Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Christmas Letter in January - Better Late Than Never

Once upon a time I sent my Christmas letter out on December first, taking far too much pride in hearing, "Yours was the first one I got this year."  Perhaps I am competitive. 

Once upon a time is a long long time ago.  I'm in mid-life now and mediocrity (survival) is to be celebrated. Better late than never is my mantra. I've recently had it tattooed across my buns. 

This last year I couldn't muster up a letter in December - like at all.  I started one and realized it sounded negative and maybe even old-lady-grouchy. Instead of any newsletter-type insert I wrote a quick note to each household and called it good. No news added.


On my post on Facebook to review 2017,  I managed to say it all with carefully chosen words to protect the innocent and fatigued and I did it in less than 300 words:

I am weepy today as we start this new year. 
I want to thank you for the love and kindness you showed the Livesay Family and Heartline Ministries in 2017. 
It is more than humbling to us to receive prayers and encouragement from people all over the place, many of whom we have never met. 
2017 was a very difficult year for Troy and I. Even though I hope the year ahead is much easier, we are grateful for what we have learned through various personal and professional challenges and hoping we can grow in grace and love as a result of the rough stuff. 
On the Mission/Heartline/Haiti front we completed our first full year as mission Directors and went through some big changes. At times we were pretty aware that we were in over our heads and had an acute awareness of our failings. The learning curve has been UUUGE and we know we have let folks down at times without being able to get back to everyone in a timely manner or in a personal way. If you were disappointed with us we apologize and ask your forgiveness. We deeply appreciate every donor, prayer, employee, and board member. What an honor it is to work with you all ... Truly, an honor.
On the personal front, the month that our sweet Gideon (our third grandson) arrived, my body decided to toss me into a hormonal tsunami that I could never have imagined would be this challenging for me. I'm grateful for the two people that have consistently whispered in my ear, "You're doing great. You are not as crazy as you feel. Keep going." I cannot imagine this life without you two.
On the family front, 2 of our kids had major breakthroughs (I cannot come up with a better word - but that is not exactly the right word - but close) this year that have led to a lot of discovery, grief, pain, & ultimately a whole lot of healing too. 
Troy and I knew when our family size exploded in the early 2000s that the day would come when the number of puberty/teen hormones in our house would be frightening. Well, the day is here - and we are still upright. 
That is grace that can only come from a very Good and Gracious God.
In a nutshell:
I am really glad 2017 is over.
I am sorry if I let you down this year.
God is gracious.
Let us begin again.

Now that we have arrived in one piece to mid January, and I have had some time to work through the negativity and fear I was feeling when I tried to write my December letter, I feel prepared to write the details that aunts and uncles and grandparents care to know about. 
This will bore the vast majority of readers.



Britt and Chris and Gideon -
Gideon was born in April, Lydia and I were given the gift of being present in the room that day.  Britt is working at Children's in Dallas as PA. The shifts are 12 hours long and she has found that to be really long when leaving her baby guy who digs nursing and free-flowing-milk.  
Chris is wonder-dad and cooks insane meals on top of a dozen other BA skills. I had one night at their house recently on my way to Austin, TX and I ate a PeanutButterChocolate cheesecake that he made from his bare hands. I tried to talk him into starting a business because I know a bunch of moms would totally come get a cheesecake from him and their lives would be made. Gideon has begun taking his first steps and is officially a first born over-achiever like his parents. 

Paige and Michael and Graham and Abner -
The Gonzales crew of four moved to El Paso in April, where Michael is stationed with the Army.  They really like El Paso and have adjusted well to the culture and climate. Paige and Michael are great parents and manage to laugh at all the chaos of two wildly active little dudes. Laughing at chaos is the only way through it.  Both are taking classes and working toward their goals in the medical profession.  Graham is three and spicy as can be. He likes to be entertaining and seems to achieve it effortlessly.  His favorite word is "naked" and sometimes you just need to yell it and channel Graham's joy.  Try it. Abner just turned one while they were in Haiti in late December.  Being the second child, we have no photo of a cute party and pointy paper hats. Paige said, "He needs to be in bed - sing!"  So we sang to him without cake and put him to bed. 

Isaac - (16)
This last year was the year Isaac suddenly became a young adult. Emotionally he has always seemed younger than his age, but this year he made up for it all.  He is a 10th grader with plans to do something with animals and vet medicine.  He loves animals so much and will be great in that line of work. Since May he has been going a few hours outside of Port au Prince to one-week classes to learn about caring for animals. I call it a "vet-camp" because I don't have a better way to describe it. He sends us photos of goats being dissected and other amazing animal innards. Several things brought Isaac life this year, we are grateful to see him feeling whole.

Hope - (16)
This girl is stunningly beautiful and it is kind of nerve-racking watching her walk across a room.  People turn their heads.  Too many of the people are adult dudes.  She excels in many areas but given the choice to do only what she wants, you would find her in her bed reading Jane Austen all day every day. If you know of someone that pays a salary for that, please give us a call. Hope is also a 10th grader and is looking for a school that will allow her to major in Jane Austen and cuddle under blankets.

Noah - (13.5)
Noah is for sure the winner of the growth spurt award for 2017. He grew more than six inches in one year and is now right on Isaac's heels and feeling pretty smug about it. Noah's biggest news of the year is his decision  (along with his teacher and Troy and I) to switch to an on-line high-school program.  This means that on December 5th he started the 9th grade. He had to wait until he was 90 days from being fourteen years old. Noah is a perfectionist and reminds us much of a first-born. 

Phoebe - (11)
Is as tall as Hope and headed for giraffe status. Puberty has been a rough transition for PJ but in recent weeks she seems to be coming into her own.  We have addressed some learning challenges at school and with Stefanie's (the kids' professor) help I think Phoebe will find her place. She has always been our quiet background kid, but she has it in her to party and take charge.

Lydia - (10)
Our reversal child  is feisty beyond description and absent minded and makes my forgetfulness seem mild.  We all get a kick out of what a hot mess she is and just sort of roll our eyes when she continually forgets to pack the lunches on her day. or shows up to school without shoes. She digs being an auntie and spent every minute of our family time taking care of Graham. 

School Stuff-
Stefanie Raleigh has been teaching our kids since September and we feel as though we won the lottery. Each kid is being challenged and Stefanie had their numbers within a few weeks. It is beautiful to watch her do what God has so gifted her to do. We will finish school in mid June and the kids will all get out of Haiti again because they are way too old to handle non stop sit at home long summers in Port au Prince.

Heartline Stuff-
I recently posted a few things about the Maternity Center and Heartline as a whole. I won't repeat it, please just check out recent posts.

Merry Belated Christmas and Happy 2018.

Let us Begin Again.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

topics for the new year


The Internet is a place where the main objective sometimes seems to be disagreement. It would be silly for me to pretend I'm not part of the problem. I get a bit feisty red-head ticky and sometimes defend friends and enter into the fray when I should probably just go for a walk and do some square breathing. 

I enjoy writing but I don't want to get into giant debates. This makes it tricky to write anything except silly stuff.

For example: If I write about the problems with sexual abuse in orphanages, someone will take issue because their orphanage is great and needed and why am I always hard on orphanages. If I write about Haitian babies dying in childbirth someone will write to tell me it happens in the USA too and not to focus only on Haiti. If I write about short term missions someone will tell me that short-term missions led to their long term service and I am forgetting that. 

All of that to say, of course every thing has nuance and there are rarely situations in life where it can be said "100% always wrong" or "always ALWAYS right".  

Real life makes absolutes pretty hard to come byam I right?




Today I decided to put all the sticky topics of my life in one place ... Just to get it all out there and have a post to refer back to when these questions/criticisms come up in the future. 

Agree or disagree, this is how we landed where we are on several frequently discussed topics. We have changed our minds over the years and reserve the right to be wrong and change our mind again in the future if needed.  

Here we go!


RE: Social media and photos posted on the Internet-

Every so often someone will feel concerned that I am  (we are) breaking privacy by sharing photos of new moms and babies before or after birth. This is a great concern to raise.  

It is always our goal to respect and honor women. All of the women that pass through the Maternity Center sign a waiver/contract that states that they understand it is possible their photos might be used for fundraising and marketing purposes.  If someone doesn't want to be photographed, we respect that. We are constantly reevaluating how we share on social media and want to get it right. 

The reason we use photos is because transparency and donors demand photos. Who wants to send money to something they cannot be sure is actually happening? If I told you we had a clinic delivering babies in a developing world country - would you please support us, but I never showed you the clinic or the babies and mommas, would you blindly send a financial gift?

Honestly, if you bristle or judge the use of photos for promotional purposes - you cannot possibly judge as much as we do ourselves. It is uncomfortable. We don't love talking about the programs non stop, but that is  how things get funded. I don't know many people that deeply enjoy the part of non-profit or humanitarian or mission work where it is required we ask for help.  

The truth is, we need your help.  None of this happens without you. 

Asking the women we work with to acknowledge that we might use photos does create a power imbalance. How can someone who cannot pay for their care say no to my request for photos?  That is an excellent point, it is not lost on me.  This is not easy and it is not fair. I do want to assure you that if we share a story and photos about a woman, she knows and is able to decline if she wishes.

If we could provide the care for the women without ever talking about the work or sharing photos, trust me, we would. In today's social media driven world, if you have a solution for us to be funded without ever posting on social media, please call me this afternoon.


RE: Groups / Volunteers and Short Term Missions- 

This is something I need to write about carefully. It is not my intention to cause anyone to feel defensive or ashamed. I tend to write in a style that is too straight-forward for some folks and I recognize that I have caused hurt feelings in the past. I am sorry if you've felt that. Please hear my heart.  

For the ministry Troy and I are honored and humbled to lead: We don't need painters or hole diggers or short term volunteers. 

We do need to attempt to give Haitians jobs to paint and work and do things that will provide an income. More than anything, Haitian men and women need opportunities to work and provide for their families.

There are some organizations that fund everything they do from fees that are imposed for short term groups that visit. Those organizations might allow you to paint or do hands on physical labor for them.

That is not our model at Heartline. 

We want our focus to be on building relationships with our 50 plus employees and with the families/women that participate in the programs. It is difficult to have the time and bandwidth to build relationships with those folks if we are frequently hosting North American short-term visitors. 

We have found a partner that shares our philosophy and are currently working with them to offer occasional trips. These trips will not participate in visiting orphanages (to be clearer, Heartline does not have an orphanage) and the visitors will not paint. 

If you would like to check out Spero, they have date options to visit and see Heartline a few times a year.  

At this time, our model, our focus and our vision for the future is to leave team hosting to Spero while we continue to focus on our daily work. If you have questions about what I have written here, please feel free to email.

RE: Doulas and Midwives or Nurses volunteering or interning at the Maternity Center-

The Midwifery model of care is relationship first. To do relationship in Haiti it means speaking Creole (Kreyol). At this time, it means we only need long long term midwives (two years+) or Haitian midwives that are invested and able to learn language and culture. Just five years ago our staff was one full time local nurse.  Today we employ six Haitian nurses and/or midwives. Our intention is to provide as many jobs as our budget and patient/client load demands and allows and to invest in local midwives. Unfortunately if we are training anyone that is not Haitian we are likely to be speaking English and therefore losing our focus on training and raising-up local midwives.


RE: Tours-

We love to show the Maternity Center. So many of you that read this helped to remodel and add on to it a few years ago. We want you to see it. The larger property where Heartline's bakery and trade school are located is also open for tours when scheduled. We  do allow and welcome folks to see the two properties. At the Maternity Center we can arrange tours every day except Thursday. On Thursday we focus on 70 pregnant women and cannot easily stop to give tours. If you are visiting Haiti and want to stop in for a tour, please contact us via email and we will do our best to schedule it and make it happen.

RE: Sharing our Model-

It is common for other organizations working in Haiti to desire a chance to come see and observe what is happening at the Maternity Center.  At times a long meeting is also desired to learn as much as possible about how it all works. Because these requests come frequently we decided to develop a manual and also a corresponding class.  

The manual is about 80% finished at this point. We believe it will be ready in June.

We will be offering our first class to medical professionals and women's health-care administrators later in 2018.  The date will likely be July or August. The first class will only be offered to those working in Haiti. Once we have the kinks worked out this will become an annual class open to others serving in other countries as well. 

Our hope and prayer is to share the Midwifery Model of Care (operating a Birth Center and Prenatal Care/Postpartum Care program) in a Developing World setting along with what we have learned and failed at and succeeded at in the last ten years. 

Please stay tuned.  If you would like to be placed on a list for further information as the details are firmed up, please email me at tara.livesay@heartlineministries.org  

As always, please let us know if you have questions or concerns. I am so grateful for each of you that give and pray and follow along with the happenings at Heartline in Port au Prince. We can be reached via email or FaceBook at the Heartline Facebook Page.