Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Don't Let 'Em Get Your Goat

Are you a goat-getter?  I am.  (I perfected my goat-getting art on my little brother, Joe. Unfortunately, he perfected the same art on me.)

And, now that I've spent some time in Haiti, I'm a goat-getter in more than one way.

If you're a goat-getter, you don't enjoy making someone outright mad.  No, no--that's just being mean.  What's waaaaaaay more fun is to go through the process of cleverly annoying someone.  It takes time.  And, it's done very covertly...gently...yet unmistakably.

Have you ever wondered where the phrase "getting your goat" comes from?

Apparently, it came from early horse racing days, where goats were kept with nervous race horses to help keep them calm before a big race.  To sabotage your competition, you could get their goat, which would leave their horse all worked up and agitated--possibly even too nervous to race.

So, over time, "getting your goat" came to describe aggravating someone.

C'mon, you can admit it.  You've gotten someone's goat before.  Or, maybe you're always letting people get YOUR goat?

Perhaps the real challenge is not to be a goat-getter, but to learn how NOT to let others get your goat...

Now, THAT skill has taken me longer to learn.  It's only been in the last, oh, 8 years that I've gotten the hang of it.  Before I became a mom, people were getting my goats ALL the time.  It went like this:

Somebody cut me off while driving...  There goes my goat.

Repairman showed up 3 hours later than expected...  There goes my goat.

Coworker got credit for an idea I generated?  My goat was gone.

Eventually, though, I started to guard my goat more carefully.  I decided I wasn't going to let it go so easily!  Your "goat" is that quiet, calm, peaceful place inside.  When I keep my peaceful place in tact, I can perform better at the tasks God sets before me.  I can think rationally through obstacles that I come up against.  I can pour out kindness and generosity on the people I love, and be more patient and understanding with everyone I meet.

"Don't let him bother you--he's just trying to get your goat."

Ok, so that's one way that I'm a goat-getter.  The other way is quite literal.  I've mentioned this before, right?

On the campus where I live, one of my jobs is to take care of the goats.  I make sure nobody "gets 'em."  Hahaha...  No, seriously, all I do is give them water and move them around the campus so they have fresh grass and leaves to eat.  Oh, and I name them sometimes.

This is Strawberry.  
She has the strangest bleat that is more like 
the bray of a tiny donkey than a goat.

This is Mr. T, the only male in the herd.  
I'm not sure how he came by his name, but I think it has 
something to do with his black mohawk 
and beard that resemble this guy's. 

Awww.  Look at that face! Those eyes!  
This is Mama Heart, my favorite. 
She's so sweet and gentle (unless she thinks
 one of her babies is being threatened).  
She adores mangoes.

Here is Mama's one remaining baby (two of her babies have died, sadly), 
Chocolate Chip Cookie.  But, the kids call her "Triple C." She's so cute! 

This is Earlene.  
She's new here and still very unsure of me.  
I named her Earlene because of her one very strangely deformed ear--see it?
She's going to have a couple kids very soon...

This is Little Honey, the smallest of the herd.  
She's very pregnant and very shy.

This is Noelle.  Guess what time of year she was born?
She is one crazy goat.  
I have yet to figure out how to anticipate her behaviors.  
When approaching Noelle, I remember the following quote:
“Don't approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back, or a fool from any side.”

 She has very pretty and unique facial markings.  Take a look:

Finally, the two sisters, Oreo and Velma.  
I keep some distance between them because 
they fight like...well...sisters.  
Sisters who, um, happen to have horns.

Before coming to Haiti, I knew one thing about goats: they eat pretty much anything.  Watch your clothes, shoelaces, and hair if you meet one in a petting zoo.  Now, I can say that I know much more about them.  I'm not sure this knowledge will be at all helpful in any situation I might find myself in in the future, but... you never know, right?  Goats are pretty calm creatures.  They're mainly interested in eating and there isn't much that will upset them as long as they can keep that up.  I can see why their presence would have been calming to race horses back in the day.

So, the next time you feel yourself getting annoyed...aggravated...frustrated...  Just think of the goats.

Don't let 'em get your goat!

John 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pass It On

Ok, so maybe this is a little cheesy...  But, I received a letter and package from someone this week and there's a story here that I just have to share.  Let me start with a song.  It's a throwback from my junior high church youth group days...

It goes like this:

It only takes a spark
To get a fire going...
And soon all those around
Will light up in its glowing.

That's how it is with God's love--
Once you've experienced it...
It's fresh like Spring
You want to sing
You want to pass it on.

Remember that song?  It's a cute little song, but it's the message of the song that really hits home--the message that one little act of love can be contagious, spreading and growing into something really big and amazing.

That's what this blog is really all about for me.  God is here in Haiti, making Himself known to me in so many ways, through so many experiences--experiences that make me want to sing on some days and swear on others.  But good or bad, I want to pass them on.  I want others to share in these experiences and maybe get a spark of God's love going in their lives.

So, when I receive letters like the one I received this week, I realize that that is JUST what's happening!   God is the spark who lit a fire in me, and people all around are lighting up, too...and spreading His love in their own corners of the world...


As a fellow teacher, I felt so moved to do something to help make the students at your school smile!  I have included pictures of my 5th graders holding some of the books that we are sending and we are sending letters they wrote.  Your story moved me so much that I found myself wanting to share it.  So, I reached out to the school where I teach and asked my co-workers to help donate.  During that process, I realized that some of my co-workers know you and many were as excited to help as I was.  One teacher in particular, who has done missions in Haiti herself, helped with a big donation and was so thrilled that it would be helping kids.

My students overheard what I was up to and expressed interest in helping out as well!  Before I knew it, almost every one of my kiddos was bringing in quarters and other spare change from their own money at home to help your students in Haiti.  I received e-mails from some of their parents, wanting to know how to help.  It was amazing!  All in all, I am thrilled to be able to send you 6 copies of every title you requested, and a few extra Amelia Bedelia books just for fun.  Some are used copies, but most are new.  We really hope your students enjoy them!

My students really wanted to write and send letters, too.  Some of them wrote in really big print because they thought it would help their letters be more legible.  One student was telling the class about his trip to Haiti and how many kids there love to play soccer, so many of the letters make a reference to soccer.  

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I think what you and your family are doing is amazing.  You will continue to be in my prayers as you inspire people daily just by being yourself.  I hope to meet you sometime!  

God Bless, Janelle Mendiola

Here are my six second grade students with copies of "Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia"--
the first book they picked from the box to read.

And, here are a couple of the pictures Mrs. Mendiola sent of her 5th graders.  
That's her on the far left in the first photo below.

Before we started reading the first book, my students and I read each letter aloud.  I marveled at the looks on their faces as they listened to the letters.  I could see what they were thinking--somewhere, far away, there are people who care about us and want to help us learn to read better!

There were giggles ("Haha!  The boy named Hunter likes to go hunting!),

smiles ("That's my dog's name, too!),

and lots of questions (Q:"What's a hamster?" A:"A type of rodent, like a rat." Q:"They keep rats for pets?!!!").

"Can we write letters back to them?" they asked.  So, you can guess our next class project, right?!

This story from Mrs. Mendiola is just ONE example of how friends and family at home have been moved to play a part in God's work here in Haiti.  My students at Cowman International School have received MANY book donations from many different people this year, and have been blessed by them all!

It's a gift that will keep giving, too.  My students are developing a love of reading that will help them gain knowledge, expand their vocabulary, improve analytical thinking abilities,  improve speaking and writing skills, and help them exercise their imaginations and creativity.  Future classes at Cowman will get to read these books in years to come.

The God we serve is awesome.  It gives me chills sometimes to think about all the fires He's sparking around the world in the hearts and minds of those who love Him.  Just that little spark is all it takes...

"Dear children, let's not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.  Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.  Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything." 
1 John 3:18-20

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Birth in Haiti

So, it took moving to Haiti for me to make a Canadian friend.  Sure, I've met Canadians, but not really been friends with any.

Canadians are great, EH?!

Hahaha... That's my favorite favourite (I'm feeling compelled to spell things Canadian-style) thing that she says in every conversation.  "Eh."  (Sounds like "hay" without the "h".)  Two little letters--one very small word.  And yet, I've never known anyone who uses it to convey so many things as she does.

Esther.  That's my friend's name.  It also happens to be one of my very favorite Bible characters.  What's not to love about beautiful, courageous Esther?

Poor Esther has been enduring months of relentless heckling on the streets of Haiti.  Why, you ask?  Because she is tall and white and, up until recently, she's had a very large pregnant belly.  She's been a good sport about the intrusive advice and often rude comments she received.  She's even developed some humorous retorts!

Esther's stint with local celebrity is not over yet.  Now, everyone is ooh-ing and aaah-ing over the baby in her arms!  Her son, Elijah, entered the world very early last Sunday morning, and it was my joy and honor honour to witness it. (Once you read the whole story, you'll see why it took me a week to write this post--it's a long one!)

Being present for someone ELSE'S labor labour and delivery is not at all like being present for your own labour and delivery, as you can guess.

When YOU are the one in labour, you're pretty much thinking only about the following:
  1. the pain
  2. understanding what doctors and nurses are telling you to do
  3. when the pain will end and your baby will appear
Esther's labor and delivery was a great deal more enjoyable for me!  My main purpose in being there was to capture everything with my camera.  My secondary purpose was to be there to support my friend and her husband.  I was able to do both of those things as well as observe everything that was going on.  It was an amazing experience!  I know for sure that there were a gazillion details about the births of my three babies that I missed.  But, I saw it all for this birth.

Esther called me at 7:30 pm Saturday to tell me she was in labor.  "Is it raining at your house?"she asked.  No, it wasn't.  "Well, it's going to be," she said ominously.  By the time her husband, Matt, showed up at our house to drop off their two kids for a spontaneous sleepover party, there was a 3-feet-deep stream flowing past our front door.

Great night to have a baby, eh?

When I arrived (soaking wet and rushing on adrenaline) at the Mama Baby Haiti midwifery clinic in a small village called Voudreil, Esther was dilated 8 cm, with contractions about 2 minutes apart.  It was about 8:00 pm and she was walking around, talking, and leaning on the bathroom sink for support during pains.  Matt got busy timing contractions on his phone.  Another friend, Susan, who is a Registered Nurse (God bless RNs everywhere), arrived at about the same time that I did.  I stared at Esther for a minute, marveling at her strength.  During my own labours, I had been under the delightful effects of an epidural by the time I had reached 6 cm dilated.

The delivery room was so very different from those I delivered in in America.  The room had a wood-frame bed with a mattress, a few chairs, a shelf of supplies, and one bare lightbulb.  It was clean and painted with cute little birds in bright colors.  I was quickly introduced to the two attending Haitian midwives, Maudline and Judith, and got to work taking pictures, encouraging Esther, and retrieving cold towels.

Even in the most luxurious hospitals, it's hard to get comfortable during labour.  Just about the time you settle in on one position, BAM! a contraction hits and gets you all out of sorts again.  Esther chose to move all around that clinic.  She tried sitting on a stool.  She paced the halls.  She even traipsed up the stairs once or twice.  She knealt on the floor and hunched over onto the bed for many contractions.  Indeed, this woman was anywhere EXCEPT reclining on the bed up until the very end of labour.  And, all the while, Susan plodded along behind her, rubbing her back, listening closely, and talking Esther through each stage.

After enduring three excrutiating contractions in a row while kneeling on the hard tile floor, Matt said, "Esther, would you like a towel or blanket for your knees?"

And, Esther replies all cordially, with the sweetest tone, "Why, yes, that would be lovely.  Thank you, Matt, for being so helpful."

Um, pardon?  I'd have been like, "Hellloooo! Yeah--that might help a wee bit! Thanks for finally noticing after three full contraction cycles."

"Well, I'm glad I'm good for something other than timing contractions," Matt muttered as he rolled up a blanket and wedged it under her knees.

Hours passed.  Labour progressed.  The rain stopped.

Somewhere around 10:30, Maudline broke Esther's water. After that, the contractions started to change and eventually, instead of being like bumps on the road, they were like waves on the ocean--one rising and falling and crashing right into the next one.  We all knew then that it wouldn't be long before we'd see that baby emerge!

Then, sometime just before midnight, the power went out.

Thick, humid darkness swelled around us.  Crickets chirped.  Water gurgled in gutters and drains outside.

And, no one in that room even flinched.  No one gasped.  No one panicked.

We are accustomed to losing electrical power at inopportune times here in Haiti.  We keep calm and carry on.

A couple of us reached into pockets for phones and turned them on, bathing the room and Esther in their soft LCD glow.

A couple more contractions rose and fell before someone outside turned on a generator and the lights came back on.

By midnight, Esther was tired.  Well, we were all tired.  Esther was exhausted.

Energy and strength zapped, she succumbed to a reclining position on the bed.  Once or twice she whimpered, "I don't want to do this anymore!"  I felt all twisted up inside.  I remembered that feeling.

Watching someone in that kind of pain makes you feel like you've been punched in the gut.  It's something like despair that you feel... Knowing that there's no giving up and walking away.  No "oh, well, we'll try again some other day."  No way to undo what's been done.  The only choice is to push through.

At least twice, tears welled up in my eyes and I swallowed down a lump in my throat as I witnessed her agony--even photographed her white-knuckled grip on her husband's hand!

Our encouraging words for Esther became louder, more insistent, more urgent.  We counted out the seconds as she pushed, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10!!  Breath! Again!  1, 2, 3..."

Finally, we could see the crown of the baby's head!  Then...there was a little face!

That was when Esther stopped pushing.  Maudline told her to stop.  I watched as Maudline ever-so-slowly, ever-so-gently... eased one shoulder out....and then the other.  And, she did it that way to save Esther some pain and to save herself from having to do any stitching.

A moment later, there was a new human in the room.

The umbilical cord stretched out as Maudline set the baby down on Esther's chest.  I snapped pictures while everyone leaned in to examine...  There were ten fingers...ten toes...two tiny ears...a perfect little nose... And BOY parts!

A bulb syringe was used to clear the baby's mouth and nose, which was followed immediately by his first ever intake of oxygen into his lungs...and his first ever cry.  It was 12:30.

He was beautiful.  All I could think of was Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose."

Susan with Elijah

Father and Son

After we each got to hold him and welcome him, a bit of measuring took place.  I would describe the measurements as... less than scientific.  Let's say "good estimates." He was somewhere around 22 inches long.

 The scale provided his weight in kilograms...which I converted to pounds using a handy app on my phone.  He was over 10 pounds!  Esther was able to shower and change her clothes while we visited with Elijah and then the two of them settled in to sleep.

The drive home was strange.  It was the first time I'd been out driving at that time of night.  The road I travel multiple times per day looked completely foreign.  The only living creatures I encountered were some goats and dogs that were sitting in the middle of the road--trying to avoid the streams of water in the ditches, I think.

I got home somewhere around 2 am.  I was so very tired.  But, my brain was working overtime to process all that had happened.  It took at least 45 minutes to fall asleep.

The next morning, we piled our three kids and two of Matt's and Esther's into our truck and took them home to meet their new brother.  (Nope, no two-night hospital stay, no doctors doing hearing screenings or blood tests.  Just pack up your stuff and head home at daylight.  Matt and Esther were very thankful that someone had come in to their home while they were away to mop up all the rainwater that had come in.)

From left to right: Gabriela, Elijah, Niko, Matt and Esther

Gabriela was hesitantly enthralled.  Niko was highly entertained.

My girls were very curious, too!  This is Danielle checking him out.

He was so new in this picture, and yet so big!  Bondye bon, little one.  May He protect you and keep you!

Psalm 139:13-18
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous - how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Carefree: Sans-Souci

"In the end, the character of a civilization is encased in its structures."
Frank Gehry

This is Sans-Souci Palace near Milot, Haiti.  Sans-Souci means "carefree."  

We traveled there in March with the students and teachers of Cowman International School.  My parents were visiting at the time, and they journeyed with us as well.

Henri I, or Henri Christophe, the first self-named king of Haiti, commissioned the palace in 1810, and it took nearly four years to complete it.

I'm thinking that the idea he had in mind for his palace was a place where he was free from worries--carefree.  It was a place where he could throw lavish parties and impress guests and visitors from afar.  

But, as I explored the cavernous ruins of rooms, crumbling stone walls and jagged staircases, all I could think was, "no one cared."

Eventually, it seems that no one cared about this king.  He was isolated in his palace, alone with his fears about foreign invaders that never arrived.

Did no one care when he died in his palace--not at the hands of a terrible enemy--but by his own hand?  (He is said to have shot himself in the head with a silver bullet.)

A few days later, he was buried and his widow and her daughters moved away. "Where did they go?" I asked our tour guide.  He didn't know.  No one cared.  The palace was ransacked and pillaged.  His nephew and heir was murdered at the palace by revolutionaries shortly after Henri's death.

And when a huge earthquake shook Northern Haiti in 1842 (devastating Cap Haitien at that time), no one cared that the beautiful Sans-Souci Palace had been damaged.  No one thought to rebuild it; repair it; salvage what was left; preserve this piece of history.
No one cared.

No one has cared ever since.

Wind, water, and time continue to destroy.

Mossy grass grows over stone paths.

Time has softened the features of this bust of Queen Marie-Louise.

Vines drape over forgotten archways and spill out of brick windowsills.

Once-lush gardens and regal fountains are long forgotten--crumbling and buried under weeds.

Relics of deep wells are now filled with soil.

Once upon a time, Henri Christophe's queen swam in this pool.

The palace sits up high in the mountain, overlooking Milot.

Cracking and crumbling walls and doorways.

This was called the "judgment tree."  
I wonder how many sentences and punishments were once fulfilled here?

I tried to imagine ladies in grand gowns bustling up and down these jagged steps.

My time exploring the palace left me feeling a little sad.  

Sad for this decrepit historical site...  Sad for many things that seem uncared for in Haiti.

If I could write Haiti a letter, I'd tell her:
God cares about you.  He cares about the piles of foul sewage and rotting garbage and the constant littering of streets.  He cares about your contaminated water sources.
He cares about your undernourished babies filling up the orphanages.
He cares about your men and women who search tirelessly for ways to provide for their families.  He cares about your scantily-clothed children standing in empty doorways--the ones who aren't in uniforms, headed to school each day.

Haiti, I'm praying for leaders to rise up from within you--leaders who will care for you like God does.  Don't stop working to make positive changes.  Don't give up hope.
God cares.

Philippians 4:19
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.