Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Labor of Sisyphus


When my friend, Dokte Jen was here a couple weeks ago, we were talking about the State run Maternity Hospital in Port au Prince. We were lamenting the difficulties there and discussing why it is so hard going there and seeing what happens (or doesn't happen) there.

Jen wondered if maybe it was a little bit like the character from Greek Mythology, named Sisyphus. The story of Sisyphus varies a bit. As a punishment the gods required that Sisyphus roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again, he repeated this action over and over again. 

The phrase "labor of Sisyphus" refers to any hopeless task that must be repeated endlessly.

For whatever the reasons, (mostly just lack of facts and training) going into this hospital and suggesting (to mothers, aunties, nurses, and doctors) that new mothers should in fact hold their babies (skin to skin!) and can also nurse them and do not (not not not) need to wait two or three days until the milk comes in to offer the baby the breast, it does feel a bit like rolling a boulder up a hill every Wednesday. 

This morning a smaller than usual group from the Heartline Maternity Center headed to engage in some Sisyphus-like work for a couple of hours. 



The hospital is sometimes filled with patients. On other occasions we find it mainly empty. Sometimes strikes or protests keep the Doctors from coming.

Of course while there, there-are several other challenges too. 


Observing the way the educated (Doctors, Nurses, Med Students) often-times treat the (mainly less educated) patients and the lack of respect and kind-attention the patients receive is its own separate (boulder) difficulty.  Most people are given almost zero information about their own health.

Any attitude with them (the providers at the hospital) or perceived disrespect of their methods or "their turf" could mean the patients we hoped to advocate for are treated even worse (in retaliation). We are the guests, after all. 

When I feel my anger and throat punchyness rising up at the shoddy care-(not)-providers, I have to mentally (inner dialogue tape - on repeat) remind myself that when we are not leading by loving, or serving while offering genuine kindness (to all), we become as guilty as those we wish to throat-punch. 

A long-dead atheist named Nietzsche said it like this, "Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster..."

That is fair warning, and I want to beware. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Put a Heart on It


Our youngest child loves to stand over our shoulders and tell us what she approves of on various social media sites.   As we scroll through things on our phones or computer she will shout out, "Put a heart on it!" when she likes what she sees.

Lydia gives out hearts fairly freely, pushing us all to "like" and love with a similar seven-year-old abandon.

Here are some things I want to 'put a heart on' and remember...


  • In March of 2015 we welcomed a bunch of people into the mosquito-filled guest room. Britt, Paige, Graham, Vince, and Dr, Jen all arrived in the month of March.
  • The last couple weeks are a blur of activity.  I close my eyes and see babies crowning. After so many nights of interrupted sleep, the entire staff stops speaking their second language, remembering names of their children, or how to find their way to the grocery store a half mile away. As you can imagine, things get very hilarious. Freak laughter turning into tears is one of many warning flags that a looooong sleep is needed.
  • The kids have been enjoying the temporary addition of Caroline at their school.  Their teacher, Jimmy, has been juggling five grades and a lot of curriculum and Caroline has proven to be especially helpful in the Mathematics department.  She leaves for her new grown-up life in TN in less than a month and Troy and I are bracing ourselves for sad kids.
  • Easter Sunday was good, even sans Troy-boy we enjoyed the day. At our little house church we had communion. Because I was seated right next to the table it was being offered, I saw an opportunity to serve each of my kids their communion without disrupting anyone else. I served Lydia and Phoebe, then Hope. To each of them I whispered, "This is Christ's body, broken for you. This is Christ's blood, shed for you." They nodded in agreement and solemnly and took the bread and juice from me. I motioned for the boys to come to the table. Noah arrived and I handed him his bread and said, "This is Christ's body broken for you." He looked at me with an expression of disgust and insult and said, "Yeah. I know that." OkkeeeDokee. Noted.  If you want to see how that makes the folks that serve you communion feel, I suggest you try that response for yourself some time.
  • Troy went to Peru for 9 days and had an amazing time with two friends. Collectively they left 13 kids and 3 wives (one per) behind to have their little faux mid-life crisis adventure.  It sounds like they were fairly responsible and had epic fun motorbiking through the Sacred Valley beneath the Andes Mountains. Troy said it was breathtakingly beautiful.
  • Kids know when they have parents at their wits end.  When my kids are being blind, and don't seem to recognize my dwindling patience, I usually just announce that they are all at risk of having their entire head removed in one swift bite.  The last night Troy was away I instructed kids to go shower. We usually have a little negotiation over who will use which shower.  It's dumb, I don't know why we do it.  Anyway, they all took off and I sat in the kitchen chatting with Jen and KJ for a bit.  When I went upstairs to tuck the two little ones in we chatted and tickled (a favorite thing to do right before sleep because stupid parenting) for a few minutes. As I said goodnight - Lydia said, "Oh dang, we hurried up to shower and get ready for nothing. I thought you were in a bad mood but you're not." 
  • Hope got to go to the Dominican Republic with friends this weekend. Three teenagers and three brave 20-somethings took the border by storm and went off on a girls weekend. With Hope away and the boys gone at a sleepover, Troy and I had one night with only the last two children.  We asked them what they wanted to do with the special night of just the two of them?  They requested to drink Sprite and go buy ice-cream at the grocery store. We jumped in the car quickly and made sure to enjoy a chance-evening with the "baby" girls. We let them choose their ice cream and served gargantuan bowls of it.  Phoebe noted that, "Some day when the big kids are in college, we will party like this and eat ice cream with Mom and Dad every time we want!"  Possibly feeling bad for enjoying the absence of her siblings she added, "The big kids will just be able to buy Sprite for themselves whenever they want and drink it all day long."
  • Our friends (John Dols and Josh Dwyer) from Minnesota brought a group from the High School they work at for a week in Haiti. They were hosted by another ministry. We met up with them once for dinner and once for a beach day. On the dinner night the kids were asked questions. "What is your favorite fast food to eat when you go to the USA?" was one question that left five kids staring like deer in headlights.  Hope finally came through with, "PeiWei".  Then we determined that fast food is not our favorite at all and the question itself was flawed. Our kids had been invited the previous year to the beach day and had expectations based on the group from last year.  Sometime mid-day Noah informed me that this year's teenagers were much less interested in hanging out and rowdy housing on the beach. He said, "I guess they only brought introverts this year."


Hiking above Cazale in late March 

double date with Caroline and Vince
Jen was here 12 days to help with kids and driving 
Easter Sunday 

four of the six babies from April babystorm week 2015

Hope making chocolate in the D.R. this weekend


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Birth & Whispered Prayers


The staff at the Maternity center unanimously agrees, we love our jobs. We love the vision and mission of the Maternity Center. We adore the women we work with. We are in the trenches together and our bond is one that can only be formed by the deep knowing of what is at stake each time we enter that birth room.  

Practicing midwifery in a country where giving birth results in more maternal (and infant) death than any other country in our hemisphere - means practicing acutely aware of the possibilities and even more aware of our need for provision.

When thing get tense in the birth room, whether it be a stuck shoulder, a floppy baby, a hemorrhage, or the threat of a seizure, the language in the room changes.  Prayers are quietly uttered, usually simultaneously. 

"Jesus, bring this baby out."

"God, help us."

"Breathe baby, BREATHE."

"Make this placenta come"

"Please stop the bleeding"

Of course all sorts of actions are happening along with the prayers, but the prayers are a love language and the moments are holy. 



Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Us



In some seasons there is time and space for deeper reflection than others. The Lent Season of 2015 was not one of reflecting, soul searching, or figuring out what the core of me believes and celebrates. It is a choice to slow down enough to reflect. Not unlike a lot of folks, I choose to stay busy enough to avoid reflection more often than not. 

I don't know how life on this difficult little island changes my experience, but I know it changes my experience.  Life and death are very real in the day-to-day here. In a matter of hours I may witness both.

The other night on one short drive I saw two young men in two separate locations injured and dying on the side of the road. (Nobody in those two vicinities expected a 911 call to equal a rapid response. They stood by while the injured men suffered.) 

Last night I again witnessed the birth of new life as a beautiful and brave young mother asked us several times to pray for her; then confidently pushed her little baby girl into my hands.  

I loved what my friend and midwife said about that birth:
"What a beautiful, middle of the night birth. We entered just as mom was ready to begin the pushing process. This young woman had already birthed trust, love for her baby, and a true knowing of what she had to do. It was holy. The rain had finished, the night was still with us, the moon red (or so I heard tell) and this first time mom reached into that confident place, grabbed her believing, grabbed us and grabbed God and delivered a baby girl. It was art. It was how it can be done."

As a follower of a crucified and risen King, I often times struggle to "grab my believing" - to focus on the hope of resurrection and the promise of new life while surrounded by the weight of death and injustice. 

I need to learn how to better grab my believing and celebrate Easter.  

Walter Brueggemann wrote a poem for Ash Wednesday called "Marked by Ashes" and in that poem he says: 

Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.Come here and Easter our Wednesday withmercy and justice and peace and generosity.

In my desire to learn to be better at hope and better at resurrection, I am praying. Today, may the Resurrected One Easter us to joy, hope, mercy, justice, peace and generosity. Easter us, Lord. May The light defeat the darkness. May Your hope overcome my grief. May unusual peace reign in my heart prone to chaos. 
He is risen means death does not have the final word. Easter us, Lord. Amen.