“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
-Dr. Suess, The Lorax

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

This is it!

The other day I was having lunch with a long-time, dear friend.  I was telling her all about my recent trip to Haiti and the new endeavors that are unfolding in my life.  She paused and said, 
"You do realize you're glowing right now, don't you?"  

I was.  Like a mother fawning over her beautiful newborn babe.  Or a giddy Spongebob.  Whatever....you get the picture.  This new season in my life that I've been blessed with.....I can't help it....it makes me light up with joy and anticipation of what lies ahead.

I think I've finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up.  And considering that I'm quickly approaching the big four-oh, I suppose I am well into official grown-upary and this revelation is long overdue. 

I am pursing...
 ((drumroll please))
becoming a child advocate.
As in: trained, legit, for reals.

Today I began my training to become a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer.  That means that I will be advocating for children that are victims of neglect/abuse that are involved in the court system.  It will be my job to be a voice in court on the child's behalf to express the child's wishes and my recommendations about what is in the best interest of that child.  I will be working through Child Watch Counseling & Advocacy Center here in Paducah.  

I'm excited about this opportunity to put my previous experience to good use - from my time working in law enforcement, to foster care, adoption, and being a mom of a kid with special needs - it's a great avenue to combine my gifts and knowledge with my passion.  Pretty stinking cool.  Not to mention that future training and certification opportunities are on the horizon that will give me more skills to do what I love more effectively.
But I think in terms of Acts 1:8 -
"...you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
CASA work here in Paducah is my "Jerusalem."
Now let me tell you about my version of "Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth":
(Like you didn't know.  Duh.)
But I want to tell you specifically about where in Haiti.  During the course of this year, Brennon and I have been seeking where God wants us to serve in Haiti.  God made it clear to us that He isn't done with us in Haiti, but He took His sweet time to reveal where exactly He was sending us in that little Caribbean nation.  Now we have reached the point that we are clear and confident where we are going and who we are going to partner with.  
Let me introduce you to our dear (new) friends:
 Haiti Foundation Against Poverty (HFAP) is located in Port-au-Prince, and was founded in 2007 by an extraordinary young woman by the name of Mallery.  A mutual friend of ours suggested I stalk her send her a friend request on Facebook to get to know her.  I quickly realized that this chick was somebody that I could relate to.  In February, I got to spend some time with her and her awesome husband Frentz (and their absolutely adorable son Jayvan) and see HFAP with my own eyes.  The top-notch Hope House orphanage, the amazing Les Bours School, the Gift of Hope program to empower mothers and keep families together.  Love love love!  The mission and heart of HFAP, the team, the way things are run, the ministry's transparency, everything was a resounding "YES!" in my heart.  Since February, Brennon has made two trips to HFAP to help out with work projects that required someone with his skill set.  And I'm eager to get back there in just a few months to work on a few projects.  Woohoo!
Mallery and Frentz Neptune (with Jayvan in his arms) with the Hope House kiddos.
And also meet:
On my way home from my trip to Haiti in February, God sat me right next to some guy named Calvin, the co-founder of Living Hope Haiti.  For two hours on that flight to Miami, despite my best effort to convey the message "I'd like to be anti-social now," Calvin talked my ear off and made a list of all the projects that me and my husband (whom wasn't even present, mind you) would be a great fit for within the ministry.  By the end of the flight, I knew one of two things was for sure - either this guy was nuts for trying to recruit us (being total strangers) OR God was opening up an important door.  Or maybe a little of both.  Ha!
LHH is located in St. Michel de l'attalaye in northern Haiti.  It is a beautiful, mountainous, rural location that makes me joyful to my very core.  LHH is a multifaceted ministry with one ultimate goal: to witness the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of the St. Michel area through education and medical services.  Elementary schools, a vocational school, church plants, medical clinics, economic growth projects, a radio station, and an orphanage.
View from the yard of Living Hope Haiti's high school.
In May, Brennon traveled to LHH with the ministry's president, Dr. Gueillant Dorcinvil, who is a native of St. Michel.  It was a fast trip filled with a bunch of electrical work and learning about the ministry.  Brennon came home with a peaceful "two thumbs up" feeling regarding LHH and our future involvement with the ministry.  We had hoped that this past summer would allow us to travel to St. Michel to get our feet wet with the work there, but the nasty mosquito-transmitted virus Chikungunya made us put our plans on hold.  I was finally able to head down there just a few weeks ago to see LHH for myself....and it was a definite Yes! that this is the other ministry that we are to partner with.
Kiddos at one of the elementary schools run by Living Hope Haiti.
 Brennon....well, he's the Jack-Of-All-Trades and is a total MacGyver that is useful anywhere he goes in Haiti...so he'll fit right in to help with the many projects that LHH has going.  Me...well, I've just met 18 of the most precious kids that are true orphans living at the LHH orphanage, and have been invited to be a voice for their needs.  Yep, Calvin and Dr. Gueillant invited me to help LHH accomplish their goal of providing excellent care for these little ones entrusted to them.  I've never been so humbled and simultaneously bursting at the seams with excitement to have this opportunity to invest deeply into the lives of vulnerable kids.  When I got home from my trip and was relaying all my stories to Brennon, I told him, "I want to pour myself into these kids...not just now, not just this year, but long-term.  I want to watch them grow into healthy, happy adults and flourish as leaders in their community, thriving with families of their own."  So...our family just grew a bit... by 18 more kids that happen to live across a little ocean.          
Because there's always fun to be had with an iPhone.

As I told the 18 kids and my new friends Merceda, Chrismarie, Emanise, and Evanie (the orphanage administrator and the housemoms...unsung heroes and my sisters in Christ).  "By the grace of God, Brennon and I will be back to St. Michel in January."  Yes, our tickets are already booked. 

So to summarize:
We are not moving back to Haiti.
We have work to do right here in Paducah.
But we will be traveling to Haiti often.
There's lots of work for us to do there, too.

And I finally know what I am going to be when I grow up.

I am a child advocate.
I am a servant of Jesus.

 In Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
The Lord of Heaven and Earth has graciously shown us the work He has for us to do, both here and afar.  We are humbled and ever so thankful that He is giving us this incredible new season of adventure, allowing us to be a part of His great plan.

Our hearts are full and we are ready to roll!


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Time Has Come.

In the great words of Dr. Seuss, spoken to the character Marvin K. Mooney:

"The time has come.  The time is now."

Last week, my time had finally come.  With passport in hand, I got on a plane heading down to the island of Hispaniola.  I flew in to Cap Haitien, a city on the northern coast of Haiti, ready for the next chapter of my life to begin.

That very same week a year ago, my family and I had packed up and moved back to the U.S. from our home in Cazale, Haiti.  It was hard.  One of the most painful events of my life.  I was not ready to leave, did not want to leave.  But God said it was time to return to our ol' Kentucky home, so we did.

During that bumpy drive to the airport from our house in Cazale, my heart felt like it was ripping in half.  There were lots of tears.  Sobs, even.

Our pastor later gave us the best advice we could have received.  
We had suffered a loss in that life-change, and grieving was what we legitimately needed to do.  And so, we did indeed grieve.  As most people know, grieving is not a quick and easy process.  

We went through all the stages of grief.  
The isolation, the anger, the bargaining, the depression...
....and finally the acceptance.
The process took a solid year.

We struggled with forgiveness and harboring resentment towards people that had hurt us.  Two steps forward, one step back...that seemed to be our emotional pace for many months.

We received wise counsel from precious people that God specifically placed in our lives that helped us work through the junk.  We were loved on and encouraged.  Our brokenness was validated.  We were not alone in our hurt.  We joined hands with others who understood, who were also walking down this particular path. 

  Meanwhile over the course of the past year, we have dealt with some difficult stuff.  Stuff that God knew in His infinite wisdom that we needed to be at home to deal with.  I had some health issues that had to be worked through.  Both of our kids had some school issues (college and middle school).  Both of them also needed us to invest emotionally into them more intentionally.  And there were handfuls of other important things that we needed to tend to...things we just needed to be here for.  Things that my husband and I would be in the midst of and pause to look at each other, saying, "It is good that we are present for this.  Right here.  Right now.  God knew."

 We worked on our family.  On our marriage.  On our spiritual health.  We even worked on long-neglected home improvement/repair projects.  And Brennon, well...he just simply worked.  He immediately returned to his job and resumed bringing home a paycheck, which is a super good thing.

Fast forward to October 2014.

A new chapter begins.

God has allowed new seeds to be planted in our lives, and we are watching them grow into something beautiful.  

He has shown us the work He has planned for us....which we have been pleading to see and understand for a long time.  

He has guided us to new people and places and shown us where we can confidently let our roots establish.

He has revealed to us that for now, we can firmly stand with one foot in our hometown of Paducah and the other foot in Haiti.  He will balance us and use us in both places.

We now have direction.

We now have work to do.

And.  We.  Are.  Stoked.


Exciting stuff lies ahead.  I want to tell you all about it.  
And very, very soon, I will!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Freedom from Fake

I have no desire to be fake.  It's too exhausting.  Take it or leave it, this is who I am.   

Some of our family's darkest hours of getting along occur on Sunday mornings.  What starts out as a leisurely morning of sleeping in just a little, then coffee and some breakfast....suddenly morphs into this stressful race to make it out the door at a specific time in order to not be late to church.  And we are ALWAYS late. 

You put-together families with your perfectly pressed shirts and lovely hair and sweet bows, I cannot relate.  I will wear jeans, my kid's hair will likely look like a rat's nest, and I may be pissed off.  Because that "Easy Like Sunday Morning" mantra is heresy.  Satan gets all up in our business about 30 minutes before it's time to load up in the car.  There's often tears, and not just from my child.

Our Jesus-loving, God-fearing family has one 13 year-old member that hates going to church and is annoyed by all things of our faith.  It's a real fun thing to deal with.  (Note: sarcasm is one of my spiritual gifts.)  So, as you can imagine (no, you probably can't imagine), all wild cards are played on many Sunday mornings in hopes of derailing our family's church-goingness.  By the time I plop my butt into a Sunday School chair, I'm spent.  Empty.  As I muttered to my husband yesterday, as chipper couples all around us were all chatty chatty and eating their delicious (not gluten-free) doughnuts, "This is pointless for us to be here."  I felt far too angry and exhausted and frustrated and so on.   I did not want to be there.  However, I knew I needed to be.

I certainly didn't want to be chatty.  I wanted to be in a bubble that was clearly labeled, "Do not talk to me."


I didn't have the energy to be fake happy.  I did not have the energy to shake hands, smile, and say, "I'm fiiiine!  How are youuuu?!"  Gah.  I was limping in, emotionally and spiritually.

And I am not going to fake it and pretend I'm fiiiiine.  Because I wasn't.


A few minutes passed as we sat there in the classroom that we've been attending for a few months now.  To my relief, I only had to exchange brief greetings with a couple of people.  Thankfully, our introvert aura kept us fairly invisible as people made their way to their seats.  Then our teacher came by on his way to the front of the class, stopping to say hello with a handshake.  And out of his mouth came some precious words.

"You look sad," he said in a questioning tone of compassion.

Because I didn't fake saying I was fine.  I simply wasn't.

"It's been one of those mornings." I replied with the ol' one-eyebrow-raised expression, trying not to let a tear slip out.

"I totally get that!" he said with a nod and a smile.  "We have those at our house, too."

On he proceeded to the front.  And I breathed.  That's all I needed.  As my husband and I sat there and soaked in his teaching, the binding grip of the morning's frustration began to ease up.  It in fact was not pointless for us to be there.

If I were to guess, I would say that there are many people within the church's walls on any given Sunday that aren't fine.  Wouldn't it be great if we would all be a little more real and let down that facade just a bit?

Maybe it's not just that being fake is the pits.  Perhaps there is real beauty and freedom to be found in transparency.

The truth will set you free.



Monday, March 24, 2014

On ADHD, a Quiet Monster

Hey, look!  A post not about Haiti.  Because there is more to our family than our adventures in Haiti, so maybe I'll branch out a bit in my writing.  Here goes....

My younger kid has severe ADHD.  Like, legit severe.  Currently we are engaging a battle with that wretched acronym.  Once again, it has snuck up on us and has been creating havoc in our lives without us realizing it was the culprit.  Like a stealthy serpent in the tall weeds.  Oh, how I'd like to take an ax to the head of that serpent.

So I look up and find myself tearfully discussing behavior issues with my kid's counselor, and as I'm listening to the words tumble out of my mouth, I realize that the battle we have been fighting isn't just because my child is making really, really poor decisions.  The lightbulb is lighting up in both the counselor's head and my own.  It's time to change meds.  Ugh.

People that scoff at parents that put their kids on meds for ADHD ("if there really is such a thing..."), well, I want to punch them in the mouth.  I want to invite them over to my house in the mornings, before my kid's meds have kicked in.  I would love for them to try to get her ready for school and see how their blood pressure rises.  I would love to have them over for dinner as her meds are wearing off, but it's yet too early for that nighttime dose....the dose that is the only thing that will allow her to fall asleep before 2 am.

My kid's brain is wired weird.  She needs medication.  She can't function without it.  She has been on medication since she was 4 1/2 years old.  It was absolutely necessary to medicate her at that point, before ADHD killed her.  What?!  Yeah.  Her impulsiveness was so unbelievably severe that she had nearly gotten run over in the parking lot of Burger King.  Came nose-to-tire with a car as she darted away from me.  That incident was the icing on the proverbial cake of ADHD.  I sought help, begged for help.  We had struggled with this brain-wiring glitch since she was 18 months old.  And I can't put enough emphasis on the word STRUGGLED.

One day a few years ago, under the strict supervision of her doctor and counseling staff, we took her off all medications.  We were suspecting that the meds she was on were contributing to some anger issues, which is not cool at all.  My husband and I felt this was our shot to try the no-meds challenge, just to see where she was at as a baseline.  Maybe her brain had rewired a bit?  Maybe she didn't need medication, or at least not as much?  It was worth a shot.  We were hopeful.

Oh. My. Goodness.  Lord have mercy.

Above:  The day she went off meds.
Below:  The next day, back on meds.

This coloring illustrations represents so much.  Not just the lack of control she had over her thoughts, but also her motor skills.  Her mind, and therefor her body, was being harnessed by a mere, thin thread of control.

When the child psychiatrist says, "This child cannot live like this," then you know you're dealing with a serious issue.  It's a bit more than just not wanting your kid to be so wiggly.   

Can you imagine being inside of her mind when it was running at a thousand miles per hour like that?  Scary!  In fact, I asked her how she felt.  She didn't like it at all.  It was a crazy, chaotic place.  That afternoon without medication, I had to take her outside to hopefully burn off some energy before she broke something inside the house.  The poor kid just ran around like a caged animal set free.  She literally ran into a wheelbarrow, bouncing right off of it and hurting herself.  Yeah, she saw the big clunky thing setting there, but couldn't process the "warning: wheelbarrow straight ahead" thought quick enough before she careened right into it.

She pleaded with me to not take her off of medication again.  We began with new meds the next morning, and some peace was restored.  The dosage tweaking was exhausting and took several weeks, trying to find the right combination of a good non-stimulant with the lowest dose of stimulant added in to balance things out.  Every kid is different.  Medication is a crap shoot.

So here we are again, struggling with behaviors that we thought were chosen by our hard-headed kid, but which we now are realizing are a little beyond her range of control.  This ADHD exacerbates and agitates everything - impulsiveness, forgetfulness, judgement, and self control.  Every-friggin'-thing becomes a battle at home.  She's holding it together at school for the most part, though she's definitely struggling there, too.  But from the second she gets into my car after school, her guard is let down (no longer having the pressure to hold herself together) and I get to have a hand-to-hand combat with the ADHD monster.  It is, shall I say, taxing?  Yes, taxing on the sanity is a nice way to say it.

I'm  not even going to share the thoughts I think and the feelings I feel.  I'll just say, it's not a happy Mom place to reside.  It slowly eats away all will to parent well.  Love gives way to the pressing in of anger and frustration.  To say it makes me want to run away and give up on being a grown up is an understatement.  And it's got to be an unhappy place for my kid, too. 

And then I find myself describing our problems to a counselor, seeking help to manage this kid....and I realize that the ADHD monster, the slowly creeping chameleon that it is, has infiltrated our world again and has been manipulating ALL OF US like puppets.  Probably for months.  And we didn't even notice it enter the room.

Tell me ADHD isn't real or that parents that medicate their kids are evil....and you better run.  Momma don't play nice right now.  My patience is shot, and I'm at wit's end.  Post those snotty articles on your Facebook page, and I will delete you.  Critics don't get it, but they are more than welcome to babysit my kid for a weekend, and will then be a believer.  Oh, that's right...critics don't want to actually understand, they just want to spew words of judgement. ((Cue eye roll.))

This life is a journey.  A winding path.
(Wouldn't have DARED taken our kid on a mountainous hike unmedicated.)

Why does my kid have ADHD?  We'll probably never really know.  Doctors and researchers haven't figured it out yet.  However, I do suspect that it's genetic and/or related to her birthmother's use of narcotics in utero.  (In case you didn't know that adoption is part of our story, now you do.  I'll probably soon write about our journey in fostering and adoption.)

This morning, after returning from dropping the kiddo off at school after another morning battle (she didn't sleep last night...no idea why...but we're changing meds around right now, and this is part of the fun, I suppose), I saw this article pop up in my newsfeed:

"Hospitals Treat More Addicted Newborns"   Fantastic.  More kids that are likely facing battles similar (or worse) than ours.  My child fought cocaine while in the womb, at least that's all that we know of.  Cocaine is said to be one of the least harmful of drugs to babies.  Crazy, right?  But then consider what drug epidemics are going on in our region these days.  Like meth.  That's just insane right there.  I'd imagine ADHD will be a lesser of evils that a lot of these defenseless kids will be coping with in the near future.  

So there you go.  We are struggling, but seeking help.  We'll get back on track and some peace will be restored in our home.  I am irritable and currently intolerant of a lot of things right now, but especially sensitive to condescending comments about how it's heresy to medicate a child or "play the ADHD card." 

To be surrounded by an encouraging and supportive community is priceless.  We are incredibly grateful to have our child enrolled in a quality public school where the teachers and administration are extraordinarily compassionate and work with us as a team.  It can not be emphasized enough how vital are good teachers.  They are unsung heros.  Like Ms. M that just sent me a message a few minutes ago to make me aware of how she is dealing with my princess regularly disappearing into the bathroom for 15 minutes (as my kid was secretly texting me from said bathroom to report that she is sleepy).  I am forever grateful for the good Jesus-loving teachers that we have gotten blessed with through the years.  I can't imagine this journey without them.


 Today, like yesterday and tomorrow, we will just keep swimming.  That's all we can do, right?




Friday, March 14, 2014

Little Girl, Big Lessons

This is a story about a little bitty girl and some big lessons she taught me.


In late July of 2012, this little peanut entered my world.
Her name is Marie-Carmene.   
She quickly became the real-life, in-my-face representation of the heartbreaking struggle that too many children in Haiti have to endure.

Her mother died shortly after childbirth.  After her mother's funeral, her aunt walked many hours with her to the clinic we were at, hoping to find a place that would take care of her until she was older, allowing a better chance for her to survive.  Even with a papa, it's well known that a child - especially a baby - has frightening odds stacked against her without her mama.  No mother equates to no breastmilk, and formula is nearly impossible for most families to afford. 

Quick Haiti facts*:
1 in 83 - women who will die due to childbirth.
430,000 - the total estimated number of orphans in Haiti in 2012.
31st - Haiti's worldwide rank of child (under 5 years) mortality rate.
Haiti has the worst maternal health statistics in the Western hemisphere, and among the worst in the world.
*Source: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/haiti_statistics.html

Marie-Carmene was about one week old and weighed 4lbs. 6 oz.  When she was handed to me to weigh, I was amazed at how this precious, tiny person seemed to be no bigger than a potato.  She was all alone in this hard world, and was perhaps the most vulnerable human I had ever met.  No momma to fight for her, and a family that felt unable to care for her.  Left in the hands of strangers, she had no voice.  Utter innocence.  And there she snoozed in my arms, content and peaceful.

I had heard many stories of Haitian mothers dying during/after childbirth.  I had seen the statistics.  I thought I understood.  But Marie-Carmene would take my compassion and understanding of this devastating reality to an entirely new level.  God would open my eyes to so much through this little booger.    

Marie-Carmene was always perfectly content, totally laid back.  Only really fussed when she was hungry (and would totally wail when that tiny tummy grumbled).  My kind of kid.  Even Brennon, not much of a fan of babies, thought she was pretty decent company.  For the first few months that we lived in Haiti, we resided in the guesthouse, directly upstairs from the ICU where Marie-Carmene was living at.  Knowing how vital it is for young infants to have eye contact, physical touch, to be talked to, and given a feeling of security, I felt strongly compelled to nurture her as much as I could.  This baby needed a substitute mommy, right?  I would try to spend a little time with her every evening.  She was a snuggle bear.  It seemed like my stress would just dissipate when I held her.  I don't know which one of us needed the other more.
(Photo above and below - August 2012)

Institutionalized kids are at high risk of not developing properly - not just emotionally, but also physically.  Much research has been done all over the world on the subject.  Some potential effects that have been well documented:  lower quality brain activity as measured by EEG, shrunken volume of gray and white matter in the brain, developmental delays (motor skills delays, delays in reaching developmental milestones), emotional attachment disorders, reduced intellectual/social/behavioral abilities, physical underdevelopment (weight, height, head circumference), failure to thrive, abnormal behaviors such as body rocking and head banging, poor health and increased sickness, and learning disabilities.     
*Sources:  http://www.livescience.com/21778-early-neglect-alters-kids-brains.html, http://www.crin.org/docs/The_Risk_of_Harm.pdf

Brennon's hand looks like that of a giant in this photo.

Marie-Carmene's quiet contentment, in spite of her circumstances, really spoke loudly to us both.

She was doing well, gaining weight - ounce by ounce - and making good progress in her development.  Then in September, a wretched stomach/intestinal virus circulated through the ICU.  Marie-Carmene fell victim to it.  She was way too tiny to have to fight such a violent battle.  

During the course of the virus, she became very dehydrated and required an IV.  She spiked a fever of up to 105 . . . yet never complained.  Seriously.  I remember walking into the room to check on her and the other really sick kids.  I felt her forehead and thought she was a bit hot, though she was just laying there with a relaxed expression and seemed happy to have a visitor.  I slipped the thermometer under her armpit . . . it registered 105!  This is one tough kid, I tell ya.   


 She survived the virus, which was a blessing.  It could have easily taken her life; I am certain that God intervened.  But that virus did ravage her small, defenseless body.  I would like to punch that virus in the face.  Big props to Dr. Jen, who was helping cover in the clinic during that month.  Several little lives survived that horrible virus because of her expertise and hard work.

So for the next several weeks, this poor girl would roller-coaster between being well and being really sickly.  Good-bye to that full head of soft, curly hair.  Scalp IV's became almost a norm.  She was vulnerable to every germ, her gut couldn't get regulated, and chronic diarrhea would often keep her dehydrated.  But she still kept smiling.

November 2012.  C'mon little one.  Pull out of this rut, I would think.  Instead of gaining weight, she was staying the same . . . or losing.  No growth.  No strength.  A good day or two would be encouraging, and then a bad day would swoop in.  Two steps forward, one step back, or even two steps back.

As fall progressed, I was unable to spend as much one-on-one time with Marie-Carmene, being busy with more office responsibilities during the days and away from the ICU in the evenings (my family and I had moved into our house down the road in October).  I also need to mention that there were always several other children in the ICU in need of attention, love, and encouragement.  Each hurting child had his/her own story.  Each child was just as special, just as worthy of nurturing.  Oh so often I wished I had more hours in the day and more arms to hold them.  Never was there a lack of children needing love and hope poured into them.  Even with staff and volunteers, the emotional needs of those children was huge (in addition to their demanding physical needs).  I could write a list of dozens and dozens of names of children that my heart was broken for.  Precious children who had suffered so much in their short lives.  Some kids had me so wrapped around their little finger.  Five minutes with this child changing a diaper, ten minutes with that child trying to coax a smile, fifteen minutes with another child that simply needed to be held.  A new child here, a dying child there.  All I ever wanted was for each of them to feel the love of Jesus within me.

This was my passion.  This was the calling on my life. 
It wasn't a Marie-Carmene obsession thing.  It was a James 1:27 and Matthew 25:36 thing.
I didn't desire to make that little girl (or any other child) mine,
I simply desired to make sure they knew they belonged to Jesus. 

My Heavenly Father has shown me such amazing love.  What a privilege to be able to let His love flow through me to those children.  It wasn't about me at all.

It's all about Him.  

My older daughter Lesley with her tiny buddy.

Weeks turned into months.  Marie-Carmene struggled along.  Never fussy or one to complain, she was often assumed to be fairing better than she really was, in my personal opinion.  It's very easy to overlook the quiet baby.  When I returned after spending 6 weeks back in the U.S. during Christmas/January with our family, I was very worried upon seeing her again.  My mommy radar was on full alert.

It was a Sunday afternoon.  As she was sleeping - which is all she was doing when not taking her bottle - I took this photo (above).  I was shocked at how much Marie-Carmene looked dead.  Like so many deceased babies I had seen in the previous months, she had that look of death to me.  Her muscle tone was decreasing, and there wasn't a bit of fat on her.  Her ribs were prevalent.  Her eyes were sunken in and always looked fatigued.  A feeling of helplessness and anguish swept over me.  I knew deep in my heart that her fight was nearing its end, and I could not just sit there and watch her fade away.

During a casual Facebook chat with a dear friend, one who just so happens to have extensive experience with caring for fragile babies in Haiti, I mentioned my worries.  My friend shared several tips and ideas on things that might help Marie-Carmene.  We discussed poop details, pro-biotics, and Digestion 101.  I learned a lot of valuable information.  But the biggest lesson I was reminded of was how one thing was ever so vital to her recovery: LOVE.  Well, buddy, I got that.

After some discussion back at the office, it was agreed upon to try some of these ideas.  Marie-Carmene was put on a special soy formula that was purchased by caring individuals and carried in by volunteers from the U.S.  We started getting that little gut of hers to heal. 

 After a couple of cans of the fancy soy formula, we transitioned to a step-down fancy soy formula.  By that point, the kid was finally having mostly normal poops.  I've never gotten so excited about poop in my life.  She soon transitioned to plain ol' soy formula.  Daily I would feed her a dose of pro-biotics mixed into a spoonful of mashed up banana.  I loved having to make time to feed her the banana medicine.  No feeling guilty for loving on a baby instead of doing computer work.  

This little girl was coming back to life.  The soft spot on her head was finally not depressed.  She wasn't sleeping as much.  She was gaining a few ounces.  Mesi Jezi !  

March 2013 was a good month.  (Above)  Progress, ever so slowly.  From 7 lbs 7oz in February, she hit 9lbs. 4oz. in March. 

Everyone caught on to how to much I loved this kid.
And how much she loved me. 


May 2013 (above and below).  Little Miss was getting stronger (up to 10 lbs 4oz) and maybe even a bit sassy.  When she would see me walk into the room but not pick her up, she would protest with a big, wide-mouthed wail.  Almost a roar, with her back arched and tears rolling.  There was no discussing the matter.  I was hers. And I'll admit, ate it up.  It's awesome to be loved.

We had bonded, and that's so important for a baby to form bonds.  I do know a few things about attachments.

Our younger daughter, Brianna, is adopted.  She joined our family at the age of 13 months as a foster placement, which eventually led to adoption.  My Brianna had been severely neglected, and it took a hard toll on her.  Brianna's birth-mother never talked to her, didn't nurture her, was clueless about her emotional needs.  Now 13 years old, we still struggle with Brianna's emotional baggage from that time in her life.  That first year of life is SO INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT to a person's development.  This fact cannot be overstated.  Babies need to bond.      


These months weren't easy, the balancing act I had to do.  Constantly trying not to overstep my boundaries.  Trying to not offend anyone.  To help, but not hinder.  To love Marie-Carmene wholly . . . but not too much. Fostering wasn't an option for some reason, though she (and other kids) would have benefited in many ways.  I loved her the best I could in the situation we were in. 

To not attach too much.  
To protect two hearts . . . mine and hers.
A bit agonizing, for both of us. 

June 2013 (above and below).  A well-established sucker of the two middle fingers.  A fan of having a blanket or the hem of her onesie caressed on her cheek.  Growing.  Gaining.  Teething.  A bout with chicken pox.  A skin infection on her hands and feet.  Random fevers.  An ear infection.  Two steps forward, one step back.  But overall, moving forward.  She made it up to 11 pounds in June.

August 2013 (below).  Finally teething.  Hair growing.  Crawling becoming a consideration.  Sitting like a champ in the Bumbo, but not so awesome at freestyle sitting yet.  Reached 12 pounds, but got sick again and went back down to 9 lbs 5 oz.   

September 2013 (below).  Personality developing.  Silly.  Laughing.  Engaging the world around her.  Eating rice and beans.  And a record heavy weight of 12 lbs 10 oz.  

October 2013 (below).  Still not crawling or pulling up, but muscle strength increasing.  So many teeth coming in.  Fuzzy hair all a mess.  Weighing 13 lbs 11 oz. at 15 months old.  

In October 2013, I told her good-bye.  Not knowing if our paths will ever cross again in this world.

That was hard.  Hard. Hard. Hard.

She was asleep in her crib the afternoon I was saying my good-byes.  Sucking her fingers, through the crib bars I whispered to her how much I love her.  And always will.

I have prayed so much for that child.  To just have a shot at life, to be happy and healthy, to be loved, to know Jesus.

Marie-Carmene returned home with her papa a month or so after we left.  I've been told that she was doing okay.  I sure hope so.  Keeping kids with their birth families - if at all possible - is the healthiest thing.  Supporting birth families and preventing children from becoming orphans is vital.  

I'm still deciphering the things God taught me through this little bitty girl.  One lesson that I have grown to understand deeply - 

Love with all your heart.  
Even if it hurts, 
even if it's a battle, 
it's absolutely worth it.

Mark 12:31
"Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these."

And no better joy, I'd add to that. 

Marie-Carmene is just one of hundreds of thousands of kids struggling to survive and thrive in Haiti.  Each one is precious.  Each one needs love, attention, encouragement and support.  They deserve our best efforts, our open minds and open hearts.  Pray for them, would you?  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

An Epic Saturday

I want to share with you the story of one of the most special days I had during our time living in Haiti.  If I were to have a Top Five List, this would most certainly be included . . .if not number one.  It's taken me a long time to share this, mainly because there was a lot of other raw emotions that were going on during that time period  for me.  I didn't want to just say a little about this day, I wanted to wait until I could tell the story in its fullness, and not let any of my unresolved emotional junk get in the way of telling it well.  I think I'm there now.  I hope I can present this story in a way that allows you to feel the fullness of the love and grace that I felt. 

Saturday, October 12th.    It was a day that I had been anticipating for several weeks.  A team of amazing folks from our home church, Heartland Worship Center, was winding up their week in Cazale with us at Real Hope for Haiti.  The team had spent the week doing lots of great things - physical therapists seeing patients, nurses assisting the Haitian nurses, helping hands put to work in the pharmacy, everyone loving on and entertaining kids in the ICU and Rescue Center, Bible story time in the afternoon with the older ICU kids, and lots of other meaningful tasks.  It was a great week, and such a treat for our family to get to hang out with friends from our hometown.  Plus they brought us chocolate . . . need I say more?  I think not.

The plan for Saturday was to have two mini backyard Bible school events, the first scheduled for the morning, the second in the afternoon.  Forty kids had been invited to the morning event, and forty different kids were invited to the afternoon event.  I blogged about handing out the invitations here.  These kids were primarily from the area around our home.  These kids were our neighbors.

Ready to get the morning started, this group of buddies were all smiles.  For over a year I had watched these boys play soccer, admired their skills (tree climbing, mango catching, kite making, clay sculpting, river jumping, hoop rolling), and had silly banter with them on almost a daily basis.  That Saturday, they were my guests.  And they were so proud.  My heart was overflowing.  As they were saying my name ("Alex-son"), I gave out fist-bumps, was taking their pictures and admiring how spiffy they were dressed up for the day.  Well, right after snapping this photo, God spoke simply to my heart,  "These are my people."  I could have dropped to my knees and bawled.  These are my people! 

The event began with a few songs and then a story.  From Creation to the Cross, the kids were in awe for the ten-minute story that was filled with amazing love and truth about God and our Savior.  I've never heard so much Biblical truth packed into ten minutes, and in a way that was so exciting and understandable.  Shanna told the story while Khara held an over-sized book of illustrations.  Our phenomenal translator, Roobens, smoothly delivered Shanna's words into Creole.   

Some of these kids were hearing this story for the first time.  Some were familiar from spending many Sunday mornings with their families in church.  But all of them were captivated.  It was awesomely intense!

After the story, the kids were split into two groups.  While one group was playing games, the other was making crafts.

  The kids could make a lion or a lamb mask.  The lion mask was a big hit.

The bigger kids played balloon volleyball, but the littles enjoyed a gentler game of pass the balloon.

 When the littles grew bored with the balloons (or the balloons popped), we moved on to sidewalk chalk art.

Bubbles were a big hit with the littles, too.

Once the games and crafts wrapped up, the kids gathered together again to hear about salvation.  Just before Pastor Bryan gave the message, we found out that Roobens helps with a children's program on a weekly basis there in Cazale at the Baptist church.  So in a beautifully orchestrated way that only God could have arranged, Bryan was able to recommend to the kids to follow up with their future questions about Jesus at any local church; and if they went to the Baptist church on any Saturday, they would find our friend Roobens, ready to help them.  So cool to have that connection laid out for us, for them.       

Afterwards, we wrapped it up with balloon animals and small goodie bags to take home.

Afternoon rolled around, and we did it all again.  This group really enjoyed the singing.  Kathy S. did a great job getting some clapping going!

It was a bonus to have a few moms join us for the afternoon session.  They listened closely as the story was told, and they really seemed to enjoy watching their children have fun during the activities. 

Some of the kids from the ICU were able to join in the fun.  Perhaps not everyone listened to the story closely . . .because she was too busy being silly with Mallory (our homeschool teacher). Haha!

 After story time, it was off to the activities.  These girls were enthralled with their artwork as Ann helped them figure out what that chalk could do. 

Activity time was again followed with the talk about Salvation, then onto more fun with balloon animals as Jessica, Cindy, Debbie, and Kathy R. handed out salvation bracelets, candy, and lots of hugs.  Jesse was snapping photos left and right as the kids were showing off and having fun.

 Bryan and Ann worked diligently to meet every balloon request.  Roobens even got in on the balloon action!  The crowd was amazed and couldn't get enough of the twisting and squeaking of those magical balloons. 

Many of the kids wore their nicest clothes, and some girls were sporting their biggest hairbows.  It's always a treat to get your picture taken when you're feeling fancy and having fun!  Promptly after getting your photo taken, you look at the screen on the camera and begin giggling hysterically.  It's an unwritten rule, obviously.  

As things were winding down, I spotted this scene: 

 Our friend on the left, just hanging out with Brennon.  We've loved on this boy a lot.  We've been annoyed with this boy a lot.  But that Saturday, he was there . . .just hanging out and hearing about a love that is greater than anything he could imagine.  This boy that would try to scam us one day and genuinely help us the next.  This boy that we've hugged and helped . . .and also lectured and downright fussed at.  This boy somehow managed to come up with an invitation (because he was nowhere around when we were handing them out) and showed up at the afternoon session.  And the Word was sewn deep into his heart, where one day he may choose to let it grow.         

And there was this scene:

It was so precious to me to get to watch this sibling group - all five of them - have fun and be loved on that afternoon.  These kids are so meek and humble.   They have been through so much hard stuff in their short lives.  All dressed up, I saw so many smiles out of them that day.  For a few hours, these kids got to be kids....no worries, no responsibilities, no hard realities to deal with.  For a few hours, all they had to do was hear about how special they are and how much they are loved, and have some good ol' fun.  (By the way, Brennon and I printed up a photo of the five kids - without me photo-bombing - and gave it to their momma.  She was sooooo proud.  So very proud of her beautiful babies.)      

And a special note about this guy:

 This is Steevenson.  He was the charmer of the week to the Heartland team.  This silly little guy loved to get in the middle of anything and everything.  He had a way of sliding right in to any conversation and ending up happily on someone's lap.  And somehow he knew when a camera was out, because the kid managed to appear in almost every photo taken by the team members.  By the end of the week, it became the running joke about Steevenson, the photo-bomber.  He was greatly loved and adored by the team, and much laughter was shared with this special little guy.  Sadly, less than two weeks after the team headed home, Stevenson took a turn for the worse with his infection.  The boy that had just been toddling around, getting in on all the action, is now home in Heaven.   The news broke the heart of each team member, and more deeply drove home some hard, beautiful truths that God was speaking to many of them.  Without hesitation, every person on that team would tell you that if nothing else during the week was accomplished, their trip was all worth it to just bring some joy to Steevenson during his last days of walking on this earth.   

There are so many details of the day that I wasn't able to capture . . .the crazy balloon volleyball games played with Olympic enthusiasm, the lightening-fast ladies handing out pillowcase dresses and shorts to the kids before they left, the sound of about 40 kids singing "My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty. . ." in English and Creole, the older gentlemen that happened through the area and joined in on the singing, the giggles - oh my, the giggles.  

Of the 80 invitations that were handed out, all but about six kids showed up that Saturday.  Add to that around a dozen or so unexpected guests, and it can be agreed upon that the turnout was fantastic.  Space was limited, but utilized to the max.  Somehow it worked.  Every last detail.  Unreal.

After the last sweep of a broom and the last bench slid back into place, I just couldn't help but to shake my head in amazement.  A silly grin on my face and a fluttery feeling in my heart, I knew that Saturday was a God thing.  I knew that all of my family's time in Haiti had culminated on that day.  Sixteen months of living in Cazale and building relationships had manifested into a beautiful day of over 90 kids and a handful of adults hearing the Gospel in a fresh and personal way.  That Saturday, just days away from my family and I heading back home to the U.S., I was given a reassurance that our work there was done.  

That was one epic Saturday.