Wednesday, December 31

Weapon of Mass Destruction (?) - Written by Troy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


-Troy the not so wise, or knowledgable 


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



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

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

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

Tuesday, December 30

Year in review, Heartline Maternity Center




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two new things were added in 2014 -

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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







bottom photo taken December 2014, 11 months old

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





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

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




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

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


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

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

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

Monday, December 15

With Our Love this Christmas ...


the beginning of love






The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them. 


Thomas Merton

Saturday, December 13

buying time



The filming portion is done on The 2014 Extravaganza.  There is some voice stuff to do and a ton of editing/splicing by amateur film maker, Troy Livesay.  Noah showed up big time, whatever had him in a funk Sunday was nowhere to be found last night. We had so much fun last night, Sprite was served freely to keep the energy levels high.

Brittany left yesterday after five nights in Haiti with us. We had so much fun during her time here.  

The week was good and crazy ... One scary hemorrhage at the Maternity Center, one great God in the room to provide peace and calm and clarity to the middies and the Momma.  All is well today and mom and baby are bonding.

(Christmas and hemorrhage, just an average day in Haiti.)




2014 coming sooooooon ....

Monday, December 8

Christmas Extravaganza Situation Update




Above you will find the 2013 production.  
(The year Jesus kicks Santa's #$& at everything.) 

We are running into some logistical issues this year. Due to said issues we find ourselves a bit behind schedule.  

As it turns out, teens and pre-teens are not nearly as cooperative as one might like them to be.  (Troy is one, I am another one.)  

When asked if we need to retire the tradition, they all said, "Noooooo! We want to do it again!"  A week later when we started filling them in our ideas for this year, something went terribly wrong and all of a sudden some of them (not Isaac) were too cool for Christmas Extravaganza Number 8.   

We called off production and let pre-teens sulk for the afternoon yesterday. This morning I have been informed that they still want to do it.  

I won't lie, I am skeptical. 

One year (2010) Paige was an angel of the Lord against her will, and let me just say, a bad-attitude angel does not fly. (pun intended) 

We are still hoping to produce the 8th Annual Christmas Extravaganza and have it to you by mid December.  Time will tell if our hopes will become reality.

Little kids are way easier than big kids.  Let that be known. When you are cranking out kids one after the other, it would help to know this. Now you know. You're welcome.

Until the 2014 offering is finished, you will find us buying time with years 1 to 7 here on the blog. 

Friday, December 5

on culture, loss, and holding onto hope



This week we talked with one of the ladies in the prenatal program about her history of loss.  
Benita shared with far less detail than a midwife would like (or need to know) that her history includes the birth of two baby girls that never took a breath outside the womb.  

With both pregnancies (2011 & 21013) she felt fine, had a normal pregnancy and then around month 7 (as near as she can remember) she had a ton of pain, some bleeding, and within a half a day she delivered her placenta and her baby at the same time. The baby girls were no longer alive.

Both of these births happened at home, without a trained medical professional helping her.  

This December she finds herself about 25 weeks pregnant and unsure of what will happen with this third pregnancy.  This baby, should it stay inutero for 40 weeks, is due in mid March. We asked a lot of questions, most of them couldn't be answered in detail or with any sort of precision. Toward the end of our talk we asked, "Why do you think you lost those two babies?"  

Benita explained that she believes someone cursed her and caused the death of her babies. She is not all that hopeful that this third baby will live.

When KJ (photo) did an ultrasound she was able to determine that Bentia has something abnormal happening with the placenta.  We will do research and will try to refer Benita because it seems this abnormality is something that could be causing her to deliver early. We hope and pray it can be addressed in time to help her give birth to a living baby. 

As always, we ask for your prayers. The system is not easy or fair. Finding care is incredibly difficult and requires a lot of pushing, fighting, and pressing on.  Benita may not be able to hold onto hope. That is where we all come in, we can hope for her and hold her up until she is able to hope again.

***

When it comes to understanding a culture that is not your own, there is only one thing you need.

Infinite patience.

Scratch that -- TWO things - EARS THAT LISTEN & HEAR

It is not entirely uncommon to have people offer solutions to problems from afar. Recently someone suggested that we need to help Haitian women get out of bad relationships, rather than offering them birth control.

That's a nice idea, I really like it. But I live in reality and I understand the volume we are speaking  of when we talk about dysfunctional relationships.

This post (below) was written by a more naive me in 2008.  

It shares a few cultural realities that we have been learning and relearning for several years...

(Cut and pasted in original post below.)
***

The last few weeks of Prenatal and Early Childhood Development class have proven to be eye-opening.

Each week there is a lesson. We often try to do role play and get the ladies involved in the lesson in some unique way.

Our topic last week was domestic violence. Beth read a story about a woman who suffered at the hands of an angry, controlling man. At the end of the story the room was very quiet. Beth asked the ladies if that happens in Haiti. The answer given by several of the ladies was, "chak jou" - or every day.

We went on to do the role play in which I played the man and beat up a lady and told her that she took too long at the market and that I did not want her gone so long ... that I deserved better. 

After the skit Beth asked what sort of advice the ladies would offer the woman who had just been beat. They all said, "Get up and go to the market earlier so he won't be mad." We questioned them further and learned that they almost all believe that there are things they should try to do to keep from being beat. We asked them if they might consider leaving the abusive man. They all said, No - he has the money, they cannot leave. Sometimes they call the police, but the police don't have gas in their truck and don't necessarily respond. We asked them if they had a job, a way to make money, then would they leave? The entire room raised their hands indicating that if they had the economic ability to feed their kids, they would not put up with beatings.

To question these findings further, I had Troy ask Jeronne if her ex-boyfriend ever beat her. Without one second of hesitation she said, "Yes, he liked to hit." Troy asked her if she thought it was odd that he does not beat me, she laughed and said "oui!"

We try to avoid making generalizations. But the fact is, on a large scale, not much can be done for a family trapped in a cycle of poverty. Government won't respond. Culturally men hold the power over women and violence is ignored. Women have no power to leave. Children are at the mercy of these realities. Women accept abuse as a normal part of their existence in order to keep their children in homes and fed, even at very minimal levels.

The prayer, the hope, the desire of a program like Heartline Women's Program is to begin to empower a woman. We meet many of them during their pregnancy when they enter our program to receive basic prenatal care, vitamins, and education. Our belief is that if a woman learns to take care of her child better, learns to read, learns about child-spacing and family planning options, learns to share what she knows with her friends ... she has power - she begins to believe in herself. If she has that power she might consider further education, such as sewing or another professional school. Should she learn to sew she might be in a position to say NO to an abusive boyfriend. She may be in a position to feed her own children.

Once, a couple of years ago, a man came to Troy and asked him to fire his girlfriend. Troy said, "Why would I do that? She is a great employee." The man went on to say that she no longer respected him because she had her own money. Translation: She no longer put up with being beat. Troy refused and rumors circulated that the man was going to kill her. Eventually his anger faded and she went on with her life without him. But this is no isolated story. 

This is the reality of many poor women in Haiti.




God hears your cries and your Savior's comin'




Lyrics:
This here's a tale for you ladies and fellas - Tryin to do what our culture tells us ~ Go out and shop like you're super zealous - But don't forget our God is jealous

Ok smartie go to a party - It's Christmas time have you been nice or naughty? ~ Have we forgotten the reason for the season? - It's about our God, not time for self-pleasin

Next day's function, turkey luncheon - Will you thank God for this food you're munchin? ~ People in the world never have that chance - So don't eat so much you nearly split your pants

This world is needin, hearts are bleedin - We need help to solve this pain we're feelin ~ When you have a chance don't forget to tell - God sent His Son - Emmanuel

Ooooh Yeah, Ooooh Yeah, Mmmm, Yeah, Oh, Yeah (Emmanuel)
We need Him, God sent Him - We need Him, Our God sent Him (Emmanuel)
--
You're on a mission and you're wishin someone could cure this sinful condition ~ Lookin for joy in all the wrong places - All these toys but still sad faces?

From frustration, first inclination is to forget God in your situation
But every dark tunnel has a lighter hope, don't give up on Him - He can help you cope

Don't be bummin, sad song hummin - God hears your cries and your Savior's comin.. He made a way so many years ago - He sent His Son - and now you know:

We need Him, God sent Him - We need Him, Our God sent Him (Emmanuel)

Country or city, things ain't pretty - Sin abounds, we're dirty and gritty
But God sees clear, He came down here - Thank Him for that this time of year (Thank Him for that this time of year)

Chorus - Ooooh Yeah Mmmmm Yeah ...
(c) 2011 Troy Livesay All Rights Reserved

(2011 - 5th Annual - Filmed in Port au Prince, Haiti)

Wednesday, November 26

on writing and a podcast

I enjoy writing, it is my second favorite hobby.  I like telling stories and processing the things of life in writing. 

Over the past year or two it has become more difficult to write about Haiti and the people we live and work with here.  I could tell a new, interesting, inspiring, sad, difficult, or triumphant story every single day  -  but I find myself chickening out for fear of disrespecting someone's story.

I've shared before that Haiti is mysterious. Things are rarely as they first appear.  It is said you should believe nothing that you hear and only half of what you see.  Stories evolve, truth is revealed slowly as relationships and trust are built.

Understanding a culture takes many years, even decades. I don't understand very much.

Last week was a rough week at the Maternity Center.  There are four or five individual situations that came up.  I also hesitate to write too much when things feel rough or overwhelming because I don't want to sound like I am complaining. It is not my life that is hard, it is the lives of the women we work with - and that I want to vent on their behalf and honor their struggle and strength.

I haven't done this for quite a few years, but am willing to try it again. If there are questions you have wondered about, feel free to leave in comment section or email us. We can write responses as time allows. We are happy to write about adoption, large family stuff, Haiti stuff, Heartline Ministries stuff, Maternal Healthcare in Haiti, culture, living cross-culturally  ... The only off limits topics are theology and politics because that's stuff that is pointless to talk about unless you are in a relationship with someone and can talk to each other with kindness and mutual respect.  If there are no questions at all, that is cool too.


~      ~      ~

When I was in Texas I was a guest on my pal Jamie Ivey's podcast.  We talked a bit about Short Term Missions, Parenting, Haiti and a few other topics.  If you want to listen, you can find Jamie's Podcast called Happy Hour, HERE.  I rarely finish talking after any recording or speech opportunity without feeling like, "darn, I wish I wouldn't have said it that way" - but for once I think I actually agree with myself.  

(Random) photos from the last week ... 


Beth and KJ in the kitchen - that is tons of lard (french butter) that went into dozens of pie crusts for Thursday
also, look at that top-knot -- a thing of wonder!

Hope's artwork, love her creations and thought this was something we all need.

Ketia, Lisena, Lamercie, Brunette, Tara, Christella
(a group of six month old fat babies, graduating from class)

This amazes me. I don't know much about it.
Clearing land on Route Nationale 3 for this.
Dear God, please, no. 

Sunday trip to see Jen and visit patients at hospital -
Looking down the mountain on a windy afternoon

Dokte Jennifer and Noah visiting at the Hospital she is working at this month.
(Zanmi Lasante)

On the way home when I asked. "Want to stop to watch the sunset, buddy?" Noah said, "Uh, okay, but I heard staring at the sun would make you go blind."  We worked it out. Saw it set, Not blind. 

Girls looking down at Port au Prince on Monday
our sleepiest child
Graham son - because I must

Wini and Glenda bringing Rebecca and son home on Tuesday 

We celebrate Thanksgiving in Haiti.  Tomorrow we will gather to give thanks and eat turkey. The Americans (and even many Canadians and Haitians too) all eat at Beth and John's table.  Beth makes insane amounts of food for large crowds and I never understand any of it - it is magical. I just know that tomorrow I will be thankful for many things, just as I am today. Counted among those things is you, the friends and strangers that pray for and share your gifts with Haiti, Heartline, and us. 

~tara 

Adoption Thoughts to End November

Because adoption is woven into my life in so many places, my thoughts and feelings about it are very complex.  I think about it much differently than I did 15 years ago. I have a huge desire to see less children placed for adoption and for more of us to figure out how we can be a part of reducing the number of children placed in orphanages around the world. (Plug: HEARTLINE MINISTRIES)
I grew up with three cousins adopted from Korea. I witnessed one cousin my age sorting through the loss and memories he had of Korea. My little sister married an adoptee. Prior to her marriage my little sister placed a daughter for adoption as a young mother. My sister reunited with her daughter a couple of years back.  That same sister and her adopted husband also adopted my niece, Annie, from Haiti. My husband and I have adopted three children. We (and they) know their first families and have frequent interactions and are always seeking to build understanding and relationship with them. My future son-in-law recently met his birth father and is in the process of building a relationship. My other son-in-law has one adopted sibling. In every way possible, we have been able to build relationships with the three key players in the adoption triad. This allows us to have a less romantic view and to see adoption with eyes of realism.  It allows us to understand the nuances and to be able to say, adoption means loss too.
As the end of November draws near, and the month of recognizing adoption comes to a close, I wanted to share an article a friend of ours wrote.  We first "met" Angela and her husband, Bryan, when we learned of their project and became backers of a film being made about Angela finding and reuniting with her birth mother. If you have not seen Closure, we highly recommend it. Buy it here.
Below is an excerpt and a link to Angela's full post at Christianity Today. 
"I view adoption to be a necessary solution to an unfortunate need. It’s a tragic situation for one family (birthparents) while simultaneously offering great joy for another (adoptive parents). Adoptees sit between the two.
We can recognize the tension of their position, and the role of adoption in our communities, when we listen to adoptees. Their stories grieve and mourn the loss of their first family, celebrate their adoptive family, and everything in between. The complex truth of modern-day adoption reminds me of these words from the Franciscan Benediction:
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships—so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people—so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war—so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in the world—so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor."

Angela Tucker's full article can be found HERE.  

Sunday, November 16

on heart surgery, car buying, and an intruder - a two week update

Welcome to the neglected space where we write about one time a month and call it success.

Life is too busy, the (next) season of busy is upon us all.

I am recording all this for my kids as much as anything else.

In bullet point fast-blog fashion, the things from last couple weeks ...


  • Five weeks and two days in the USA with the oldest girls and their boys came to an end Thursday.  I flew home with zero problems or delays and sniffed the humid Haiti air with glee around 4pm that day.
  • Michael had heart surgery about a week ago. It went well. His heart is healed. Mesi Jezi.
  • At the hospital during the surgery I was walking Graham in the halls trying to calm him while Paige rested.  A nurse said, "You look like you need a rocking chair, I will get you one."  I sat in the busy hospital hallway rocking Graham for an hour and it was by far the best hour of the five weeks in Texas. 
  • Britt came down to Waco after the surgery and we had a sleep over.  We talked in the darkness about anything and everything for hours.  That was my second favorite part of the trip.
  • The insurance company ended up paying us for the ruined car, and actually gave us more than we paid for it.  I take back my gripes about them.
  • I bought a car (for Paige) by myself.  Nobody spoke for me, I just bought a car by talking for myself, the way many people do these days.  I think we should all be more proud of the people around us.  Look around, the folks whizzing by you on the freeway bought cars.  That's hard stuff.  They are courageous.  If you want, you can walk up to someone in a parking lot and say, "Did you buy that car?"  If they say, "Yes, yes, I did."  You can give them a high five, a hug, or a word of congratulations because buying a car is difficult and inspirational.
  • The guys I bought from were older. Guys that could be my Dad or by Dad's older brother. They were named Pat and Joe.  Pat had a 40 year old daughter named Tara.  Joe had a son that was a radiologist. We got really close during those test drives. One really wanted me to buy, the other didn't give a damn.  I was drawn to the guy that didn't give a damn.  I'm sure that means something about me.  In the end I had to buy from the one with the car I wanted most.  I bought Paige another Toyota, just two years newer than her first Corolla.  I learned that in Texas, people ask to help you. I had a few guys offer help when the hood was open and I was pretending to check the engine out and do all that intelligent-buyer-posturing-stuff. I said, "Nope, just checking the oil.  Like I do.  Except not that. Because I never do that."  
  • I got the car well below blue book and I don't care if you are not impressed with me. I am enough impressed with me for all of us. I made my offer and sat in the terrible, uncomfortable silence and refused to speak until my price was accepted. I may have been too proud because after leaving the lot with the new car, I went to Target and locked the only keys inside the new car, in the ignition, while it was running. Add $35 (Pop a Lock) to the price of the car for that little pride-killing moment.
  • Troy and I never got in a fight in all those weeks doing our parenting jobs solo in different countries.  That is a first.  The last time we were apart that long was 2007 and it was not nearly so easy that time.  If you need to know how to have a long distance relationship with your spouse, we will happily share our hot-tips. Tip number one is to lower your expectations. Tip number two is not blog material. 
  • Staying in the attic bedroom with the slanted ceilings and getting a text from Paige each morning "we are up, come over" was also a very good (favorite) part of my time in Texas.
  • We got a lot of wedding stuff done.  I bought suits and ties and found used shoes for the guys and we made centerpieces and table runners and made a plan with Pastor Carn-Dog about the ceremony.  It seems like the 54 days that remain till the ceremony will require some organization, but nothing undoable by any means. If anyone reading has a great idea for simple and cheapish sound equipment in southern Florida, please share your wisdom.
  • Graham is the cutest baby ever born and incredibly photogenic. I assume there are many eyes rolling over how many photos I posted. Go ahead and roll on. I cannot resist. 
  • We will all be together in one place in January.  It is possible that sometimes I cannot control my bladder when I think about it.  Tonight Lydia said, "I hate the word bladder. It's kind of disgusting. I wish you wouldn't mention it."  
  • Noah fell off of a roof on one occasion (a tree broke his fall or we would be unable to laugh about it) , he sprained or maybe broke two toes on another, and shot a back window of an SUV out with a sling-shot on another. I might go away again until he is 25.
  • Arriving home I figured I might find myself in a hole with the kids.  Everyone seemed ready to start without any punishment for my absence, except Lydie.  Poor girl needed a big long cry. I think she has the gift of compartmentalizing and once I was back she could finally feel all the hard parts of five weeks without me. She cried a good cathartic cry and all is well. 
  • We have a new Mastiff puppy named Bono. He won't live here long term, he will be moved to the Maternity Center full-time in a couple months.  An awesome lady in Virginia gave us two male Mastiffs, the McHouls are in charge of the other puppy. 
  • Friday was our 16 year anniversary.  While on our date we got a phone call from hysterical Geronne. Troy could not even understand her. He said, "Geronne, slow down, I don't understand."  As it turned out, an intruder was in our yard. ( Happy Anniversary!!!!  ) We ran out of the restaurant in the pouring rain to rush home to learn more because Geronne was too upset for us to hear.  The whole drive home I just kept repeating, "Jesus, protect them."  The man in the yard was clearly casing the joint and just happened to get busted by Geronne. He told her that the kids let him in the gate.  She screamed for the kids who said, "Nope, did not let that guy in" ... Then there was the part where Noah got scared and grabbed a knife and the part where Isaac was never scared because happy happy happy, everything is wonderful. The most trauma was caused when Hope told the little girls to hide and Geronne was screaming loud to get the guy to leave and Noah thought that the little girls had been taken by the guy because he could not find them. All in all, it was upsetting to everyone but everyone was physically unharmed. The guy ran. He had come in during a hard rain, the dogs are typically hiding during hard rain and nobody can even hear their own thoughts, let alone hear an intruder climbing the wall. Geronne and Isaac chased him out the gate just as friends from Heartline arrived to help. Troy and I pulled up a couple minutes after that. A few hours later we all cuddled in our bedroom to process and talk and Lydia said, "Maybe he just needed some limes." (We have a lime tree in the yard.) I feel like that is the best way to frame it all.  The guy was in need of a great batch of Citron juice.  Can you even blame him? 
  • The Maternity Center is one of my happy places. Looking forward to some November babies. More updates on all things birth and pregnancy and newsy from over there soon. (Soon means weeks not months.)

I love this picture because the love is palpable.
Graham ~ so.very.delicious.
 Graham never stressed about the heart surgery.
Sleep over with my mini-me


If this doesn't say DANGEROUS SECURITY DOG, I don't know what does.

Friday, October 31

Making Space for Grace: On Our Changing Role as Parents

Google tells me there are 21,300,000 parenting websites and 230,000 parenting blogs.  That right there is a supernumerary level of advice. 

That result led me to ask how many parents there are in the world, because naturally I wondered if maybe there is perhaps an unadvertised goal of one website per X number of parents.  After that, I wondered where everyone got their advice in 1814 and 1914 before 21,300,000 options were at our fingertips.

Sadly, the world doesn't keep track of its parents, but I found this highly reliable resource...

 Statistics show that there are 82.5 million mothers and 66.3 million fathers in the United States. This brings the total number of parents in the United States to approximately 148.8 million.

Clearly, I am working with hard facts and unimpeachable statistics.

I question what happened to 16 million USA fathers, but that is a blog post for another day.

  *  *  *


Today there are 230,001 parenting blogs.  I figure I am a grandparent now, certainly that automatically means I have reached a level of experience in parenting that creates an obligation for me to share my vast knowledge. (Read: sarcasm)

Something about being here in the USA with my adult children and missing my five at home has me in a weird space of introspection.  It is a place of grieving what is gone while examining what I have learned and anticipating what lies ahead. It is a cacophonous space, to say the least.

Today I had lunch with a friend and we traded tales and woes of the middle place, where we both reside. I said something close to this-  'I just feel like if we learn as we go and I have learned things through my mistakes with the first few kids, certainly by the time the seventh one hits her stride we will know every mistake and pitfall and she should be raised mistake free. Yes?'  Am I right?

(No.)


*** ***       *** ***

When we parent our little kids along side our friends and community, we like to sit around discussing how to help them not be jack-asses. We compare stories about tantrums and pontificate about which foods seem to make monsters of them. It is pretty easy to find agreement and comaraderie when it comes to raising little kids. 

Oftentimes we will laugh together at the hilarious things 5-year-old kids say. We confess to one another when we had a bad day, those days when we just weren't patient enough with the toddlers or the hormonal pre-teens. We create safe, encouraging spaces on line and in person to share the ups and downs of parenting little people.

As our kids get older, the circle of sharing grows smaller. We talk less and less about what is hard or funny or wonderful or terrible about parenting.  For multiple reasons, it is more difficult to find parents that will discuss their pregnant teenager, or their binge drinking college kid, or their changing and sometimes strained relationships with their adult children.  There is way less encouraging one another and far less sharing.

It isn't that most people with older kids have perfect trouble-free kids. It isn't that we, as parents, don't need help. It isn't that we have lost our friends. It is that most people with older kids don't know if it is safe to be vulnerable about these more consequential years. Older kids that are struggling strike greater fear in us. Maybe it's that we are embarrassed that we don't really what we are doing. 

Raising kids is hard.

If we are managing an out of control five year old, we can talk about it because  - Well, because he is five. There is time.  It'll get easier, we think to ourselves. However, if we are managing an insolent 22 year old, it is rarely shared.

Before I go too far, please know this isn't a post about my or your troubled kids.  I don't actually think the Internet is the best place to discuss that. I do think that one of the more encouraging things is coming to realize we are not alone in our struggles.  It always helps to find out someone else struggles or feels uncertain in the same areas. Families and family relationships have been complex forever and ever. None of us are experiencing things that are unheard of or new. 

This is a post about how we parent older kids (and let go of control) and it is a post about vulnerability and finding what we all have in common.  It is about grace and do-overs.  It is about second chances and, forgiveness. It is about there always being time.

Our core group of friends our age are mainly handling grade school and younger kids, a few of them are just entering into the teen years with their oldest kids. Of course, we are there with them in that. We have early teens and our last two little primary school divas. 

The only place we find ourselves the oddballs in child rearing, is this place of having adult children with significant others  - and now even children of their own. 

Apparently if you have a child or two really young and your friends don't also start a family young, it follows that you will have kids moving out of the house and getting married when your friends don't. This was a shocking revelation for me.  

There are things about parenting older children that nobody really tells you. I am not sure why. I have a lengthy list of the things I did not know, but here are a few of the bigger ones:
  • It is scary, the mistakes feel more costly and long reaching
  • Older kids doesn't equal an easier parenting gig - the job doesn't stop feeling big or even daunting because they grown up
  • "I'm sorry" is an important two-word phrase to memorize
  • There is still time, even though it doesn't feel like it
  • We change -They change  (or at least if we do, we can hope they will)
All throughout child rearing our kids do things we have asked them not to do. I bet we can all think of examples from the last 24 hours. The difficulty comes when the kids are launching out on their own and the whole landscape changes almost overnight. 

The ways in which you handled disobedience don't so much serve as viable options any longer. I would venture to guess that for all parents, there will come a point when the adult child will do something you have asked them not to do. As a parent, you have to choose how you will respond. At five and ten and even fifteen years of age, it is a fairly straightforward how you handle being ignored. At 18 and 22, it is less so. There are no time outs for young adults. 

How are a mother or father to act/respond when they disagree with decisions their newly adult children make?

We made some pretty large mistakes six years ago when our oldest daughter announced her engagement to be married.  To us it felt very quick and we feared she was too young and things had moved too fast. I flipped out. I was afraid. Long story short, Troy and I made some fear-based decisions and because we were afraid we did not give our immediate blessing. (Although, we came around in time.) We made choices and asked things of them that caused our relationship harm. All of our reactions were still based in love and concern (with a large dollop of fear), but they did not necessarily land as love and concern. 

When our second child started going through a difficult season people were so kind to us and commented about how gracious we were acting. It made me uncomfortable because they did not see the entire picture and they did not know about our past mistakes that directly led us to be better equipped to respond more graciously to child number two.  

Like C.S. Lewis said,  "Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn."  

To our great delight, time and cautious attention to the mess-ups in our parenting careers seem to bring healing. When I wrote a letter to my grandson, I shared with him one thing I have learned; nothing is ever quite as bad as it seems right in the beginning. Time brings clarity. Time brings healing. There is still time. 

I have long since changed this misconception of mine, but I always assumed that parenting adults would be easier and that the hardest parts were over once you got through that hormonal stage of 11 to 14 years of age. I don't want to bring you all bad news, but it doesn't necessarily get easier. I am sorry, but that is truth. The good news is this: there is time.  If we, as parents, are committed to growth and change, it follows that we can be hopeful that our relationships will grow and change with our kids as they grow and change too.  "I am sorry, I was afraid, can you forgive me for responding with fear?" can and does go a long way.  

Our kids will (and should) make their own choices and sometimes choose to ignore our words of caution or wisdom. We will be forced to decide if we keep harping on things and draw hard lines, or decide that stating our hopes and desires once or twice with clarity is enough. 

Someone recently asked how I could "condone” something that my child decided to do. I said, "Well, I told her how I felt and what I thought was a wise choice and she decided not to do what I suggested. If I keep loving her and speaking to her and pursuing relationship does that equal condoning to you?"   (It did to that particular person.)

This line we try to draw troubles me. The definition of condone is, to forgive or approve (something that is considered wrong) : to allow (something that is considered wrong) to continue.  

I want to suggest that love and pursuing relationship doesn't really mean approving of everything someone chooses.  I can dislike a choice they made but still pursue them wholeheartedly. Withdrawing relationship (or love) because I don't approve is not my answer. I also want to suggest that at some point it is not up to me to allow or disallow anything anymore. 

If we are raising kids to eventually be autonomous, (that is the point, yes?) the natural progression of things will mean they start making choices that don't seek or require our approval. 

When a six year old is told "Don't eat that whole bag of candy", and they still do it (maybe many times over the course of a few months) and you keep loving them, speaking to them, spending time with them, we would never say we are "condoning eating a whole bag of candy" because we kept loving.  

I don't know if I will find agreement here, or how many of you reading have older kids, but I think the roughest part of the whole transition happens during the first year or two after the kids move out from under our roof. Literally overnight parents have to figure out how to be the right amount of involved and gauge the right amount of advice and caution to give. I have not found this to be easy. It feels like uncharted territory to me and I know I have erred on both sides, too much advice, and too little input.

As our kids all get older and start to test their own decision making power and even begin to choose differently than we want at times, there will be times we can't win an argument or will not get our kids to see it our way.  It feels strange at first. Who is this person with differing thoughts of his own?!?!??? It is odd to realize we are not the boss anymore. 

In those times I find it is important for me to remember that winning an argument should not really be my ultimate goal. When Jesus came up against difficult things, he couldn't have cared less about winning the argument. He preferred to make space for grace. When we make space for grace with our kids they will make space for grace for us too.  

I don't know much, but I know there is nothing I need more than grace. 


Thank you, Brittany, Christopher, Paige, Michael, Isaac, Hope, Noah, Phoebe, and Lydia for being my grace teachers. I sit under your tutelege with gratitude for all you continue to teach us.