Existence Day

One year ago tonight I made a list of things I knew would still be true and good one year ago tomorrow when we would receive our negative pregnancy test following our fourth round of IVF.  The list is as follows, which is a total reflection of the things that are important to me:

Tacos are still tacos
Fall is still fall
Coffee is still coffee
Jeff—always Jeff
Travel
Fleece
Hoodies

The rest of the story is here, but at 10:40 tomorrow morning the test was positive and all of a sudden Havi was in our world. If you’ve read anything in this space at all, you know my friend Kim assists in holding a good portion of my pieces together a good portion of the time, and I sent her a screenshot of this message from last year.

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I also (finally) three and a half months after I received it, read the letter Kim wrote to Havi the day after she was born. Some emotions are just too big to face head on, and Kim crafts words that bring me to the ugly cry in 10 seconds flat, so with all those hormones flying around, I knew I had to wait for my sanity and emotional stability to return- which took no less than three months (and counting)- to read it.

Tonight I felt like I finally had some breathing room in my heart for her big words and wanted to somehow memorialize the moment our world went from No Havi to Havi, so I opened the letter. It turns out no amount of time guarded me from the ugly cry.

Kim described to Havi so sweetly how she had been loved and wanted long before she was born- how we woke up before the sun and lit candles and whispered prayers in our dark, quiet kitchens for years. How we bought clothes and books for her and tucked them away, knowing that one day she would be here. And how we all cried when we got the miraculous news that she was finally on her way- one year ago tomorrow. She announced Havi as having been born into a tribe of people who knew what it meant to hope, and that we had hoped for her.

She reminded Havi that we lived off the idea that joy is not meant to be a crumb, so eat up!

And so we did. We do. We fill up every day on the joy of her existence.

Happy Existence Day, Havana.
I made that one up.

**And we are thankful for so many who celebrate her with us (read: put up with our oversharing on social media).

 

 

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Ice Cream, God

It’s Friday and I feel almost normal.
The hormones will baseline in about a month, the doc told me.
But I’m smelling coffee for the first time in 3 weeks without the impulse to barf, and my heart opens up just a crack to peek outside.

In a few days I suspect bananas will come back, too, and chicken and Life cereal and eggs and all the other strange things that left.

Today instead of 8 weeks pregnant, we are 1 day post-loss.  A week ago we learned our fresh 7-weeker didn’t have a heartbeat. Continue reading Ice Cream, God

There You Go Lifting My Load Again

A bunch of women sit in a café on a Saturday morning.

“I want to have a second kid,” one says. “But my sister is getting married this fall—she is flying us all to Paris!”

Oooooh! The others marvel.

“February is my next chance to get pregnant, though. Should I try? I wouldn’t be able to fly for the wedding. Or should I just skip a month? We really want this… but we also really want to go to Paris!”

Equal amounts of Wait! and Go for it! ensue, with lots and lots of math and antidotal travel stories. Even more success stories of baby planning around various events and life transitions and budgets.

“I know,” one says, “Get pregnant in Paris!”

Everyone laughs, and it’s settled.

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A girl sits at the table next to them swirling her [decaf] coffee. Continue reading There You Go Lifting My Load Again

Tiny Falling (flailing?) Things

It’s the middle of October, and I’m still struck with awe when I catch a handful of tiny yellow leaves falling in the sunlight toward the ground on a dewy morning or late afternoon.

So much beauty and grace, and yet my heart is a little bit seized in the realization that I’m watching these tiny beautiful things die. Oh man, but they die so brilliantly. The dying part is the most spectacular! Bright and fiery, yellows and reds, hikes and camping and bon fires and Halloweens and Thanksgivings…

I see these tiny beautiful things, and even as I’m enjoying them, I am simultaneously bracing for winter. It will be cold and barren, and all the living things will curl up underground, and we’ll be subjected to endless Februarys and Marches, and just when we think spring is coming, it will snow in April.

All these thoughts make that little yellow leaf’s beauty a dull ache in my chest.

I can’t even enjoy it, because I want to keep it forever. But if I could keep leaves on trees forever to avoid winter, this particular one would not be beautiful and falling…

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Today I lost my shit in the Indian Buffet. Continue reading Tiny Falling (flailing?) Things

When Your Void Shows Through

People from my writing community (who don’t even know I exist) sometimes whisper truths into my ear (unbeknownst to them) an entire year after they first put the truth on paper.

This one in particular held my hand last week:  here

(Go ahead and read it—I’ll wait.)

Me? Here’s my truth: 

I don’t know about the seven-week ultrasound.  We’ve never made it that far. There is not a single baby waiting for us in heaven. 

I could tell you about the follicle-measuring ultrasound. The one where the technician is both tight-lipped and extra chatty, discussing everything except how great and normal things look.  Continue reading When Your Void Shows Through

Between My Closed Eyes and the Tip of the Spear

Most days, I live inside a fantastic free fall of optimism and delight.

Don’t believe me? Check out Car Moments with Jeff and Brooke. We could entertain ourselves through the entire state of Utah and wipe out world hunger if food was measured in puns and laughter.

Reading consecutive road signs out loud to each other:
Watch for strong crosswinds
Well YOU watch for falling rocks
No, you watch for wild animals
Why don’t they just make a sign that says Be Alert?
Why don’t they make a sign that just says Watch It, Buddy?
Why don’t they just make a sign with a big eyeball?

Hiking in the canyons:
How did those holes get in the walls, I wonder.
Prehistoric fish swam into the walls and bumped them.
I know what they said, do you?
What.
Dam.

___

But then there are other days, and weeks and entire months, when I can feel it bubbling up inside me, the discontent. It starts out slowly—a steady drip in the same thin spot, until my resolve caves and the sadness pours in.

When my third brother announces my fourth little niece or nephew, and I am equally through-the-roof ecstatic and doubling over from the sucker punch.  When we make it through Mother’s Day unscathed, and get blindsided by loads of infants and adorable first dads infiltrating the internets on Father’s Day. When a 101 y/o Nepali prophet and host mom—neither of whom know our story—claimed blessings and Exodus 23:25-26 over our lives…

25 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, 26 and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.

…And it doesn’t work, for the 30th time. Literally, the 30th time.

A wave of grief builds in my stomach, grows through my chest and crashes over my head.

For a split second, I’m floating, unanchored. Hopeless. Confused. Bewildered.  This is not who I am, I think, in that bluish underwater twilight.

But at the same time, I just want to feel it. The pain and sadness and despair, raw and scratchy, fierce and scary, suffocating. I don’t want to rationalize or sublimate or uproot it; I don’t want to deny it or spiritualize it. I want to let it roll me up and drag me across the sand. We are broken. And this is what brokenness feels like.

I believe every right thing about God because I know it’s true.

But I don’t understand it, and nothing makes it okay. Not Rwanda, not Cambodia, not even Nepal or Cupcakes or Cuba. Not new friends, not old friends.  Not stories of adoption, not tiny Chinese babies flung across the ocean in slingshots straight into someone’s heart, or miraculous spontaneous naturally occurring pregnancies from people post-adoption or post-IVF or from people who thought they might never conceive. In fact, your stories are the worst because they’re not mine.

(Sorry, you.)

Mostly I reach for antidotes from the sandy floor. I dig deep to find What is Saving My Life Right Now—in July it was an unexpected visit from intern Anna and the coke she brought that day. I put on my Heartometer3000, or at least sit on my heart’s porch with a shotgun. I pray away the bitterness in Jesus’ name like I saw that guy do at the Leadership Conference. Last September I wrote in my journal that I was 30 days clean of bitterness. I knew it would come back, but in the name of Jesus, I had planned to rip that shiz right out again. Here I am only three months later, and my garden is overgrown.

Eventually I’ll burst through the surface, spitting and flailing. At these moments you can find me eating donut holes in parking lots and yelling at people for spilling dillweed.

Or I may simply wash up on the shore when it’s all said and done, quiet and curled up in the Nook.

Either way, we are living this maddeningly complex life where God has provided for all our hopes and needs in measurable and mind-blowing ways, and where he has simultaneously withheld our single greatest one.

My writing group buddy wrote a breath-stopping piece once about the sweet moment in the morning right after she opens her eyes and before she feels the tip of the spear at her chest. This is where I live most of my life. Between my closed eyes and the tip of the spear.

Why does God not either remove the spear or remove the pain?

I don’t know.

In the meantime, I guess J will continue to carry the torch of hope while I weed the bitterness out of the garden…

Cared For: In which tiny kids out me, emotionally

*This post was written while on assignment with World Next Door: a digital social justice travel magazine. Check out our website (www.worldnextdoor.org) for more information and download our most recent issue! All of the Nepal content can be found here.

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It was about halfway through our time with Tiny Hands in Nepal that I discovered a sweet spot tucked away their ministry. I was so dazzled by the anti-trafficking work detailed in the previous article—the border stations and interceptions, maps, analytics and all things undercover—that I sort of forgot about everything else, like how the ministry started in the first place: children’s homes.

Before we were scheduled to visit one of the homes, I flipped through a stack of old newsletters and magazines produced by Tiny Hands throughout the years and read that the founder, John, had originally established Tiny Hands as an organization caring for orphaned and abandoned street children. He launched the ministry after he noticed a stark contrast between street kids in Kathmandu and the smiling, laughing, singing, dancing kids of a local organization’s family-style children’s home. He determined to find those who need help the most—vulnerable orphaned or abandoned kids on the streets—and use the best strategies, the most qualified people, and with a “do much with little” philosophy.

Tiny Hands opened their first children’s home in 2003 as a family, not an orphanage, which I thought was interesting. My image of a children’s home had always been a gaggle of stray kids collected together and organized by age and sheltered until they were either adopted or turned 18. But kids in Tiny Hands’ homes were not waiting for adoption or shoring up dreams of a future family—the home in itself was a family. They had two parents who were called to serve them attentively and individually, a quality education in both Nepali and English at a nearby school, spiritual nurturing, health care, protection, solid nutrition, games, laughter, fun and on-target development.

So that was the plan. Tiny Hands opened that first home, and then grew a handful of additional homes in Kathmandu,  Pokhara and Chitwan caring for Nepal’s orphaned and abandoned kids.

It was only through the work with vulnerable kids, however, that John became aware of a more desperate injustice: sex-trafficking. Girls and kids were harvested from villages and streets all around him and taken across the Nepal/India borders for the purpose of sexual slavery. Quickly, victims of trafficking moved to the top of the list as “those who need help most” in addition to orphaned or abandoned street kids (who are themselves at risk of being sucked into the feeder system of the sex trade simply by being vulnerable) and the organization began specific anti-trafficking initiatives.

Ultimately, I understood, it wasn’t about the specific issue. The entire vision of Tiny Hands follows a few commands of Christ: love your neighbor as yourself, and whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me. If you found yourself alone on the street or without parents, would you be desperate for someone to help? Then Tiny Hands would be desperate to help. If you were kidnapped and raped, would you be desperate for someone to find the courage and conviction to save you? Then Tiny Hands would be desperate to find the girls and save them.

Tiny Hands is living this philosophy out, in addition to their sex-trafficking programs, within their ten children’s homes serving a total of 138 kids.

How could we have overlooked this?!

But I imagine it happens all the time. There are no blockbuster movies starring Liam Neeson about children’s homes. The injustice and responses aren’t as dramatic as trafficking. It’s not so glamorous, raising 14 kids that aren’t your own for life. And what would the title be called? Cared For.

This movie would feature early morning wake-ups, preparing a ton of breakfast, wetting down rogue hairs on an eight-year-old, morning prayers, packing book bags, socks and uniforms and bow ties and ponytails and braids and shoe-tying, walking several kids to several different schools, laundry, parent conferences, more food, homework, lots of math and spelling help, playtime, singing time, devotions, dinner, teeth-brushing, hair-undoing, night time prayers, uniform ironing, sock pairing, shoe-lining and several deep breaths.

Riveting.

The thing is, it was riveting when I saw it in action. And the tiny little faces that welcomed me into Tiny Hands’ Bethany Home are just as valuable, precious and deserving of attention as their counterparts at the borders with equally as desperate circumstances. All these vulnerable kids are just trying to make it in Nepal, and Tiny Hands is doing everything they can to ensure they more than make it, that they are loved, cared for, protected, educated, healthy and successful in the process—belonging to two parents and a handful of siblings for their entire lives.

Bethany Home kids posing in the play room on our first evening
Bethany Home kids posing in the play room on our first evening

BETHANY HOME

We—Jeff and I, along with a Tiny Hands staff—arrived at Bethany Home one evening during play time, and noticed about a dozen kids ranging in age from three to 12 playing on a colorfully carpeted floor in front of an entire wall of toys and games. The room was painted purple and green, decorated with construction paper handprints, photographs and crafts from each of the kids.

We were pummeled with hugs and kisses and laughter and tickling and displays of ABCs and number counting, and we were eventually serenaded with several songs that included coordinated dance moves and hand motions. They also waited expectantly as Jeff and I struggled to come up with an equally as impressive impromptu song with coordinated dance moves—Father Abraham was brilliant we thought, until they all joined in. Old news, Father Abraham.

Singing and dancing
Singing and dancing

We met the youngest kids, three-year-old Samuel and Sudin, who are not brothers, but were inseparable and off-the-wall silly, inciting monkey noises and matchbox car races and wresting moves from Jeff and the other staff.

Samuel and Sudin
Samuel and Sudin

Samuel and Sudin were typical three-year-old boys in every way possible—rambunctious, playful and full of energy. I looked at the house mom, who was acting as base for several other young kids who would run back and forth from her lap to the toys, and shook my head. How does she do it? And why? She and her husband have two healthy biological kids in the mix somewhere in the room and could surely be making more money for an easier life. But she smiled back and wrapped one of the boys in a bear hug, patiently redirecting the other who was break-dancing on top of another kid’s puzzle.

We wanted to hear their stories—the kids and the parents—but we’d have to come back. Being an attentive mom to 14 kids under 12 doesn’t really allow for efficient side conversation, so we enjoyed the tea served by one of the older kids and jumped into the playtime scene around us.

BRK_9159

Because it’s a law in Nepal that foreigners can’t spend the night in children’s homes, we made arrangements to sneak in the next morning for breakfast just to see what a typical morning is like in the home. We also hoped to visit the kids’ schools and spend some quality time getting to know the house parents.

We arrived early the next morning to sleepy faces and hot breakfast! The kids lined up at the table, prayed together and gobbled up their steamy platefuls of lentils and rice. We had such fun watching the little and big girls do each other’s hair, the older kids fix the uniform neckties of the younger kids, and little feet everywhere pulling socks on and off as they found the right sizes and matches. You would never believe the effort it takes to find and fit 14 little feet into shoes, but they did it, and the entire family gathered for dad’s morning prayer before leaving for school. I was in awe. Throughout the entire getting-ready-for-school process, I never felt tense or overwhelmed. The house parents emulate a feeling of peace and patience throughout the house, and it’s impossible not to just soak it up. When was the last time you spent a few hours with 14 kids under 12 during those hectic morning hours and walked away feeling peaceful?!

Girls getting ready before school
Girls getting ready before school
The girls all lined up and ready
The girls all lined up and ready
A little prayer over the kids before school
A little prayer over the kids before school
14 kids finding their school shoes at the same time :)
14 kids finding their school shoes at the same time :)

We walked with the family hand-in-hand to three different schools, including the two youngest—Samuel and Sudin—who attend a Montessori playgroup. Montessori playgroup. Such opportunities afforded to these two little guys! I wondered if a Montessori playgroup would even have been a possibility in their other lives prior to Bethany Home. Where had they come from? Why were they here?

Questions were piling up as we walked with the parents back to the house, and I patiently sat, sipping my tea and visiting, until the conversation lulled and they asked if we had any questions about the kids or the house. Finally!

“Tell me everything,” I said. “Beginning to end, front to back, yourselves, the kids, the entire story!”

I’d heard from Tiny Hands staff that Bethany Home was a special place, that the parents have a unique story, and that some of their youngest kids had the greatest margin of growth despite desperate beginnings. I wanted it all.  So we sat cross-legged on the floor of the colorful playroom over Nepali tea for several hours, and the Gurungs shared their own story, and the stories of how several kids had become their own.

[Read the rest of this story and how it relates to our own journey of unparerenting here…]

*This and other stories like this are be featured in the December issue of World Next Door Magazine, featuring Tiny Hands Nepal. Download it for freeeeee!

Confessions. Blast!

So, I’ll just get to it.  Lots of things are a little bit off. For starters, I am having a hard time balancing. It’s (surprise!) difficult to experience, article-write and express my own sentiment all at the same time. I sort of thought this would all be in the bag. For optimal quality, each task requires being fully present, and my brain is evidently only capable of two things at a time. I can experience and internalize, but not fact-gather. I can fact-gather and express, but without much sentiment. I can internalize and reflect, but I can’t, in that moment, be experiencing. We are always experiencing, and I am totally backlogged.

Here’s the kicker: I process through writing. So backlogged means I am currently a jumbled mess of girls’ schools and street kids and TV antennas made of metal padlocks and vocational centers and genocide and escape stories and reconciliation stories and coffee communities and traditional dance and outdoor kitchens and church services and landscapes and moto bikes and rainy season and memorial sites and stretchy green bread and music and orphans and polygamy and widows and ancestral spirits and gorillas and laundry and language and ways in which the ancestors screw up fertility.

Plus, when your job becomes your former hobby, you get kind confused about which content belongs where. I feel safe writing about scarves and Wait, what? moments, but I haven’t even told you the basics like where we’re living, or who we’re with, or the type of work we’re doing, or what we’re eating, or what the weather is like!

To make things even more complicated, the World Wide Web is— as you might have guessed— worldwide. Everyone is on Facebook and WordPress and twitter. Gone are the days when I could see something and throw it on the Internet for all 8 readers to vicariously experience without risk of harm. Today we’re all right here in the same space—you, me, and the person or community I’m writing about. I post a story, WordPress publicizes it to Facebook and twitter, and my host sister is reading it ten seconds later in the next room. This takes a special kind of crafting, understanding, permission and respect. I refuse to be a reckless observer.

And a layer below that? It’s about to get real.

Because I refuse to be a reckless observer, I don’t feel competent. What can I possibly offer that hasn’t already been written or expressed about Rwanda? How can I share these things—the history, issues, people, stories—accurately? I can’t wrap my head around the genocide. And, once I stop trying to put that piece together, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that life continues on the other side. That people are working and eating, walking along these same streets and attending these same churches, that kids play and women do hair and taxis commute and bikers bike and people laugh and sing and purchase data plans and watch 24. All this with an entire ethnic group almost entirely wiped out of the population, resting in mass graves under this very ground.

Everywhere I look I can see the stories I’ve heard playing out in my mind’s eye. In my field, we call this vicarious trauma. A tiny corner of my heart feels bruised every time I walk out of the house and look around me at the land, while the rest of it functions as normal in present day.   I just can’t make sense of it.  The only two thoughts I have, and they’re not fully developed, are this: here is an entire country demonstrating the reality of post-traumatic growth.

If you look at the Disaster Response Phases graph below (provided by my pal Mary, who teaches the Foundations to DMH class at the Red Cross in Indy) you can note the different responses a person or community has pre, mid and post disaster. There is a new term emerging, though, after a post-traumatic event called post-traumatic growth, wherein the person or community, on the very far right of this graph, actually ends up at a higher level of functioning than they were before the event. So, the person reaches a level a growth that would not be possible had that event not occurred. This country is living out that term.  This doesn’t mean things are spectacular.  There are still—and will always be—triggering events and memories generations deep, but I have met people coping and forgiving at a level I am not even able to comprehend. They are not doing this in spite of the event, but because of it.

God restores, is my point.

DMH Graph ARC

My second thought is the truth in this statement, which was originally printed in my NOLA church bulletin on the 5 year anniversary of hurricane Katrina, adapted for Rwanda as we head into memorial month: We will remember [the genocide] and give sacred honor, but in worship we inherit all things anew for this day.

Yeah, you do, Rwanda.  I am so thankful for all things newly inherited by you today.

…And then (you thought I was done?) someone posts this article, which cracks open another forgotten corner of my heart, and I remember where I was and who I was three weeks ago, which seems like at least ten years ago. That familiar ache returns for a minute, and I can’t find the words for the prayer.

The world spins, I can’t make anything fit into any categories, my brain and heart are totally unorganized, and I am tethered by a poem shared last week by my friend Kim (I’m always snatching content from her, but God uses people, I think):

You can only pray what’s in your heart.

So if your heart is being ripped from your chest
pray the tearing

If your heart is full of bitterness
pray it to the last dreg

If your heart is a river gone wild
pray the torrent

Or a lava flow scorching the mountain
pray the fire

Pray the scream in your heart
the fanning bellows

Pray the rage,
the murder and
the mourning

Pray your heart into the great quiet hands that can hold it
like the small bird it is.

-Elizabeth Cunningham