Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Welcome to the Spinning World!

It was already dark on Monday around 6:30 when I got the invitation.  Typically, we try to be home by dark.  But, this was an offer I couldn't refuse.  

Our friend Noel's sister had had her baby. And I was going to go along with my neighbor, Stacey, to meet her family and congratulate them!

We didn't waste any time getting into the truck and heading out, and fortunately, we didn't have far to drive.  There are no streetlights along the road through our village, Saccanville, and I don't think anyone outside of the seminary where we live has electricity, so there are no house lights, either.  When the sun goes down, 

However, the headlights on the truck revealed that the street was not deserted.  People walking... People standing in small groups, talking...  People carrying loads on their heads or pushing carts...  Dogs barking and chasing passing cars...  Children running...

We parked the truck on the shoulder of the road and crossed over to the small house where Noel's family lives.  Noel is one of nine children.  A few of them are grown and have children of their own, but for one reason or another are still living at home.  Noel is grown and in school, studying nursing, and she still lives at home.  And then there are a few younger than Noel still at home, too.  From the way it was described to me, there are about 10 adults and 7 children living in this two-room, dirt-floored, stick-walled house. 

Wait, make that 8 children now.

This is Noel's new niece, about nine hours old.  They weren't sure exactly how much she weighed and she didn't have a name yet.  (I still haven't heard if she's been named yet.)

And these are a handful of baby girl's cousins, all crowding around Stacey's camera to see the photo she took of them.

Even as I tried desperately to follow the multiple streams of Creole dialogue all around me, I was overwhelmed by the stark differences between the circumstances in which this little person entered the world and how my own babies arrived.

Noel's sister, Herloud, said that she started having labor pains around 8 am on Monday.  The baby was born just two hours later.  There was no hospital.  No epidural--yikes!!  No obstetrician. No doulas, no nurses to weigh the babe and take her vitals.  No blood tests or hearing screenings.  

There were--not two--not three--but FOUR baby showers for my firstborn.  I'm quite certain there are no baby showers here in Haiti.  Our house was stuffed with car seats, swaddling blankets, baby bjorns, crib bedding, diapers, wipes, frilly little pink and purple outfits with matching socks and teensy tiny shoes....  We had a baby swing, three bouncy seats, and baby bath seat, oodles of Johnson & Johnson baby wash and lotion and diaper cream.  There were teething rings and toys and board books and hair bows and bottles and a bassinet and SO. MUCH. STUFF.  

Herloud's baby rested in the one family bed in the only bedroom of the house.  There was one other room in the house, but it served as a nighttime parking spot for their motorcycle.  None of the baby gear that is familiar to me was present in that home.  I didn't see one single package of Pampers.  There was no crib.  No comfy rocker for middle-of-the-night feedings.  

When they said she hadn't been named yet, I was taken aback.  I thought about the oh...FIVE different baby name books I have owned and the hundreds of hours spent during my pregnancies debating name options at length, all with the goal of having the most perfect name ever ready to go on the birth certificate. 

In many ways, this baby's arrival was so very, very different from baby arrivals I have known.

And yet.

In some ways, it was very much the same.

I knew that momma's smile.   The smile that didn't stop beaming from her face the whole time we were there. The one that plainly said she was in heaven.  Completely over the moon for her perfect little baby girl.  Yep, I've been there.

And that baby girl was born into a family that was thrilled to welcome her.  There was a buzz of excitement rising from that little house--pure joy emanating from each person.  There were proud grandparents, doting aunts, and obnoxious cousins clamoring to touch, smell, see the new baby up close. 

Here was one of God's own miracles, with her soft baby skin... a head of wavy, black hair...  little, wrinkly fingers stretching out...  God bless you, little one!

On the day you were born the round planet Earth turned toward your morning sky, whirling past darkness, spinning the night into light.

On the day you were born gravity's strong pull held you to the Earth with a promise that you would never float away... While deep in space the burning Sun sent up towering flames, lighting your sky from dawn until dusk.

On the day you were born the Earth turned, the Moon pulled, the Sun flared, and then, with a push, you slipped out of the dark quiet where suddenly you could hear...

A circle of people singing with voices familiar and clear.

"Welcome to the spinning world," the people sang, as they washed your new, tiny hands.
"Welcome to the green Earth," the people sand, as they wrapped your wet, slippery body.

And as they held you close they whispered into your open, curving ear, "We are so glad you've come!"

~ On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Food Experiments--Hers and Mine

So, Stacey and I have finished Chapter 1 of "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess."  If I had to sum up my feelings toward the book in one sentence, it would be this:
I like it and I'm looking forward to continuing to read it but this author is too cheerleader for me even though I think her writing is entertaining and she's onto something with this whole "less of me and my junk and more of God and His kingdom" thing.  

Apologies to my high school English teacher for the construction of that sentence.  

This first chapter was focused on food, so I thought I'd share both my thoughts about the book and a recent food experiment of my own.  For the month that Jen (the author of the book) focused on excess food, she limited herself to eating only seven foods: chicken, eggs, whole wheat bread, sweet potatoes, spinach, avocados and apples.  She denied herself any beverages other than water and relinquished her use of condiments other than salt and pepper.  

The loss of condiments was apparently the hardest part for her.  "I believe food is simply a vehicle to devour sauces.  I am a flavor junkie," she said.  Frankly, as she got deeper into her month of fasting, her descriptions  disgusted me just a wee bit.

She was watching a woman in front of her at Subway who "had not one, not two, but three sauces ladled on her sandwich: sweet chicken teriyaki sauce, honey mustard, and oil and vinegar.  She even had them spread the sauces with a spatula for even coverage." 

For real?  How can you taste the goodness of any of those single toppings when there is such a deluge?

Whatever floats your boat, I guess.  I am not a foodie.  It's not that I don't enjoy eating, it's just that I'm an underachiever when it comes to food.  I strive to meet the minimum requirements of thinking about food--buying it, preparing it, and eating it.  For me, there's no going above and beyond in this category.

Haitian meals are prepared using sauces and spices, and I've come to enjoy them all.  There's the standard "Creole" sauce which is tomato based, with other onion-y stuff.  And then there are broth-y sauces and the sauces that are really just pureed beans.  They use a lot of garlic and peppers for flavoring here, too. 

My kitchen has some garlic in it. And ground pepper, salt, cinnamon, and onion powder.  That's about it.  There's ketchup and mustard in the fridge.  Limiting myself to seven foods while living here in Haiti wouldn't be much of a stretch.  

The author talked a lot about reducing the variety of food options she had to choose from.  However, she didn't talk much about limiting the conveniences of her food choices.  She still ate at restaurants.  She still used the pre-cooked frozen chicken breasts that she bought at WalMart.  Back at home in Illinois, I absolutely took for granted the ease with which I was able to produce a meal.  

Here in Haiti, I've learned a lot about cooking from scratch.  For instance, there is no bakery nearby where we live.  If we're going to have bread for pbj sandwiches for lunch boxes, it's going to be bread that I bake myself.  And guess what?  I'm a pretty darn good baker.  Every week, I call upon all my old 4-H training and bake up some very delicious stuff.  My cinnamon rolls are good enough to be pinned all over Pinterest.  

People living in places like Haiti have to take advantage of seasonal foods that are available.  Fortunately, in tropical climates, you can get many fruits and veggies throughout the year--like pumpkins!  Many Haitians use pumpkin (joumou, in Creole) for soup, which I blogged about earlier this year.  But, I decided to take a break from our usual banana bread and make pumpkin bread instead.  There's no boxed mix here, folks.  No cans of pumpkin puree.  Just a whole, real pumpkin.

Pumpkins in Haiti look very different from the pumpkins I'm used to in the Midwest.  They're green.

But, when you slice them open, they look very similar.  There's less of all that orange squishy stuff, but the same teardrop-shaped seeds and the same pumpkin smell. 

So, I scooped out the mush and separated the seeds, 'cause I like to roast those and eat them, too. I had a helper who enjoyed all that ooey-gooeyness.

Then, I chopped the pumpkin part into chunks and greased a cookie sheet.  

I heated the oven to about 425, put a little oil and salt on the seeds, and cooked 'em up.  The seeds were crunchy in about 20 minutes, but the pumpkin chunks took longer to be tender.

The pumpkin didn't look much different when it was done cooking, but it was soft and I was able to cut the rind off easily.  I smashed all the pumpkin up (No, I don't have a KitchenAid mixer, ya'll.  But, thank goodness I do have a little electric hand mixer.) and then mixed it in with the bread ingredients (recipe here), and a little cinnamon and Haitian vanilla.  I greased two loaf pans and put them in the oven together at 350.

Then, I was left with my mess.  
 I am like a tornado in the kitchen.  I leave cabinet doors flung open, spill ingredients haphazardly onto the floors and pile up the carnage all over the countertops.  So, you can guess what I was doing while the bread was baking.  

 I consulted a recipe I found on and determined that 60 minutes was how long I needed to bake the loaves.  I should have checked on them at 50.  As you can see, they came out of the pans just a smidge burnt.  
Yup.  After all that work.  Black bottoms.

The insides of the loaves were perfect, though!  So, I sliced the black edges off and voila!  
Pure pumpkin perfection. 

How long would you guess that whole process took? 

6 hours.  Was it worth it?  I'm still undecided.

Maybe the author didn't come at the issue of food excess from as many angles as I think she could have, but the limitations she placed on herself really did make her think every day.  

"Each meal was intentional, each bite calculated," she said.  "I never had longer than five hours between meals to mentally slip away.  The concept of reduction was never further than my next meal."  

I guess we can all benefit from taking time to think about just how blessed we are each time we sit down to eat, no matter what it is that's on our plates...

"If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail," says the Lord."  Isaiah 58:10-11

Saturday, February 16, 2013

I Dare Ya to Linger in the Uncomfortable

I am reading a new book.  Which means I'm currently reading five books.  There are two separate devotional-type books in addition to that.  And, I'm reading another book with my eldest daughter.

I blog a lot about stuff I read, don't I.  Well, hopefully ya'll don't mind that too much.

Reading makes me think.  I like reading and thinking, so I do a lot of it.  I suppose I come by it naturally, because I can't think of anyone in my family of origin that ISN'T a reader.  My only living grandma (miss you, GG) only ever stops reading to sleep and my other grandma passed away with an IMPRESSIVE personal library and I know she read each and every tome cover to cover.  My dream job would be getting paid to read, and I'd accept a very modest salary for doing that job.  I don't know if I have any qualifications that would make me a good professional reader, but if you know of anyone who needs to hire one, send 'em my way, okay?

Just in case you're curious, the four other books I'm reading are:

  1. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  2. Ms. Understood by Jen Hatmaker
  3. The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster by Jonathan M. Katz
  4. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
The devotional books are:

  1. The One Year Mother-Daughter Devo by Dannah Gresh
  2. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
And the book I'm reading with Danielle is Wonder by RJ Palacio.

While I'm on this book-list kick, let me also share what I'm reading with my students, starting with the youngest kiddos first:

  1. The Frog and Toad collection by Arnold Lobel
  2. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
  3. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  4. The View from Saturday by EL Konigsburg
  5. Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Anyway.... The book that's got me thinking today is a book I've decided to read for Lent.  It's called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess--another by Jen Hatmaker.

I've only gotten through the introduction so far, but Lent is what--like, 40 days long or something like that, so I've got plenty of time to read and think and share with you.  (Anyone feel like reading along with me?)

So, in the introduction, Jen talks a bit about being comfortable and uncomfortable.  She talks about how God introduced a new direction in her life and at first it was very uncomfortable, but it slowly became very comfortable.  She says:
     "[Our] transformation did not come cheaply or without pain.  We suffered loss--relationships, reputation, position, security, approval, acknowledgment--all the stuff I used to crave. But here is what I gave up the least: comfort.  I might have disagreed two years ago when having a conversation with a homeless man was the most uncomfortable situation I could envision.  When God first sent us to serve the poor, every moment was awkward.  Each confrontation was wrought with anxiety...
     However, God changed me and grafted genuine love for the least into my heart.  I looked forward to every encounter, rejected service that was labor-intensive rather than relationally focused. I became a girl who loved the marginalized.  I couldn't get enough of them in my personal space."

I think that God intentionally nudges us into experiences and roles that are UNcomfortable because He wants to change us.  He wants things that are UNcomfortable to become comfortable.

Think about it.  What's been going on in your life lately that has caused you some discomfort?  Not the yucky, seedy kind of uncomfortable, but the uncomfortable that showers you with new realizations keeps you thinking from new perspectives day and night.

Instead of running from that uncomfortable thing, try leaning into it.  Linger there a while.  I dare you. I'm daring myself!

It's possible that God wants to bless us through it in ways we can't imagine right now.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Happy Birthday, Elli Sue!

Our Elisabeth Susan turns 6 today.  You know, people always tell you when you're pregnant, "Enjoy every moment because they grow up SO fast."  And then, those last few weeks of being huge and uncomfortable and not sleeping at night are upon you and time goes so s..l..o..w..l..y......and you think, "this baby is NEVER going to be born!"

Then, your doctor says there are signs that it's time.

And you panic.  Wait!  I'm not ready for this!  I'm not sure I like the sounds of words like "epidural" and "episiotomy" and maybe even "Cesarean section."  And, what are forceps again?

But, it's too late to change your mind.  This baby is on the way!

Elli Sue didn't keep me waiting.  In fact, she caught me off guard when she came more than two weeks early.

Not only did she surprise us by arriving early, she gave us a scare upon arrival.  Her body was blue and she wasn't breathing--the umbilical cord was wrapped around her tiny neck not once--but twice!

In what seemed like an eternity to a terrified mama, but was actually less than a minute for the attending nurses, she was untangled, airway cleared, and screaming her first screams.  Whew.

(Sorry about the quality of these old photos. I had to take digital photos off my laptop screen.)

Elisabeth Susan was named after her grandmother!

I am sure nearly all mothers think this, but man, was she beautiful.  She was round and fair, with red hair (another surprise!) and blue eyes.  She was our tiniest baby, weighing 6 pounds, 13 ounces and only 17 inches long.  By the time she came home she was only 6 pounds 2 ounces and I had to ask my mom to do a shopping run for preemie clothes to fit her.

Now, six years later, she is a very special girl.  She still has her red hair and now she's added a smattering of freckles.  She has a huge heart for all of God's creatures, and shows deep concern when any critter seems to be suffering.  I wonder if she'll be a veterinarian someday.  Elli loves chocolate and swimming in the ocean.  And, when I ask her who her best friend from school is, she lists every single class member--she's not happy unless everyone is included.  She has lost two teeth and learned to read this year, but she's even more proud that she has learned to snap her fingers, whistle, tie her shoe laces and ride a bike with no training wheels.  You know, essential skills for a Kindergartener!

Here are some photos I took of her the other day.  Thank you, Lord, for six wonderful years with this girl!

John 13:34-35  "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

All in a Day's Work

Just another day in Haiti...

How many of our friends back home have helpful ducks and chickens in the 
school cafeteria to clean up all the crumbs?

Quiz day in 3rd/4th grade.  We just finished reading Because of Winn-Dixie and 
I'm pretty sure any student who doesn't already have a dog wants one now.

After school, we make time for visits with friends.

But, chores must be done, too.  There are mouths to feed!  We start with the campus canines.

Next, the goats.

Chocolate Chip Cookie (aka "Triple C") and her brother Brownie are growing steadily.

Then, we might squeeze in an extra-curricular science lesson.

This is what chocolate starts out as--fruit on a tree.

And this is a boa constrictor someone found in the neighborhood.  
We talked extensively about what a boa constrictor like this one eats and doesn't eat.  
Rats and lizards ARE on the menu.  
Little girls are NOT.

As the sun ducks down behind the palm trees, there's free time to pal around with the neighborhood kiddos.  After all, we have to get dirty enough to ensure that bathing is really absolutely necessary every day, right?

Before dinner, maybe sneak a few minutes to catch up on some light reading.

Colossians 3:17  "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

We Are F-A-M-I-L-Y

Almost two weeks ago already, we said goodbye to my mother-in-law and father-in-law who had been visiting for a week.  Their trip was a long time in the making...  Starting back in October, their plans to come to Haiti were foiled by a long list of obligations and events, including the passing of my MIL's mother on January 9--the day before they were supposed to fly into Cap Haitien from Florida.

This was only the second time we've had family visit us here.  It was wonderful to reconnect and be loved on; to get the in-person hugs and encouragement we've been craving.  We got to hear details about Grandma's funeral and stories and updates about each of our ten nieces and nephews, our siblings, and many other family members and friends.  We introduced them to Celine and the new baby goats.  They showered the girls with attention and affection.  We laughed together, prayed together, and enjoyed meals (American and Haitian) together.  

Mom came with the girls and me to school and helped with chapel on Friday and an art project on Monday. Dad worked on various repairs and maintenance work around campus and our house.  And, he helped Mark diagnose the problem with our truck (broken shock and strut) so that we could order the replacement parts.  

It was so fun to introduce them to our friends and show them around our campus, the village where we live, and the city just down the road. 

 Saturday, we spent the day at the beach, relaxing and playing in the ocean.  We even got to rent a kayak and do some snorkeling!

Papa says he's made for tropical climates.  He wasn't missing the Illinois snow one bit.

The water was SO clear that day!

Sisters in the Surf.  I'm not sure if it was the crashing wave or bright sun that made Elli shut her eyes...
I see those tiny footprints in the sand and moments later they're washed away. It reminds me that every day is precious. Before I know it, those tiny prints will be bigger than mine!

Two Daughters and Their Daddies

This guy always cracks me up.  He never takes himself too seriously.
I think Naomy was putting in her lunch order...
We'll be counting the days until we see you again, Amma & Papa!  Take our love home with you to Illinois.

Family and friends, we miss you and pray for you always!

Romans 8:38-39 "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."