this a bit, only because when you can bring in your own alcohol, what is to keep a moron from drinking so much they take the lazy river to new levels of lazy and just die in there from alcohol poisoning?  

Don't get me wrong though, the park closed at 6pm every night and they had many signs telling people to stop drinking their adult bevys at 5pm.  That hour to get your head on straight before you drive home is prreeeeetty important and the park is serious about that. 

"No drinking for an ENTIRE 60 minutes before you drive." - -  That's how much we care.  <GAH>!!!!

On the last day we were in El Paso we went to the water park (again).  We threw our lunch in a cooler.  The bag of ham was frozen solid.  We could not get it to thaw out fast enough so I went and set it on a table a few tables over from where we were sitting in order to get it in the sun.  

Everyone in my family knows everything about everything, which is awesome.  

So, one person that knows everything said, "You can't put that ham there!"  

Another person that knows everything said, "She's making it thaw out faster."  

A different one that knows everything said, "It's fine. WHO WOULD TAKE A RANDOM PERSON'S HAM????"

Who would take a random person's ham?

That's who.

If you are ever in El Paso, TX that water park is worth visiting. 

* * * 

The better (real) part of this blog is below ... I posted this on the day of the riots and want to share again.

Whenever Haiti heats up politically, people watching it unfold from far away are often led to believe Haiti and her people are generally dangerous and to be feared. I’m hoping you’ll hear me out. That is not the case. Generally and by and large the people of Haiti are not violent or unkind at all. I have seen hundreds of acts of generosity, sacrifice, and kindness in our time as the guests in Haiti. These events are not usually the average man or woman burning or looting things. (It is political powers and BIG money and other motives behind the curtain that drives the instability. There are people that need Haiti to stay poor and broken so they can stay rich and get richer.) The real Haiti is full of people that would take you into their home, feed you, shelter you, help you, while sacrificing their own bed and limited funds to do so. They’d do it everyday and even while their country burns around them.

This is what I beg you to read and watch today ...

"Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become." — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Monday, July 16, 2018

Blogging is dead: A lengthy cranium upload

I sit down to write this with an elevated level of irritation directed only toward myself. 

When writing a blog post was in fashion, we all did it.  I did it.  I felt better much of the time because processing things in writing and telling the stories helps my mental stability.  Yet, I don't do it often lately and thus am often teetering right over that thin line.  Luckily, "stable" is a relative term. 

I can go read about our life in 2006 and read about things that I have no memory of at all. I can smugly sit and be so.very.pleased that I have that record to look back upon. I can do that. I do do that.  Noah used to pee in the corner of his bedroom instead of in the toilet when he was three.  He used to dump bottles of shampoo down the drain.  I only know that because it is written in the annals of history.  I spelled that with two 'N's -- stay calm and mature. 

Back to my irritation.  I have not written most things down in at least a dozen months. I won't remember most of 2017-2018 and won't be able to look here for help recalling it all.  Praise be, Instagram is the new micro-blog and much (not most) is stored there. 

The volume of events and challenges in the first 53% of 2018 could be placed into a 40,000 word novel without any effort at all.  

Today I am going to attempt to write a review of the first half of 2018 along with specific details for my kids about the trip we just took from Florida to the far west side of Texas.  When I am dead, I want them to know we went on a road trip and remember me fondly due to all the soda I let them drink. 

Here we go ... 

2018 began with our whole tribe in Haiti for an after-Christmas family reunion. We had all three grandsons here at once,  we had the adult daughters and their adorable husbands here. It was mind-numbingly good if you forget about the vomiting and diarrhea at the back end (see what I did there) of the time.  We took a family photo that week and I look at it every day. 

By mid January things took place that changed the trajectory of the year. 

Stress and pain defined every moment of mid January to May.  I am very on purpose not going deeper than that. I know that sentence is poorly formatted. That is how I want to say it. 

In review of the entire five months, let it simply be said, we have learned a lot. Hard times are teachers. Harsh, unlikeable, teachers  just like Miss Trunchbull only less gentle. 

I will fast forward a bit.

On June 1st Troy declared we were going to begin 2018 all over again. A do-over of sorts.

Fresh start weekend was kicked off by taking the kids to Jacmel, a beautiful southern coast town that we last visited in 2009.  It is weird to live in Haiti and never see a lot of Haiti but that's what I have done for more than a decade. This is not a blog post of my complaints though, so I commit to you, I will stop there. 

Jacmel in early June was a blast.  We had an amazing time with our tribe, we stayed a weekend in a fun house overlooking the bay. I posted a lot of the photos on Instagram and the highlight for most of us was the hiking and time jumping off rocks at the Bassin Bleu waterfall. It was a vomit and diarrhea free weekend and those always stand out as excellent. There was one bat in Lydia and Phoebe's room, but that made for some excitement and not rabies, which is an event I've already lived. I don't think we need to do that one again.

The five kids finished school on June 15.  We moved the location of their school in February and they rolled with it like the champions that they are.  They had been in the same location since 2011 so it was weird to do school somewhere else but I think everyone actually likes the new location better. It means they sit in traffic less hours per week.  Their beautiful teacher is coming back again next year and I felt insanely grateful to her for her love of teaching and her heart for them  -- but also that the kids did not have to go through yet another goodbye and another loss of someone they love. That stuff comes with the territory living here.  We love when we don't have to do painful goodbyes. (Or when we can put them off for a year or more.) 

On June 22 the kids and I said goodbye to Troy for a bit and we all went to the airport to fly off to Florida. KJ is the best friend of most everyone in this family, we were so grateful we had Maternity Center coverage so that KJ was free to take a break with us.  We had all been looking forward to June 22 for many months. 

The kids are all about minivan transportation and we picked a really lovely Dodge Caravan at the Alamo lot and started out on our journey. The minivan was trusty. We put more than 3,000 miles on it in the period of 21 days. We pumped gas in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico. 

Our first stop on the journey was to see our friend Winifred. She is a good friend and was a nurse at Heartline for many years before moving to the USA and getting married. Wini fed us dinner while we caught up a bit. After we left Wini's house in the Orlando area we drove to Tallahassee to sleep.  I thought we were going to sleep in Pensacola and researched the wrong city in advance so we got to Tallahassee without knowing where the nearest donut place or thrift store was located. RISK TAKERS, all of us.  

After a quick sleep we set out again. We found the donuts and a GoodWill to grab some books and a cooler for the mini van.  

The cooler purchase was one of the more exciting parts of the trip for KJ and I. It meant we had ice and cold brew coffee and creamer at ALL TIMES.  What a feeling of safety those liquids provide us. We don't need a lot, just constant access to coffee and ice.  God Bless you and Keep you, GoodWill Retail Store and Donation Center of Tallahassee.  May you reapeth what you soweth.

We drove again and listened to podcasts together. We went to check in to an AirBnB house in Montgomery, AL. It was fun because it was a pretty worn-out place and we had to use a wrench to turn on the shower --- we felt quite at home.  I appreciate things that are not perfect and rather enjoyed the challenge and process of getting the water to turn on.  You know what?  It was not a wrench.  It was a pair of pliers.  I apologize for that inaccuracy. 

The reason for two nights in Montgomery was because we wanted to visit these two places:


I think I speak for all of us when I say, there is so much to process and consider after reading and viewing and seeing all the history and facts presented at the museum and memorial.  I assume we will be unpacking that for months or years.

I posted dozens of photos on Instagram of both places if you want to see more.

We left Montgomery to drive to Selma.  We stopped and walked across the Edmund Pettus bridge.  We continued on to Shreveport, LA and stopped to sleep in a fancy hotel that we booked last minute for an awesome price.  My kids in a fancy hotel are a lot of entertainment.  They are so impressed by everything.  People around us seem pretty impressed with them too. Their plastic sacks and various backpacks with their stuff hanging out everywhere is good times for all.  I always ask them to diminish in size and perhaps find a way to become less noticeable while in hotel lobbies. Inevitably that means somebody will trip and fall or spill an entire Coke on the floor of the lobby. 

The next day we went to Dallas.  In Dallas we saw Britt and Chris and Gideon in their final hours as Texans.  We spent time with KJ's family in Dallas and we stayed at an AirBnB near downtown Dallas that blew Isaac's mind.  He gave a tour on social media and discussed the amazing sink hose and other high-end features.  

After Britt and Chris left for Minnesota we headed out toward El Paso.  On that drive it was the first leg of the trip we did without KJ.  My kids seem less pleased with life when it is just me.  I don't really take it personally except on occasion when I do.  I guess KJ is way more fun than I am.  We went to the vast metropolis of Odessa, TX and jammed all into one room with a king size bed.  I found out via an online poll that most people rent hotel rooms and sneak extra people into the room beyond what the hotel wants or "allows".   I was able to justify that choice based on dozens of people telling me that they grew up shoving many animals and humans into one hotel room. 

From Odessa to El Paso we drove 80 freaking miles an hour and had people passing us.  We had discussed letting Isaac drive a bit because he got his permit in TX last summer, but he was not having it once we saw what a freakin hurry everyone is in in that part of the world. 

We arrived in El Paso to find the Gonzales family waiting for us. They had prepared air mattresses in every spare corner of their home and gone to Sam's Club to buy all the large family items of food.  The next few days we ran errands and got people the glasses they need and bought the shoes they need and laughed at Graham and Abner and swam and ate and ate and played.  Doctor Jen joined us and we went to fireworks at Fort Bliss.  My kids told me that every 4th of July prior to this one was lame and dumb -- but finally we found fireworks that pleased them.   I actually had to point out that there is a slight difference between private citizens buying fireworks and lighting them at home and the U.S. Government doing fireworks at an Army base.  They thought they were making an apples to apples comparison.  Such simple little third-culture-kids they are. 

Troy flew in late on July 5. We "caught up" at an undisclosed location before going to Paige's house. Va va voom.  Air-conditioning and advanced romance are a winning combination. 

Oddly, Troy got out of Port au Prince just in time because by Saturday all the flights got cancelled and he would not have gotten out.  I was so glad he made it.

On July 6 we headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  In New Mexico we met up with Jen's husband Josh and KJ flew in too. We went to see Troy's long time friend, Matt, as well.  

Matt lives in Santa Fe and gave us tips about where to eat, shop, hike, swim, and disappear into a relaxing temperature controlled space for the rest of your life. 

On one of the hikes Phoebe and Lydia had diarrhea (see the theme with us?) and were weak so Troy and I had the pleasure of carrying them down a mountain. I felt so freaking young, strong, and badass that day.  The following day my knees screamed for ibuprofen and I felt much less young and strong.

On the last day in New Mexico Matt took Lydia and Phoebe to see a local horse ranch, Lydie scored a cowgirl hat and loved seeing the ranch that works with veterans to help with PTSD. 

After Santa Fe we drove south to White Sands Nat'l Monument and went sledding in the dunes.  Paige and Graham came to meet us there. Many (Josh) were skeptical and did not think White Sands would be fun.  Many (Josh) were converted that day.

KJ and Paige dared us (Troy and I) to do dumb things and we did. Mark this down:  Nobody DARE DARE us -- we WILL DO the dumb thing. 

The adults all did what the kids said to do and we all left covered in sweat and sand and dislocated shoulders.  We laughed much and experienced incontinence together there in the dunes that day.

After White Sands, we took the three car caravan back to El Paso.

The next day Jen and Josh flew home to Minnesota and the rest of us did errands again.  

Getting Hope her TX driver's permit ended up being harder than donating a kidney or becoming a U.S. citizen.  I am pretty sure that Texas has a real fear of 16 year old drivers.  They act like giving a permit deserves the same scrutiny as choosing a lifetime partner or being approved to adopt another human being.  

Hope just stood back and watched it all, wide-eyed. She is seriously wondering if she can even ever be qualified to live her life without an advocate.  I assured her, no.  You won't.  All of us need an advocate when it comes to entering a government office and trying to do business.  None of us were born for that shit.

Troy and I went with Graham to buy him a bike. It is pretty crazy how fast we forget what it is like to manage a three year old boy in a public place. He gave us all he had and we departed that Walmart in need of caffeine.  One of the highlights was when he told us, "Mojo and Tito, my mom never buys me any jackets. Can you buy me one, I am cold."  

On Thursday night we heard that it was possible Haiti could have a second round of demonstrations and political upheaval. Long story with many details made short without any details, we scrapped our plan to drive back to Florida and booked flights home. We decided not to bring Phoebe and Lydia home with us as had been the plan all along.  Paige and Michael rallied and said, "No problem. We got this, guys."  So far, they are proving to be much better parents than Troy and I.  I am hoping Paige gets all the teen angst handled and all the puberty drama wrapped up before I see them all next.

El Paso Summer 2018 Tribe (Plus Paige and Michael)

That might not seem like a big deal, but now Lydia and Phoebe have tasted freedom and they won't ever want to spend a summer in Haiti with me again.  I have lost my chance to keep them from knowing what the big kids get to do with their summers away from Haiti. I have no babies anymore. 

* * *

I am going to sidebar for a moment here.  Go off-road with me, if you want.

* * * 

Recently I began (note the use of the word BEGAN which has nothing to do with finishing) reading a book called "Mistakes Were Made but Not By Me".  It is a fascinating look at human behavior. 

Specifically it takes a look at the way we use justification to helps us with our cognitive dissonance. 

The description on Good Reads says:

Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell?

Renowned social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a compelling look into how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right -- a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong.

Backed by years of research and delivered in lively, energetic prose, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-deception -- how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it.


I have been thinking about this book a lot.  I have been thinking about my own self-justification habits. I also recognize that I judge other people for theirs. (Admittedly NOT cool.) 

Since the unrest in Haiti began I have observed as some people posts on social media about how important it is they come to Haiti in spite of any warnings made not to do so.  

I saw some funky theology about God's protection being promised because the good work planned is so important.  

Full Disclosure: That's a rough one for me to read. Maybe that person did not know people doing good work in Haiti got crushed to death by buildings in 2010, etc, etc, etc.  If nothing scary or bad happens to people doing good work, it must mean a whole crap-ton of us are doing some very sub-par work. 

(I digress. This is not about bad theology.) 

I have watched others post on social media about how dangerous it is and how important it is they get out of Haiti now due to perceived (and real) danger. 

Simultaneously we have one group raising money to COME and one group raising money to LEAVE and it seems it is a BOTH AND situation.  In the same week people must come and people must go.  

It is not too dangerous. 
It is too dangerous. 

***The book I mentioned explains exactly why this happens. ** 

People hate cognitive dissonance and they create narratives to help them do what they want to do  -- they might feel a bit bad about what they want to do - or just uncertain of it  - so rather than dig into the confusion or lack of peace the feel, they create peace with justification and their own narrative.

So - to clear up my own cognitive dissonance when it comes to Haiti this month ---  let me say this -

I wanted to come home to Haiti after being on vacation for three weeks. I don't feel afraid to be in Haiti  -  that is not to say I would have felt that way had I been in the middle of an store that was looted.  I wanted to be at the Maternity Center and with the people we love here. I wanted to know it was semi-stable here before my kids came back. I don't have anything for them to do in the summer and if they have to "shelter in place" things would get so boring for them so fast. 

I decided to leave all my kids in America not knowing enough about how things would be in Haiti.  I don't at all feel good about being away from my kids  (especially the two I think are too young to be far away) but it was what I decided in the moment I had to decide.  I don't know if I was right or wrong.  I am trying to tell you -- I FEEL COGNITIVE DISSONANCE.  I am glad they are having a blast in Texas.  I am sad to be away from them too. Maybe it was dumb to leave them. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe later I'll think it was a good decision. Maybe later I will wish I hadn't done that.  After the earthquake I had regrets about my decisions in the middle of the trauma. It's life, regret comes with it at times. 

We are glad to be here with the brave and wonderful employees of Heartline. You can tell they thought we would not come back.  Everyone has been happy we are back in Haiti and I can imagine it would feel scary as an employee to wonder if your job is going to remain or if the unrest will close down a ministry or destroy an employment opportunity.  

Additionally, I brought a lot of bacon home from the USA and now I want to eat a lot of it in one sitting and I am working on my justification of that now. 

* * * 

Back on the main road now ...

I am hoping Haiti remains calm and "stab" (stable in Kreyol - not a knife stab) so that in the first half of August the tribe can begin to return home to be with us before we go entirely crazy with sadness.  

We took 47 photos of the dogs yesterday and allowed them to be on our bed. That just cannot stand long term.  We need some kids here. 

We already had a baby at the Maternity Center since arriving home Saturday. We also got to go get a mom from the hospital.  The update is here on the Heartline blog on the two high risk situations from a week ago. 

Things are eerily calm here now. It creeps me out how this house feels without the fab five. 

Troy is planting lavender and marigolds. He bought pots and soil today. KJ is growing mint and making cold-brew coffee.  I am not growing or making anything, but I did hand carry that mint plant back to Haiti and then handed it to KJ to keep alive. Mojitos and Coffee are yours if you wish to visit us.  You will have to ask Troy what the heck he is doing with his plants.

We have abandoned all the rules of moderation when it comes to ice consumption while the kids are gone.  We are buying and using as much ice as we want. We will do ANYTHING we want in the ice department.  As soon as a child returns to the island, we shall immediately return to the scarcity mentality. 

That is it for January 1, 2018 to July 16, 2018.  The three week trip from June 21 to July 13 was so much fun and Isaac, Hope, Noah, Phoebe and Lydia are road tripping champs.

In order to title this blog, I had to ask if getting rid of information in my head is an upload or a download.  KJ and Troy said it is an upload. If you disagree, speak with them.