{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

full-circle moments

Have you ever had one of those moments where everything seems to come full-circle? Life passes by so quickly, seasons come and go and then you come into a very specific moment and all you can find yourself saying is, “holy shit, this is really my life.”

These moments may be really beautiful…like the moment when I looked at my pregnancy test and it read positive. Or the moment when my daughter falls so soundly asleep next to me. These beautiful moments may happen only once in a lifetime or they may occur in our mundane daily activities, but they leave you short of breath, making you remember how life is in-fact beautiful.

These moments may be really overwhelming…like the other morning when I opened my gate and four women were sitting outside waiting to explain all their problems to me, expecting me to fix them all. Or the moment when my husband calls and tells me the news of our son’s passport being “lost” in the immigration system and we have to start all over again. Or the moment in the middle of the night, when I lay wide awake, thinking yet again to myself, “shit, this is really my life.”

I had this really crazy full-circle moment last week…it was beautiful and overwhelming. It took my breath away but I couldn’t tell if it was from its overwhelming beauty or the picture it painted telling the story of how overwhelming and chaotic my life really is.

A lot of chaos led to this specific moment. I suppose the first thing that happened to lead to this moment happened six years ago:

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We were painting our family house and I ended the afternoon by cleaning all of the paintbrushes in the ocean. A saw a man at the beach next door and thought nothing of it, but the man next door saw much more than just a girl in the ocean washing paint brushes. The next day, when he saw we were back to paint again, he made his way over to our house to see if he could help. The man at the beach next door goes by Webert and we’ve been on quite the journey since the day he saw me cleaning paintbrushes in the ocean.

Another significant moment happened a few weeks after meeting Webert:

My dad and I were coming through the village on our four-wheeler and saw Mr. Webert all dressed up. We asked him what he was up to and that was when he told us about his school for the first time. At the time, he was teaching 70-some students in a construction made of palettes and tarp.

The following spring we founded Touch of Hope in hopes to build Webert ONE new school building.

Lots and lots of life-changing moments have happened since that initial scene of washing paintbrushes in the ocean.

This past January I traveled to New York City for a tradeshow with my job. After the tradeshow, I traveled to Iowa to surprise my sister for her birthday. I called a friend as I was traveling home and told her how I was “late” and was slightly concerned. Well this concerned friend bought me a pregnancy test as a joke and after a night out full of surprises for my sister, I took my first pregnancy test in a hotel bathroom with my sister and three best friends waiting outside the door. The first one read positive and all I remember yelling was, “OH shit!” The second one read positive, so there I sat in the middle of a hotel room in the middle of the night having a very big and very real full-circle moment.

Before even knowing I was pregnant, Webert and I made the commitment in the beginning of January to work towards full guardianship of our three children and visas, which would allow them to travel to the States with us. I knew when we made this commitment to focus on attaining these documents there would be roadblocks, but I had no idea how hard and intense those roadblocks would be.

The home study for our guardianship papers took close to three months to receive, which took us to the middle of April. Mid-April we brought over thirty documents combined to social services, which would prove us to be legal guardians of our children.

(Why aren’t you trying to become their parents and fully adopting them, you may be thinking…In Haiti, you need to be married for over 5 years and also be over the age of 30 to legally adopt. Webert and I are coming up on our three-year anniversary and I will not be 30 for another three years. We have been told we will be able to start taking action to legally adopt after another 2 years, but they may also make an exception and allow us to start the process next year.)

Our biggest roadblocks happened at social services. One of the main directors literally accused us of child trafficking because we brought Chedline to the States on a medical visa and never brought her back to Haiti. We had doctors in the States and her host family write letters to prove to him how she was still receiving proper treatment in the States. This certain director told us we had to meet with the head director of all of social services before he would sign our papers. We went into social services office three times before finally being able to meet with her. Also note that getting to social services is over an hour’s drive to get there, as the office is located in the heart of Port-au-Prince. These trips aren’t just a quick trip to the local courthouse; we would spend at least half of our work day making these trips, depending on how long we had to wait to meet with the person at the office and on the city’s traffic. We made 13 trips (if I counted correctly) to social services before receiving all of the proper documents making us legal guardians.

Why are these guardianship papers so important? They are the only document that will prove to the U.S. government that we have rights for the children and the only document that make us qualified to travel with them.

We received the guardianship documents at the beginning of July.

In February we also paid a man to make the passports for the three kids. He promised to have them to us by the first of April. Well the first of April came and went and this pregnant mama got very concerned. We eventually were given Jeffte and Wishla’s passport in the middle of May. That was when we were also given the unfortunate news that Loveson’s passport had been made with a mistake and would need to be completely redone. Webert and I left Haiti mid-June to travel to the States for a couple weeks of rest and hoped the passport would be finished by the time we got back to Haiti on July 3rd.

By mid-July I was officially very pregnant and very hot, but I was also very stressed about that damn passport – it was the only document standing in our way to apply for U.S. visas. But, it would just not fall into our hands! Webert eventually went to immigration himself to try and find the passport but had no luck. The week after going, immigration conveniently closed down to re-do their systems and that was when Loveson’s passport was completely lost in the system, not once, but twice! We ended up paying for and re-doing his passport four times by the time we received it in the middle of August – only six months after paying for the original to be done!

There were so many moments in this process that left me so frustrated and overwhelmed. Working in a third-world country, with all of its corruption, is not for the weak or faint of heart. When we were working on the guardianship papers, all of the employees at social services hadn’t been paid in five months. Yes, five entire months. You can imagine how unmotivated these people are. The one office I was in had three people sleeping with their heads on their desks. And, this is the office fighting for the children of Haiti. My blood boils when I am there because my heart and mind cannot even begin to comprehend the amount of corruption that takes place there.

There were so many moments in this process that left me frantic and feeling like a crazy person.

There were also so many moments in this process that left me so lonely and dependent on God. There were times when I couldn’t even pray, because I didn’t even understand how it could be this hard. I would just let the tears stream down my face and think yet again to myself, “shit, how is this my life?”

I began circling all of the promises God gives in his word that he does in fact hear us and answers us.

“Ask and it will be given…everyone who asks, receives” – Matthew 7:7-8

“We can have confidence before God and receive from him everything we have asked because we obey…” – 1 John 3:22

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you.” – John 15:7

“Because he loves me…He will call upon me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver and honor him with long life and satisfy him and show my salvataion.” – Psalm 91:14-16

“…the Lord is faithful to all of his promises…” – Psalm 145:13

(also see Lamentations 3:22-26, Psalm 120:1, Genesis 9:13, Nehemiah 1:4, John 9:31)

I cried and begged and pleaded with the Lord to give us Loveson’s passport and on a Friday afternoon Webert finally got it. Loveson and I drove up to the school to see it, because I wasn’t going to believe we really had it until I saw it. As we jumped and celebrated for the passport a beautiful rainbow stretched across the sky over the mountains. I have never felt such sweet peace. It wasn’t in my timing, but God remained faithful and showed off by letting me witness a rainbow just when I needed it most.

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I had spent a couple weeks circling and meditating on His promises and on that Friday afternoon it was as if He was making a whole new covenant and promise with me, thousands of years after making His original covenant with Noah.

After we received the passport, we made visa appointments. Wishla’s visa appointment is this Friday, September 9 at 10:00 a.m. The boys’ appointments are scheduled for September 19 at 12:30 a.m. We need this one last miracle of visas to allow our entire family to be together for the arrival of Rubie Jo.

I traveled home last week Wednesday and it was by far the hardest good-bye I’ve ever made. Not knowing if I will see my kids after three weeks or potentially 12 weeks is a really, really hard thing! There’s this peace that my heart has, telling me God has me right where He wants me and my family will be here before I know it, but there’s this human part of me that’s so afraid of the unknown.

Last week was when I had the biggest full-circle moment yet. My kids and I decided to go up to the school for the day to work with Webert. There was this moment when all five of us had paintbrushes in our hands and we were working together, painting the new high school building.

I could hardly believe it, but six years later our story still has paintbrushes in it.

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A full-circle, beautiful, overwhelming, holy shit this is my life kind of moment right there on the mountaintop.

There’s a lot of mundane that goes into our lives. A lot of hard work and a lot more sweat. There’s a lot of corruption and brokenness. There’s a lot of unknown and a whole lot of worry and stress. But, there’s hope. And in that hope there lays beauty…the kind of beauty that reminds us of the big picture and brings everything full-circle…the kind of beauty that will bring redemption and fulfilled promises and breaths full of fresh air and lightened loads and salvation and goodness…so much goodness.

I am still confident of this:

I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living

Wait for the Lord;

Be strong and take heart

And wait for the Lord.

– Psalm 27:13-14

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known by name

For she is more precious than rubies… – Proverbs 3:15

It took Webert and I a while to find the perfect name, but we think we have found the name for our daughter, due October 10. We are going to name her Ruby Jo. I wasn’t going to tell social media the name but then I met Peterson on Wednesday.

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Mami Sarah with little Peterson

Peterson is six-months-old and lives in Haiti. He was born into poverty. If Peterson could talk, I think he would say life has been hard so far. He has four older siblings and a mom who is struggling to get by. They live in a tattered blue tent with a rickety tin roof and absolutely no material possessions inside except a suitcase of clothes. The day I met Peterson, all of the clothes were being washed and hung to dry on the nearby cactus fence. We brought them a bed and it twists the bottom of your stomach knowing a handbuilt bunk bed frame and two second-hand mattresses will be Peterson and his siblings first bed. The kind of stomach twisting that makes it hard to breathe and move forward. I’m sure you know the kind.

As we walked up to Peterson’s house, I found him sitting in the dirt with only a piece of cloth on his bottom. He was covered in dirt; his brow was lined with sweat. His mom poured a small bucket of water into a basin, so I could wipe the dirt off his body. We splashed in the water for a few minutes. One second he wanted to laugh, but he also wasn’t sure what to think of the strange blan visiting his house. I picked him out of the water and minutes later we were sitting on a five-gallon bucket of water as I rocked his naked self to sleep.

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Mamoune with a sleeping Peterson in the background

His mom eventually laid a worn sheet on the dirt in the shade and laid him to rest there as we talked about her situation. What a situation it is. The children’s father is no where to be found and she seems hopeless. We talked about her starting  a small business and registering the older girls in school. We built the bunk bed inside and the girls laughed as I threw them on top of the bunk.

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Peterson has been in my dreams since I met him on Wednesday. His name has become engraved on my heart. It’s funny how a name will do that.

I haven’t even met my baby girl yet, but since we decided on a name, she’s become so real and known to me. Before, it was almost just this idea of a baby coming, but it became so much more real once there was a name. Now that you can call her by name, isn’t she so much more real to you as well?

The same thing has happened with Peterson. He’s become so much more real to me. Before he was just a number on a sheet. I read Mamoune’s intake form for the Starfish Program: five children. At the time, those children didn’t have names or faces. It was just a statistic. But, then you meet them and see their faces and learn their names. Everything changes. Your stomach twists and your heart breaks. Once you learn their names, there is no going back. Once you learn their name, you can’t not fight for them.

I’ve been wrestling with God since meeting Peterson. I just don’t get it, I say to God, as if He owes me any explanation. Why was Peterson born into poverty and why will Ruby be born into opportunity. Why do some women not get to have the babies they dream of raising and other women have too many kids they can’t take care of. How can one woman cry out for a child and another woman abandon hers at an orphanage gate. Why does Peterson have to sleep on a dirt floor and I get to sleep in this comfortable bed. 

I only spent 20 minutes with Peterson but I want him to have the same opportunities Ruby will have. That isn’t to say I know life won’t throw curve balls at Ruby and I as I raise her, but they won’t be anything like the curve balls life has already thrown at Peterson. Ruby will never go to bed hungry. Ruby’s first basinet is already picked out and registered for a friend to buy on Target’s registry. Her first crib is already made and a stuffed whale sits there waiting for her. Ruby already has a dresser full of clothes. Ruby isn’t even here yet and she has already accumulated more possessions than Peterson’s entire family. Stomach twisting.

I think about redemption for Peterson. I want to help write a beautiful story for his life. I want to be a part of the kingdom coming in his life. I want Ruby to be a part of his story as well. I want her life to stand for redemption. I think of how hard that work will be, but how beautiful it will be some day when he goes to school or moves into a new home.

I don’t know how God will provide all these things for Peterson yet. I wrestle with God as I don’t have the perfect plan to help Peterson yet. I struggle with the responsibility to give and when to set boundaries. But, I know my life is different now that I know his name. I can’t not forget him or the image of him sleeping naked on a sheet in the dirt. I want better for him. I want better for the world. I want Ruby to know better.

Maybe that’s where my fear lies: I’m bringing a new life into the world and I don’t want her to know the world I see. I don’t want Ruby to see babies sleeping in the dirt or know kids who go to bed hungry. But, maybe at the same time, I’m glad she will know them by name. She’ll see the harsh truths of the world and have a chance to fight for the poor.

Regardless of what my unsettled heart fears, I find comfort in knowing a day of redemption is coming for all of us. For any of us who call on God, will also be called out by God and we will be known by name.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 20:3-4

working through tragedy: a week later

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I took the picture above with Webert over five years ago. I had just spent my spring break in Haiti and was on my way to the airport when we took this picture. At the time, I had just broken up with my boyfriend of five years and had no idea what my future looked like. At the time, Webert was teaching 160-some students in a palette-constructed school. We had spent the week repairing the tarp roof, hoping it would hold through the rainy season. We were just friends at the time. Every Thursday he would go to a local Internet café and e-mail me while I was in class at university thousands of miles away.

When I look at this picture, I see an overweight Me, who was so naïve and had no idea what God was about to do in her life. I see an innocent Webert, who had yet to steal my heart.

This was before the mountaintop. Before kids. Before Touch of Hope. Before Tytoo Gardens orphanage. Before hardship and tragedy. At this point in our relationship, we had formed a friendship over painting a house, buying pineapples at the local market and playing cards together.

We took this picture on the front porch of what has become our home. At the time of the first picture, to me, it was just my parents’ Haiti house. But, over the course of five years, it has become a house that Webert and I now raise our kids in; where we welcome our community in; and where we allow people to ask for their deepest needs. I sit on the front porch most mornings and that’s where God meets me. At night, we come to this home exhausted and it becomes our safe sanctuary. This house on the ocean has become our home. And, on the front porch is where we take all of our cliché pictures. Everyone who comes to visit takes a picture there. Whenever aunt Megan comes to visit, she’s sure to get a picture there with the three kids. There have been so many Sunday mornings when I snap pictures as we head off to church with our Sunday best on.

This morning Webert and I matched, so we decided to take a picture on the porch in the typical corner. I looked at this picture all through church and tears welled in my eyes. It’s hard to believe all that has happened from the first picture to the one we took today.

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Last Sunday was probably one of the hardest days Webert and I took on together. We left our bed at 3 in the morning to bring Renato home from the hospital. I broke the news to orphanage mommmies, the women who cared for Renato like he was their own, as Webert found a judge to make a death certificate. We led an orphanage tribe through a prayer service to say good-bye to Renato. Webert prayed as I held weeping young boys in my arms. We led so naturally. It’s kind of weird actually how we can make decisions together so quickly in emergency situations and act upon those decisions and somehow come through the emergencies stronger. By the day’s end last Sunday, I realized how we were just meant to do this all together.

And a week later, we stand together, snapping another picture different people. Different, but stronger.

I look at the two people in this picture and I’m proud of them. I can’t imagine doing life with anyone else. We’re 11 weeks away from meeting our baby girl and I can’t wait to see how this little one will change our lives again.


Today, I cried for Renato. I wasn’t responsible to lead today, so I sat back and grieved. It’s still hard to believe he’s really gone. It’s hard to understand why God chose to take Him the way He did. It’s hard to know we won’t ever know what illness took him from us to quickly. It’s just hard.

The children at Tytoo seem to be doing well. Monday morning we took time to write letters and color pictures to give to Renato. We took all the kids to his grave and buried our letters and pictures next to his grave. Two of the older boys played their guitars as we sent lanterns to heaven for Renato. Over the week, we’ve prayed for wisdom to have the eyes to see which kids are struggling and have been able to spend one-on-one time with some of the kids who seem to be struggling the most. Our Haitian nurse has been able to answer some of their questions. Last night, Saturday, all the kids came over to our house for a bonfire and we introduced them to the phenomena of a s’more. We showed a movie on the sidewall, as they all stretched out blankets on the yard to watch. It felt good to do something fun and create good memories together.

We’re all grieving together. We’re all moving forward together. We all experienced a tragedy last week, but together we are fighting through.

I feel different today. My soul feels old. But, I feel stronger as well.

As always, love from Haiti.

working through tragedy

I wrote the following last Sunday morning, July 10, when prayers didn’t seem like enough:

 

I don’t think the notorious knocks on the gate will ever stop giving me a knot in my stomach.

It’s not that I’m afraid of the knock or the person behind the knock, but there’s a fear in the need behind the knock. Because, there’s always a need. And there’s a fear I won’t be able to fix or help the need.

Several months ago, a young mother came knocking on my gate asking me to help her four-year-old son who didn’t walk. She said she had heard how “I help kids who don’t walk” (meaning she had heard how I had gotten a medical visa for Chedline to go to the United States). Funny how people “hear things.”

I went and met her son, Chivens, the next day and what I saw broke my heart: I saw a four-year-old with severe Cerebral Palsy, who could not sit up on his own nor eat on his own. He was fighting a severe respiratory infection and could only interact by eye contact. I saw a little boy who was well taken care of. I could see how his young mama, Landina, loved him well, but with no resources to physical therapy, wheelchairs and healthcare, she was tired and seemed hopeless.

I stood in their house as the mom spread Chivens across her lap, trying to feed him something resembling baby food. He would gasp and cough up some of the food; eating seemed very difficult for him as he couldn’t sit up straight. There was a blanket and pillow in the corner of the room, where he would lay the rest of the day. I turned to my friend Lindsay and asked, “What can we even do for him?” We knew Haiti didn’t have the resources to help this little boy and fear of not being able to meet the need settled down deep. We contemplated rigging up a special chair for him that would allow him to sit up straight, but he couldn’t control the movements of his head, so that never happened. We had him be seen by a visiting physical therapist, who showed the mama some stretches, but nothing that was ever going to make a long-term difference. There was simply just not a whole lot we could do, except try to love and care for him and his family.

This past week another respiratory infection settled deep in his lungs and eventually went septic. Lindsay rushed him to the hospital late Thursday evening as he began seizing, but he just couldn’t fight any longer. Chivens passed away late yesterday (Saturday) afternoon and this morning at 6:00 a.m. there was a soft knock on my gate as I gave an uncle money to buy his casket.

I realize there may be relief in this moment. Chivens was never going to get the medical help he really needed. He would always be fighting respiratory infections and his quality of life would unfortunately always be poor. But, he was still just a child. If he had been born in North America, it would be safe to say this story would be written a lot differently. He would have had access to healthcare and therapy and treatments and medicine. I’ve seen firsthand what six months of first-world healthcare can do for a special needs child through Chedline and it saddens me that not all children will have that opportunity.

As I have scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed this past week, watching all the different hash tags, I’ve come to the slow conclusion that I must be living in a world where #poorlivesdontmatter as well. I realize that America and the world are in complete chaos at the moment, so it’s hard for me to make an argument that we should shift our perspective, because the tragedy that continues to strike everywhere in the world needs our attention. But, the longer I work and live in this country and wrestle through another tragedy, I slowly begin to see how we – the world – let the poor go unseen.

Oh, how there must be so many little Chivens’s around the world who lose their lives without being seen. How governments fail them by not giving them the resources to thrive. How infrastructures fail them and stop them from getting the help they need. How corruption fails them. How oppression fails them. How the church fails them. How the world fails them.


 

For some reason, I couldn’t write anymore last Sunday. I didn’t have the words to end the blog.

Another busy week full of school registration, building the foundation for a new school building, more sick kids at the orphanage, and daily life passed us.


Then, 3:00 a.m. the following Sunday morning came.

It wasn’t a knock at the gate this time. It was my mom yelling my name outside my bedroom window trying to wake both Webert and I up. All she said was, “there’s an emergency” and both of us were wide awake and out of bed.

At 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night, Renato, a three-year-old from the orphanage came down with a fever and began having some pretty serious diarrhea and vomiting. By 8:00 p.m. they had him on an IV with fluids. At 9:30 I stopped by the orphanage and his vitals were fine and he was sleeping. Around 10:30 his vitals began to change and he got restless. By midnight, both Lindsey and Ben (two staff at the orphanage) rushed him to the hospital. By the time they arrived at the hospital, he had passed.

Just like that. So quickly. Our little Renato had been taken Home.

And, because Haiti, you can’t take a dead body home in any vehicle but an ambulance. And, because it was the middle of the night there was no ambulance to be found. So, at 3:15 in the morning my husband and I were sitting at a nearby police station pleading with officers to ride to the hospital with us so we could get everyone back from the hospital. After paying $130, we were racing off to the hospital. Corruption at its finest.

And, because Haiti, the police car literally ran out of gas on our way back to Simonette and we sat in silence as they searched for what seemed like an eternity for a gallon of gas. Seriously.

But, as dawn broke and light began to wake up our world, we prepared to say good-bye to our little Renato.

Renato came into our lives by being abandoned by his father at the clinic. Yes, a man brought his small, awkward little boy to a routine, morning clinic and asked a woman sitting next to him to watch him as he went to use the restroom. But, instead of using the restroom, he ran off and never looked back…and, there sat Renato.

I remember that first night with him so clearly. We brought him over to my house and had him sitting on the rug in my living room with bright toys all around him. He just sat there. With a head of crazy, orange tinted hair, he showed signs of malnutrition and would only make peeping sounds. He didn’t want to be held and barely ate anything.

But, we loved him and took him in.

As he grew, his personality sure did as well. He was the sweetest. My son Loveson always insisted on bringing him a snack, as Loveson would proclaim, “he’s my best friend!” His orange hair faded away and his belly rounded out as he began to learn to walk and run around the orphanage.

It’s funny what love can do for a child. How love can simply heal so much.

 


 

At 4:00 a.m. this morning (Monday) a voice woke me up again. It sounded like my mom yelling “Kayla” again outside my bedroom window, but this time no one was there. As I laid wide awake, I began reflecting on yesterday’s events. It’s 5:30 now and I sit at my kitchen table as dawn breaks a day later. A new day has come upon us again.

I reflect on yesterday and see how I’m a part of such a beautiful family.

After breaking the news to our two mommies at the orphanage, I could see in their eyes that they wouldn’t be able to care for all of our toddlers by themselves. So, I asked for their permission to go call for help. I went and told a friend what had happened and she called her sister and without a second thought, they both jumped in my car to help at 8:00 in the morning. They spent the morning helping prepare the kids, bleaching the entire baby room and deep cleaning the clinic. With plastic gloves on their hands and a broom on the side, they joined our prayer circle as we said our good-byes.

Friends from the community came down to Simonette to walk alongside us. Our security guard never went to sleep after his night shift, to help walk alongside Webert as Webert sought out a judge to make a death certificate at 6:00 in the morning. When I was sitting at the police station at 3:30 in the morning, I called a friend in Canada because I knew she would get Haiti and she wouldn’t care if I woke her up and I knew she would be able to offer me good advice. A pastor from another church came to Tytoo for the service and hugged us all so tightly. As we laid Renato in his casket, I wrapped him in a beautiful hand-sewn quilt that had been donated by someone from Iowa and I couldn’t help but think of her in that moment. An international community now prays for all of our children at the orphanage.

How beautiful the body of Christ is. So many people made yesterday’s tragedy hopeful. The hope of Jesus and his return made yesterday hopeful as well.

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 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.

 

while in the car

It is around 10:30 on a Wednesday morning and I just spent the last two hours in awful traffic. Over a month ago a main bridge that allows you to come into the city collapsed. We would soon learn it collapsed because people were stealing screws from it during the night to sell and make some money. I guess if I were that hungry I would do the same thing, but it’s really messed things up. There are two other bridges that allow you to cross into the city. The first is about 45 minutes out of the way and the other goes through a very crowded part of the city and traffic is always a nightmare. They have created a little detour route by the bridge that fell, but the detour passes through the bank of a river and it’s rainy season now and most of it is under water. 

All this to say, it takes close to two hours to get into the city because of traffic when it normally should take 30 minutes. 

I’m now sitting in the car waiting for my husband, who is inside an office giving a final letter request for guardianship of our three children. I’m honestly writing this so I don’t have to think about what’s going on inside. 

A man just knocked on my window asking for money. A second man has now stopped to ask if I want my vehicle washed. 

What I really want is to get out of the truck and take a little stroll since I’ve been in traffic for two hours. But that’s not really an option. The part of the city we are in isn’t very friendly and not a place white girls should be found walking alone. What I would really love is a mocha frappe from Starbucks. 

I would love to go out walking not feeling unsafe. I would love to find a cute shop on the corner and maybe buy myself a “you’re surviving adulthood” gift, just because. 

I live in a very small community on the ocean. It’s peaceful, quaint and perfect for the girl who comes from small town America. The people know me and no longer call me “blan” (white) there. They call me by name and it’s amazing what being called by your real name and not a title will do to your spirit. I love my people of Simonette. I’m grateful they call me theirs. 

But, once I venture outside of my safe zone, everything changes. I no longer have a name and am seen only as a “blan”. I’m no longer safe and everyone thinks my pockets are lined with hundred dollar bills. Once you get into the city, all bets are off and you really have to be on your A game. I’ve been robbed on three separate occasions while living in Haiti and in the past month I personally know two people who were shot and another who was held at gun point. 

This isn’t to scare you all, but it’s just the reality and I think some days I’m so exhausted by having to be on my A game. I want to feel safe, get a fancy $5 white-girl drink and take a stroll on the sidewalk without being stared or yelled at. 

Before writing this, I spent a good 15 minutes strolling through my Facebook newsfeed. I saw three separate articles about this whole Target bathroom debate and it’s just humerous to me at this point. I think it comes down to perspective and the Target debate shows how privileged America is and how small our perspective of the world really is. 

People are living in war zones where they can’t walk safely on the streets, girls are being trafficked and kidnapped all around the world and right here in Haiti, people are sick with cholera and all sorts of other good stuff because it lacks sewer systems, clean water and all the nice sanitation that can be found in a Target bathroom. 

There’s a lot to complain about when you live in a third world country. There’s a lot to miss from America. But, Haiti has given me a perspective that will always keep me humble and for that I will always be grateful for. 

I may not be able to have my fancy drink or get some retail therapy in, but I won’t ever take for granted a clean bathroom with running water and as long as I have a clean place to pee I don’t care who or what is in the stall next to me. 

And what’s hilarious about this post is that a man literally just peed in front of my vehicle. Imagine the chaos if we were allowed to pee in public in America. 

And as for you Target, you define America for me. Your $1 bins, accessories and cute baby clothes make me feel all warm inside. I will be back in June and I can’t wait to spend time with you. 

I say, Let’s pee in peace and try to make the world a little better by fighting for something that matters. 

  

wrestling and being humble

Last week was Webert’s birthday. Things have been a little crazy around here, so we decided to sneak away to the beach for two nights in honor of his birthday and to refresh our spirits a bit. It was a great two nights away and I looked at Webert as we left and said, “that was just what I needed, I’m refreshed and ready to go back!” That was Thursday afternoon.

Friday morning at 7 a.m. there was a knock on our gate. One of our children’s biological mom had come to ask for money because her father had passed away. This wouldn’t have been an issue, except for the fact that she literally only shows up at our house to ask for money. She never cares to see her biological child that resides in our house. She never asks how this specific child is, how they’re doing in school…nothing.

It breaks my heart.

She shows up for money. And expects it. And I hate feeling expected of.

By 8 a.m. I had made my way to Simonette and was praying with the ViBella ladies. A friend of mine has become pregnant and while I want to support her, I know the relationship she has with the baby daddy is not very healthy. So, I had to have a hard conversation with her. I knew it was a conversation I had to have, but I felt awkward and truly unequipped to lead.

By 8:15, I was exhausted and wanted to go back to the beach.

I made my way to Rosie’s and wrestled through the morning. My emotions were all messed up because I can’t handle the reality of my life some days. I don’t want to be responsible for paying for strangers’ funerals. I never signed up for that part. And obviously I’m going to be emotional; this is my child’s family. But this family only shows up when they need money. And my heart must be black as coal, because I don’t want to give them a penny. What I really want from them is a pat on the back. A thank-you or a warm hug would be nice, too. I’m the one raising the child you brought into this world and I don’t feel like I owe you a darn thing, woman. Bitterness is such an ugly thing, isn’t it? Feeling entitled to something, even a thank-you, is such a gross feeling. Entitlement and egos are such a funny thing.

If we do help, she will think it’s okay to keep coming back every time she has a need. And, I can’t play that game. I don’t believe in that game. So, where do we draw the line? What boundaries do we set? What walls do we build?

All the lines, boundaries and walls seem so uninviting. So unloving. So not Jesus.

But, “God,” I cry, “I’m already doing so much…being a mom is the hardest job out there and I’m doing the hard part for her. Why do I owe her more?”

God has yet to respond to my cry. So, I continue to wrestle.

By late afternoon, an employee who works for me asks me for nearly $200 US because she needs to make a paper that will give her final ownership of her land. I have already helped pay the tuition for her five children’s schooling this year plus helped pay the initial bill for the land. All I feel like I have done now is entitled her to more money. She’s not afraid to keep asking, and again, who can blame her? It’s my own fault. And, again, I laugh at the irony of this whole image of entitlement.

The catch is that if I hadn’t paid for the land, her family – made up of six beautiful, innocent children who all have the richest brown eyes that melt your entire being – would be sleeping on the streets and homeless. I would have never been able to sleep at night if I knew they were without a roof.

I’ve given her a job and I’ve tried to keep her accountable, but when you’re feeding six little ones off $50 a month, it’s going to take a long time to save up all the money you need for land. I need to come up with a better job for her, that’s what I need to do.

I wrestle with these decisions almost every day. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. I believe in empowerment. I believe in job creation. I do not believe in handouts, but there comes a time when you just gotta bless ‘em and give a hand-out. But, when is the right time to do so? Who really has the power to make these decisions?

The Lazarus Fund could easily fund both of the above situations: the funeral and paper for the land. But, is it right to give in these situations? Again, where do we draw the line? When is it too much? What boundaries do we set? What rules do we make?

This past week the Lazarus Fund paid for a man to have eye surgery because he had been in a bad accident. The eye was severely damaged and needed to be removed. I had no problem handing the $85 over for him to find relief and comfort.

By 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon, my daughter had a tight grasp on my finger and was leading me down the front stairs of our house to the ocean. We spent time dipping our toes in the water and throwing rocks in to watch the water ripple. I sat down on a large rock and was distracted. I keep wrestling on the inside. She yelled “mama” a few times and I kept wrestling. She finally gained my full attention and showed off a washed-up, empty coconut she had found. I felt guilty I couldn’t focus on her and the beautiful sun setting over the ocean. The way we were sitting, tossing rocks in the water, was picture-perfect.

If only someone would show up with the picture-perfect guide to “giving” and give my wrestling heart all the answers to her questions. I pray and frantically rely on the Holy Spirit’s leading for wisdom in giving. If only He could send me a burning bush every time I was suppose to give.

It feels really lonely in these moments. Truthfully, I allow the darkness in. In that moment, I let myself believe that I just may have a heart as dark as coal, because there is no way holy people feel this way.

But, because God, my podcast this morning was a teaching on how the thought “God won’t give us more than we can handle” is a biblical myth. It taught me three things:

  1. Lay something down. So, today, to the blogging universe and to God, I lay down my heart that is as dark as coal. I lay down my depression and worry. I give my headaches and sickness over. Today, I will sit and allow God to work in my heart and heal my physical pains of headaches and spiritual pains as well.
  2. Hand something off. When it feels like God has given us too much, we need to realize we can, in fact, share the burden. Sometimes I think I can do it all. I can help everyone and make all the decisions on my own. It’s extremely exhausting and incredibly stupid of myself to think so, but, because I’m human, I think I can. God has given us the church to carry the burdens together. I’ve been finding people in the Haitian community who carry some of them with me, but I’m wondering if there is a way to put more of the burden on the American church and community as well? You can’t see what I see every day, but what if there was a space where I could share more of what I see and the people in that space helped me make hard decisions, raise funds and bring hope. If you think you want to be a part of that space, I would love to hear from you.
  3. Give it to God. If I learned anything from this point, it’s to tell other’s to give their problems to God as well. As the white person, I’m quickly turned into a god, because I can, in some way, provide for their needs. People are quick to ask for things, because they think I can provide. Yet, another reason it’s so hard to decipher when to give and when not to. I don’t want to play God. I try my hardest to always give God the glory in all situations. Whenever I put money into someone’s hand, I tell him or her where it came from. A donor, out of faith, gave every penny donated to the Lazarus fund, so the way I see it, it’s God’s money and His way of providing for them. It’s not me; I am just the vessel. But, the people, they see me.

I’m so broken by all of this. It is such a hard world live in. There are so many people to help. There are so many lives to touch. I want to keep helping, but I wrestle with the responsibilities. I fight so many inner battles of right and wrong. We need to keep asking ourselves, is this for the greater good? Are we really doing good here or is this causing long-term harm? Am I playing god here or is this God truly at work?

We, mostly myself, need to strip ourselves of our egos. My ego gets in the way of God’s grace all the time. I let my heart turn black as coal and get all depressed and defeated before I remember how easily I can give it all back to Him. I’m quick to feel entitled of hugs and pats on the back. I’m quick to feed my personal desires than surrender myself to service. I’m quick to feel burdened. But how much quicker is God to take my burden and lighten my load? How He desires to give me all that I ask for. If only I were humble enough to ask. Give it to God, they say. I say, easier said than done, but I’m trying. Each and every new day.

So, here I fall, at your feet again, Lord.

How you have blessed me with a husband and a family.

I worry so much about this family.

This little one inside of me keeps growing and the situation on the outside can’t seem to keep up with what’s happening on the inside.

The passport and home study still haven’t shown up at our front door. We wait with such anticipation for these two things.

Lord, make a way.

And, the people keep coming to our gate.

The need is so great.

How your heart must break to see the condition of this world.

Lord, I pray to have eyes that see the things that make your heart break,

but my little soul can honestly only take so much.

I lay these things before you.

I ask you to make my burden light.

I ask for freedom from depression and worry.

I know you have gone before each of these people.

You have a way to bring them a better life.

You have a way to provide for them.

You have something so much better than what I could ever give them.

Show us the way. Give us wisdom to walk alongside these brothers and sisters.

Give us strength to endure the hard, long days.

Give us patience.

Give us eyes to see their hearts.

Give us compassion to keep on, keepin’ on.

Humble us, Lord.

Humble me.

Wash me

Sanctify me.

Justify me in the name of Jesus.

Overwhelm me with your Spirit.

 

 

 

thoughts on the littles

A lot has been shared on this little blog of mine. According to the stats, there have been 72,000 of you that have stopped by to read my thoughts and rants. That number actually blows my mind.

But here we are, about four years into this Haiti adventure and blog-writing gig. So many of you have played so many roles to get me to this point. Thank you for that.

But there’s this part of my soul that I haven’t shared. It’s a part that is still so sensitive. It is still trying to figure out who she is and what she believes.

It’s funny how this soul of mine works. There are so many things that are black and white, so defined. There are so many things she has made her mind up about. Like orphans and job creation: if mamas are given jobs, then babies won’t become orphans. When my Haiti adventure started, I knew this statement was true, but today I live by and work for this statement alone.

A while back, I gave a loan to a woman named Annelika. She has two children: a son, Jonas and a daughter, Marantha. They live in a tattered tent together. She wanted a loan to fix her sewing machine. I gave her the loan and then gave her material to make small gift bags for me at Rosie’s. This last week, she came to my house with over 600 small gift bags and I was able to pay her a wage that will not only pay off the debt from her loan, but will also pay for her son’s entire year of high school. She hugged me so fiercely on my porch just the other night, after tightly wrapping her wage in a piece of plastic, protecting it with her entire being.

She walked away proud and I walked into my house humbled. How deep the peace in my soul runs when a mama can care for her child. These moments stop me in my tracks because it doesn’t take much to make a difference for a family, we just have to have the eyes to see what it will take to make the difference. How easily distracted we become by our own lives and schedules that we forget to look for the good and how to become the good.

But, there is also a part of my soul that has a hard time stringing words together and forming sentences. This part of the soul, she wants to have the answers. She wants to know it’ll be okay. She desires confidence and grace. She lacks patience and sleep. She prays on calloused knees and is restless.

This part of the soul is the part that beats for my own three littles – soon to be four. Yes, if you didn’t see the announcement on Facebook, we are expecting a little caramel Raymond in October!

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But, the journey of becoming a family and coming into this specific season of our lives has been surreal and hard. It was the hardest decision of my life to become a mom the first three times, yet the easiest. It’s been a roller coaster ride full of malnutrition, illness, medications, nightmares, and trauma. The drama of biological families, abandonment, lies and manipulation makes me cringe. I refuse to go into detail here because the reality of these biological families is just so damn hard. I don’t want to give them the time or energy. I don’t want to exploit my children’s past. I don’t want to dwell on where they came from. The only thing I can thank them for is abandoning their children and allowing them to become my own.

But the question stands, am I the hypocrite for taking them in and not empowering the parent to take care of their own? When is it okay for relinquishment when I’m on the front lines of fighting for families to stay together? Where do we draw the line?

We, the North American, wealthy, Christian, are so quick to turn to adoption. And while adoption is biblical, I think we are missing the entire plague of the impoverished orphan. We will fight for the cute naked baby, but we won’t take a stand for the desperate mama. It’s so much easier for us to take the baby out of their hands, knowing we can offer the baby a better life, because we have access to better education, healthcare, technology and toys. But, how much harder of a battle is it to fight for the longevity of poor families and keeping them together.

And, we are quick to defend ourselves. I know I am.  I make arguments and excuses for my actions all the time. They would have died, if we hadn’t taken them in. They wouldn’t have thrived without the environment I have created for them. They wouldn’t be learning or growing without me. And while these things really are true, do they really make me a better mom? Would I still feel like a good mom if I couldn’t feed them three times a day? Or if I couldn’t send them to school? Or if I couldn’t dress them in cute clothes or buy them kites for Easter break?

Because, I see mamas who can’t do these things for their own, but at the end of the day, they’re still good mamas. They’re fighting for what makes their heart and soul beat: their babies.

So, maybe we all are the same. All of us mamas. Our hearts beating for the same cause. I don’t know.

That’s where the soul wrestles.

There are two things I do know:

I know God has put my family together. I never dreamt of being a mom. I never thought I would have the patience to be a good one. At the age of 22, He gave me a son in the craziest of ways. At 23 it happened again and at 24, a day after Webert proposed to me, God gave me a baby girl. Our story isn’t perfect, but it’s ours and only God could write a story like ours. This fact alone, gives me the confidence to know we are meant to be together. I do struggle with the questions I asked above, but every time I argue with myself about this, I come to this answer each and every time: His story. This is His story. And His story is always pieced together and written perfectly.

I also know that my deepest desire is for my family to be together and to be safe. These two things look a lot different for our family than most because while our first three are ours, they’re legally not ours. We have a list that hangs in our kitchen. I stare at it as I prepare each meal for my family. It’s a list including every paper and document we need to not only have legal guardianship of the kids, but get their passports and visa so we can travel together.

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Next to the list is a sign my mom gave Webert and I. It says, “Good morning, this is God. I will be handling all your problems together. have fun! I love you.”

There have been so many road blocks on this journey with many unexpected problems. In this moment of typing, I can say I trust God with them all. I pray all the time, “God, I know you have all the details so specifically laid out. You know the exact day we will be granted visas. You know the number of our airplane seats for our first trip. You have it all planned out and I trust you with those details. I wait in expectation for that day.”

I pray this and thirty seconds later, I’m in panic mode. I wake up in the middle of the night worrying the day will never come and I’m fighting an endless battle. It’s so exhausting.

And that’s why thirty second later, I’m back on my knees again.


Friends, I’m coming to the end of my first trimester. I’m pregnant and it’s a beautiful thing. I truly trust God and His timing. I told God a long time ago, I didn’t want to carry a child until the first three became legally ours and could travel to the States with us. And here we are, pregnant and steps are happening to make this dream of ours a reality. I find it to be no coincidence.

We have all the paperwork filed for their passports. We are told we will receive them on April 1st. We have done our home study and are waiting on a call for that document to be finished. With the home study, we can take that with about 15 other documents to social services and file for legal guardianship. The reason it took us so long to arrive at this stage is because it took us two years to find Loveson’s biological family and another year to get his birth certificate and consent from his parents. But, we have arrived. It’s exciting, yet scary as shit!

Once we have passports and legal guardianship (both things should be given during the month of April) we will be able to apply for visas at the American Embassy. The visa process is simple because you fill out a form on the internet and show up for an interview. The frightening part is that there is really no rhyme or reason for an Embassy representative to grant you the visa – Webert was denied three times before being granted a visa. It’s a simple yes or no. The yes would change our lives and the no would devastate us.

I feel like it’s our time. I feel it deep down. But, we would appreciate your prayers. Would you pray for our sensitive souls and our broken, beautiful family? Our specific prayers would be:

• Receive home study in the next week

• Receive passports by April 1st

• Receive legal guardianship papers during the month of April

• Be granted visitor visas for all three children

• Travel to the United States for vacation during the month of June

• Have a safe pregnancy and be able to welcome this little caramel into the world together in the United States in October (due date is October 12)

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We also have a goal to raise $5,000 to help us with all the costs of documents, visas and traveling expenses. We have reached out to family and close friends and are halfway to our goal, but if  you feel led to give to our family and our dreams we would be beyond blessed.

Donations can be made to

Touch of Hope

205 Old Mill Lane Rock Rapids, Iowa 51246

*memo: June is our June*

As always, love from Haiti.