{rice, beans & love}

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet" – Frederick Buechner

the cutest ever, Esther

Little Esther, I really don’t know where to start with you. You’ve been gone a year now and it still doesn’t seem real. It really just shouldn’t be.

esther

I can remember taking this picture of you. I was running around, chasing down the dozen kids who still needed their sponsorship photo taken. You were the last on my list. We walked around the back of the preschool building where there was some shade to take the picture. Sarah was with us, I can remember it like it was yesterday. You wouldn’t smile, but you were kind of always like that. Deep down you had a bubbly spirit, but it took some warming up to get that smile to come out.

Now that I think about it, this interaction was probably one of our last and I can’t articulate how glad I am to have this photo of you.

Esther’s story goes back to her mom’s story. I was pregnant with Rubie when I first met Marie Maude. She was just as pregnant as I was, but was homeless and sleeping wherever she could find shelter. An employee at the orphanage had told me about her, asking if we could admit her into the Starfish program. I promised to visit her, but couldn’t make any promises on admittance, but my heart broke when I met her. I can remember Marie Maude sitting on a piece of plywood held up by cement blocks as she told me about her situation. She had slept there the night before and my mind couldn’t fathom what that must have been like with our matching rounded bellies. We quickly admitted her into the program and rented her a small room in Simonette. The first thing I did was make sure she had a good bed to sleep on, too.

She had shared that her two little girls were living in the mountains with her mother and she wanted them to be back with her. Since we rented her the room, she was able to go and get them. The oldest, Nedgie, was no doubt her daughter as she looks exactly like her mama. But, Esther, my gosh, she was the cutest child I had ever met. Her chubby cheeks about killed me. I also remember one of those first Tuesday’s when she brought the girls to Starfish with her and Esther fell asleep on my lap. She ended up wetting herself, making my lap wet as well, but I just let her stay there until the end of the program. I didn’t want mom to be distracted. When Marie Maude realized what had happened, she was so embarrassed but I just laughed, telling her it wasn’t the first time I had been peed on!

After taking that last sponsorship photo of her, I shared her picture above on social media and wrote: “This little one above is one of our few hundred students that are sponsored. Her story beats the odds and it’s a privilege to watch her grow. Plus she’s the cutest thing ever!”

And truly it was a privilege to have been a part of her life. She passed away not two weeks later. She had come home from school on a Friday afternoon with a fever and started throwing up on Saturday. Very early Sunday morning, Marie Maude realized she was doing much worse and found a motorcycle driver to rush them to a nearby nurse. They were unable to find the nurse at such early hours and Esther ended up in Jesus’s arms shortly after.

As I was waking up and starting to prepare for church, there was a knock on the gate, with the messenger telling me the awful news. I rushed to Simonette to find a hysteric Marie Maude outside the small room we had rented her – a room that was suppose to hold hope and a new future for her and her daughters. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, she lost the baby boy she was pregnant with when I first met her and had it not been for our Tytoo staff rushing her to the hospital, we may have lost Marie Maude as well. Anyways, I learned what had happened and then ask her what she needed, and her answer will always remain with me, “help me bury her.”

So, that’s what we did. I went and found Gerard, a friend whose trade is wood working. He build the casket. I then went and found Filane, one of my best friends and also the woman who runs Starfish with me. We drove to the far edge of the village and found the guy who is known for preparing the bodies. He came to wash little Esther and wrap her in cloths. Then we went and found the guy who could dig the hole for her casket. Lastly we went and found a pastor who could perform a quick funeral. By 2:00 p.m., there were plastic chairs set up in the small dirt yard, a small wooden table at the front with a white cloth and a Bible set on top.

Marie Maude is one of the women who makes greeting cards at Rosie’s, so a few other employees were there with us and I can remember Hermanie, my manager at Rosie’s, combing back her hair. I was completely taken aback by the scene. The community that has been created through Rosie’s is more than just co-workers and this humbling scene of my manager combing the hair of a young mama who just lost her little one about did me in.

A quick service was held and together, Webert and I, carried her casket to the hole that had been prepared.

For some reason as I reflect on this day, a sermon I heard when I was in college keeps coming to mind. The pastor was talking about what it meant to be “all in” and what that means in terms of serving others. He used an illustration of a friend asking him to help jumpstart his car in the dead of winter. He explained how being “all in” meant running to his office, putting on his coat and gloves, so that when it came time to serve his friend in need, he wouldn’t have the excuse of being too cold. He went further and asked, how many times do we keep ourselves from being “all in” by not going in prepared? How many times do we intentionally go in unprepared, just so we have an excuse to get out of serving? How easy it would have been for him to get out of helping his friend with his car had he not gone out prepared with his coat and gloves on.

As we arrived to the gravesite, Webert realized the hole was not deep and wide enough, so we set the casket down, took off his nice dress shirt and handed it to me, then jumped down into the hole and began shoveling. Surely, that’s what it meant to be all in.

The last thing I wanted to do that day was plan a funeral for the cutest little girl I’d ever met, but it was how I could best serve Marie Maude. I know the last thing Webert wanted to do was get dirty and dig a gravesite that day, but it’s what we are called to do some days. And to go even further, just to paint a full picture of Haiti for you, the man who was hired to dig the hole asked me for twice as much money than the original price and admitted out loud in front of me, “well, it’s white money paying for this all.” So, even on the most tragic of days, when I’m just trying my best to serve those I care for, people are still trying to rip me off!

Whenever I think about Esther, I think I actually just stop. It still seems surreal that she’s gone. I try not to play favorites, but dang it, she sure was one of them. She made me work for her love, most days I could barely get a smile to crack. She will always be the cutest in my opinion.

Marie Maude still makes greeting cards for us at Rosie’s. I’m so glad she’s a part of our family there. Even though she’s lost so much, she still carries forth. Man, it’s a privilege to know these people and love them. And even if we have to dig another hundred graves, I hope that’s something I never lose sight of.

l

esther2

Pretty sure Esther was wearing that same white dress when she peed on me, ha!

tender Carmesuze

Carmesuze was also part of the Starfish program when I took it over in the spring of 2016. Her and Olnite (whose story I told yesterday) were both from the same village, Minoterie. It is Simonette’s neighbor to the east and has a completely different feel than our small, family-orientated, safe-feeling village. Minoterie is a lot more rough around the edges; a couple gangs control the streets and brothels are found on many corners. It’s a much larger population, with most people living in beyond poor conditions. Most of the Starfish participants actually come from Minoterie. We also have a couple hundred students that walk the two mile roundtrip walk to our school from this neighboring village as well.

Anyways, Carmesuze’s demeanor and story is a lot different than Olnite’s. I mentioned yesterday that Olnite never had a victim mentality. Carmesuze, however, kind of did. We loaned her money to buy and resell used clothing; pepe being the Creole word for this type of business.Ever wonder what happens to all the clothes that don’t sell at thrift stores here in America? They end up on the streets in Haiti and make up a huge part of the economy. It’s super common for the open markets to have large areas of pepe clothing. In Carmesuze’s case, she would have gone to a large market in the city, bought a gigantic bag of pepe clothing, and brought it back to her village to resell. I can remember the conversation we had after weeks had passed without her making any payments towards her loan. She explained how none of the clothes she had gotten were selling and she didn’t have the strength to carry them around. That was the first of many more excuses.

I graduated Carmesuze from the program the same time I had graduated Olnite for the first time. Two months passed after the graduation and we were preparing for a new year and a fresh beginning to the program. This would have been the same time we were coming up with the part that would strictly be for business loans. I was doing house visits in Minoterie with Filane, the Haitian woman who leads Starfish with me, and ran into Carmesuze. I could see in her face that she had lost weight as she explained how much her situation had worsened since graduating. She was a single mama to three girls, all middle school ages. Their father did not support them in any way. Anything she had left from her pepe business was finished and she had not been able to save up anything to reinvest in another gigantic bag of clothes. I remember her sharing how scarce the food was and she had no idea how she’d be able to pay for the next year’s school fees (we had paid for the year past since that’s a part of our commitment to the participants in the program).

I can remember the exact dirt path I was standing on as we had this conversation. I can remember the sun scorching my back as sweat dripped down. I can remember feeling defeated. I can remember feeling in over my head. I can remember the thoughts, “this must be what hell looks and feels like.” The face of suffering right there in front of me.

I crumbled and told Carmesuze she could come back and be a part of the program. Filane just shook her head at me as we both knew our program was filled for the new year.

Carmesuze came back and we talked about her pepe business again. She told me all the things she had learned and what she needed to do differently. She also mentioned the demand she saw for infant clothing and I had a lightbulb moment as she explained it all to me. We had an excess of donated baby clothing in our container at Tytoo, so I gave her two large tubs full of baby clothing and we made a plan that she would use all the money she earned off those two tubs to reinvest in buying more. There would be no loan nor debt. It would be a new start.

The second time around went a lot more successfully and by the end of that year, I firmly believed we had her standing back on her own two feet. She was also given a new home by a neighboring ministry, which was a huge blessing and game-changer for her and her daughters.

But, of course this story doesn’t end well, hence her being a part of my graveyard tour. Late this spring she came to me at Tytoo and she had an awful cough. She was still making payments towards a second loan we had given her as she graduated from the program, so I was still seeing her regularly, but this time she just looked different. She visited our clinic and at that point I just assumed it was a really bad cough. But, about a month later, we had a second meeting in the office at Tytoo and this time I knew it was bad. She asked for the money she had given to pay for her loan so she could go be by her mom, who was several hours away from us. It felt like deja vu from Olnite’s decision to go be by her mom just a couple weeks before. She ended up passing away by her mom as well and my guess would be that she died from Tuberculosis, just from her inability to take deep breaths, the cough and even how hard it was for her to talk in the last meeting we had together.

Her death just felt different than Olnite’s. With Tuberculosis, there is treatment and clinics who serve people fighting the disease. With Olnite’s cancer, there wasn’t that. But Carmesuze’s death felt more like her just giving up and who I am to judge if that’s what it really was? Life was so hard on her, but now it is her girls that my heart aches for. I’ll share what happened with them in a blog to come.

For today, I feel like it is just necessary to sit in the grief. The weight. The heaviness.

I’m reminded of Dani, a friend in our expat community, who also lost her life in Haiti this last year. I didn’t know Dani well, but she was a young mom to two little boys and a wife to Kyle. They had lived in Haiti for nearly a decade and she co-founded Petite Palm, a company we carry at Rosie’s. All of those facts – mom, wife, business owner, fighting for family preservation and justice, foreigner yet resident to a small Caribbean island – were all things we had in common. The last couple months of her life, she actually stepped away from work to focus on her family. She was in the process of building a new website, where she held dreams to write and create. A season I feel the Lord calling me to as well. Her courage to step away from busyness and work to focus on family inspires me.

Dani passed away on the Saturday before Easter and the last words she wrote on social media were on Good Friday.

It’s Friday.
Most of us will gloss this day over. We will look to Sunday. But, can I confess? Good Friday is one of my favorite days of the church year. It’s our invitation to sit in the grief, in the fear, in the doubt, to let them take up space.
Because, Mary, the first preacher of the resurrection, she didn’t know about Sunday. She only knew Friday when she watched her friend being murdered.
John, the one who knew Jesus loved him so, he didn’t know for sure if Sunday would come. Instead, he stood under the weight of grief on Friday.
Everyone, the whole crowd who’d begun to believe this revolutionary Rabbi, they felt it all crash to the ground on Friday. They didn’t know about the rolled away stone yet. They couldn’t see what was coming.
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. So, we get to live with Sunday, with the hope and joy. But, maybe it would do us all a bit of good to sit in Friday’s grief.
Because, without Friday, we don’t get to be Sunday people, Resurrection people. Without the grief, we don’t get the restoration.

brave Olnite

Olnite was part of the Starfish program when I took over leadership of the program in the spring of 2016. She was one of the first women to successfully start a business with our small business loan program, She had used her loan to buy a large cooler so she could buy fresh fish from the fishermen early in the morning. The cooler allowed the fish to stay on ice and last longer into the day. She also had another side hustle selling special oil they use in their hair. She had repaid her loan three different times and kept investing her earnings back into her businesses.

She was tall and skinny, always sporting some funky hair style. She was older and more mature, but so grounded and confidant. I graduated her from the program, but later brought her back to participate in a program we ran for awhile where the only aid we provided were small business loans to the participants. She was to be more of a mentor for the rest of the women, but still participated in the program. We gave her additional funding for a larger loan to purchase a second cooler. She graduated fully at the end of 2018.

Towards the end of 2018, she had a strange bump in the armpit. I can remember us sending her to get labs done, as the doctor who serves at Tytoo thought maybe it was some strange infection or boil. The labs were inconclusive and we guessed it would either come to a head or go away after a while.

She graduated from the program and I didn’t see her for a few months. I remember running into her one day in the village where she lived and she showed me how the bump had not gone away, but had actually grown in size. I had our doctor write another reference and we sent her to a hospital in Port-au-Prince that time. Her visits there were also inconclusive as the doctors told her there was nothing they could do for her.

Another month or so passed and the next time I saw her the bump had grown so big, she could no longer keep her arm down. She held it up constantly, resting it on her head. At that point, we gave her money to go to a hospital much further away. By this point, I was guessing it was cancer and her visit to this last hospital concluded just that. Unfortunately, they told her they would be unable to operate and there was nothing they could do for her.

Early summer arrived and she came to me in so much pain. She had lost a lot of weight by that point, not that she even had much to lose in the first place. She told me she wanted to go and be by her mom, who lived three hours away in the southern peninsula. We looked at her finances, because she had yet again saved up quite a bit of money through our small loan program. She decided she needed $50 to travel to her mom’s, but she wanted to save the rest of the money for her children. I agreed with her decisions, hoping she would come back miraculously healed, but knowing deep down that that was probably going to be the last time I saw her.

A few weeks passed and her daughter, who I would guess to be 16 or 17, tracked me down during a Starfish meeting one Tuesday. She passed her phone to me and all my fears came true. A video played of Olnite lying on the ground, screaming in pain. Her tumor had busted open and her entire armpit was one massive wound. I could only watch for one second. My heart shattered for her.

The only hospitals we knew of that deal with cancer had already turned her away and now she was so far away from us, there was nothing we could do. The lack of resources ran me over like a train that day, as I sat there knowing that there was nothing we could do to help her. We gave her daughter money that day so that her and her two other siblings could travel and be with her. Two short weeks later they returned to tell us she had passed away.

I was somewhat relieved to hear the news, because I knew the amount of pain she was suffering from. But that holy anger sure did roar inside. Why cancer? Why Olnite? Why does Haiti have to be so damn hard? How can we be only 800 miles from Florida, where there’s revolutionary, state of the art medical facilities and world class doctors? How is it possible that in today’s world, with all the technology and medicine, people are still dying in such agonizing ways?

Her cancer literally broke out of her skin and there was nothing we could do to save her, all because of where she was born. I hate that reality so much. Sometimes I think we paint this picture of poor people and bottle it all up into a definition of them lacking material possessions, but it’s so much more than that. The reality of the poverty we face in Haiti means we don’t even have hospitals with oxygen sometimes. The countrywide lockdown these last several months resulted in several hospitals closing altogether due to lack of resources.

The thing I loved most about Olnite was that she never played victim. She was an entrepreneur and seemed so determined; so fearless. We were able to help her and her family in many ways through our Starfish program, but she always carried this spirit that made me believe she would make it with or without us.

Sometimes there will be participants in the program who just expect you to do everything for them, but she was never, ever that way. That’s actually probably why I was always so drawn to her; plus, I always felt like there was something I could learn from her. I think that’s the hardest part about her death, knowing the type of person she was and then knowing that her suffering and ultimately her death took away all that she was: strong, resilient, brave.

my sweet mami

When my parents bought our house, a little old man was living there as the yard keeper. We called him Papi. We soon met his wife and called her Mami. Their real names are Jolicoeur and Marie Mamoune but all I ever called them were Papi and Mami. Their son Rodlet soon became one of our closest friends as he helped paint and work around the house that first summer in 2010 (also the summer Webert notoriously came to help paint as well – if you haven’t heard our “love story” that’s when it all began)

Once I moved to Haiti full-time, I quickly realized having an automatic washer for my laundry was out the picture. You could only run it if the city power was on, which mostly came on at night. I’d start a load and if the power turned off in the middle of the load, I would have to start all over again. And as my family grew (we took in both of the boys right away and welcomed Wishla the following summer) the laundry just couldn’t be kept up with.

Since we already had a relationship with the family and Papi still came to clean the beach, we asked Mami if she would come twice a week to do our laundry. She was ecstatic to help and it was a blessing to be able to provide her with a reliable income. We soon hired their daughter, Beatrice, to come and clean our house, too. They would have started working full-time for us in late 2013, because I can remember them being around as family and friends started to arrive for our wedding in January 2014.

You quickly develop an intimate relationship when you allow a woman to wash your underwear by hand, ha! But, in all seriousness, they truly did become a part of our family. I would come home most afternoons as Mami was finishing up the laundry and just sit on the step next to her and tell her about my day. She gave some of the best hugs, too. She was a short, stocky lady, full of joy and gratitude. Just her presence of being at our home made me feel more at home in a country that reminded me daily how out of place I was.

I can remember days where she would give me back pennies worth of change that she had found in our pockets; she was beyond honest and kind. There had been plenty of people who had tried to cheat and lie to us, so knowing I had Mami taking care of us at home was so important to me. There was a peace knowing she would be there when I came home.

I can remember another day, it was the dead of summer and I was pregnant with Rubie. I came home tired and hot. I expressed my exhaustion to her and she grabbed me by the wrist and told me to lay down, while helping herself to a glass of water that she brought to me in bed. She stayed until Webert got home to make sure I had stayed in bed. There’s something humbling being scolded and drug to your bedroom by a sassy, old lady; but, something so comforting as well, knowing they’ll go out of their way to take care of you.

We lost our sweet Papi in January of 2018. Papi really liked his rum and towards the end, his fragile body just couldn’t keep up. After Papi’s death, Mami was never the same. She became so thin and weak. She also had another relative pass shortly after Papi and the financial burden really took its toll on her as well. We helped with the financial needs for Papi’s funeral and then loaned her some money for help with the other expenses, but I could just see it was becoming too much for her.

I remember another day, we were hanging the wet laundry on the line together, and she just kept shaking her head, telling me she didn’t know what she was going to do. I saw the defeat in her eyes that day and decided she was just getting too old and fragile to keep up with our laundry. We made the decision to have her stop working – we would hire her daughter-in-law – but would still continue supporting her.

I made all of these arrangements and then flew to America in February (a trip I wrote about in the blog about limbo; it was suppose to be a ten day trip, but ended up being an entire month away) Mami became ill and passed away while I was gone. Even though I was sad to not be there for the funeral, she was at least someone who I knew was ready to go Home.

After she passed, we hired her daughter-in-law, but trouble quickly followed. When I initially hired her, she forgot to tell me she was pregnant and hid the news from me for quite a while. It’s a long story about why that upset me so much, so we will just say it wasn’t good or exciting news to find out. When it came time for her to have the baby, she started sending her sister in her place. I had never met her sister and they had made all the arrangements without even asking me, so the whole situation just irritated me. Plus, the girl just wasn’t that good at laundry. One day I pulled my only nice pair of maternity pants off the line and they had streaks of soap still in them because they hadn’t been properly rinsed. Then there were days when she just wouldn’t show up and a few other days where she just left half the laundry unwashed. I know this may sound petty to you all, but when you have a family of six, keeping up with our laundry is a big deal! Plus, it all just made me miss my sweet Mami all the more.

The point of that last story being, my favorite chore to do in America? LAUNDRY! I know, I know, if you didn’t already think I was crazy, now you probably do! The simple task of sorting clothes and folding fluffy towels is so gratifying. Don’t even get me started on the luxury of having my jeans fit properly again; you all better never take for granted a freshly washed pair of jeans ever again! It is also wonderful knowing my clothes will be dry in the morning and not wet from the rain, because there’s nothing worse than mildew, rain-scented clothes. Can I also give a shout-out to dryer sheets?

But again, in all seriousness, the loss of Mami and the laundry fiasco those last couple months before leaving Haiti just added to my resentment of life in Haiti. Maybe you’re thinking, well why don’t you just do the laundry yourself? Because, it’s seriously a full-time job to do our family’s laundry by hand and I don’t have the time. Of course, I’ll wash things if the kids need something quickly or something like that, but I would have to take at least two full days out of my week to do laundry if I were to do it all by myself. So, maybe you’ll ask next, well why didn’t you just hire someone else? I thought about that in my frustration, but the laundry gets done during the day when we are out working, so I only want people I trust and have a close relationship with to have that job. They have full access to our home and that’s only something I want to give to people I know well, just as I’m sure you’d do the same.

I think there’s this other layer of frustration, because in the end Haiti – probably safe to say for anyone actually who chooses to move to a foreign place – strips so many things away from you. In the beginning, the fact that I couldn’t just get in my car and drive wherever I wanted drove me crazy, but after a few years and figuring out the city, I started driving by myself. Yes, it’s more dangerous to go by myself, but the freedom I feel? Totally worth the risk.

So, the inability to just do my laundry or have it done the way I wanted, became a soul issue. Turns out life in limbo means even laundry can become a sacred routine. Here’s to recognizing just that, seasons where we have to go back to the basics, relearn how holy routines can be and enjoy the mundane things like laundry.

Sweet Mami, we miss you, but laundry and your love and the way you made Haiti home to me will always be something I’ll hold on to.

 

my dearest Johanne

Johanne, along with Rosie’s mama, and five other women were the first group of artisans I worked with when I moved to Haiti in 2012. These women taught me so much back then. I can remember an afternoon laughing on the balcony where we worked, as they taught me how to wash the towels by hand. There’s this distinct squeak if you wash the fabrics just right; it’s something in the wrists. We were going back and forth, joking that I wouldn’t be a real Haitian until I could get the squeak. I can remember Johanne sitting next to me on the wooden bench, with the aluminum tub of water in between the both us, as we all laughed together.

These women had so much grace for me as I learned their culture, their language and their ways. I can remember how we all held each other tight on the day we lost Rosie and the days that followed. For some crazy reason, they took me under their wings and have loved me like one of their own for what seems like forever now.

There were many dynamics in the group and Johanne was like the little sister to us all. She was a strong-willed mama to two beautiful little girls. Her situation was probably the most dire of everyone. She lived in a small little tent way back then and was one of the first people I helped build a home. We had made an arrangement that I would find the funds to build the house and she would save up money to pay for the labor. She was so proud when the house was finally finished and eventually built a little add-on room that she operated a side business selling little snacks and drinks out of.

She was so small in stature. She was also the quietest of the bunch, but she held her ground and was such a determined worker. When her girls came to work with her, they would sit there all proper and clean. She’d come with little lunch boxes all packed with goodies. She was such a good mama. Just by the way she’d tidy them up and dust off their shoes at the end of the day, showed how proud she was of them.

Towards the end she just kept getting sick all the time. She had a really bad spell and I can remember the whole group of us going to her house to pray over her. I was knelt beside her as she lay in bed and she held onto my hands like she was holding on for dear life. And now I look back and I think she really was; there was a look of fear in her eyes and there was nothing I could do to make it go away.

There was another spell after that one and I remember the day I had to carry her on my back to get her into the car so I could take her to a nearby clinic for testing. Her diagnosis was pretty grim that day, but it was at least something that could be treated. We got her the proper medicine and she seemed to have taken a turn for the better.

It was sometime close to Christmas as I can remember us being together for some type of holiday event at the orphanage. She had pulled me aside to thank me for taking her to the clinic and all I could do was hug her. I was just so relieved we had finally gotten a diagnosis and could move forward with treatment. I was also just so glad to see her doing better.

Unfortunately, that was one of my last interactions with her. I will never know what was the ultimate cause of her death, but whatever it was, it robbed her life way too quickly.

It was a Sunday afternoon (January 2018) and I was playing cards with my mom and a friend when I got the call. It hit me like a big punch in the gut as her sister told me the news over the phone. I just couldn’t believe it. I went and rounded up some of the women we worked with and together we headed to her mom’s home.

We walked into the front room of her mom’s home and everything had been removed except her body. There she lay underneath a white sheet. I fell to my knees beside her body, reaching for her hand, thinking maybe, just maybe, she’d reach back and hold on tight.

But, she was gone.

I had so many questions, first and foremost being, why the hell had no one called me earlier!? I could have taken her to the hospital; I could have done something! I wanted to know what had happened, among a million other things! I wanted to scream. I wanted to know how she took her last breath. But, I knew asking wouldn’t make me feel any better and culturally it would have probably been really rude to ask. It was one of those intense moments where I knew when I walked away from this I was never going to be the same.

It just seems like I can’t get any closure when it comes to Johanne. Everything about her death still feels so heavy. I feel like I somehow failed her. Surely, there could have been something more we could have done to save her.

And that’s the funny thing when you get yourself wrapped up and invested in their lives; you think you have the ability to save them. You’ll fight that good ole white savior complex every day. You try and try to trust that God is at work. You try and try to believe in the promise that He is a God who sees; a God who sees all the needs. The life or death needs. Never in a million years, would you have thought you’d be responsible for such needs, but there you are, making decisions that decide who literally gets to eat some days. No one should make those decisions alone. And most days I don’t; that’s where Webert and the other people I serve with are around for. Accountability is such a must. But, God? He seems a bit too far away some days.

There are these moments when I surely think the world is going to collapse on in, because how can it actually sustain such suffering? Doesn’t it feel the pressure; when will it just be too much? How is it possible mamas are unable to feed their sweet, sweet babies and they come to me looking for answers? How can they possibly look to me for hope, when I can barely sort through the clouded mess and remain hopeful in a God who promises good things?

Life is hard, isn’t it? Dealing with death? Even harder. But, that’s why I can’t lose hope, because there is this promise I get to see all these people again. Even though, quite frankly, I’m still pretty pissed about not being able to say good-bye the way I wish I could have, I can’t imagine how sweet our homecoming will be. And the fact that one day all the suffering and pain goes away? Hallelujah. Amen. Thank you baby Jesus for coming to save us all and promising us such redemption.

sweet Renato

Little Renato came to the orphanage having been abandoned at our clinic. We took him in and he was instantly a part of the Tytoo family. It’s weird how quickly our lives can be interrupted in Haiti. You wake up thinking it will be just another ordinary day and then there’s a little guy who is just abandoned into your care and then your world shifts and your heart broken for the reality of what you’re living in.

I can remember clearly the day he came into in our lives, just as well as I can remember the days I met AnneMelissa, Lopez, Sophie, Lovena, Marvens, Chedline and even my Wishla for the first time. It is part traumatic, part amazing. To think about the trauma the kids go through before coming to the orphanage, many of them coming from severe neglect, malnourishment, or abuse. To think about the abandonment and being thrown into the care of people they don’t even know. To think about their little brains and their ability to somehow cope and thrive through all that they’ve been through. And, then to think we have the honor to love and serve them. Yet, the heaviness in knowing the responsibility that all that carries, because they are precious, fragile, little lives and who said we were qualified to know what’s best for them?

And that’s why I’ll always fight for family preservation, because in most all of the situations – I can think of some where this isn’t true – the mamas know what’s best, but they don’t have the resources to recognize that. That’s for another day; today is about Renato.

It had been a long week at the orphanage, a couple of the other kids had been sick plus another little guy who had been a part of our ministry’s work had passed away, so we were all just feeling the heaviness of life. Saturday night came and Webert and I had gone out to dinner with a few friends. When we got back into Simonette, we stopped by Tytoo to find our friend Lindsay in the clinic with Renato. He hadn’t been feeling well and our Haitian nurse had come down to check on him and give him some fluids. I had asked Lindsay if she wanted me to come back and be around to help take care of him, but his vitals were looking good and she had said she’d be okay.

None of us will ever know what happened, but in a matter of a couple hours, Renato went from sitting up to seizing to eventually going home to be with Jesus. Webert and I were awoken in the middle of the night by my mom, telling us the news. Ben and Lindsay had taken him to the hospital, but it was too late by the time they had gotten there. Since it was in the middle of the night, there was no ambulance available to take them home.

(It’s the law in Haiti for dead bodies to only be transported in ambulances, which can be a very unfortunate thing as I’ve also witnessed dead bodies left on the road for hours or days because it will take that long for the hospitals to send an ambulance.)

So, like an out of body experience, Webert and I paid off a police officer in the middle of the night to escort us to the hospital so we could help get everyone home. We decided to take his little body to my house, because we didn’t want the kids at the orphanage waking up and seeing his body without it being in a casket. We closed him behind the bedroom door that I was preparing to be Rubie’s nursery – I was about five months pregnant at the time. My dad and Webert went and built him a small, handmade casket while I went and found trusted friends who could bleach and clean the clinic. We honestly didn’t know what took his little life and we were afraid it could have been something contagious, so that entire morning was us just running off adrenaline. At some point in the morning, we were told the body still may be contagious and we were advised to bury him as quickly as we could. It wasn’t ideal because we were wanting to have a more formal funeral for everyone at Tytoo later in the day, but saw it was best to bury him immediately. Somehow, my dad and Webert had the courage to do that.

We somehow pulled off putting on our Sunday best and Webert led an entire church service. We got to the end of the service and he then broke the news to all the children, staff and congregation about the passing of our sweet Renato. I’ll never forget the way the kids wept and the way the mommies held them. The next day we wrote letters and colored pictures to bury next to Renato. The kids sang a worship song beside his grave as we released lanterns into the sky.

As I typed out this story, I kept asking God, what else do you want me to say about this? It still feels so unfair. You took him so quickly. You let him pass in the arms of someone I care so deeply for. You made me take his body into my own home. You made us bury him so quickly. All of this reminiscing doesn’t feel healing, like You said it would. So, I did a quick search and went back to the original blog I wrote about Renato, click here to read my original words.

The last paragraph just hit home, because it’s what I still crave and desire to cultivate today:

“I ended yesterday by having dinner at a friend’s house. I sat around a table with four other beautiful women as we debriefed the day’s events. We talked real about life but still managed to laugh about SpongeBob Square Pants. I felt so safe and so loved around that dinner table and my prayer for this new day is that I can continue to create a home where people can come and feel that way around my table. Continue to be a part of an authentic community where people can feel safe to call on me in the midst of tragedy. I hope I can have the strength to continue to overcome tragedy with grace and love. Continue creating a world where people feel loved, surrounded and a part of something beautiful.

And as my little Wishla has now made her way onto my lap with her sippy cup of apple juice and I feel flutters of life in my stomach, I can’t help but fight for all of the above. Because that’s the kind of world I want my own children to know and to live in. It’s the kind of home I want them to abide in. The kind of community I want them to grow and learn in. The kind of world I want them to know.

How beautiful the body of Christ is. How I pray and anticipate and wait for the return of Jesus.

Renato came to us abandoned, forsaken and alone in the world. But, if we did anything right at all, by the grace of God, we let him leave the world surrounded, loved and a part of something beautiful: a family.”

Satan has been so good at blinding me to only see all the loss and trauma Haiti has given me. So, here’s to pulling off those blinders and allowing myself to see all the amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to love, serve and do life with. My experiences have made me stronger and given me a lot of good stories to tell. I mean, who else can say they paid off a police officer in the middle of the night to escort them to and from a hospital,  to only have the police officer run out of gas on the way home?

precious Rosie

Two months after baby Noel’s death, baby Rosie came home safely from the hospital. I had had our driver take mama Judeline to the hospital early that morning with a cousin, knowing I wasn’t fit to be a part of another delivery. We got news early afternoon that baby had been born and I was honored to go pick up mom and baby from the hospital and bring them both home safely. I just went and dug through pictures to reminisce on this homecoming.

vibella baby

A year later, we celebrated her first birthday and I gifted her a little pair of Nike tennis shoes as she had just started walking.

It was a Thursday in the following month; I was headed to the beach with a group of friends. I had made a stop by my workplace to check in before heading out for the day. Before leaving, Judeline pulled me aside before I left and told me how Rosie wasn’t feeling well and she wanted to take her to a clinic. I never heard from her again over the week-end, so I assumed everything was fine.

Sunday morning I got a call from the nurse who was living and working at Tytoo at the time that Rosie’s dad had shown up at the gate with Rosie and she was in pretty critical condition. They were rushing her to the hospital and would update me once they got there. I headed to church and after the service was done, I received news that things did not look good for little Rosie. So, at that point I headed to Judeline’s house to take her to the hospital and visit with the doctor.

Webert and I, along with both of the parents, sat in a small room as the doctor explained how Rosie’s pneumonia had gone septic and it was going to be very hard for her to recover from. The dad decided he would spend the night at the hospital with Rosie and we would bring Judeline back in the morning.

Haitian hospitals don’t have nurses to tend to you, like we have here in America. They also don’t have food services or bathrooms with showers. So, if you know you’re going to be spending a few days at the hospital, you need to come prepared with clothes, food, etc. I say that all to explain why Judeline made the decision to leave the hospital; she was going home to pack bags as she intended to be at the hospital until Rosie had recovered.

After returning back to Simonette with Judeline, I went and gathered up some of the women we worked with and we headed to her house to pray with her and for Rosie. Our time together ended with some worship and as we were singing, chills swept through me from head to toes. I’ll never forget how intense those chills were and today I believe it was Rosie’s spirit passing through before going to be with Jesus.

A few moments after the chills passed, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulders. I stepped outside of Judeline’s small home as her cousin told me she had received a phone call and Rosie had passed away. I’ll never forget the way Judeline collapsed into Yolande’s arms and screamed as we told her the news. Since there wasn’t enough room in the small truck I had at the time, Judeline asked me to go to the hospital and pick up Rosie and dad.

We buried Rosie the next morning and I’ll also never forget the way Judeline wept inside her home as the funeral took place outside her home on a small slab of cement. I sat on her bed and asked her if she wanted to go to the cometary and bury Rosie, but she said she just couldn’t. So, she curled into my lap as they walked away with a homemade casket made of wood, wrapped in white linens.

Rosie’s funeral was my first Haitian funeral and it was a culture shock to see how quickly they bury little ones. Maybe you’re wondering what happened to baby Noel? His body was left at the hospital and we never even had a funeral for him. It’s still something I’ll never understand: why they bury the little ones so quickly.

People always ask me where the name Rosie comes from for my boutique and it’s in her honor. It’s been a privilege to run my business in her honor, knowing her legacy lives on through a business that brings hope and change to so many other lives.

Today, Judeline manages the production of Beljoy jewelry and we both have daughters the same age. Some of my favorite moments have been watching Rubie and Gracie play as Judeline and I do quality control and work side by side. I never thought we would recover after that painful day, but we sure have made it a full circle story of redemption.

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