Monday, August 31, 2015

Sunrise Sunset Sunrise Sunset

I walked in early this morning after a night-shift at the Maternity Center. Immediately upon slamming the big gate and entering the front yard - I wondered, "WHAT is that smell?!"

But then it hit me, my keen senses and time&experience-perfected, BadA-detective-mom-skills led me to the obvious conclusion.  

The smell of 8th grader. 

Whenever you can announce your presence in a building or home, from a great distance, that is winning.  When the announcement is made with the scent of manly musk rather than sweaty-armpit-stench, that is winning BIG.

**          **

All seven have begun the new school year, Britt and Paige (plus bonus student) began last Monday.  

The fab-five start today!


(UT Southwestern PA Program)

(Two for the price of one!)

(hormones galore!)
("The babies")

With their teacher, Mr. Jimmy - his 5th year teaching them
All over the world mothers and fathers are doing the too-many-feelings-combo-dance.  

We jump for joy that they are once again fully occupied (not staring at electronic devices) and moving forward in their education. We weep in sorrow, knowing the days are long - but the years are short. 

We all want to raise them with love, mercy, grace, and the right amount of discipline. None of us want to screw it all up. Before we feel finished with them, they'll be gone.

To all of you sending your small people off into the world today, take time to flail on the ground and scream, maybe cry a bit in the shower ... But then, go treat yourself to a delicious caffeinated beverage and ask someone in the coffee shop to pat you on the back in a congratulatory manner.  

This parenting gig is nothing to kid around about. See us pressing on?

We are champions, let us celebrate as such. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

drink something

It is Thursday.

Hurricane-oppressive-humidity has arrived in the Caribbean.

I am sitting at my purple desk, watching the pee cups roll in. Most women seem to have taken a quick bath in the sink after peeing in their cup. Most everyone arrives to the purple desk with water dripping off their faces.

As happens every week, pregnant women are peeing in cups and the cups are being brought to the desk to be checked for leukocytes, nitrate, protein, blood, and ketones. 

It is hot in Port au Prince right now. The kind of hot that forces behavior (read: Troy) like this around 4pm


Everything is chafing and our skin is slick with a layer of slimy sweat.

Clean water is not all that easy to come by in much of Haiti. In order to have it, most folks have to buy it.  It's not pouring freely from indoor plumbing for the vast majority.

If a budget is tight, drinking less is the typical answer.

Drinking less when pregnant - bad idea.

Drinking less when it is über hot - very bad idea.

Most people will tell you they have a headache.  No mystery to solve there.

The most uttered words at the Heartline Maternity Center "bwe plis dlo" - drink more water.  There is nothing we force on women as much as this, there is nothing we have to work harder for in order to gain compliance.

Today Madame John will teach about all the things dehydration causes in pregnancy. She will show what dehydrated urine looks like, she will show what the urine of a well hydrated person looks like. She will sing, she will dance, she will beg and plead and demand that everyone drink 10-12 large glasses of water per day.  The women will nervously glance at each other and exchange "she crazy" looks.

As the urine shows up, I can see who got the sternest lectures last Thursday. They are producing some clear urine.  I can also tell who just started the program and hasn't yet heard that pee is not supposed to look like a Brown Ale or a Stout Beer.

"Pee-pee pa manti", Beth will tell them. (Pee doesn't lie.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Written earlier for the website 'A Life Overseas' ...

Social Media, Volunteers, and Communication

by TARA LIVESAY originally posted on APRIL 6, 2015
The world has grown more and more connected due to technology and open communication across the world-wide web.
Thirty years ago you didn’t know what was happening with a particular friend or acquaintance serving across the world unless you got a newsletter that arrived to your mail box four to six weeks after it had been written.
Thanks to the magic of social media we now know when there has been a tragedy at any school across the globe, or a baby is being born in Haiti,  or when a child is admitted to a hospital in Madagascar, or when Ebola is ravaging Liberia.
Thanks to the Internet, our Moms know when we have a terrible tropical illness and can worry (er, I mean pray) right away rather than hear about it once the illness is all cleared up and better.
Within minutes of putting our feet on the floor each morning, if  we choose to, we can know more news than folks could gather over several weeks time 50 years ago.
Maybe that is good.  Maybe it is not.
Certainly this vastly increased connectedness has changed and influenced how we “do missions” and how we communicate with donors and family and friends “back home”.  The days of snail mailed newsletters with six-week old news are long gone. Most ministries and non-profits have a Facebook page, a Twitter account and an Instagram account. If you want the news from your favorite non-profit, you should be able to find it in a nano-second.
The ways in which social media has changed things are probably too numerous to count.  Today, I’m examining just one of those ways.
Social media, frequent updates, and the connectedness results in an increased desire and demand for visits and requests for volunteer opportunities. People see (in real-time) the exciting updates and they want to be a part of what they see.
Most of us realize that we cannot discourage or disallow potential donors from seeing the work first hand, after all most people would find it pretty sketchy if we said visitors are not allowed.  When legitimate work is happening, we want to prove that to donors as best we can. It makes sense for them to SEE it.
The question becomes, how can we communicate the nuances of our individual organization’s needs without offending or upsetting those that want to help? Sometimes not needing help can feel hurtful to an interested friend or financial partner. How can we communicate those things really well?  How can we say “We have a full-time, year-round staff. We don’t really have any work for volunteers”, without sounding ungrateful, dismissive or unwelcoming?
Where I work, we often get requests from visitors to come see a birth.  Social media and sharing the news of babies born at our Maternity Center equals a sweet level of support and much curiosity. The easiest way for me to answer those inquiries is to ask how well it would work for strangers to walk into a birth and observe it in the developed world. (However, I recognize that sounds rude, so I don’t ask anything quite like that.) 
Do any of us want to invite strangers into intimate and private moments such as the birth of a child?   Can you imagine if your OB or Midwife said, “Oh, this is So-and-so and her team. She is visiting your town this week and she/they wanted to see a baby be born in this town, so I invited her to your birth. Hope that’s okay. Ready to push?”
(Maybe materially poor people are not automatically seen as needing equal privacy or respect by those of us that are materially wealthy.  I hope that can change somehow.)
It is not uncommon for many of us working in poor countries to receive a note saying something similar to this, “What can we do, we will paint walls, build things, or do anything you want.”  How can we kindly explain that all around us there are men and women in need of work, and if at all possible we prefer to offer a chance at employment for folks hoping to feed their children in our area.  It is not that we don’t want these interested friends to see the countries we are working in; it is that we want to be cognizant of what each country needs.
Another thing I have noticed over the years, whenever we have several visitors on a clinic/program day, we communicate less with the Haitian women we serve.  Try as we might to stay on task and allow our visitors to just hang out and observe the days activities, we always end up spending much of the day speaking English and sharing information with the guests. Suddenly, several hours in, I will realize that I have not engaged with the new mother and baby in front of me in her own language because I’m being polite and chatting with the American in the room. That is my fault, not the fault of the visitor. Finding the balance is tricky.
Social Media tends to show the exciting part of our lives abroad. (Social Media doesn't communicate sleep deprivation to the point of delirium.) The snapshots we share produce an interest without giving the full picture of what is needed. This leaves us to figure out how to communicate in a way that does not turn donors away. 
The easiest way for any of us to successfully consider things from another perspective or point of view is when it is very gently and carefully explained.  Sometimes writing doesn’t allow for the very best communication to happen, a lack of tone can cause defensiveness or offense.  (We learned this the hard way. We frequently hear, “Oh, they are anti teams” based on this post I wrote several years ago – but I am not anti short-term-missions, I just think it can be done differently, more respectfully, and better.)
Over the years, as I have learned the culture of my host country and grown to love my new home, it has become increasingly more important to me to protect, love, and respect the people we work with just as we desire to be loved and protected. I’ve realized that there is an imbalance of power that allows us to do things that take advantage of our inherent power. At times it seems more loving (to Haitians) to say “no thank you” to some offers for help. Without a doubt, that has meant a loss of potential ministry partners and donors.
What about you?
As you work in your respective fields, how have you allowed visitors and short-term teams to come see your work without compromising the privacy,dignity, or needs of those you live and work with abroad?  
Do you find it difficult to communicate well without causing offense?
Is it possible to put the people you are serving first, or does a need for funding require a compromise in that area?
Do you feel like social media positively impacts your work?  Are there any drawbacks? 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

all the questions

A drunk driver slams into the back of the patrol car our son-in-law is sitting in, he walks away, unharmed.  Those that love him are reminded that everything can (does) change in an instant. The relief at seeing a photo of his chubby-cheeked smile as he holds his infant son brings gratitude (and fears too) in a flood of tears.

A diagnosis changes the path forward. Our friends have come, packed their things, said their rushed goodbyes, and left.  Our cousin has begun his treatment, too young for metastatic Cancer - his relative youth doesn't change his test results. Cancer cuts a path of destruction, those that pray and love the patient(s) refuse to stop hoping and asking for miraculous healing.

A four year old in Texas drowns. The end of a young life cut way too short yields sorrow and grief and questions that extend far beyond Texas. Those that love his family refuse to stop hoping, praying for the grief to be bearable and the healing to begin.  

A woman in Haiti spends the night searching for help for her sick child, only to be turned away again and again.  Her baby dies in her arms between hospitals.

It has been several years since my boxed-up with a bow theology was destroyed. It was bound to happen at some point. To this day it remains a messy and uncomfortable thing - for which I am grateful. Boxed up is false.  All the answers is a way to create comfort. It lacks honesty. All the answers were never meant to be ours. Early 2008 our infant daughter fought Pneumococcal Meningitis in Haiti and lived. That same week, another family in Colorado, with the same diagnosis, suffered the loss of their child. I cannot explain what broke, but I knew I did not understand the questions, let alone the answers. 

"Suffering often has a way of stirring up our need for theology. 
We are beings wired for logic, we want the dots to connect. How can we exalt a God our hearts adore, without questioning the evil our eyes behold?
Don't ask me to rectify tragedy with theology. Frankly, I don't know how to. My lips will spill plenty of "I don't know's" and my answers for you will come in tight hugs, a hot meal, and shared tears.
But, here's the thing. I believe we are given all we need (2 Pet. 1:3). So I can't help but think that if healing were to be found in the answers, we would have them. 
I can't help but wonder if by some miracle we were given all theological understanding, that we would find ourselves...lacking.
What I'm learning is that Jesus is perfect theology. 
What I'm remembering is that there are two realities at war here. 
What I am sure of is His character. And when I can't seem to rectify that character to my circumstances, then I will choose to step in to what I know instead of what I don't know.
What I know is that He is a good, good Father. 
What I know is that the enemy steals life, and Jesus gives life. 
What I know is that there is this Great Story, in which all redemption comes to pass, where mercy overcomes with finality, and this need for answers falls away under the weight of glory. 
What I know is that everything He touches is redeemed. 
What I know is that His pursuit is relentless.
His peace is overwhelming.
His comfort is steadfast. 
He weeps. I believe he weeps.
So, there's so much I don't know. There's so much I question. 
In this moment, we choose to step into the reality of heaven. This reality that we pray will pour over our friends like a wave of cool water upon burning skin. This reality that will sustain them through indescribable grief. This God, this Rescuer, to be the stability of their times (Is 33:6). Our Perfect Theology who offers all we need for healing. We step into that. And so our lips will spill plenty of hallelujahs and our arms will lift in praise. 

Our answers will come not in what is explained but in what is received. 
He is mercy. 
That I know."

-Keri Duckett
(Pronoun edits and emphasis made with permission of author)

Friday, August 21, 2015

strès & stigma

Her countenance has changed of late. 

Her posture tells of the physical weight she carries; her eyes the emotional toil.

We comment to one another now and again, "She is not doing well."

Each week for the last seven months 'S' has been coming to prenatal class.  

A friend of hers is on staff at the Maternity Center and brought her when she first learned she was pregnant.

Because each woman is required to have an HIV and Syphilis test when they enter the prenatal program, S has known she is HIV+ since her first trimester. 

The joyous news of her first pregnancy, followed quickly by devastating news.

The test result was shocking to her, of course. It took weeks for it to absorb and become reality.  Slowly, we watched as acceptance seemed to settle in over the diagnosis.

S is a nurse by training. She wondered if perhaps she wasn't careful enough at work. Her husband tests positive too.

Plans were made to receive prenatal care with  our Maternity Center in tandem with a program that specializes in dealing with HIV (called SIDA in Haiti)

The plan assured that S could be supported by midwives and friends during her pregnancy (attending weekly at Heartline) while also starting the specialized medications that only the SIDA program can provide for her. 

Upon delivery the newborn baby will receive the proper medication, thereby drastically decreasing the likelihood that the baby will test HIV+ at eighteen months of age.  Most places offering a bed to give birth in Haiti are so busy that women only receive a few hours, or maybe a day, of postpartum care. S plans to come back for the full TLC postpartum package at Heartline once she and the baby have their important meds and are released.

Thursday during her weekly prenatal visit after class, we asked S if she knows her blood pressure has become dangerously high. We asked if the other program where she will deliver is aware of the signs of preeclampsia she exhibits.  She said no, and showed us a prescription for blood pressure medication given to her by yet another care provider.  We don't agree with the third care provider that prescribed it, her delivering doctor needs to know about her blood pressure and the meds are most likely not the answer. 

We made plans for her to get to them first thing in the morning, we believe she probably needs to deliver her baby very soon.

"I've been very stressed", she said.

S shared that her husband has left Haiti and won't be back in time for the delivery of the baby. He says he regrets going, but cannot get back here easily. 

S doesn't want her family to know she is HIV+ and is worried that someone at the hospital will let it slip or that they will find out in the process of the birth. 

She feels like everything is out of control. She said when she lies down at night she just has a sense that she wants to run.  She says her family won't accept her if they know her situation. There is too much stigma and misunderstanding.  
With her husband away she knows her family will want to follow her to the hospital and be around for the delivery.  She wonders if they will ask why the baby is receiving medications, if they will find out.  She cries as she explains all of her worries.

After she leaves the two nurses and three midwives sit around a table discussing each woman we saw. When we get to S we lament her situation, how sad it is, the stigma surrounding her diagnosis and the weight of secrecy. 

A secret like that will make it hard for her to breathe, to live, to feel joy.  

We agree that we will all head to bed that night praying for her. 

~            ~            ~ 

"We can either hang with the people who have their lives figured out already, or we can choose to be with that one suffering person who feels completely unlovable and unacceptable because of their diagnosis, their sexual orientation, their anxiety, their abuse history, their addiction. " 
"That's not even a choice.  That's just the next right thing to do." 
 - KayBruner (paraphrased)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Baby Book Entry 8: Summer 2015 Edition

It's your Mother.  Trying to record history.

Let it quickly be said, I don't remember things well anymore. 

If I think, "Oh, I want to write that down so I won't forget it" - I have exactly 17 seconds to do it, or it is gone. Not only is my short term memory terrible, but so is my short-term memory. Sometimes, at night, your Dad and I will lie in the darkness talking about you guys and say things like, "What was it that Lydie said that was so funny at dinner?" or, "That question Isaac asked, do you remember it?" 

This is what middle age will be like for you too. 

Enjoy having your wits about you. It won't always be so. 

"Baby book" Entry No. 7 was fully two years ago. 27 months to be exact. That entry was written as Paige was leaving Haiti to move to America.  Isn't it awesome how I am alllllmost doing these entries "three times a year" as originally planned and promised? ! ?  Apparently I am not good at calendars, adulting, or keeping my word. I blame you. You make life so stinkin fun and busy and entertaining that two years fly by in a blur.

Since I last wrote specifically to you and about you, a lot has changed. You are all big kids. Britt and Paige used to be labeled "the big kids" - but now, that is all we have. There are no babies here.  (hashtag thank you God for bringing us through)

We have a schedule and you take turns making lunch to take to school. You do dishes when pushed. You fold laundry. You feed the dogs and pick up their ka-ka from the yard.  You are compact size human beings producing a little bit of work.  It is truly a sight to behold. 

It is so weird to me to think about all the years of doing everything for you.  If you figure that everyone of you had about five years of complimentary butt-wiping services offered, it means I gave a total of 35 years of gratis service. The fact that some of the service was in tandem is not relevant to the math I am making up in order to congratulate myself right now.  35 years of wiping you, added to my own decades of self-service, I am accomplished in this area. 

All of that to say, I like that you are all 7 years of age and older and I like how well you take care of your bathroom business without me.  

This summer is basically all but finished. Noah and Isaac got to go the the USA for six weeks. You girls were great sports about being the ones that stayed home. We hope to make next summer your turn. We know if we don't, there will be a price to pay.

There are only two weeks left in your summer before you start the next school year.  

This coming year will be your fifth year with Mr.Jimmy teaching you. We have been so blessed to have such continuity in your education. He has invested a lot in you and we are grateful and see the fruit of his efforts. You will enter 8th grade (Hope and Ike)  6th-7th grade (sort of between the two grades - Noah) 3rd grade (Phoebe) and 2nd grade (Lydia).

~   ~   ~

Last Friday four of you had the biggest sibling fight of your lives.  I know this is true because you said, "Mom, we have NEVER had a fight like that."  Based on the facts I gathered, I think you were right. It was a doozie.

Isaac remarked, "I am glad that doesn't happen often."

Me too, Isaac, me too.

At first I felt so terribly sad about your fight.  I could see why it happened and I knew enough about you all to know everyone prefers peace over the yelling and pushing that happened here. I could tell that you were all shaken up by how out of control things got so quickly.  It felt like we tiptoed around for a little bit afterward, afraid of upsetting the forgiveness that had been offered.

When I stopped feeling sad about your fight, I realized something important happened. Something to celebrate.  You all owned the part you played in being mean and making things blow up, you all issued sincere apologies, you all said the words "I forgive you." Even Lydia, who managed to stay out of that particular fight found some things to confess. 

I probably do not even need to write about that fight. It will likely be one of those that you just remember into adulthood. Your auntie Tina and I have a quite a few of those. Right now, while she reads this, she is remembering the last really bad fight we had in 1994. It came to fisticuffs while we were getting ready to go to a birthday party for our Uncle Norm. I remember this, I was right and she was wrong.

Friday night, a few hours after the adrenaline and emotion of the fight and the repentance, we learned that your closest Haiti friends won't be coming back to live here this fall. Their Mom is sick and needs treatment in the USA.  Delivering that news to you was painful. This is not the first time you've lost your friends here in Haiti. We spent the weekend taking turns crying for them and for us. Dad and I know it hurts and we know you wish you could control it all.  We do too.  Since we cannot, we just hope and pray you will remain open to loving and losing ... It is never the wrong choice.

 ~   ~    ~

Okay, some specifics about each of you... In two years, things change, your height being chief among them. The tallness just ooozes out of you.

Isaac, as I write this you are just a month shy of turning 14 years old and you are 5'8" tall with a voice that seems deeper every few weeks.  

The things that we have come to expect from you have not really changed. You like peace.  You like harmony.  Being a teenager has maybe made you slightly less willing to chat up strangers, you seem a bit less extroverted and a little more reserved. That's what teen years do to a person.

Part of the epic fight last week included you trying to break it up - you kept suggesting that "everyone should take a break from one another for a bit". I liked the sly part where you started recording everything that was happening for me to hear for myself.  

Kids used to just fight it out and let the chips fall where they may.  Now we have recordings and evidence. When I was 12, nobody could prove I called Tina the F word at the ice skating rink. It was my word against hers.  You guys can all forget about that. Your lives are under assault of the modern social media and digital age and everything you say and do can and will be recorded and admissible in court. 

Isaac, you are still very random in your curiosity and the questions you ask make us wonder what happens inside your noggin. This is not an exaggerated example, when adult you reads this, I want you to know your parents are infinitely awesome and patient to entertain several questions a day not too far from this one.  "If Jupiter and a wild purple elephant that ate only a diet of syrup and pancakes collided in space and then crashed down to earth in an unpopulated area, do you think the elephant would live do you think that would be cool?"  We sometimes just stare at you, unable to respond.

Hope, you are 13.5 and you don't hate us every day.  As our third daughter going through this thing called 13, we understand the protocol and we don't sweat it- we are ready for anything you need to dish out while your hormones flare. Some days you wish you could disassociate from all of us, (which is totally understood) - but usually, the feeling passes.  We just moved you out of the bedroom you have shared with Phoebe and Lydia for 7 years. We did this for the sake of their livelihood  - as it seemed they were pushing you to end them.  

You just got your braces off your teeth and you are stunning in all the ways. You still love to draw and are very gifted. Your voice is beautiful, but singing isn't as much your thing as art and reading novels is right now. You are a good little second Mom around here. We love watching you come into the biggest sister at home role. We all agree that you are done growing taller. Your 4'11" frame contains all the fierceness of your tall big sisters in Texas. 

Noah, you are 11 and the deep feeling, sensitive comedian of the family. This July you got braces on your teeth.Your funny act is mainly a way to hide your big feelings.  We watch you closely and try to be sure we are giving you space to express all the things and not just pretend to only be the guy that makes people laugh. One of the things I have noticed this year: You are the first person to come toward a crying or hurting person. While others may hang back, unsure of how to respond, you walk toward the hurting ready to hug. Most people that knew me at your age are very very freaked out at how much you look like me when I had braces and freckles and unruly hair. 

Phoebe, you will be 9 in November. You love to read, play dolls, and watch movies. You no longer fear water, instead you are swimming like  fish. I don't know what the other 7 baby book entries say, but your Dad and I find you to be the most mysterious of our children. You're hot and you're cold You're yes then no you're no You're in then you're out You're up then you're down You're wrong when it's right - Katy Perry doesn't know you, but she sings about you. I have noticed that when large groups do an activity or game, you are a late joiner.  I have also noticed you are an early deserter. I don't know what that means, but it makes you unique and I like it. Lately, we pull you out of the mix of kids to be with you alone and that is when we really get to enjoy the real you.  Sometimes this big family thing just BUGS you and we don't blame you for needing to get away and have all of our attention here and there. 

Lydia, you will turn 8 in two months. The baby of the family turning 8 is so.very.whack. I don't understand it at all at all.  You command and demand attention, nothing new there.  Extroverted beyond the rest of us, sugar is still your first love. Similar to Noah, you enjoy being odd on purpose to get a response from your audience. This morning you watched a short video of Daddy arriving in TX to surprise Britt and Paige. You said, "Oh, I love that. They are so happy!"  I said, "Some day Dad can come surprise you girls when you're big girls too."  You said, "Naaah. He won't prolly, because Paige is the most special kid and I am just a random kid." It was so obvious that you knew you were pulling my chain and full of it as you said it. The look on your face gave you away. You are the spunkiest spunk of all - and we need you here for the laughter you provide us. 

I am not supposed to write about the older girls. They've graduated out of this deal. So, just for keeping things straight later, I add these two notes: Britty is in Dallas going to PA school, already half way done.  Paige is in Conroe starting her new married people Mom life and getting ready to go to Sam Houston University.  They both chose such good guys, so we don't really worry about them. 

They grew up very quickly. Too quickly. The holes they left remind Dad and I every day to savor each moment we have with the five of you still here under our roof. 

We love you, we are so glad you are ours. XOXO 

Headed out of the driveway to summer school one July morning ...

One of several songs sung to me at a concert you put on for me the night of my birthday.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

lest we forget to celebrate the good

Human beings have a way of forgetting.

I am a human being.  I think you are too.

I forget, ignore, don't see, and all together miss the good sometimes. Lots of times.

While the challenges of life are many, and things are not usually super smooth or easy, I do want to quickly share a couple of success stories.  

I share them to remind myself first and foremost.   
I also share them to encourage you.

Good things are happening in Port au Prince.

First, this is a photo of 7 of the 10 babies born in the last month at the Heartline Maternity Center. These seven women are all first time Mothers.  They all delivered safely, their babies are alive. They have been nursing their babies and doing the ten billion other things mothers do with newborns, one of which is staying awake non-stop. They are strong women doing an excellent job in less than excellent circumstances. These women range in age from 16 to 30 years old. They live very near us and as far as 35 miles away from the maternity center (failed attempt on "neighborhood" program) they are married and single, poor and middle-class. These seven ladies, their five daughters and two sons are a success story and an inspiration to us.

Below, is Asline. Her little man will turn one month old on Saturday. We shared about her here and here. She is doing so well.  Many of you prayed for her.  Thank-you!

If you want to be a part of keeping Haitian families together, reducing the number of orphans in Haiti, and/or helping support the financial cost of offering prenatal and postnatal services (and/or education at the Women's Education Center) please go to the donation page at Heartline and sign up to be a monthly partner in this work.  


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

it's only a passing thing, this shadow

Every so often, I clean drawers out.  

People that know me and visit my house believe that I am an orderly, neat person. 
That's nice of them. I am okay with them and their beliefs.

Those people don't open drawers at my house. Some of their beliefs about me are built on shifty ground and bad intel.

Almost daily, I shove stuff in drawers to tidy up. Later, I cannot find anything because I don't pay attention to where I shove things. Because of this long standing habit, I own no less than thirteen $5 pairs of sunglasses (and can tell you where two are) and twenty-two toe-nail clippers. 

Monday I was cleaning out drawers in search of a birth certificate and some vaccination records. Finding something like that means dumping out six or seven drawers in a few different rooms and locations. 

If you are in the right head-space for it, this excercise can be fun. It's like a treasure hunt because you don't know what any given search might turn up.

The search ended with papers strewn everywhere, most of which just needed to be pitched into the trash.  In the last folder, at the bottom of the desk drawer, I almost missed this one, a letter sent to me in 2009.  

The news and happenings of life over the last several weeks have left me off-balance - stuck in the dark - feeling like Sam  ... not really wanting to know the end, because how can the end be happy?

It was good to clean out a drawer and find Phoebe's birth certificate. It was even better to be reminded that in the end, it is only a passing thing, this shadow.  We must all remember to hold on because there is some Good in this world, and it is worth fighting for.

Monday, August 10, 2015


There are plenty of things that grown-ups are required to do that lead them to feel like they are teetering on the edge of losing-their-ever-living-mind and flying into a furious rage.

Troy and I did one of those things the last two Wednesdays in a row.

I would guess most Americans traveling abroad think warm fuzzy thoughts about their embassy. "We'll run to them for rescue in our hour of need", they think,  while they imagine the red white and blue flag hoisted high and whipping patriotically in the hot foreign wind in front of the building.

Not so much.

Just the hot wind part.

There is no getting in if you haven't asked for an appointment.  Sorry, but your emergency situation requires that you should have contacted them via email 48 hours in advance of the moment you had your emergency.  

Also, there are no emergencies.


In your non-emergency situation, once you do get your appointment, everyone from the security guard outside at the tent, all the way to the person you speak to at window 33, will make sure you know that you are in fact, a giant nuisance to them.  <Eye roll.>

I won't bore you with the always predictable crappy attitudes and sullen faces that greeted us. I won't bore you with all the ways they misinformed us and then somehow managed to make that our fault. I won't bore you with what it cost us to be shat upon by these folks that are supposedly "our people".  I won't even tell you how many total times we had to enter that building in order to get passports renewed.  It was three times.

Your number is called. You eagerly approach the window. The face looking through the glass stops you dead in your tracks. The expression says: WHAT?DO?YOU?WANT?DUMB?AMERICAN?CITIZEN??MAKING.ME.STAND.HERE.
On the second visit Troy was about to have a fit and in a huge role reversal, I played the cool-headed savior of the situation and started making jokes.

The new passport photo that had been fine for Noah had somehow suddenly become not fine on the second visit.  "His head is too small here",  the robot lady said, with zero intonation in her voice.

"Well, I guess we just sit here till his head grows." I said, cracking up at myself.

Nothing makes a mother happier than causing her children to bust out laughing. They did.

I added, "Sorry Noah, we could be here awhile."  

We laughed in the face of their rejection of Noah.

Meanwhile Troy appeared to be spontaneously combusting. 

"Have a seat sir", the lady said.

Isaac said, "That is so dumb! Let's protest their rules!"

Hope said, "The five us can overthrow the government!"

Noah, the voice of reason and order, said, "Guys, we are not mission impossible."

I said,  "Maybe we all join together and pull on your ears and try to stretch your head out."

All dumb jokes aside, we knew we would need to come back a third time with another photo of Noah with a bigger head. We waited to be called up again.

Once back at a window with little-head Noah and the other two,  they wanted proof of Isaac and Hope's adoptions which are now almost ancient history.

Keep in mind: two things. One, they never said we had to have adoption paperwork, just birth certificates and current passports.  We had both. Two, these are U.S. Citizens that are on their THIRD U.S. Passport application (they only last five years for kids and their first and now second passports have expired).

Troy got a little witchy after being asked for adoption paperwork, so I pinched him in his back and stepped in to talk to the ruler of window 33.  "Well, they were adopted in 2002 and have been citizens for over a decade, so, no - we don't carry adoption paperwork around."

Isaac said softly,  "Feel the chi coursing through your veins."

He has been participating in some Yoga classes during Summer School.

Once we sufficiently explained to the government how they process their side of the adoption and how they chose to list the names of the children and what type of immigration visa they issued us in 2002 and how children usually don't walk around forever with adoption paperwork, we were free to leave their window, in search of new, more interesting people to hate us.

That's how it is.

They don't call it the embAssy for nothing.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Thoughts from Matthew 11 - Thad Norvell

About eight hours ago I preached about the words of Jesus recorded in the last part of Matthew 11. 

Tonight, stuck between a need to sleep and the restlessness of worrying about three sick kids and one in particular, I came to these words from Frederick Buechner. 

He's right, I think. And this is why I often find myself suspicious of so much of what we know as Christianity, with all of its accommodations to and even brazen pursuit of comfort and affluence - and suspicious of my own Christianity as much as anyone's. 

What if the whole thing is about knowing a kind of need we can't educate or earn or work our way free of, but we spend our whole lives doing all we can to avoid, resist, medicate, and evacuate such need? 

I don't mean to suggest such an error would make us "not God's," but that we might somehow miss so much of the life available to us when we so effectively evade desperation. 

And I suppose I mean to suggest that perhaps Jesus meant it when he said the first will be last and the last first.  

Shared with permission.
Written by Thad Norvell, College Station, TX

Thursday, July 30, 2015

proof of life post with my mantras for the coming year

At age 43:
  • Music teacher William Herschel discovered Uranus.
  • Marie Curie won her second Nobel prize, for the isolation of pure radium.
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the youngest man elected to the United States presidency.
  • Baseball player Nolan Ryan pitched the sixth no-hitter of his career.
  • Annie Taylor, a widowed school teacher, went over the 160-foot-high Horseshoe Falls in a barrel.  
  • Isabel Peron, a former professional dancer, became the first female chief of state in the Americas when she took over as President of Argentina.
  • Tara Livesay joined the 43 game and actively expected her current trend of adulting to continue!      {Not to be totally outdone by all of the aforementioned 43 year olds - She distrusts politics and is unable to be impressed by Presidents, male or female.  She did not win a prize for it, but frequently isolates Lydia in a time out - same-same as isolating pure radium, yes.? Aaaand ... For midwives, discovering Uranus is not a one-time event. So.}
     *              *              * 

I know lots of women really struggle with aging ... I have had my little moments of self-loathing and panic as well - for sure I have ... But let me just say, it isn't that big of a deal.  

Having a birthday and getting old means ALIVE and alive is good, I think. Plus, this Grandma thing makes you feel REalive.  If you get to do it someday, I know you will love it.

-So what if you start to say something and forget what you were saying mid-thought.

-So what if you don't know what the hipsters are up to anymore and their beards and fashions and hashtags confuse you.

-So what if your ankles won't bend right in the morning.

-So what if you call your kids the wrong names.

-So what if the wrinkles around your eyes show even when you're not smiling.

-So what if your drivers license weight is now a 10 pound lie instead of a five pound lie.

-So what if you fall asleep while showering.

In this decade of being 40-something I have felt the weight of 'proving' anything being lifted from my shoulders. It is so FREEING. I want it for all my sisters, young and old alike.

Two things have spoken volumes to my heart and soul in the last several weeks.  When I read them I had that "YES! THIS!" response.  

Here they are, my personal mission statements / mantras for year 43...

The first was this, John Pavlovitz - said:

More and more, I simply live to be the antidote to the things I find hurtful or damaging in the world, rather than arguing with those I believe are being hurtful or damaging. There are certainly times to identify dangers and to call out injustice, but those pale in comparison to the countless moments that simply require personal goodness.

Friends, there will always be those whose medium is vitriol, whose currency is condemnation, whose agenda is provocation, but resist responding in kind because that only conforms you to their image.
If you claim Christ, until you have a Christianity without venom you don’t have one that resembles Jesus quite yet. As a person of faith, this is the only kind of religion I am interested in.
Maybe you are like me. Maybe you’re bloodied and weary of the fight, but finding your second wind and discovering a better path, one less mired in sarcasm and less toxic to touch. 
Maybe you’re intentionally walking away from the war trenches, so that you can move toward the hurting, the unloved, the waiting—and respond.
If so, welcome.
This is the beginning of a holy movement in the world.
The other was this:

Those two things are my older-lady truths. 

We have shit to do and people to love. 


Friday, July 17, 2015

when this is war (part II)

Part I can be found here

When Asline arrived to the Maternity Center around 2:30 on July 15 we had just wrapped up a prenatal visit. We were done with our weekly gig at the government hospital and we were talking about what we all planned to do with our free afternoon.

Premature baby girl, born at state-run hospital 

{Sidestory with photo above:  At the State run hospital Wednesday morning there was a Momma that had delivered her little girl at 7 months, about 33 or so weeks along it appeared.  The woman that had given birth prematurely had very little emotional connection happening with the baby (wouldn't look at her) and her own Mother was there sitting on another bed with the baby lying on a towel.  First KJ, then myself, and then Beth McHoul (not all at once - separately) explained that a baby born prematurely doesn't even want to be outside the womb, that skin to skin and almost constant closeness will give that little one the best chance of survival. The Grandma listened and put the baby skin to skin, she began to nurse immediately. We left the room to visit the room next door. They put her clothing back on and set her on the towel alone on the next bed over. Three times they got the same information presented to them by three different midwives.  The smallest thing (costing NOTHING) can mean the difference between life and death for a baby that age, but if it is not a cultural norm, it is hard to force anyone to believe that a different way of doing things might be worth trying.}

     ~            ~             ~

Asline walked in to the MC visibly upset and agitated. She had a cousin with her, who waited outside on the porch.  Beth McHoul asked several questions in an attempt to gather history, most of which Asline did not verbally respond to at all. 

She was having very frequent contractions, the frequency and intensity of her response to the contractions left us thinking she might be 7 or 8cm.

An attempt was made to get all of her vitals. It took a lot longer than we like because when a contraction would come she would pull away and curl inward. She didn't have the ability to cooperate with a blood pressure cuff or a thermometer or a doppler, she was pain-focused.  When a contraction came she needed to curl in and rock. Two attempts were made to try and determine how many centimeters she was dilated.  Both attempts ended in tears for everyone, she simply couldn't  tolerate a typical vaginal exam. KJ had gotten a short chance and thought Asline was about 3cm. We were left without all the information we hoped to have.

For the next hour we attempted with each contraction to calm Asline down, to help her cope, to begin to figure out how one goes about helping a person deliver when they are very uncomfortable with being touched.  

Our Maternity Center has standard operating procedures and protocols in place. Those protocols exist to make birth for every woman as safe as it can be.  One of the protocols is that every woman has an IV Heplock placed, should she need medicine or fluids in an emergency situation.  Getting Asline to cooperate with the placement of the IV heplock was time-consuming and emotionally draining. She did not hold still and it took more than one attempt to get it placed.

Attempts to follow a "labor rest" protocol, thereby helping Asline sleep a few hours failed because she could not allow us to give her morphine via an IM injection.

This photo was taken as we began a conversation with her about a need to transport her. No decision was made at that point, but we wanted to introduce the idea and explain our reasons for considering it.

As we talked and watched Asline continue to lose her mind with contractions we discussed each of our own desires. None of us have ever physically held someone down in order to do our jobs, none of us wanted to be part of doing that.  We questioned whether or not Asline would be safe to deliver with us if the baby got into trouble and Asline was unwilling or unable to follow our instructions.  

We cried and prayed and posted the picture on Instagram and asked you to pray.

{Side note - When women go into a birth-center or hospital to give birth to their babies, or to attend a gynecological appointment, they expect that the staff there will act in their best interests, that they will receive respectful care and be informed of what is happening. For most women in the developed world (not all) - they can expect their time to be comfortable. They can assume each procedure will be explained fully and with their consent being sought for all actions. Unfortunately, for materially poor women in the developing world, this is not the case. *Many* women leave hospital care having undergone a procedure that was not explained to them, feeling violated and traumatized and possibly even a bit in shock. All that to say, we did not feel right about doing things to Asline that she could not emotionally consent to from her deep place of fear.}

Not more than a half hour after we posted our request for prayer, KJ noted that Asline's baby had flat heart tones.  We expect variability and we even expect an early decel here and there, but deceleration late in the contraction is a sign of placental insufficiency, meaning baby is likely being deprived of oxygen rich blood. It was not extremely dangerous, but KJ found the heart tones concerning.

Between our concerns about being forced into a position of being involved in something that made us feel sick, and the heart-tones on the baby, we decided to try a hospital in our area that specializes in high risk OB.  We left our Maternity Center hoping maybe we could talk them into considering her as a candidate for a C-Section. Technically speaking, we knew Asline did not fit their acceptance criteria, but we hoped maybe we would run into a sympathetic triage nurse or a kind Doctor.  Sometimes, if a hospital is having a particularly slow day, they bend the criteria a little bit.

At the first hospital (run by a large international NGO) Asline behaved as we had seen at our Maternity Center.  The nurses said, "Why bring her to us, we cannot do anything if she won't cooperate."  Attempts were made to explain to Asline why it was important to try and allow the staff to check her. They failed. We left there defeated.

We were wracking our brains for ideas or alternatives. As we drove out of the parking lot of the first hospital, we decided to go to a hospital next door (a State-run hospital) and see if they might consider taking her for a C/S.

Nirva (pictured above on left) went in to negotiate for care.  In Haiti there is no assumption of care.  It is always negotiation.  Even incredibly difficult situations (way worse than Asline) can be turned away for one reason or another.

Nirva came back out with Asline and said that the hospital agreed that a C-Section would make the most sense with the obvious abuse and trauma in Asline's background.  Four Doctors had attempted to check her, she allowed zero of them near her, even kicking one of them twice.

Then another major setback: the Doctor that Nirva spoke with had explained they had no supplies to do a C/S.  

We stood in the parking lot deciding if we wanted to go to a private (further away) hospital and ask to pay for C/S or if we wanted to bring supplies to the nearby public hospital.  Nirva went in again to clarify with the Doctor and get the list of what the Doctor needed.  

He agreed to admit Asline as long as we quickly returned with a huge list of supplies.  We left Asline and her cousin and made it back to the Maternity Center as quickly as we could.  

Beth McHoul and a few staff members were working with another Mom that had arrived in labor and was already fairly close to delivery. As we drove toward them, they worked to gather all the things on the list. 

We checked the supply list, gathered the remaining items, and jumped back in the ambulance to head back through insane Port au Prince traffic to deliver the hundreds and hundreds of dollars in supplies. The Doctor had requested everything from sterile C/S kit to sterile towels to several IV medications for infection, to IV supplies and chux pads.  We were basically to provide everything except his trained hands, the Operating Room, and the anesthesia.

I don't know how many years I will need to live here to stop being shocked by this. Apparently more than 9.5 years.  I continue to be floored at how little is actually available to the average Haitian person.

I guess if we were to follow suit and try to take this system and embrace it as our own, we could all go open up a Baskin-Robbins franchise. It would be easy, when customers arrive asking for ice-cream to simply tell them, "No, we have *no ice cream* on hand, but if you go get it and bring it to me, along with the scoop and the cone, then I will happily scoop up a nice cone for you and hand it to you."

When we arrived back at the hospital we found out that four doctors had held Asline down to check her.  They said she was 6cm and she needed to go outside and walk for an hour and after they did another C/S she would be next person in line.

Beth McHoul sent a message telling us that Nella had delivered a son and all was well at the MC.

KJ and Nirva went to stand outside the operating room with the two huge bags of C/S supplies we brought. Asline walked in the parking lot. We had a teen visitor named Maddie that had come along for the ride and she happily helped Asline walk while I updated the MC on things.  I joined Asline and Maddie to walk a bit. The sun was setting by then.  I rather appreciate that it sets because you cannot see the rats running along the walls once the darkness fully settles on us. I know the rats are there; don't need to see them.

Asline got tired and I thought I was hearing sounds that matched up with someone ready to start pushing.  The area in front of the hospital is very busy with dozens and dozens of people milling around. I did not know where KJ and Nirva were, nor did I know how to find a Doctor or nurse. This is a hospital we rarely go to and I have only been inside once in the last several years.  I suggested Asline come lie down on the stretcher and rest in the ambulance.  Her hour of walking was only about 20 or 30 minutes in…  Once Asline was lying down I asked her if I could check to see where the baby's head was.  She said, no and pushed my hand away.  On her next contraction I heard the unmistakable sound of involuntary pushing.  I asked KJ (by phone) to please come back to the ambulance.

KJ arrived, Asline had a contraction and her water broke all over my legs and feet.  I thought "Alright, well, what now?"  

Without enough time to really truly decide - we for sure thought the ambulance was better than trying to pass all the people and red tape and get inside the hospital. Asline was contracting again and pushing.  It helped us that the ambulance did not really allow her to get totally away from us, she could only push back as far as the back door of the ambulance which was closed and locked.  In two pushes (without us touching her until after the head was totally out) she delivered her baby boy.  He immediately cried a good strong cry and we were thankful we did not need the bag and mask we had ready should he need help breathing.

KJ had reminded me to be ready for bleeding, as Asline is anemic.  It wasn't but 45 seconds later that the blood began gushing.  I went in to get the placenta out, the bleeding continued heavily.  Together, KJ and I did bi-manual compression. This means that the uterus is being compressed with one hand from the outside and one hand from the inside.  It is a horrible, gruesome, life-saving move.

The issue for us was this ...  We arrived back at that hospital with supplies for a C-Section. In our minds we had handed our patient off to the hospital. We made a huge mistake (honestly, we will beat ourselves up for this for a long time -- it was very much a stupid stupid mistake on our part) by not being ready for an ambulance hemorrhage.  We dug out some money between all the wallets in the ambulance. Nirva ran into the hospital to buy the two medicines we wanted to stop the bleeding while we continued to provide bi-manual compression. She only found one of the two at the hospital and went out into the street to a nearby pharmacy to purchase the second one. Maddie handed us clean towels, and a cord clamp and things we needed for the baby to stay warm.

Several minutes later, maybe 15 or so, Nirva was back and the medicines were delivered. We cautiously removed our hands to see if the bleeding had stopped.  Mercifully, it had all but stopped.  We could see and feel that Asline was torn and needed repair.  We debated whether her blood loss was significant enough to require a transfusion. 

After several minutes of focusing only on Asline and baby we saw we had an audience around the ambulance.  Time gets weird in those situations, we know the baby was born around 8:30 but I don't know what time we finally looked up at what was going on around our vehicle.  The audience included the Doctor that had agreed to do the Cesarean.  He angrily asked Nirva why we had not gotten her back inside to deliver.  Nirva explained she had been standing outside the OR waiting on him and the Doctor said, "You didn't bring her in to deliver, if you need help now, you're not allowed to bring her back in."  This is the guy that told Asline to walk for an hour and then disappeared into a locked room.   There are not enough swears in the world for that guy.  

Nirva, ever the strong and stoic Haitian nurse, said, "No problem - we've got this."

Once we could see Asline was stable, bleeding was stopped, baby was skin to skin and doing well, we cleaned up the bloodbath as best we could and stepped outside to wash our hands and arms with Maddie's remaining drinking water.  A little crowd clapped and said, "Good job. I like it" in broken English. We laughed and said thanks and asked them to pray for Asline.

Once we were back to our kind, loving, calm little Maternity Center house we set everything up to do the repair.  Thankfully our protocols include light sedation during a repair when needed. Asline was relaxed a bit via IV meds before her repair was done by Wini.

The next several hours we watched closely to be sure Asline was not showing signs of shock. She nursed her little one and even reached up to hold him with her free hand during the repair.

This morning as we talked to Asline, she shut down, as she is prone to do.  Eye contact is difficult, answering questions is difficult. We know not to push her too much.

We shut the door and sat with her, mostly in silent reflection.  Occasionally we asked a question or two.  

We learned that on Thursday of last week her grandma was involved in a car accident. On Friday her grandma died in a hospital, with Asline at her bedside.  On Monday they buried her.  On Wednesday Asline went into labor.

We also learned that Asline has more trauma in her past than she can even share.

We knew that though.  Her labor and delivery screamed of it.

In the middle of the night, after Asline was tucked into bed with IV antibiotics on board and pitocin dripping into her arm, we finally logged in online and saw all the prayers and comments and intercession that happened for Asline.  

To see that hundreds of folks had agreed to pray is truly touching and beautiful to us. I know for sure that Asline couldn't possibly soak that in. Thank you. I don't know why it all went down the way it did, but I do know that Asline and her son are alive and resting in the postpartum room. 

I know that love is powerful. If I am being totally honest, I find it hard to believe that it can conquer all, but I am not closed off to that possibility.

Part III of this war is currently being waged.  

Will Asline embrace motherhood, will she herself find healing, will this little unnamed baby boy receive every good gift as he deserves?  I don't know that yet. 

War is long. War is messy. 

When this is war, we battle with all the tools we have been given and we wait on miraculous victory.