Thursday, March 31, 2011

Eleanor Roosevelt kind of rocks

So there's this quote credited to Eleanor Roosevelt that says, "You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do."

It's been an interesting day. Extremely busy (like every day) and drama-filled too (like every other day... at least.)

So Nick got a threatening message on his phone this afternoon. Actually two of them but they both said the exact same thing--

"do you think you are haitien i am not Danny i not working now and you just wait ..."

First of all, before I get to my point, I just want to say that while we were immediately a bit alarmed by this message, we also laughed a bit. Because why? Because it's STUPID. It would be like me trying to send a hate message to a Haitian (oops, sorry, a "haitien" person) in Kreyol. I am sure I would mess up the grammar, totally diffusing any thought of threat. It would have been way scarier if it was in Kreyol like the last threats we had after everything blew up a few months ago. But though we tried, Nick and I just couldn't stop ourselves from laughing.

HOWEVER... (second somewhat hilarious thing) the person that sent the message didn't use a blocked number. Now, I have never sent a threat to someone, but if I was going to, I'd learn how to use the Digicel feature that makes your phone number "private" when calling someone like the last threat-ers used. (This is, actually, how we learned this feature existed.) We tried not to, but we laughed about that too.

We knew, however, that with 11 kids in our custody, we had to follow protocol and Nick had to go to the police. When he arrived at the police station the situation became clearer to us.

It turns out that another organization had to fire some people and they (the fired people) thought Nick was behind it. This brought us to our third round of the giggles. Seriously, 2 things about that were ludicrous.

First-- it cracked me up that people actually pass their time with conspiracy theories about us-- like we're these puppet-masters running all of Haiti (or at least Jacmel.) Seriously people-- we barely speak the language. Our orphanage has EIGHT extra kids in it. Eight. That's it. We're not exactly on the forefront of influence. And not for nothing, Nick and I are swamped with situations in our own sphere-- things like innocent children getting beat by their "owners" dropped at our doorstep, reactive attachment disorder, leading teams, having a nearly-month-long string of house-guests, doing lessons 3 hours a day with our kids (cause yeah, we had to go and make that our "rallying cry" grrr...)... etc, ad nauseam... We can barely keep our heads above water with what's on our plates. Actually, we CAN'T keep our heads above water-- our house looks like a bomb went off in it (at all times) and we're doing all we can to lessen our responsibilities.

Second-- and this is the jist of what I was getting at when I thought of this post-- we honestly don't care that much. The thought that we'd try to throw our weight around (and by the way, I have a lot of weight these days-- dang anti-depressants) to make someone else loose his/her job is JUST SO ARROGANT. I have held my tongue A LOT over the past several months when lies/half-truths (aka- lies) were being told because it JUST wasn't my business. People would call me or email me and say, "Hey, have you seen the news? What a freakin' liar. Aren't you going to say anything?" And I'd just say, "Nope, really not my issue anymore." Because it just isn't. People are going to do what they are going to do. All the junk going around-- it's just not my business. And the thought that I'd care enough about crap like this is arrogant and absurd.

Which brings me back to the ever-wise Eleanor Roosevelt, "You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do." It never even crossed our minds to try to have these people fired. Not even once. Wouldn't have the pull to do it even if we wanted to. But as it turns out, we didn't need to-- their lackluster performance did that for themselves. Failure is hard to swallow. I know blame-shifting when you experience a failure is human nature, but sorry, not going to take the blame on this one.

Get over yourselves people. My life doesn't revolve around you.

PS- It appears that "honest, spirited missionary Gwenn" and her "ridiculous blog" (direct quote from a hate email) has made a comeback... gonna go do a gut check now so this post might disappear or be edited if I'm convicted. But hey, "honest, spirited missionary" works for Jamie... :) (Check out the link-- it's kind of hilarious.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

just in case you don't have facebook.

I know a bunch of readers that don't have facebook and I didn't want you to miss the photo of the day today.

Mangoes aren't the only thing hanging around in mango trees...

missionary kid

Nia brought her diary to journal during church today--

Suck up.

Just kidding. I think it's absolutely adorable and hope her heart stays just like this forever...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We didn't lie to the Nazis

Nick was listening to this message a while ago from Crossroads Church in Cincinnati. The pastor (maybe Brian Wells?) was talking about how Christians so often spend so much time arguing over stupid moral dilemmas. He used the example of this online forum where Christians were actually debating whether it was a sin to hide Jews during the Holocaust. Because yeah, lying is a sin. So if the Nazis come to the door and you're hiding Jews, is it a sin to lie to them? Because we really shouldn't lie. And his point was, we're talking about human lives. If the Nazis come to the door, LIE TO THE NAZIS. Always lie to the Nazis.

Nick and I are rule-followers. We like to obey the rules. So in the case of Marie Marthe, we did everything "by the book" (like we always do.) We didn't pay anyone off (nor have we ever done that contrary to what "anonymous sources" suggest.) When this little girl was brought to us we followed all the rules. We went to the police station and filed a police report. We got permission from the judge to have her in our home. We contacted Haitian Social Services and an organization in Jacmel working on the restavek problem. We took pictures as the judge recommended. We went to court on behalf of Marie Marthe--twice.

But we didn't lie to the Nazis. We didn't do anything unethical. We didn't just hide her away. We didn't pay off the parents, the judge or the abuser to just let us have her. We didn't fight for her to be taken from her parents (because we, as a family and as an organization, ALWAYS try to keep kids with their parents if possible.) We fought clean.

And in the end, this girl that has these marks----(amongst dozens of others on nearly all places on her body) went back into the hands of her parents who (BEFORE EVEN LEAVING THE COURTHOUSE) put her back into the hands of her abuser.

I get that we have to follow the laws of this country. I get that we're not only talking about Marie-Marthe's future but the future of our 11 children and the organization we represent.

But I cannot shake this thought-- Why didn't I lie to the Nazis?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Update on the restavek post from two days ago.

We're starting to get a good feel for how this case is going to go in the Haitian justice system. That's the good news and the bad news.

Today was a wildly emotional and ridiculously stressful adventure as we stood before the police and then the justice of the peace along with Marie-Marthe's birthparents to try to figure out next steps for her. The good news there is that the parents (who were not the people abusing her) want to take her back and not terminate parental rights. Now, after knowing that it was these parents' neglect that lead her into the situation, some of you are probably scratching your heads and thinking, "Wait? That's a good thing?" It's hard to look at this situation from a North American mind and not insert your North American values. Don't get me wrong, I know we're talking about human rights issues, but the fact is, the parents weren't the ones abusing her. And while we look at the situation and say, "They must have known," or, "They should have known," that's not really an issue here. The birthparents put their daughter into the hands of her abusers with the hope of a better life for her. Unfortunately, that hope was misplaced and the story has become the textbook example of restavek (child slave.)

There's a lot to the story. Lots of weird twists and turns and angry/sad people. (I took my anger out on the gum I was chewing... I don't think there's ever been a piece of gum ever chewed harder.) I ALMOST cried a tear, but alas, 'twas not to be today. Marie-Marthe on the other hand cried a river of tears.

Here's where we ended up.

The judge granted us 2 more days with Marie-Marthe. After those two days, we will reconvene at the court house where the abuser has been summonsed. During the hearing, our case will be presented that the abuser should be punished. She will have her thing to say. And then that's it. It will be over. The judge will hand down his judgment on whether the abuser deserves punishment. And after the trial, he's already decided that Marie-Marthe will be leaving with her parents. They've invited us to come over to their house to see it and so they can say thank you to us. (I feel gross food coming on...)

So that's settled and that's a good thing. But it's our hope and our prayer that her abuser will be brought to justice and Marie-Marthe won't ever have to see her again. I have no confidence that this will actually happen this way.

But I still can hope.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Breaking news... I cried

So today, after months and months of tearlessness, I cried today. Like a really good cry with snorting, gagging, and mascara everywhere.

I cannot even begin to describe how A.MA.ZING. this feels.

Now, it came on the heels of my completely and totally blowing up at an employee who I felt was taking advantage of us. That part wasn't great. He quit. And I had to go back later and apologize and tell him I was wrong and disrespectful and didn't want him to quit. That was very humbling and not fun. He's going to tell us tomorrow if he is going to "stay quit"or not. *sigh*

But the crying after it part. Oh man, that was good.

Thought of a line from the song, "Our Deliverance" by the Indigo Girls.
(Because let's just face it, there is an Indigo Girls song for every event in my life...)

Beneath my surface the water's heating
And steam comes up and out the tears you see me shine
For every strange and bitter moment there was never a better time


I always wonder if I should share things like this. I've gone back and forth as to whether or not to tell you about this-- but I decided to. I try to be very honest and discuss things that are happening in our lives. This is something happening that's pretty raw...

We have stepped into a situation with a little girl 10 year old girl. She's the textbook definition of a restavek. She's been horribly mistreated. She doesn't get to go to school while the biological children in the family do. She has to clean and cook and do the laundry. When she doesn't do her work well, she's beaten. By definition, (a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another), she is a slave. And she's beaten like a slave. She has a fresh wound from being whipped on her face (just Friday-- three days ago) that's still pretty swollen and causes her a lot of throbbing pain.She also has dozens of less fresh wounds and scars all over her body. Her back and arms and butt and legs are strewn with scars from being whipped. She has a place under her arm that's nearly healed but still a bit scabbed over where her "owner" burned her with electrical lines for not doing her work well.

We found out about her through some friends who live downtown. She came to their house on Friday and said she needed help. The friend, knowing I have an orphanage, called us.

We took her to the police station Saturday and they contacted the judge who gave our orphanage temporary custody until we can stand before him (tomorrow). She's gotten cleaned up and looks much better. 90% of the time she's super spunky and tough (even to the point of being a bit mean at times). But then she breaks into these puddles of tears and seems to have a lot of anxiety. She gets very jumpy and nervous when people yell or when a loud noise is made. This morning she woke up with "pain under her heart" and was nearly hyperventilating.

Would you pray that we can get all of the preliminary paperwork figured out today so that we're prepared tomorrow to stand before the judge? Would you pray for peace to reign in her heart? Would you pray for her wounds (both physical and emotional) to begin to heal? Would you pray that SOMEHOW we can find the birth family today? (The neighbors have given us some good leads.) Would you pray that the judge would not allow this family to occupy her anymore?

Children don't have a lot of rights in Haiti. I can't change that. But I can do for one child what I wish I could do for all of them. I am begging God for the favor to stand up for this sweet, broken girl and use my voice to change the trajectory of her life... please pray with me.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


So this week my kids' memory verse was Hebrews 11:6.

"Pesonn pa ka fè Bondye plezi si li pa gen konfyans nan Bondye."

(Without faith it is impossible to please God.)

Was reading through Hebrews 11. As you probably know, this is a chapter that discusses a bunch of people in the Bible show displayed great faith, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Moses... (and on and on it goes.)

These people were the faith rockstars.

One passage in this chapter really hit me this morning:

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

In one way or another, we are all strangers in this world. Whether or not we feel at home in our home (wherever that may be), the truth is that we were not made for this world. The aching and the longing. The being a stranger. The living in substandard housing... All of that is an opportunity not to be discontent with life, but to look forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Warning: This post is kind of long-winded and possibly not that interesting to many.

Lately I've been introspective a lot and not really "reporting" on the goings-on in Haiti. I feel like I am on the verge of a spiritual awakening and that is occupying my mind a lot lately. From a vocational standpoint, things are going well. We are back into the swing of things. We had a team last week. They built one and a half houses. They did three feedings at the hospital. It was a good team. Another team comes in next week (si Dye vle- if God wills). Guernia and Susana (her new baby) are good. Konekte is a bit of a clunky wheel lately as we try to restructure things a bit, but it's still going. Aristide is coming back to Haiti today (supposedly) after 7 years in exile. The presidential elections are on Sunday. In anticipation of this, a convoy of UN trucks and armored tanks came in to Jacmel yesterday. These things no longer phase me. We're prepared with diesel and water/food in case of riots/unrest. We're already planning on doing house church on Sunday and laying low. Nick and I came back and have employed our strategy for working with the kids more on education. We're spending more time with them in the afternoons on lessons. We are all benefiting from that time together. Yeah, from a "Haiti" side, things are good.

While all that has been clicking, there have been some interesting things going on in my soul. The truth is, I have been feeling very convicted lately of my lack of satisfaction in the Lord. I feel him trying to draw me closer. But I also feel my resistance to go. The truth is, I am barely managing the day-to-day life and drama without trying to focus on "holiness." That's probably a startling admission to some. Because I am a missionary, a lot of people think I have some kind of "inside track" or short cut to God. The truth is, each day, like Paul, I find myself saying, "What a wretched man am I." I know this because those thoughts are usually after I've shared a story or anecdote that starts with these words, "I know it's wrong to say this but…" or ends with, "I am sorry, that's just my flesh talking."

I've been experiencing a lot of fleshly moments lately. And each day it seems less and less satisfies me. My soul feels dull. I feel like my "work" is for the Lord, but more and more I find myself wondering if I really know him. I find myself surprised at the thoughts that cross my mind. And the worst part is, I don't even seem to care. Well, that's not true. I do care. At least I want to care. But there was a big shift in me during the past year and a half. And I find that now, it's hard for me to feel anything. I might react in ways that show that I am sad at times-- and I am. I just can't feel it. I might react in ways that show I am happy at times-- and I am. I just can't feel it. It's as if I am living with dark glasses on. Like I am walking around with earplugs in. Like I am wrapped in bubble wrap and when I bump into things, I hardly feel it. I can't really cry anymore, even though there are times I desperately want to. Everything is so yeah… dull.

I keep being drawn back to a particular part of the "Breaking Free" Bible study. I went through this section in its entirety again today despite having completed this section a few weeks ago. This section deals with satisfaction in the Lord. Here's the thing. It talks about soul hunger and relates it to physical hunger. She talks about the symptoms of physical hunger and thirst. The growling, the emptiness. Being parched, dry. Obsessed with finding a glass of water. In Psalm 63:5, David uses this simile, "My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods…"

I have read that verse over and over again in my life, and just this morning I had a vivid picture that came into my head while reading it. I remembered just a few weeks ago when Nick and I were in our time of seclusion and we went out to dinner at Maggianno's. It was perfection. We'd both missed lunch that day and so we were both hungry. Our souls were a bit weary from a long day of counseling. We sat down, ordered our food and just ENJOYED the experience. The taste, the atmosphere, each other. It was delicious and filling. We left and we were no longer hungry. Somehow this excellent meal gave us more than just physical nourishment, we left totally satisfied and we still had tons of leftovers. That's what came into my head while reading this verse. That feeling right there… God wants me to feel that way in Him. Totally satisfied. Not craving something else.

I have been there in my life. I have felt that filled and satisfied with the Lord. But not lately. More often lately, I am finding life difficult and so I am being lazy. I am more interested in trying to find my satisfaction in things that don't satisfy. This morning the Lord showed me (again) that I will never be satisfied like that. Instead, it will be like my trip out for lunch yesterday.

Here's the story. It was 1:00pm and Nick had just returned from Port. We were both hungry and I couldn't stomach the thought of eating ble and hotdogs (our normal Thursday meal.) So we went out. Nick had asked me where I wanted to go and I gave him two suggestions. I said either of those places were good for me, but I just didn't want to go to option 3--Jacmel Epi. The first restaurant we went to has great burgers. But, of course (since this is Haiti) they didn't have burgers yesterday. So we ordered chicken. Unfortunately, they didn't have chicken either. So we left. I thought, "A sandwich would be good." The next place we went to has good sandwiches. That place didn't work out either. So then we found ourselves heading to Jacmel Epi-- the one place I had said I didn't want to go. I ordered a burger and fries. When our food came, the bun was rock hard and tasted kind of fermenty. The "burger" was the smallest and most disgusting piece of "meat" I have ever seen. I only took one bite because (I am serious when I say this) I don't think it was beef. It was like nothing I'd ever tasted. So I ate the fries and drank my water. On the way home, my stomach ached from the greasy fries and I felt "off it" all day long. Needless to say, that was not a satisfying eating experience. Not even close.

But more and more, I see this dissatisfaction in my life. And more and more, I find myself just going with it. What was the first thing I said to Nick yesterday? The first thing I said was that option 1 or option 2 was good to me, but I didn't want to do option 3. And what did I end up doing? Option 3. It's not that I didn't try options 1 & 2 first. But I just kind of gave up and figured that option 3 was just the easiest at this point and it would fill the need (hunger.) I think this is a good parallel for my spiritual life lately. I really want option 1 or 2. I know I don't want option 3. But when option 1 or 2 aren't available (because let's just be honest, this is Haiti so there are a lot of things that are unavailable), rather than look for other good options, I just settle for option 3-- something that I know I don't want and I know won't fill me.

As you think of me over the next days and weeks, would you pray that I find my satisfaction in the Lord and his ways? There is so much of me that wants to get this part right. I have this feeling that if I can get this part right, so many other things will just fall into place.

Wrote these thoughts out during my quiet time today:

dry, weary & parched
I've known you to satiate me but my thirst has returned

hungry, empty & pained
I've experienced your fullness but my cravings aren't satisfied

numb, dull & dead
I cannot feel life
I cling to things of this world just to feel SOMETHING. anything.

oh Lord--
that you'd satisfy me with you
that you'd fill me with your presence
that once again I could walk in the light of life

Thursday, March 17, 2011

an excellent re-post on short term teams

I love the family who writes this blog.

I love this post they wrote about short-term teams.

It's funny, short-term teams always leave an impression. For example, this last team that we had left an amazing impression because I literally never heard them complain. Not once. Which is not to say that they weren't uncomfortable or stretched at times. They made valid observations. But they never complained.

If you're looking for an organization to help your church dig into short term missions-- check out Hungry For Life. (We love them.)

email about Japan

I got a message from a reader this morning and thought it was interesting. She brought up the fact that she's not seen Haiti bloggers talking about the crisis in Japan. Here's an excerpt:

"...I am troubled that none of the bloggers in Haiti that I have been following with diligence since the quake have mentioned the situation in Japan. I thought maybe there would be expressions of support for the aftermath they are experiencing, but without exception no one is talking about it...Anyway, I'm confused by this and maybe you have insights."

The question caused me some pause this morning.

I honestly haven't been following the news in Japan. A group member asked me about it and I only had a tidbit of information that one of my staff members had told me that morning that was texted to them on their news feed.

As I thought about it, it came into clear focus...

Here was my response:

"Thanks for writing. This is an excellent question and it is something that I have never really consciously thought about. Your email made me look at it a bit more.

I certainly don't want to speak for the other Haiti bloggers, but for myself, I am really not able to follow much of the news coverage. It's not that I don't want to, it's that somewhere deep in my spirit, it's just too hard. I looked at about 3 pictures of Japan in the day or two after the event and then I made myself stop and haven't looked back online at any coverage since. There is still something very acute about the trauma of the earthquake here, with everything here reminding us of what it was like. For example, I was at the hospital two days ago and saw a body wrapped in a sheet being carried to the morgue on a stretcher and I was just taken back to the moment when I was standing in the very same spot over a year ago and there were just mattresses lying around with wounded and dead people all over the ground. My husband was with me and he too had a visible reaction. I said, "Hey, you okay?" And he said, "Yeah, I am just remembering."

For me, I think I want to enter into the suffering there, but I am still so neck-deep in the people still suffering here that I just can't.

When I write it out like that, it actually sounds pretty callous. That's not the way I mean it to come out. I guess I am trying to say that it's kind of the opposite of callous-- it's still really tender.

Thanks for the reminder to step outside of myself a bit more."

With that in mind, I went online and read a bit today-- I just read one article. I am not looking at any pictures yet, but yeah, wow. It's horrifying. And so far from over. I was reading that it may take months or even years to cool the reactors.

Oh Lord Jesus, come quickly.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

unless the Lord builds the house... practical application

Nick has this theory that some days in Haiti, it seems everything is working against you. And so his best advice is to just go with it and embrace that things won't go your way.

I am having a day like that this morning.

It all started because after I heated water to give my kids a bath this morning (I know they are spoiled but it helps with the tantrums), I decided, "Hey a hot bath (well, bucket shower) would be nice today." We usually have an ironclad rule that in the winter time (ie: now) we bathe in the late afternoons when it's still hot outside. The water has been heating on the roof. It's actually a pleasant experience.

However, yesterday was insanity. And so it never happened. By the time I got home from work last night it was after 8PM. It was already cool and I didn't want to have to be all cold before bed. So I reasoned I would just shower in the morning.

So after I heated the kids' bath water, I filled the pot with water again. But then I couldn't find matches. I had JUST used the matches not 15 minutes earlier and so I was a bit flustered. Turned out Hugues had used them to heat the water for my coffee (so yeah, not mad.) Well, by the time I get some matches, I went to put my pot on the stove and it's gone. Hugues had seen the bucket of water on the ground and the pot and thought it was for the same bath and poured the cold water in with the hot water.

No problem. I had needed to cool the water a bit anyway.

So I get the pot filled back up and started it heating.

Enter: Haiti.

Between getting the kids off to school and dealing with numerous "crisis," I didn't get back to the water for about an hour. So half of it was gone. By this time, I was good and ticked off and needed to go relax and a hot (bucket) shower sounded good.

I emptied the (half-filled) pot of boiling water into my bucket and went into my room. I started filling it just a little bit with cold water from the faucet, as I couldn't bathe in boiling water. Then my phone rang. (I bet you can see where this is going...)

Sure enough, I forgot the water was running for at least 5 minutes. I came back and the bucket was (of course) overflowing with cold water. It wasn't even tepid. It was cold.

And so, in the end, I just had a cold bucket shower.

As I was freezing and trying to shave, I was trying to right my spirit and I was thinking about the devotions we'd had last night with the group.

It was focused on Psalm 127:1:

"Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain."

And all that kept passing through my mind was, "Unless the Lord heats the water, the heater labors in vain." I know it sounds like I am being snarky. But I wasn't being mad or sarcastic. I was thinking about how my morning was such a picture of my life here in Haiti. Life is hard, but we've learned the ways to make it easier. (For example, showering in the afternoons.) When we try to go against the flow, it just doesn't work. And such is the Way of Christ... isn't it?

We can try and we can labor. We can put all our energy and effort and busyness into being a follower of Jesus. We can try to do good things to please God. But what would really please Him is just doing things the way He wants us to do them in the first place. If we'd do that, we'd have a hot shower.

Unless the Lord builds the house...

Friday, March 11, 2011

What NOT To Do On Your Day Off (subtitle: The Most Selfish Gift Ever)

On our furlough Nick and I learned a lot about ways to nurture our souls and nurture our marriage. One thing that we've learned that we need to "fight for" is getting a regular day off and getting regular times out together as a couple... no matter what's happening around us. Jesus himself (the One whom I wish to follow) left many needs unmet during his ministry on earth because his priority was having his soul right before the Father.

So, despite the fact that we have 4 house-guests and a 20 person team in right now, Nick decided we really needed to make sure we take a day off this week. We also determined that we really can't take the same day off. When your main "job" is being a parent to 11 kids, it just doesn't work to both be off on the same day. And the idea of these days off is that we spend time doing completely non-stressful things. We work on relaxing, getting our toxic stress levels down. Avoid things that are stressful (in good or bad ways.)

Well. We are a work in progress.

Nick did pretty good with this yesterday. He didn't totally detach for the whole day, but he did pretty good. I did great this morning. I stayed in bed for a long time this morning. I just chilled out. I watched a movie (not a comedy as was recommended... in fact, it was a scary movie... not the best idea... like I said, "work in progress.") But I got kind of tired of hanging around the house and decided I'd like to go out for a while today.

Rewind to January. Our live-in staff members are like family to us. So when they have birthdays, we like to try to give them great gifts. For some of them, (despite being in their 20's, 30's or even 50's) this is the first time that someone has made them a big deal on their birthday.

Well, we have a rule in our family (at least Nick and I have a rule) that we aren't really permitted to buy "selfish" gifts. A selfish gift would be defined as something the giver really wants for themselves, but buys for the receiver intending to use it themselves. It would be like Nick buying me a gaming system or me buying him a case of Prestige.

Well, we kind of bought a selfish gift for our manny this year. You see, we are kind of tired of being the only people in the house that know how to drive. And we don't plan on hiring anymore live-in staff any time soon. So our choice was either keep driving everyone everywhere all the time, or teach Hugues to drive. When January rolled around, we decided to enroll him in driving school. We kind of pitched it as an opportunity for him to learn a new skill and we thought we could offer him this "privilege" because we trust him so much. And the truth was, we were going to pay for him to go to driving school anyway. But since it coincided with his birthday, well, let's just say we hit two birds with one stone. (I know, we're wrong.)

Fast forward again to today. As of today, Hugues is done with the classroom part of the class and all that remains is his exam and the practical part. Nick and I discussed it and decided that we would rather either him or I being the first people to work with Hugues on the practical application. We are fine with him getting practice with a Haitian driver, but since he'd be driving our vehicles, we wanted to give him the basics of how we like driving to go by ourselves. So I had time and so did he. We had the truck free so we headed out to the land to practice off road before practicing ON the road. (We don't have parking lots around here, so that's the best place to do it.)

Here's the thing. Hugues did GREAT on the land. He only stalled twice all afternoon. He learned how to stop and start on hills. His backing up was a bit weak, but yeah, I have been driving since I have been 17 and so is my backing up. :) So I didn't judge.

It all went downhill when I said, "Why don't you drive home?" It's a straight shot and mostly not well populated, so I figured it would be fine. SOMEHOW, while he is great at slow speeds, faster speeds were a challenge for him. And for me. Even though we only made it up to third gear (because we just weren't going that fast) Hugues sort of had stage fright and just couldn't remember what to do when there were other people around. I spent most of the time with my hand on the wheel shifting for him yelling things like, "Clutch in. Give it more gas. BRAKE. BRAKE. BRAKE!!!"

Once we were almost back at the house, I decided he could use a bit more practice with people not around so I asked him to turn left at the entrance for the 4 wheeler track. We paused to let the 27 cars behind us pass before turning off the road. We rode around a bit on the track-- he did great... even perfected the whole starting-on-a-hill-with-the-emergency-brake-thing... So back to the road we went.

Wow. Not really a relaxing activity. After finally making it home, I asked him to pull into the driveway. This became a 7 minute or so activity with 8-9 stall outs, coming VERY close to hitting our compound wall, and total mortification on his part because everyone in the house was watching. (I am sure we all remember scenarios like this from learning how to drive.)

When I got out of the car it was all I could do to not kiss the ground below my feet. And now here I am, drinking a Prestige on the front porch and participating in one of my MOST relaxing activities-- writing down a story.

NEVER again on my day off.

Now I know.

PS-- Any tips from parents who've taught their kids to drive for the whole "nervous with people around" thing???

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

no shave furlough and other tidbits of oversharing and TMI.

So. This past furlough was pretty much no shave furlough. Well, that's an exaggeration. I shaved once I think. MAYBE twice. I meant to shave at least twice but I honestly can't remember if I got to it.

So, picture the scene. I get back to Haiti and didn't shower last night. I was so tired and we were doing campout with the kids. I was with the girls upstairs, and Nick was with the boys downstairs. This morning I didn't have time to shower and so FINALLY this afternoon (after thinking one of my pre-pubescent kids stunk really bad only to realize it was me), I braved the shower. So glad I was lazy enough to ask Nick to go check if we had water. I knew laziness had its benefits. He went into the bathroom and I heard the squealing of what I thought was a young girl child. It wasn't a young girl child. It was none other than the big burly Nick Mangine screaming (in a very high-pitched voice), "Ahhh!!! Oh my gosh. Gwenn. Come look at our shower. Ahhh!!! Oh my gosh. Gwenn. Come look at our shower."

I went. And this, my friends, is what I saw.

Gross, eh?

I was so wicked grossed out.

Nick and Hugues put their head together and tackled the problem. Nick turned on the water and the sucker flew out. Hugues got the fantastic job of retrieving the dead amphibian and disposing of him. (Or perhaps her. I didn't check. And come to think of it, I don't even know how one would go about checking.) (Side note: Nick's a great boss for letting Hugues have the privilege of that job. The responsibilities that come with working for us just get bigger and bigger each day.)

So. I was too freaked out to shower there. Nick assured me that there were no dead frog germs that were still remained. I told him to prove it and take the first shower. He did, somewhat reluctantly citing some excuse about wanting to shower later after he played soccer with the boys. But he finally conceded. (Or at least he claims he did.) And then I was left to brave it. I seriously looked up the whole time afraid another frog would appear. It was so gross. (And I feel kind of slimy after the fact too.)

But that's not my point. That whole thing was a huge digression. Back to no-shave furlough. So today I was feeling pretty grumpy about the heat in spite of the fact that it was a beautiful day. It was breezy and overcast and probably not higher than the mid-80's. It was so cool in fact that Hugues was wearing a wool hat. (A "toboggan" for all you North Carolinians.) I thought he was just trying to look all gangsta now that he has long hair I and made some comment to Nick about it. Well. Turns out that Hugues got a haircut (due to an unfortunate gum incident) and his head was just cold. Nick said that used to happen to him all the time when he'd let his hair grow a bit and then just shave it one day. I accepted this answer. (And honestly, I have stopped questioning most of the things my kids/staff wear.)

But then it got me thinking.

I was hot.

I was hairy. (Sorry, I warned you this post was filled with tmi.)

I wanted to be cool.

The picture came into focus for me.

I simply needed to shave. Getting rid of the evidence of "no... shave furlough" would be the magic solution to make me cooler.

So I broke the streak and I took the (slime) shower (at least I didn't need shaving cream.)

Well, would you believe it didn't work? (Nor did it make my jeans zip up any easier, which I also had hoped it would do.)

Guess I am back to the Gold Bond + a fan scenario. That was a truly great discovery. And these kinds of things probably just don't come along every day.

Monday, March 7, 2011

tummy aches

After dozens of hours sorting supplies and packing over the past two days, we put the kids to bed at about 8:00pm last night. Nick and I went to bed shortly thereafter. And the alarm rang at 3:30am to get up and get going. It felt even earlier.

Josiah and Nico (for a change) woke up on the right side of bed. That almost never happens. Like actually, I am not sure it has ever happened before this morning. And Nia was fine too. Everyone got up quickly and went potty, put coats on and was about to get loaded up when Nia broke down in heavy cries clutching her stomach and saying, "My stomach hurts. Oh my stomach hurts. Mama, my stomach hurts so bad!" For a minute I thought she might need to throw up. She didn't. She didn't need to go potty. She wasn't hungry and it wasn't a pain like appendicitis or something. But on she cried.

After a few minutes I realized it was her nerves. Being an anxious person myself, I was able to understand what she was feeling, because yeah, I've had an anxious stomach ache pretty much for the past 14 months straight.

We got in the car and we talked about her feelings. This is the first time that the goodbyes have been really hard for her. I mean don't get me wrong, they have never been easy, but this time was especially challenging for her.

She said something to me that about made me lose it too. She said, "You know what's funny mom? I can say almost any word and it doesn't make my stomach hurt. But when I say the word "Haiti" it makes my stomach hurt." (That made my stomach hurt to hear that.)

I know Nia loves a lot of things in Haiti, but yeah, this whole here/there thing is starting to be real to her. Last night at bedtime Nick asked the kids where they were going to live when they grow up. Nico said America. Nia said China. Josiah said, "Auntie Gretchen's house."

I know that just because we feel like we were called to Haiti that means that for now our kids are along for the ride. There have been times when we've received criticism from parents who think we are AWFUL for bringing our kids to Haiti and "subjecting" them to "the conditions." I don't see it that way. I know that we're choosing a different path for our kids. Not worse, different. Because that's what it is to us. Some people look at raising kids in Haiti and they see the poverty, the see the need. They wonder how we can expose our kids to the suffering they see. And they look at their lives in North America and they see good schools, good medical care and well, safety. Which is not to say that I think Haiti is unsafe or that America is safe. Actually, I don't think either statement is true.

I like that my kids get the opportunity to really experience two very drastically different cultures. I like that they are bilingual. I like that they're developing hearts of compassion. (Well, as much as can be expected at this age.) But I hate that it comes at the expense of seeing their grandparents everyday. I hate that we can't go to Crosspointe every week. I hate that Nia doesn't get to take ballet class, Nico doesn't get to go to "regular" preschool and Josiah doesn't really even like American food.

Ug, there - here. Here - there.

The good news is that within 1 minute of being home it was all belly-laughing and playing together as family… as if we'd never left. So it's not all a bummer. In fact it's great. Both places are great.

It's just the in-between that sucks.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Hey all...

We are headed out of seclusion and just sort of starting to wade through emails and fb messages. Bear with us. We'll be back to you by Tuesday at the latest.

I am opening back up comments, but only to people who are willing to own their comments.


So glad to be connected again.

The 3 Big Questions

I read the most amazing book this week-- "The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family."

Honestly, it was life-changing. It's a fantastic (albeit marginally written) book that helps you look at your family through "strategic planning" eyes. The book makes the case that while there are so many successful business-minded people accomplishing great things in the world, when it comes to structuring our families, most of us fail. (Us included.)

We had time this week to talk about our family. To come up with an idea of who are family is, what we value, and what we need to work on. I would HIGHLY recommend the book.

For those of you who have already read it and will "get" this next part, this is what we walked away with.

The Mangine Family
We are a communicative family that is committed to ongoing personal growth and displaying our faith in our actions. We believe that family is chosen and permanent. We invest money into things we think are important and immerse ourselves in Haitian culture. We place a special emphasis on building family relationships and welcome many kinds of people into our home.

Rallying cry:
To become personally involved in each child’s education by the end of the school year.

Defining objectives:
  • Setting up 2-5pm M-F as non-negotiable study time for/with our children.
  • Work on getting kids enrolled for school for next year.
  • Come up with an Individual Education Program for each child.
  • Set aside times (during the 2-5pm timeframe) M-F to work specifically with American kids on US lessons.
  • Come up with alternative activities/lessons to fill time if needed.

Standard Objectives:
  • Faith- church, devotions, quiet times
  • Marriage- weekly date nights, couple devotions
  • Health- exercise, sleep, Sabbath
  • Fun- time with our kids, time in our marriage
  • Administration- organization, teams, house, employees, finances
  • Communication- emails, facebook, blog

I am excited to put this into practice when we get home. :)

How (not) To Parent

Thursday, March 3, 2011

where i have landed.

Dear friends,

So we're wrapping up our two weeks of seclusion this weekend. We're headed back to see our (American) kids LATE tomorrow night and then we will spend the weekend packing and saying our goodbyes once again. I am very ready to be back in Haiti-- I miss our kids there so much that Nick and I have started watching our home movies just to see their faces and hear their voices. I honestly thought it was just me but then when I came upstairs after a session, I saw Nick watching a video of the kids singing, "Maneater." (We sing that song to Manita because that's kind of what her name sounds like and she thinks it's about her… the kids have just picked up on it. :) Nick CLAIMS that he was just "editing" the video, but I didn't see any evidence of that! ;) He's such a softie.

The best thing about this time of therapy, debriefing and renewal is having the chance to rest and be away from everything. To tune into the voice of the Lord and to tune out the voices of "the crowd" for a while. Now, most of you who've met me know that I am EXTREMELY an extrovert, so I live for the crowd. I love being around people But yeah, this wasn't the time. In turning off input from all but a select few trusted people we were able to have the space to detox a bit from the stress and negative adrenaline that had been building. We made a few important self-discoveries. I don't feel right sharing Nick's findings, but I learned and was able to process a few things that I think are crucial to my ability to walk on.

First, it's okay-- no actually GOOD, to share my short-comings with others. Now, I know that there's a time and place and certain people that need to hear the details and the "nitty gritty." But there's also great freedom in being able to talk freely about my personality and the things with which I struggle. We discussed the life of the apostle Paul a lot over the past week, and it was, in fact, Paul who wrote these words to the church in Corinth, "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself." Paul is writing publicly to an entire community to, well frankly, tell the truth. There is value in telling the truth and there is value in letting other people know of your suffering. That was comforting for me to hear. Especially the fact that PAUL HIMSELF found him overwhelmed… "under great pressure, far beyond his ability to endure." It's okay to get there. It's okay to be there, but it's HOW we deal with this kind of stress that will determine if it will kill us or if it we will walk on.

We've had our eyes opened about some of the physical manifestations of stress and we were able to see and acknowledge that there are many things relating to our emotional health that we were not plainly acknowledging. We were able to see more plainly where we've been relying too much on ourselves and not nearly enough on the Lord to help us with deal with the hardships we were facing. We were able to see and understand more about our own mental health and see some telling things about the mental health of others that we've allowed to influence us in the past. We've learned about things like false guilt and what it means to have a Savior complex. And most of all, we've learned that when mentally unstable people break down, they RARELY go down alone… they most always bring others down with them. We were able to identify examples we've seen of this. It was so eye-opening and so healing. Most of all, it gives us place to go from here, to allow the Lord, not the actions of others, to control us.

The most convicting thing that I learned about myself during this time was that I have a strong tendency towards the sinful habit of caring too much what people think about me. For a long time and with therapists past, that has always just been defined as me being more relational as opposed to task-oriented. (ie--Because I am naturally a relational person, I tend to chose person over task.) But this week I discovered that wasn't the root issue. It's not simply a matter of valuing relationships with people more than I care about getting things done. Somewhere closer to the truth is to say that I have a tendency to value relationships with people more than I value my relationship with God. I care MORE about what people think about me than I care about what God says. It's been incredibly freeing to realize this. I think I have some ideas of where this idea might have come from, but rather than focusing on where it came from, I am acknowledging the harmful ways with which it manifests itself.

Over the past couple of years, I think I have been afraid to stand up for things that deep down I knew were wrong because I was afraid of how others would think of me. So when, in my soul, little "red flags" would pop up, I'd think through the situation and how I might be perceived and, out of fear of what people might think of me, silence these concerns. I've now seen how that is really not helpful and not how the Lord wants us to live. He gave us those "red flags" as subtle warnings. As the the situations got more and more serious, the "red flags" I'd dismiss got bigger and bigger. And on and on it went. And my soul got more and more ill as the situation got worse and worse. And then when things broke in relationships, I couldn't handle it. I had spent so much energy and effort trying to ignore the red flags, hoping to keep everyone happy, that when it all fell apart, I found myself with enemies and nothing left in my soul to keep me afloat. This lead to a lot of fear and the tendency to give others' hateful opinions of me too much influence. I think that any time someone expresses a negative opinion, whether it's an accusation or just a mean comment, it's worth taking a small look at to see if this could be God trying to convict us of sin in our lives. However, if it's something that's unfounded or just plain mean, the healthy reaction is just to let it go. There were plenty of people who hated and rejected Jesus and he let them hate him. He spoke truth into the situation and he moved on. He didn't obsessively fret and worry and check blogs and Facebook to see what was being said about him. :) He let it go. Now, I am not claiming to be Jesus. But I am a follower of Jesus. And so everyday, I hope my life starts to look more and more like his. If this is the example he set, I can trust that it's the right way.

And so, yeah, if you have legitimate problems with me, if I've sinned in any way and caused you pain, I am sorry. I am willing to own things that are a result of my own sin. But I am no longer open to owning meanness for meanness' sake. I am no longer willing to engage it. As a very wise woman told me last week, "Just because someone sends you a noose in the mail doesn't mean you need to put it on your neck." I have tried and tried to mend some relationships that just aren't ready to be mended. So I need to let them go and trust that God will complete the changes in hearts necessary for reconciliation. If that doesn't happen, that's not my deal, and it would be wrong for me to take that on myself.

Wow, I have been long-winded. The point of me writing this all out is partially that I am trying to wrap up and put a bow on the things I've learned. (This is just one of the lessons… there are others coming… sorry if this bores you, but this is where I am. I am sure snarky Gwenn will make an appearance here before too long.) There were several other things I've learned and absorbed. It's my hope and my prayer that by sharing weakness and vulnerability in myself, I will help others recognize it if they have the same tendencies. Friends, living in bondage is not what God has for us.

I know that there are a bunch of missionaries who read this blog, and I IMPLORE you to check out Mission Training International ( This is a safe place. This is a place where they know and "get" missionaries. This is a place where they understand the challenges and tensions of living in another culture. This is a confidential place where you can meet with others who've experienced similar things. This is a place where you can heal and learn where to "put" the trauma you've experienced. This is a place to debrief and renew. This is a place to rest. This is a place to breathe again.

Walking on to brighter things,

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

sad news

So, about a month ago I posted this post about how we were working with a potential birth mother that was expecting a baby while we were on furlough. We had some tentative plans to perhaps parent that baby, but were very unsure how the situation would work out so we really tried to stay detached.

D (the mother) gave birth yesterday to a sweet little girl. Unfortunately, the baby was not properly formed and only lived for about 40 minutes before passing into the hands of Jesus.

Please pray for this young mother. I am thankful that she now doesn't have to make the choice to place her baby for adoption or not to place, but I am grieved with her right now about the death of her child. I am thankful that in heaven the baby is whole. I am thankful that she will not have to grow up knowing the trauma of her conception. But I grieve for D right now.

I am glad that D named the baby, which is a very not Haitian thing to do. I am thankful for that. Today Abagayel will be buried.

Please pray for comfort and peace for everyone who's been dealing with this hard, sad situation.