Thursday, January 28, 2010

Butter Comfort

Photo by ewige on Flickr

I have come to believe that the appropriate response to a woman who is upset is a silent hug and good chocolate.

I love this poem by Darlene Pitts (quoted with her permission):

Butter Comfort

Do not pass me a pat answer
to butter the bread of my sorrow.
"Whys" and "wherefores," "thus" and "therefores,"
"It will be better tomorrow."

How do you know?

Unlike the true taste of caring,

oleo quotes, fake-faith cliches,
glide on smoothly, leave an oily,
heartburn film of fat Pharisee.

Say what you feel
know to be real
nothing at all

Just give me a hug!

c. Darlene Pitts 2005

Friday, January 22, 2010

Missing: Verbal filter, with small leak. If found, please return to...

I don't know if it is just as I am getting older, or if it is related to pregnancy, or the nausea, or what, but I seem to have lost my filter. I used to have one, although it leaked. I would usually catch myself before saying something too hurtful or controversial or that in any way might rock the boat. As I mentioned, it leaked. I have always had a tendency to blurt. But at least it was there sometimes. seems to have disappeared altogether. I found myself just saying or posting whatever comes into my head, regardless of how it will come across to others. My sister was commenting on it the other night, with equal parts amusement, horror and admiration. On one hand, it feels really good to be honest and not have to weigh my words. On the other hand, I truly don't want to be offensive and hurtful to people whom I care deeply about.

Sigh. That whole "speaking the truth in love" thing. I have a lot of growing up left to do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Beeps' birthday

Our little sweetie-bops turned four years old today. How did that happen? It hasn't been nearly that long... Yeah, I know, all mothers say that. Anyway, it was a happy day.

When he got up, we asked what he wanted to do that day. He chose to make a cake and go to MacDonald's and Books a Million. His cake was truly a thing of beauty in his eyes. :) Now, how many four-year-old boys can you think of whose greatest wish for a birthday present was a Big Top cake pan (it is shaped like a giant cup cake)? He had been begging for it for weeks! We finally found one yesterday, and he was overjoyed.

We can do dairy now (gloria a Dios), although we are still egg-free, so we made a banana cake with butterscotch chips, a vanilla cream cheese filling, and a cream cheese frosting. It was topped with a cream cheese frosting, colored sprinkles and a cherry. :) It was delicious!

My mom came over, and the kidlets had a wonderful time playing with Grandma, then we went to lunch, followed by plenty of time at Books a Million with Becki and Kessa. It was a delightful time for all of us. Finally, we took advantage of the warm weather (after several days of single-digits!) and went to his favorite park. Glorious!

We'll celebrate this weekend with a little party for him and Ariana (their birthdays are five days apart), and I'll post pics then. Today was a very happy birthday, though, and I am looking forward to seeing him grow even more this year.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My trip to Haiti, part II

Once it was finally settled that I was going to Haiti, things moved very quickly. Now that I am a parent, I can much better imagine some of the trepidation my parents must have felt. I was 16, traveling alone, to a very unstable country who had recently had a coup. But, they never showed any fear or worry, and joined in my excitement.

Port-au-Prince was hot. Very hot. It was crowded, bustling and dusty, and I was glad to meet up with the missionaries. The ride to St. Marc was bumpy and warm, but I was so busy taking in the sights, sounds and smells that it just added to the adventure. Arriving at the missionary base, I was given a lovely welcome basket, with a card and delicious canepas.

There were three families on the base, several children, two single women and a man. I think that people who are called into leadership tend to have strong personalities, and especially those who are called to other countries. It requires a definite level of independence and ability to stand alone in one's convictions, as well as a spirit of adventure, curiosity and adaptability. And, most of the time, I think that those who last also have a sense of humor! Naturally, when you get a group of people who like to go their own way together, conflicts can arise, but I wasn't aware of any discord during my trip.

Very soon, I began to find shared interests and things that I enjoyed and admired about the group--one who shared my taste in books (and graciously shared the ones there), another who loved thunderstorms as much as I do, one who became a friend just by virtue of her beautiful, loving personality that drew in everyone around her.

I've been on organized missions trips that were a whirlwind of activity--dramas to present, meetings and services multiple times a day, and they were great. As an adult leading a group of teens later, I fully appreciated the need to keep everyone busy. But I savored every moment of the "real-life" sense of this trip.

The missionaries' quarters were nice and adequate, but not extravagant. There was no AC, we used an outhouse, and all water was caught in a cistern up on top the roof and flowed by gravity to the kitchen and bathroom. Naturally, when it didn't rain a lot, water was carefully rationed. Showers meant lathering up dry and only turning on the water for a few seconds to rinse off. Water for dishes and drinking was purified with a bit of bleach and/or boiled. This trip was where I developed a taste for the very, very strong Haitian coffee! With strong coffee and a little Haitian vanilla added, it masked any other flavors in the water.

One morning we walked to the market to get the items for the day's meals. On the way, we saw many people from the area. All smiled warmly and greeted us, the women walking with perfect posture as they balanced baskets on their heads. When we arrived at the meat market, it was getting close to noon. Like any open air market, it was...smelly. The waves of heat shimmered in the air, and the meat was thickly clustered with flies. As we approached one of the vendors, he grinned broadly. "Ah! It is the American lady! I saved the special meat for you!" We followed him through what I can only imagine was the actual slaughterhouse. It was a concrete floor, covered with heads, hooves, and other cow parts, with congealing blood in puddles all over the floor. He reached into a closed 5 gallon bucket and drew out several chunks of the "special" meat. It wasn't covered with flies, either, which was definitely a plus.

You know that I love food. Haitian cuisine was delicious! The warm, crusty fresh bread was amazing. The sweet and sticky homemade candies sold by the street vendors, and once some type of spicy goat that I tried were scrumptious. The fresh passion fruit and guayaba juices were nectar from heaven. But one of my favorite food memories was provided by Noel, one of the young boys who used to hang around the mission. One day, he went and got fresh breadfruit. Then, using his machete, he sliced it up and fried it in boiling oil. It surpassed any French fries I've ever tasted!

Many of the days there were filled with ordinary things--cooking, cleaning, reading, visiting the people around us. A sister to one of the missionaries arrived from the US, and it was fun getting to know her. Even though I didn't understand the language, I enjoyed the people. One day, after church, we witnessed a baptism in the ocean. The exuberant joy of the people coming out of the water transcended any language, and is a memory I will always have. We also took some trips out of St. Marc.

One day we left early with one of the Haitians for a trip up into the mountains. He was working to establish a hospital in a village that was over six hours away from the nearest medical facility. Two of us were in the back of the station wagon that he drove, which was enclosed only with a kind of metal cage. We traveled to villages where it was still such a novelty to see people with our complexions that the people kept pointing to us and shouting, "Blanc! Blanc!". It was kind of a weird feeling, especially while in the back of the cage-like contraption, as if we were creatures in a zoo. The car got stuck in axel-deep mud several times, but when we arrived it was more than worth it. Up in the mountains, the air was blissfully cool, the people were friendly, and as we walked through the area where the hospital was to be built, our Haitian friend cut fresh sugar cane for us to suck on. The sweetness lasted long after we chewed and sucked on the fibrous stalks.

Another day we went to the Citadel in Cap Haitien. Because it was far away, and given the road conditions (which were often merely a swath about 12 feet wide clear of major debris or shrubbery), we left before 4AM. Around 11:00, we passed through yet another military checkpoint, but this one was different. The soldier in charge was drunk. We could sense unease everywhere--both from the missionaries and the other soldiers. Soon he began loudly demanding that we pay him money in order to pass.

Now, while I fully appreciate integrity and disdain for bribery, I've lived in places where it was just a fact of life. Our Haitian friend, who was driving, refused to bend to such wickedness, however. I admired his ethics, but inwardly winced as the officer grew more and more irate. Even his fellow soldiers were trying to persuade him to just let us go on, but whether it was drunkenness or just stubbornness, he refused. He demanded to see all of our papers. We all handed them over, except for the American sister. She had left her passport back several hours away in St. Marc. Once he realized this, the soldier demanded that we all follow him to the military compound.

In the general scheme of things, it was fairly unlikely that a young American girl would try to illegally enter Haiti, I would think. But, of course, we knew that that was just an excuse, anyway. We were held there several hours. Each time a new group of soldiers arrived, others would point in our direction and full them in on the story, which generally elicited a lot of laughs. A couple of soldiers would come and look us over, with expressions as if they wanted to see how intimidated we would get. Looking back, we were being held by a drunken military officer in the period shortly after a coup. No one knew where we were, and we were completely at their mercy. It is probably just as well my parents didn't hear about it until after I got home. At the time, though, it seemed more like part of the adventure than anything else.

After several hours, the adventure was beginning to pall just a bit. I was hungry, for one thing. ;) Suddenly, everyone around us straightened up and snapped to attention. Apparently, the CO had arrived. Soon he strode over to where we were and briskly asked for an explanation. Our Haitian friend began to tell him, but was abruptly cut off. The officer then gestured to another one of our group to continue. Once again, before even a sentence was completed, he barked at him to stop. It seemed that the officer was a tad impatient. He brusquely told us to come up to his office, and gestured for us to sit. The bench where he had pointed had puddles of something (hopefully water) on it, but we weren't about to hesitate. When this guy spoke, you obeyed!

Much to my surprise, while we sat there, he opened his desk, pulled out a Bible and began reading it silently. He continued for several minutes--apparently his impatience did not extend to God's Word. I have always wondered what passage he read. After he stopped, he looked over at me and asked if I had my passport. I did. He nodded briskly and said that the other girl was also free to go on my passport. We looked at each other in amazement and gratefulness, thanked him briefly and sincerely, and stood not upon the order of our going.

The rest of the trip to the Citadel was uneventful, but I suppose we had had a good amount of excitement, anyway. As we pulled in, the gates began to close and the caretaker informed us that we were too late to see it. Nobody argued, but he must have been a very tenderhearted man. Taking a second look at our tired and disappointed faces, he changes his mind. Instead, he gave us a personal tour, including several areas that normally were closed to tourists! It is one of the most impressive places I've ever been.

A few moments stand out in my memory: the smell of passion fruit that had fallen along the trail, the feel of the breeze from the top of the Citadel, looking down hundreds and hundreds of feet to the ground below. And one that still makes me chuckle: when we visited the restrooms, we walked into a very modern, typical commercial restroom. The stalls were perfectly ordinary. However, when you lifted to lid of the toilet, there was nothing but empty space for hundreds of feet! I'm sure it saved water since there was no flushing, but I hoped that no poor soul happened to be walking below in the wrong place at the wrong time!

My last couple of days in Haiti were spent back in Port-au-Prince, as the missionaries went on a retreat for a few days. We were in a lovely lodge there, with a great library, a lovely garden, and even richer fellowship. We talked together, played games and laughed together, and prayed and sought God's heart with each other.

If the lesson from the first part of the trip was about faith and trusting God, what I took away from the latter part was lessons on joy, gathered during our times of seeking God, and an appreciation for the incredible graciousness and hospitality of the missionaries who made me feel so included. I want to share that kind of love and hospitality with someone far from home one day.

I checked their website yesterday. One of the same families is still there. Their children, so very young when I visited, are now adults helping with the work there. They have been hit hard, just as everyone else in Haiti by the disaster. They are low on food, water and gas, trying to share what they do have with the people in their community. Last I heard, they were working desperately to open the port in hopes of being able to get supplies. As people are evacuating Port-au-Prince, the situation in outlying areas is becoming even more perilous. Please give--of prayers, money, blood, whatever you can to help. Some believe that Haiti is cursed. Yet when I was there, I saw a land full of promise, and people of strength, dignity and joy. Please help to keep that promise, strength, and joy alive.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My trip to Haiti, part I

As I've read the news reports and looked at the pictures of the devastation in Haiti, other visions of Haiti have been dancing in my head. I was privileged to visit that beautiful, tragic country when I was 16. I have always wanted to return someday. Now I look at the pictures and think of people and places that I saw then, and wonder how they are...if they still are. I pray for them and all the people there that I never met, and ask that you, too, please pray and give.

Half my lifetime ago, I was in Mexico with some friends who had ties to an organization that sent young people on mission trips around the world. They encouraged me to join a trip.

Now, I've never required much persuasion to travel. I was immediately excited and began to pray and look at the possibilities. There were several trips that year, many to exotic and interesting locations. One that particularly stood out to me was a trip through the rainforest in Peru. What an adventure that would be! Yet, the more I prayed, the more my heart was drawn to Haiti. This didn't make sense to me. I had never really thought about Haiti and certainly didn't see any attraction to going there. I didn't speak a word of Creole. But the more I prayed, the more sure I felt that Haiti was where I was supposed to go.

The one big obstacle was money. If you are familiar with these kind of trips, you know that the cost of sending someone from another country for a missions trip that lasts a couple of weeks doesn't really seem to be justifiable. Surely, the same amount of money sent to believers who are already in the country would be much more wisely spent. In many ways, I think that is true. However, the effect on the life of the person who goes there is priceless, and often they receive as much or ministry than they can give at that time.

While ethical and philosophical questions of money were worth thinking of in an abstract way, when it came down to practicalities, it was very simple. I didn't have the money. My parents didn't have the money. The funny thing, though, was as the certainty grew that I was supposed to go to Haiti, right along with it grew the conviction that I was not supposed to ask anyone for money. Now, if you have ever received one of the form letters that are typically sent out, you know that most of these trips are built on donations from friends and family of the teen going on the trip. Many organizations provide a nice letter to send out with information on tax deductions and everything. Not being able to do something like that was a bit disconcerting.

As the deadline grew nearer, I was near panic. I prayed and fasted, and internally questioned everything I had thought I knew about the leading of the Holy Spirit. Was I just mistaken? The convictions remained in my heart, so I continued to pray, and waited. Then the money began to arrive. Friends and family, both those who knew about my plans for the trip and those who didn't, started giving me money. Within a very short period of time, I had enough not only for my expenses but also over $100 left over to give. I was overjoyed! My heart filled up like a balloon and began to soar.

Then, the director of the mission in Haiti called. The trip had been canceled. My balloon popped and sputtered. Once again, I went through the round of questioning. Did I just blow it? Had I totally misunderstood? In the middle of this, a dear friend called. She was going on the trip to Peru that had originally piqued my interest. Why not just switch and join her? It would be so much fun, I spoke Spanish, and surely this was God's provision, right? I almost did. Yet, I couldn't escape the question of why God would lead me to Haiti if He really wanted me in Peru. It seemed way too complicated when I would have jumped at the Peru trip in the beginning.

I've always believed that God speaks to us. The fear that maybe I couldn't recognize His voice cut deeply. I kept praying, and heard no new direction. So I called the missions director and explained. I asked if I could still come, just on my own, knowing that the planned activities would not take place, and just do anything that might help. He listened courteously, but said that it had happened once before and been a very bad experience for everyone concerned, and that they didn't want it to happen. I hung up the phone questioning my entire relationship with God. Not Who He was, or Christianity--just my relationship with Him and ability to hear Him.

A few days later, the missions director called back. He had spoken with the rest of the team who lived in Haiti, and they had all sought God about this. The end result was that I was welcome to come if I still wished. Joy unspeakable and full of glory!

Looking back, in many ways the most remarkable, exciting part of the trip took place before I ever went. Some reading this might be a bit bemused by the elaborate round of prayer and questioning. It may seem entirely unnecessary. But in retrospect, one of the most important lessons of my life (that I am still learning) is to trust the still small Voice inside me. I wonder how many things might be different if I hadn't had past experience, such as with the trip to Haiti, to bolster my faith during the times when I wonder if it is really God or just my own imagination.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The worst part of Hell

I admit that I have somewhat neglected my children's theological training on the topic of Hell. It really hasn't been a priority for me at their ages. Still, I am sure that they have had some exposure to the concept. This became clear this afternoon as I was trying to help sick little Elena fall asleep. I overheard Ariana imparting her full store of knowledge on the the Great Abyss to Joelito.

"Joel, Hell is really, really bad. You don't ever want to go there. For one thing, the Devil lives there, and it is scary. And I think there is fire everywhere. And it is bright red." Her voice dropped to a thrilling whisper. "But do you know the worst part of Hell?" Joelito's eyes grew wide with fright. "What?" he whispered back tremulously. In a voice of solemn dread, she whispered back, "The very worst part of that there is no chocolate."

Joel was horror-stricken. "No chocolate? Not even a little bit?" Ariana shook her head sadly. "No, no chocolate. Not ever." Joelito shut his eyes tight and prayed fervently, "Dear Jesus, please take me to heaven with you. Don't ever let me go to Hell!"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Then again...maybe not

After my post about Joelito weaning, we all came down with the puking plague. Blech. I have felt awful, and so have the sweetlings. For two or three days, Joel didn't ask to nurse and I felt too miserable to offer. This morning, however, he asked if he could, so I said yes, expecting him to pop on for all of two seconds and then stop. Instead he nursed about 4 minutes. When he finished I asked if it still tasted bad. He beamed at me. "No, it tastes really yummy!" So, we'll see...

Friday, January 8, 2010

And then there was one

For the last few days, Joelito has been quite critical of the taste of my breastmilk. At first, he merely commented sadly that it was really yucky, but he didn't mind. Then, as it changed to yellow from the colostrum he was fascinated and slightly suspicious of the color. A couple of days ago, he pulled off very quickly while making a face. "Mami, I think it is pink. Or maybe purple. Anyway, it tastes terrible!" He asked to try the other side and started gagging. Pobrecito. He skipped it altogether for a couple of days, then tried for a split second this morning. "It is still yucky, I'm done," he sighed.

So, while I know that he may still try it a few times, I think it is safe to say that he is weaning. He turns four in about a week, so he has had a good start. At the same time, I'd be a little happier if this was something that he stopped because he felt ready rather than because it tasted terrible. Also, Ariana stopped for the exact same reason at almost the same time in my last pregnancy. Soon after, she came down with the flu, pneumonia and a double ear infection all at once! She was fine in a couple of days, but her case was much more severe than Joel's (who had the exact same illnesses). Part of me would like for flu season to be over with.

Once Elena was born, Ariana began to talk about nursing again and tried a few times, but had forgotten how. (Just an aside to those who are unfamiliar with breastfeeding--the sucking process is entirely different from sucking a bottle. Once a baby or child forgets how to latch, they are generally unable to get any milk out at all!). I could imagine the same thing happening with Joel.

Breastfeeding has been a special part of our day for nearly four years--his entire little life so far. It is our chance to snuggle, laugh together, and rest quietly (something Joelito is not known for). Part of me is a little sorry to see it go.

The rest of me? Well, I don't enjoy nursing through pregnancy much, anyway, so there is also some relief. Another bright spot? I can eat without worrying about any of his allergens. Ask any breastfeeding mom of a food allergic kid, and they will tell you the day that you get to go back and eat your favorite foods is full of blissful dancing! And after all, we made it nearly four years. If it had been truly his choice, I would have been thrilled with him weaning at this age.

However, I've been reminding myself that he nursed through the low supply and yucky colostrum taste of the last pregnancy without slowing down at all. (Just as Ariana did during my pregnancy with him). So, perhaps, the fact that it bothered him this time was simply because he was ready to wean? I think that I will choose to look at it that way.

Elena has been completely unfazed by any flavor changes. She has been upset by nursing less than she would like, simply from low supply and my discomfort. I find that dry-nursing is nearly intolerable, so I usually stop or say no if there isn't any milk. She is still nursing about four times a day, though, and I doubt that will decrease during the rest of the pregnancy. It is kind of funny, but over the last six years of breastfeeding, most of that time has been nursing two. Nursing just one has become a bit of a novelty for me, and one that I intend to enjoy.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Wonderfully Made

Happy 2010! 'Tis the season, of course, for resolutions, and for women, it seems to be expected that many of those will involve our bodies and attempting to transform them into The American Ideal for 2010, or at least prevent them from getting any further from The Ideal than they are already.

Being healthy is always a good goal, but the longer I live, the more incensed I become at our culture's insistence that God really did a lousy job of creating women. Ina May Gaskin makes excellent points about the whole "the-female-body-is-a-lemon" mindset that pervades the medical profession. We lament the problem that so many of us have with self-image, but it is little wonder when we are told constantly that we are physical failures.

Very few women that I know naturally fit the shape that our current culture appreciates. However, looking back a few decades is a good reminder at how capricious this is. I would never make it with the Twiggy look--I'm much more the 1950's curvy type. I have gorgeous friends who would actually fit more naturally into the '70s, though. And if you are prepared to look outside the US for standards of feminine beauty, or simply to art from a century or two ago, you'll find an even wider range. Interestingly, it seems to always favor the wealthy (those who can afford more food/better food/gym memberships/servants), and often involves incapacitating the woman (think of things like corsets or bound feet).

It isn't just beauty standards, either. Two of the things that are unique to women--child birth and breastfeeding--have also been denigrated and medicalized until most women believe themselves incapable of either. Our current C-section rate is 1 in 3. Now, I am grateful that they are an option when medically warranted, but do we seriously believe that one out of three women is incapable of giving birth normally? Really? Even an uncomplicated vaginal birth is assumed to be a death-defying act where only an epidural and a range of high-tech equipment and specialists keep the woman and child safe from betrayal by her incompetent body.

Breastfeeding rates are also dismal. Of course, there are many reasons for that, but it is appalling to me how many women truly want to breastfeed and yet are told that they can't make enough milk/their milk isn't good enough/their breasts are too big/too small/whatever. We are convinced that cows are better at nourishing our human babies than their human mothers. Do we honestly believe that God created plants and animals and it was good, but when He got to women He messed up so catastrophically?

Go back and read the beginning of Genesis. Not just men, but male and female are created in God's image. I think that our Bible translations and our culture often give us the false impression that God is male. Yes, we use the masculine pronouns, and yes, He appeared on Earth as a man, but He is Spirit. He isn't male, or rather, He is male and female. He is complete. (The Aztecs and many other peoples realized this).

Now, a few people are probably ready to grab some stones and charge me with heresy, but the Bible actually uses intensely feminine imagery at times when referring to God. Aside from the Genesis account that straightforwardly declares that both male and female were made in God's image, Deuteronomy 32:18, exhorting God's people to turn back to Him, talks about the God who writhed (or danced!) in the act of giving birth to them, although that is obscured in the KJV. There are other passages, as well, not to mention beautiful references to breastfeeding throughout the Bible.

Our female bodies, that have been condemned as incompetent by our culture, are actually gloriously, wonderfully made. So this year, as you consider steps to improve the amazing design we've been given, consider what a beautiful woman you are. God made your body. And it is good.