Monday, September 20, 2010

Adoption: The Child's Story

I was recently talking with a fellow adoptive mom (who just also happens to be a great friend) and the topic of sharing your adopted child's story with others came up. I guess because we are friends, we know the story behind our children's adoptions. You know, the things like where they were born, the reason their birthparents decided to form an adoption plan, etc. She asked me if I shared this with everyone or just with family and close personal friends? It prompted me to write this post.

I feel like my children's story is just that: it's THEIR story. It's really no ones business and if I choose to share it with family and very close friends, I feel like that is ok...but a random stranger I meet in a grocery store? Absolutely not. And let's not kid ourselves...I've been asked by complete strangers. Now I know you are probably reading this thinking, "no way", but yes, I've been asked things like "was she a crack baby?" or "why didn't his mom want him?" by complete strangers.

So, I'll start there.

If you learn nothing more from this blog, PLEASE don't ask someone you don't know that well the story behind their child's adoption and PLEASE don't be so idiotic to make statements like "why didn't his mom want him?" Questions like that personally make me want to vomit, and they make my blood pressure go to stroke level when some silly question is asked in front of my older kids because even though the babies may not understand you, my 11 year old and 8 year olds do. And guess what? When we get in the car, the first thing they are going to ask me is why my son's mom (who they know) didn't want him. Or what a crack baby is.

If you happen to be an adoptive parent reading this, I strongly encourage you to really think about what you are sharing with anyone and everyone about your child's story. Although I believe most people probably mean well, you have to think about what will happen down the road when someone could possibly say to your child, "you are so lucky your mom and dad saved you from a life of XYZ."

Yes, it's each of our decision to share what we want to, but for us, there are some things that are better to be shared only with the child. If my adopted children want to share their story one day when they are old enough to fully comprehend, that will be their choice, but until's their story.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Adoption: Meant to Be?

I recently stumbled on a blog post where the author was talking about adoption and how it was meant to be that her children came to her through adoption. I'm actually a little mad at myself because I have no clue how I found this post, and honestly as I read it, it didn't really stir up a lot of emotion in me at the time. Then, I dreamed about it that night and I have spent the last week waking up at different intervals during the night (because of my abdominal pain) and that blog post (or at least the ideas behind it) have been one of the first thoughts to pop in my mind.

Were our adoptions meant to be?

I'm not sure how I can honestly answer that question and get all the things I WANT to say into a coherent post, but this is the analogy that comes to mind.

A person is in kidney failure. They are going to die if they don't get a kidney. They desperately want a kidney, might even be a little angry with God that the body that he created for them doesn't work properly and secretly wish that someone else would give them a kidney. One day, they get a surprise phone call....a woman was killed in a car wreck, but was an organ donor and her kidney is a match. Was that meant to be? Was it meant to be that she had to die to save your life?

In my mind, it's sort of the same way with adoption. Some couples just can't have babies. Some women can't find the right man but desperately want children. Some people (like us) have just always talked about adoption and it just seemed like the next logical stop to pursue after years of planning and prayer. But does that mean that it was "meant to be" when we do adopt that child.

Are our adopted children the loves of our life? Are we completely joyous that they are now our children? YES!

I think God intended for all children to be with their parents. It's unnatural to take a child away from his mother. And yet, in reality, it happens. Parents can't take care of their child because of financial, emotional, and a whole other hosts of reasons. Heck, some parents just don't want to do it. This leads to many things, one of which being the option of adoption.

I guess my feeling is that it was meant to be that we weren't supposed to sin from the beginning, but eating that fruit from the tree landed us here at the crossroads of so many people in the adoption triad arguing about issues like this. Who's right? Who's wrong? Is it all so black and white?

Here's what I know: I don't personally buy into the whole "they are better off" when a child is adopted, because let's face it...they aren't. They would be better off to be parented by the natural parents in the country they are born in. They would be better off if things like drugs didn't interfere with their parents raising them or health crisis like AIDS didn't kill their father. They would be better off if they had three warm meals a day. They would better off to live with their natural family who loved them than to ever have to deal with the unnatural loss they will eventually feel. And yes, all adoptees will deal with loss at some point, because they have lost a relationship with parents that God intended to occur.

So, meant to be...yeah, I don't buy it. Am I incredibly blessed to have two amazing children that I didn't give birth to? YES! But in a perfect world, the loss that occurs with adoption wouldn't exist. There wouldn't be children in orphanages waiting for their families, there wouldn't be a black mother in OH not having enough choices of adoptive families for her child, and there certainly wouldn't be all the older "unadoptable" children praying someone will find value in them sitting in foster homes.

I just don't want either of my children's firstmoms to ever think that the sole reason they carried their child was for me. It just seems so selfish on my part. Am I thankful they choose us? Yes! But for my children's sake, I wish both of their mother's situation was different so that they didn't have to make the difficult decision that they did.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Creepy People

This blog post is to all the nutjobs I have encountered in the last 24 hours in my doctor's office waiting room. In the last day, I have successfully had an ultrasound, bloodwork, an exam and a CT scan with contrast. Since each of these events were independent of each other, that means I have sat in a total of four waiting rooms in the last 24 hours of my life.

I guess it would be different if I felt good, but I've got some pain so I haven't been my normal happy go lucky self which could explain why the insane behavior I witnessed literally grated on my last nerve.

It all started yesterday when I went for an ultrasound. I knew I was going to need to bite my tongue the minute the LOUD couple entered the waiting room. He was old and gross and she was very pregnant. I'm guessing she wasn't a very bright woman because she was with Mr. Old and Gross. They brought their precious little 18 month old demon with them who Mr. Old and Gross referred to as Mr. Junior the whole time I was waiting. "UH OH, I THINK MR. JUNIOR HAS POOPED HIS PANTS," Mr. Old and Gross said loudly. Really? I couldn't tell from the foul smell that was filling the room as precious little Mr. Junior ran all over. "MOMMA, I THINK MR. JUNIOR HAS A GIFT FOR YOU IN HIS DIAPER," he continued to LOUDLY proclaim. I was just wondering why Mr. Old and Gross wouldn't just go change Mr. Junior....but he didn't.

While I continued to wait, a very attractive black woman came into the waiting room and sat next to me. She quickly buried her head into a magazine (probably to keep from gagging on the poop smell) and about that time Mr. Old and Gross picked up a copy of People magazine with Sandra Bullock on the cover. "WHY DO YOU THINK SHE HAD TO GO AND ADOPT A BLACK KID?" Mr. Old and Gross asked his wife/girlfriend/incubator. "Well, honey, I'm sure cause they are easier to get and cheaper," she replied. I wanted to kill them. Literally. At that moment they called me back, and I seriously thanked the ultrasound technician for getting me out of hell. "Oh no, what happened," she asked. I told her she would be finding out soon enough because the LOUD couple were up after me. Lucky girl.

My next visit was to the exam today. That waiting room was pretty normal. Following my exam, it was time for bloodwork. Yep, another waiting room. I've actually had bloodwork drawn at this location before, so I already knew they keep the prep room open and you wait right outside the door. What I didn't expect to see was the poor girl getting her blood drawn RIGHT INSIDE THE DOOR. Ewww. I mean seriously, shut the freaking door peeps. And I guess I should say, attempting to get her blood drawn, as they COULD NOT GET A VEIN. I waited for 30 minutes and I personally watched them stick her 9 times and who knows how long they had been going before I got there. They had to tell her to come back tomorrow so the poor girl who looked like a pin cushion at this point left without even giving up the goods. I should have realized at this point that it was a SIGN of things to come. They were able to get blood from me on the first stick, so I was quickly out of there.

Next, it was on to a CT scan at Baptist Hospital. After waiting for a few minutes and enjoying a 2 year old Southern Living in an empty waiting room, I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN things were not going to be good when the tech brought in a Route 44 size vanilla shake for me to drink before my scan. Yeah, I don't like vanilla. At all. "Drink it quick," she said. "You have to wait 90 minutes after you drink it to start the scan." Lovely. I slurped down the Route 44 nastiness and settled in with my magazine wishing I had brought a book. That's when the cute little old couple walked in to my quiet, empty waiting room. "Aren't they a sweet little couple," I thought to myself.

Then she pulled out the nail clippers.

I will take this moment to tell you I. CAN'T. STAND. THE. SOUND. OF. SOMEONE. ELSE. CUTTING. THEIR. NAILS. Not even my cute little hubby or my precious little angel children. I'm a little sick just thinking of the sound while I type this.

She proceeded to trim ALL HER OLD FINGERNAILS and let the clippings fall to the floor. She even stood up at the end to let the loose trimmings in her lap fall to the floor. I tried really hard to snap a pic of this on my phone without being caught, but it just wasn't possible, because as I said....we were the only ones in the room. At this point, the vanilla monster I had just inhaled was making me feel sick, the waiting room was freezing and I just wanted to get the heck out of dodge.

Finally, Art called me back. Art was a cute little man who told me he'd been doing CT scans for 33 years. I hop on the table (that's a lie, I laid down on the table like the old, hurting woman that I am) and Art told me he needed to start an IV to run the contrast. No problem. "I have great veins," I tell Art. I was wrong. I don't know what happened between my happy little lab stick and the CT scan, but I guess all my veins decided to have a little party and got too tired to stick out. Art COULD NOT find a vein. He finally found one on his fourth attempt.

So, here I am with still no answers on what is wrong with me, enough bandaids on my arms you would think I've been in war, and some great stories from the creepy people in the waiting rooms. Can't wait to see what tomorrow is like!

Been a "little" busy

So, yeah, life the last few months has been nuts. We've officially wrapped up another consignment sale, Anna broke her ankle during the sale and just got her cast off on Tuesday, Mary Elizabeth turned 3 on August 7, Jonathan and I started on a co-ed kickball league, and I injured myself working out on August 28. Needless to say, I'm glad August is over.

I go to the doctor today to find out if and when I will be having surgery. I'm just praying they can do whatever they need to do without literally cutting me open. I'm not a huge fan of being put to sleep. I don't like not being in control (shocking, I know) and I really don't like not remembering what I say or do as I come out of surgery. Also, I'm a little nervous about not being able to pick up my kids. I love a good bear hug from Josh or dancing around the house with Mary, so the idea of not picking them up for a while pretty much sucks.

I have a little bit of "new to us" car fever right now. It's not too bad, because as anyone that knows me would attest, if it was really bad car fever, I would have already bought one. I would describe the fever as more of a "weighing my options" type fever. I'm trying to decide if I want to enter the magical world of a mini-van again. Have I finally recognized that driving a swagger wagon that gets better gas mileage might not be as cool looking as my gas sucking Suburban, but it sure is more convenient and cheaper? Plus, the leather on my driver's seat is really cracking and it is itching me to death when I drive so that's sounding like a good reason for a "new to me" car. My friend Jenn has a minivan she calls her swagger wagon, so I've already decided that I like that name and will be naming my "new to me" van Swagger Wagon The Second and calling him/her Deuce. That is, if I buy one. We're looking at Honda Odyssey vans, which is my personal favorite. Do I want one with a DVD player is my next question? We've never had a car with that and honestly, the idea of driving down the road with Caillou blaring makes me want to have a small panic attack even while I type.

On the car note, I pulled off my best surprise EVER in August. I surprised Jonathan with a Jeep. He had always talked about buying a Jeep "one day" and I decided that there was no time like the present to buy one. I put my dad AKA the jeep master on the job and we found it within a week in Bowling Green, KY on craigslist (are you counting here? this is the third car we have now bought off craigslist) Dad went and picked it up for me, detailed it and brought it down and parked it in the fire lane during the consignment sale. The fire lane was a huge area of contention during the sale because people kept parking in it so we were constantly making announcements for people to move their car so the fire marshall wouldn't show up yelling at us. Jonathan arrived after work to Natalie making the announcement "if you have a white jeep in the fire lane, please come move your car" After making the announcement several times, I handed the key to Jonathan and told him to go move his jeep. His face was priceless. "Whatever" he said. "That's not my Jeep!" He continued to argue with me until I walked outside and got in the Jeep, pulled out the title and showed it. For the next 10 minutes, he drove me around in shock finally asking "how much did you spend?" which I knew was driving him crazy.

I tell you, the man is in love. I can't tell you how many people have called or emailed to say they have seen Jonathan driving around town and he has a big grin on his face. It has it's own space in the garage, which should tell you how in love he is as NOTHING has ever parked in the garage because it's always so full of crap. He came home that night, cleaned out one side of the garage and she has been parked in there every night since. His big decisions in the morning are things like "do I take the top off today?" My dad even gave him a Jeep shirt which at first he thought was silly, but he now proudly wears every other day. It's cute and I'm glad to see him so thrilled with his new toy. He works really hard for our family and he needs to have something he can tinker with.

The kids love it too! The boys have already figured out how to grab the bar in the back and swing themselves in. The babies love it too. It made me EXTREMELY nervous the first time they rode in it, but Jonathan promised me they would be securely strapped in their carseats and he was right, they LOVED it.

So, that's the update on us. I'll keep you posted on surgery, minivans and the other crazy happenings in our life. Until next time...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Adoption Disruption

It's all around me and it hurts my heart.

What is it? disrupting an adoption. This basically means you bring home a child/children and parent those said children for any amount of time before you realize that this might not be a good fit. The child may have some serious health issues you weren't made aware of. The child my have a difficult time attaching to you, the new adoptive family. The child may want to physically harm you or their other siblings (whether biological or adopted).

I write this to shed some light on it. We have many friends in my different walks of life right now that are unfortunately learning the meaning of that ugly word "disruption." I'm sure it feels no different than having a huge FAILURE stamped on your forehead and yet, until you've walked in their shoes, it's easy to say YOU could deal with the issues they are facing.

What if you found out your newly adopted child was sexually assualting another child? What if you found out your newly adopted child was full of rage, wanted no part of this life and threatened suicide constantly?

I feel that God put me in this part of my life to be a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on. I don't understand what disrupting an adoption entails, but I do know that as an adoptive family, you have so many eyes watching you all the time and this must be 10 times worse.

Adoption is not always sunshine and most certainly can be, but in the pit of it you find a lot of pain. Pain from a mom who couldn't parent her child and chose a family for him to go live with. Pain as she wonders how her child is doing 6 months from now. Pain in your heart when your adopted child asks you questions you can't answer because the birthmom wanted the adoption closed. Pain when your child begins the search for his birthparents not even knowing if they will even want to meet him. Pain from a child leaving behind his people, his land, his friends to come to the U.S., the land of promise when all he wants is his old home back.

It's all around me and it hurts my hurt.

Haiti: Part 9 THE FINALE

Here's the final installment of Jay's journal to Haiti. He, my hubby J, and five other guys went to Haiti April 26-May 2. If you are just now catching this, you might want to start at the beginning.

Haiti: Part 1 & 2
Haiti: Part 3 & 4
Haiti: Part 5 & 6
Haiti: Part 7 & 8

Here's Jay, the author, who graciously let me publish this to my blog:
Part 9: The flood, the flight, the fight, and the finish.

It took me a few phone calls to get through to Shantel. I could tell she's upset. "There is a flood." We hadn't watched television or news, or really heard anything about back home in several days. "There is water in our back yard, the kids basketball goal is floating... I've started carrying important things upstairs." Naturally, I figured she was over reacting. Then she sent me pictures. Then the news came in from Nashville. Flooding everywhere. Highways and roads being closed. Shantel couldn't get out of our subdivision. The small creek in our back yard was a giant raging river and the community was surrounded by water. I have never felt so helpless in my entire life. I heard words come from my mouth, "It's just a house. Take care of the girls, you'll be fine."

The guys all started calling home getting various reports. The biggest flood in Nashville history, cars, and people, and buildings being swept away. While we were at the beach our homes were being threatened. We called friends, and family, and church members. Story after story piled in, and it looked like we would be coming home to a different place. Saturday night we packed up, and knew we would make it to Miami, but had no idea if they would let us back into Nashville.

By 5:30a on Sunday I was packed and ready to go. One back pack was all I brought home. We opted not to drive the road back to Port Au Prince so we wouldn't miss our flight from Haiti to Miami, and instead were flying a charter plane from Jacmel to Port Au Prince. The Jacmel airport was an over grown driveway with no planes anywhere around. One plane would fly in, pick up passengers and turn around. We were the first people at the "airport." we let ourselves in. A man sleepily showed up at the door of the "airport" (that we never actually walked in) and took down our names and birth dates. About 6:30a a small plane dropped in on the driveway, squeeled to a hault and then turned around. We were on the 15 passenger plane and ready for take off in under 2 minutes. It was a little unnerving to see the pilots hand hanging out the window at the front of the plane. There was no systems check, or refueling, we just rode down the driveway turned around, and then blasted down the "driveway" right at the "airport" and at the last moment, flew away. The flight lasted 15 minutes at most. Flying over Haiti was saddening. Seeing the devastation from a few thousand feet at most was almost overwhelming. It was easy to see how thousands of people died. Concrete homes with little to no building regulations toppling over and crushing entire families, and businesses, and hospitals. Tent after tent, after make-shift shelter littered the landscape.

A taxi-van driver whipped us over to the Port Au Prince airport from where our charter flight landed. I have no idea why it didn't land where we were flying from, but in Haiti, you didn't ask too many questions. Re-entry into Port Au Prince airport was kind of nice. We sat in an air conditioned lobby with mostly English speaking people heading back to the United States. Tons of relief workers and doctors; I met a nurse who saw over 450 patients in five days and a construction crew that build 43 houses in a week. I felt very inadequate, but equally inspired by care and concern being shown to a place that could easily be forgotten.

No one was holding up signs and cheering for us when we walked off the plane in Miami, but I felt like kissing the ground and hugging everyone I saw. Most of the people I wanted to see were Ronald McDonald, the Burger King, and Mr. Coca Cola himself. We walked with purpose to find out how we would get home. Nashville flight: CANCELLED. We knew getting home would be a fight, but it didn't sting any less seeing it on the plasma paneled flat screen. We went straight to the counter and started working out the details. The airline had booked us for 11:20 pm Tuesday night to head back to Nashville. Unacceptable. We thought about Louisville, Memphis, Knoxville, and even Birmingham. BOOM. decided. Before I knew it, we were being booked on a flight to Knoxville for 8pm that evening, and would land at 10:30p. Then we would drive as far as we could, and hopefully be home that evening. The guys I traveled with were calling rental car companies, hotels in between Nashville and Knoxville and their wives for permission before I even knew what happened. They were ready for this fight, they had trained, and they had frequent traveler miles burning a holes in their pockets. Gung Ho was being gung ho, and Kevin was searching for Marlins tickets. I just kinda watched what was happening to me, and trying to call my wife.

The water had gone down a little and Shantel was much more calm. Amazing neighbors and church friends had checked in on her, and the situation had slowed a bit for her. The rest of Nashville was a different story. More rain was coming, and the worst would not be over for a while. 30 and 40 miles of interstate were being closed down, and entire communities were disappearing under flood water. We just wanted to get back to what was left of home.

We split up in two taxis, with over 8 hours before our flight to Knoxville would take off, and decided to go to a Marlins day game. I wasn't thrilled about this. Sitting outside was the last thing I wanted to do. To my surprise, no one in Miami knows there is a major league baseball team that plays in their town. We walked in for free. I counted 847 people at the game. This was good for us. Somehow, gung ho talked our way into the club level section, and before I knew it, we were seated in the shade. We danced the chicken dance, we screamed charge, we ate hamburgers and hotdogs, and watched baseball. Then, I remembered, there was a lounge inside. We wandered into a mixture of an airport terminal lobby and a super sports man cave. There were flat-screens everywhere playing the game we were watching, other games that were being played, sportscenter, and the 1986 major league baseball all-star game. I ate ice-cream while sitting in a leather chair and watching Cal Ripken Jr. and Barry Larkin play ball. The tragic turn of events was not lost on me; less than 6 hours before I was in a third world country. Now, I was in a climate-controlled house of worship for a child's game. I still ate my ice cream though.

We taxied back to the airport and continued our waiting game. I wasn't even sure we would make it to Knoxville. The flooding was everywhere, and the news was reporting deaths. The Opryland Hotel was evacuated and people who were in luxury suites were now in a high school gym laying on the floors without pillows or blankets. I just wanted to hold my wife and hug my children. Instead, we played spades in a airport cafeteria. It was a fight to stay sane. It was a fight to be polite. It was a fight just to get home.

By 8pm we were all spread out over our third airplane flight in less than 24 hours. After this we'd have a car ride. What a fight. I read two books while I was on the trip. "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, and Donald Millers, "A Million Miles, and a Thousand Years." One story about making your life a meaningful story, and the other a hopeless journey on a road to keep hope alive. The irony was not lost on me there either. The plane landed in Knoxville and the rain was coming down.

"Don't come home." was the general consensus by all the wives of all the husbands on the trip. The magic of Facebook and text messaging banded them together against us, and the fight turned against us for a while in the Knoxville airport. All we wanted to do was go home. All they wanted to do was keep us safe. They were fine, the houses were fine, but no one was supposed to go anywhere. The entire city had imposed a travel curfew. We just wanted to go, but home didn't want us right now. They wanted us safe.

We split up in two cars. One heading to North Nashville and one South. We would drive till we couldn't go any farther, then we'd stop for the night. It sounded like a good plan. About 10 miles in, hotels had been booked a hour and half from Nashville in Cookeville, TN. Gung ho wasn't happy. I was miserable, and the wives were generally displeased with their stubborn husbands. Our mission trip to Haiti had turned into a mission to get home- and yes- it was a fight.

We were up by 4:59a. In the morning. The drive through downtown Nashville was almost as sobering as the drive from Port Au Prince to Jacmel. It felt like I'd come full circle. I started thinking about all I had seen, and everything I had felt, and wasn't really sure how I was going to explain to my wife the things I'd experienced. I just knew that I loved her and I was glad she was safe, and my girls were protected. I had talked to Shantel a few times during my trip, but only about the highlights. I hadn't heard much from my daughters other than "I love you daddy, I miss you!" I was ready to give them small gifts I had brought back and tell them the stories of the children across the ocean that were a lot like them, yet completely different. At 7am on Monday I was dropped off at my water-logged door step. The sky was pefectly blue, with whisps of clouds floating. I half-expected to see an ark parked in my cul de sac with an old man walking off the animal kingdom two by two.

I rang the door bell to my house, only two hear a stampede of tiny feet coming my way. My daughters poked through the curtains and screamed, "DADDY!" The door opened, and I was home. My daughter Hope smiled at me and said, "Hi Daddy, do you have pictures?" I was wowed by her interest in Haiti and the orphans and my travels. "I do", I said with a smile. "Yeah, Daddy, I want to see the ones where you threw up!"

I'm Going To Disney World

Yes, it's true. Anna and I are going to my favorite place in the world: Disney World. She's now 11 and I know traveling with her mom is going to quickly become "not cool", so when the opportunity to go to Disney's pin convention in August came up, I jumped at the chance to take her for a little mom/daughter trip.

We are still in the planning stages, only having booked the actual convention so far and now trying to decide on a hotel and praying we get some good airfare on flights. We've never been to a convention before, so although I've talked to several people that have been, I'm still not entirely sure what to expect. I am quickly understanding that the convention will take up most of our day so I know we won't have much extra time at any other parks except Epcot, which is where the convention is being held.

So what type of convention are we going to you ask? Well, that would be a Disney pin convention. Yes, we are Disney pin collectors. Yes, we got sucked in. Here's the story: Now, when you visit any of the Disney theme parks you will find that the majority of the employees working (called cast members) will have on lanyards with pins. For a small fortune, you can buy your own lanyard and sets of pins and then you trade with the cast members. There are all types of different sets you can collect, some of which you can't buy but can only trade for. At our house, we (meaning me, Anna, Isaac and Luke) have each picked our favorite characters and we try to trade for only those pins. Anna loves Tinkerbell, Isaac loves Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas, Luke loves any Pirates and I personally collect nice Mickey pins, Chip and Dale, and Tower of Terror pins (my favorite ride). We also are looking for pins from the movie Enchanted and Up. Yes, they make pins for EVERYTHING and when I say EVERYTHING, I mean EVERYTHING. I'm not sure of the exact numbers, but I'm sure there are well over 50,000 pins that Disney has made. We personally display our pins on large decorative boards in our den and the we all enjoy planning what we will look for next. Here's some of our pins:
It's a great hobby and I'm super pumped that we get another good excuse to visit Disney again. It truly is my happy place and even though we will only be there 3 1/2 days, I'm not going to complain!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Haiti: Part 7 & 8

If you this is the first time you are reading a post about my hubby's trip to Haiti you will definitely want to read these first before scrolling down:

Haiti: Part 1 & 2
Haiti: Part 3 & 4
Haiti: Part 5 & 6

I wish I could take the credit for what you are about to read, but all the credit goes to our friend Jay who went with my hubby, J, and 5 other guys to Haiti from April 26-May 2. They were there working for the Hands and Feet Project. Here's Jay (with my J behind him):
We all knew what Saturday morning meant. Larry had laid it out for us: We would start early, the supplies were here, and we were going to help pour a concrete roof. I remembered the roof. I knew what it had done to me on day one. At this point however, I would have rather done anything other than pick out rocks from the ground. We were outside by 6am. There was hammering and loud talking, and machines humming well before 5:30am. I stumbled out to the porch only to see an army of day laborers slinging mixed concrete up the roof at unimaginable speeds. I rubbed my eyes, looked left, and there was gung ho, legs propped up on the rails, watching real men work. Apparently, they were so good at what they did, that we would have got in the way. I'm not sure if this was what Larry had expected, and he had just been messing with us all along, but whatever the case, I think everyone was relieved.

There was no conveyor belt, or giant concrete truck; just a small mixer dumping concrete onto the ground, 12 guys on a cobbled together ladder than had just been extended an hour before to reach up to the roof, and a small contingency adding water, concrete, and sand into the mixer, filling up buckets and slinging it up the ladder. It was almost like watching Cirque De Soleil or even Riverdance; dancers in perfect rhythm and step as they floated concrete into the air and onto the roof. We watched like little boys staring at a car engine while our father showed us the intricacies of such a great machine.

While they labored, we stared, pointed, and took pictures of something, I'm sure could be seen every day with this work crew all across the town of Jacmel. It was amazing to us- and another day of work to them.

It was the city of Jacmel's birthday and electricity flowed through the city. Literally, elecrticity flowed; the city had power for the whole weekend to celebrate the occasion. Michelle made plans for a few of us to visit the market place festival and then the hospitals since we wouldn't be needed at Hands & Feet. Michelle had a boyfriend she wanted to introduce us to. We were all a bit surpised, and intrigued.

We walked past the no machine guns sign at the front of the hospital gate and through the rows of white tents that now housed the patients since the earthquake had destroyed portions of the hospital.
We walked through one tent where a small girl around the age of 5 or 6 was missing a section of skin from her shoulder and down her arm. With beautiful flowers hanging everywhere around the tents, I figured it used to be a courtyard, and now, it was the Hospital. Flies were hovering around her open wound, and as we paraded passed her through the tent, I don't think anyone had the courage to say a word.

Michelle's boyfriend turned out to be staying in a children's hospital. This hospital had a few rooms with dozens of metal hospital beds lined up like around the sides creating a race track for the nurses to navigate. Her man: a 2 year old boy who had lost his eyesight. She would lean in and talk to him, and he would just smile and laugh. This got all the other children in the hospital laughing, and made me smile for the young boy, whose life was being made better through Michelle, but devastated for these children.

There was no waiting room for parents to sit and family members to visit wondering whether or not their child was going to recover. For these infant patients, this was their home for the moment and the nurses were the only love they knew. As I walked out I noticed a small poster hanging on the wall. It was a locker hanging of the nickelodeon character iCarly. Depressing.

So much of the Hands & Feet would move from practical, helpful, and concrete steps to improve the place, while other things were much more thought provoking and abstract in the effect it had on the children, and mostly, on us. We were deeply affected by the people of Jacmel and the daily fight for survival.

We hopped back in a pick up truck and headed back to prepare for our trip to the beach. I had a thought as we were driving past the tap taps on the road, "How do you get 45 people to the beach in a 12 passenger van?"

8. The Beach

Since we'd been gone on our trip, all the children that were going to the beach, had already changed into swimsuits and had their towels around each neck. They were ready! Michelle told us when she first started taking them to the beach, they were terrified, because the children had never been exposed to something like that before. Reminder: Haiti is an island. The ocean is everywhere. How sad to think that a few miles away might as well be a lifetime.

27 people in total went to the beach. 9 grown adults and 18 children: in one min-van. Personal space is not an understood or practiced philosophy in Haiti, or Hands and Feet for that matter. Someone is always close by, and by close- I mean right on top of you. After a while, you realize that everyone is sweaty, and you can't escape, so you might as well deal with it. I sat in the front middle seat of the driving bench with a stick shift in front of me, and the ceiling of the van pressing down on my neck. My head was crooked over and I just prayed for small pot holes and quick travel. I later found out, we passed up two closer beaches that were only minutes away, so we could go to the "nice" beach.

As my realigned spine unfolded and we slid out the front door, we watched the others unpack much like a clown car on to the beach. We counted, double counted, and triple counted. Then we walked single file to the beach. I felt like I was in elementary school, and wished I was the line leader. The kids, were well, kids. They played in the water. One little boy brought a toy soldier with a motorcylcle and that terrorized most of the shoreline with his sound effects and endless gasoline supply. That toy must have excellent fuel efficiency. It was fun to watch him play.

We threw football, dove through the waves, and even kicked some of their football. The waves were small and the ocean was very warm. The sand was odd too. It looked like sand, and acted like sand, but it felt like mud. The kids didn't care; they screamed when the waves would hit them, and always wanted you to hold their hands. And... we did.

On the way home I sat in the first row of the back seat. Three guys sat on the bench, and four or five children sat between, around, or on us. One little girl in front of me fell asleep with her head on my leg. At first I was extremely uncomfortable with the whole thing, but then I had a thought: I wonder if this child had ever fallen asleep in someones arms. With only so many arms and laps to go around and 40 plus children, I can't imagine this opportunity happens too often. I can't think of a better feeling than being a child falling asleep in a parents arms. At home, I sometimes watch my daughters sleep, and listen to them breathe. I imagined them playing at the beach and falling asleep as we drove home with four people in a four person car seated in a child's safety seat. I think the happiness that I saw was the same, but the realities very different. I was ready to get home to my reality, and my children and wife, but didn't mind watching this little girl peacefully sleep in a wet smelly car of 27 people in a minivan after being at the beach.

We got back to the orphanage around 5pm to a few missed phone calls from my wife.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Haiti : Part 5 & 6

If you are reading this for the first time, please take a few moments to read Part 1 & 2 HERE and Part 3 & 4 HERE before reading this next section.

I wish I could take the credit for writing this amazing journal of thoughts from my hubby's recent trip to Haiti April 26-May 2, but all the credit goes to our friend Jay. Here's Jay with my J behind him in Haiti:
Being in Haiti is not like being in another country; its like being on another planet.

The next few days blended together with familiarity. Michelle would take us on errands, and a few of the guys would get to see Jacmel a bit at a time. Larry ran the construction chess match, and we were disposable pawns. He was matched up against a mastermind opponent: the schedule. In America, you break your pick axe, you wander down to the local hardware store (or three within a tenth of a mile) and you choose from a wide variety of pick axes. You can get your standard, or one with a built in level and mp3 player. In Haiti, you break it- its gone. Larry was protective of his tools for good reason. But the schedule was the real killer. Concrete blocks showed up when they were ready, and concrete bags were even worse. To quote "O' Brother Where Art Thou?" ,Haiti is a geographical oddity- two weeks from everywhere. The best thing I can compare it to in America: A cable company. You never know when it i'll show up, but you'll be appreciative... otherwise... no ESPN for you.

All of this didn't sneak up on Larry. He was wise to the ways of Haiti, and also keeping volunteers busy. In the middle of the courtyard was a playground with swings, and a merry go round, and eight holes in the ground. The group before us, and maybe the group before that, had dug holes for the footings to complete the Hands & Feet play palace. "Why don't you guys finish out those holes and we'll pour the footings with concrete and have the play set up." Sounds easy enough right? "And, it will give you something to do while we wait for the supplies."

Why would anyone want to give up vacation to go do something like this? It's simple: Natalie, Kirby, Crystala, and 40 other perfect examples of second chance grace. Hands & Feet pours love and protection over orphan children and chips away the stone cold existence of the harsh reality they came from. I am quite certain after hearing their stories, the men on this trip would have done anything to make their life a bit easier.

That "anything" turned out to be digging holes in 90 degree weather in the blazing sun. We guess it would be a 2 hour job... only to be reminded that Haiti came from volcanic activity and this polluted paradise was nothing but rock. In Tennessee, you'd go rent some massive piece of equipment by the hour at home depot that would probably have you half way to the Earth's core by brunch. In Jacmel, you were given a small chisel, a hammer, and a pat on the back. Oh, and a pick axe that stayed together most of the time.

Two of the more experienced mission trip takers, Kevin and Gung Ho sized up the job. Larry brought out string and measurements, and levels... it was quite an undertaking. We surmised about 4 inches needed in the first hole. No problem. We hammered with force. We abused that pick axe like it had said things about our mother. Rock and dirt flew around like escapees from a police raid. Proud of our efforts, with sweat pouring off of everything single one of us after five minutes, we pulled out the measuring stick. Somehow, we now had five inches to go instead of four! Worse than a long line at the DMV, this was my version of hell. It was tedious. It was laborious. It was discouraging.

For hours we chipped away. Every once in a while someone would pull a stone the size of their fist from the ground, and those were celebratory moments; we yelled like someone had just scored a touchdown- at least I did anyway. Other times, it was small chips that had no intentions of giving up easily. What started out as a side project, became our mountain to conquer. All seven us climbed it one chisel at a time. Gung Ho looked at me, I guess wondering if I was going to give out on him again, and asked, "What do you think about this?" I thought about it a second... "Well, its kind of like being a pastor. You are given your group of people and you chisel away at them. Sometimes, amazing things happen. Other times, you keep on hammering." He liked that answer.

Haiti, and life for that matter, were a lot like that hole. There is no easy answer, there is no quick fix. Its just one chisel at a time. You do what you can with what you have. And for Hands and Feet they were redeeming one inch of dirt at a time... for a play ground, for kids who might not have ever gotten to play.

One full day of work brought about two completed holes. Six more to go.
I cannot speak knowledgeably about others, but my mind works in pictures. I have images stored that tell a story. The Counting Crows say, "If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts. You can never escape you can only move south down the coast." One of the reasons I write this story is to help capture those pictures, so hopefully, I won't ever forget what I saw. I hope to be haunted.

I remember pictures of the guys on the trip:

Chris had taken this trip a year before, and I don't think he ever cleaned the Haiti off of him. Casual relationships no longer satisfy, and he longs for people to interact on a truly authentic level. He invited friends he hoped to challenge, to inspire, and maybe to rewrite new chapters in a grand story designed by the ultimate author. Mission accomplished.

Early on, Matt would joke about Kevin. He'd say that Kevin would work hard on Day one, and in latter days, be found playing with the children. I honestly don't think it's Kevin's fault. He is a dad. The kids sniffed it all over him, and there was hardly a time when he wasn't out there surrounded by a crowd of orphans just wanting to wear his hat. Man did he work hard. He was the oldest in age, but youngest at heart, and wasn't afraid to take the worst jobs. That might have been the last chicken coup he cleans out, but he did it with a willing heart, no matter how weak his stomach.

Bradford made me tired. I remember the last day we were there, after having finally conquered our mountain of concrete footings chiseling one inch at a time, someone asked him to dig out a few other rocks displaced into the courtyard after a hurricane years before. I was too busy hiding around the corner to know how Bradford came about with the assignment, but I figure it was just like everything else I watched him do: with a smile. Bradford never wore down. He was always friendly; he made friends at the airport, friends in the airplane, friends with the Haitian day-laborers, and even tried his hand at a friendly game of soccer against one of the best players in Haiti. Ever since I got back to Nashville, I keep running into people who know Bradford, and I have to say, I'm not surprised.

Matt (Gung Ho) was I'm pretty sure, assigned to make sure the preacher made it out alive. We paired up working, because he knew what he was doing out there, and well, I didn't. I came home with ant bites and scrapes, and he looked like he'd been at a day spa. It was disgusting. I think he also liked to look at me, so he'd feel better about himself. I can't prove it, but I believe it. At one point, I saw Matt checking his emails, and then he told me he had like 18,000 emails in his inbox. Much like he thought I was joking about nausea, I thought he was exaggerating. Not so. As hard as he worked at Hands and Feet, he was also juggling work from a few thousand miles away. A natural leader, with a big heart.

I have this constant image in my head of Jonathan. I don't know if it was really this way or not, but I see it clearly. In both arms, a child. Also, probably one on his back, and one pulling on one of his legs. It wasn't out of obligation or guilt, but I think he was just comfortable that way. With twin boys that were his spitting image, and a precious young lady who looks like her momma, I also found out he and his wife felt a calling to adopt. Now a family of five kids, I half way expected the x ray machines at Port Au Prince airport to reveal a stow-away in his luggage. I can't think of a clearer picture of what God does for us in being called His children. Galatians talks about how we who trust in Christ are heirs, and called by his name. Its not just a last name, its an eternal inheritance. Jonathan and his lovely wife are living, breathing, walking examples of how God loves us by adoption.

One of my favorite parts of the trip: Tyler. One night while up on the roof, staring at the stars, and processing all that we had seen, Tyler said, his friends were asking him why he went to Haiti. He wasn't quite sure what to tell them. I loved his honesty. The funny thing was, I wasn't sure why I had come either. One of my pastor friends joked with me, " Jay, I can think of many many things that Haiti could use to help. You are not one of them." Tyler prayed for me and I got to pray with him. He had willingly unplugged from the cellular world, and I think he loved every second of that. I think everyone was stretched by the experience in Haiti, and I'd like to be a fly on the wall when Tyler tells his story.

It only took a few days, but I can gladly say, I'd go anywhere with those guys again. Well. most of them anyway.

It was Saturday morning, and I was ready to come home.

Haiti : Part 3 & 4

If you are haven't read the first post about my husband's recent trip to Haiti, you must read THIS first before reading this post.

I wish I could take the credit for the amazing post you are about to read, but all the credit goes to our friend Jay would traveled with my husband J to Haiti April 26-May 2. Here's Jay:
We rode down a long driveway with exotic trees, and piled stone leading us up to a security wall with a large steel gate. It felt like entering another world we had yet to see in Haiti. It was gorgeous. The mountain we had climbed was staring back at us smiling, and beneath it, and giant courtyard, with large white concrete buildings making up the Hands and Feet Compound. We tumbled out of the van only to be greeted by a mass of cheering children hugging us and checking our pockets for candy. They had done this before.

Michelle Mease led the orphanage. She gave us the tour and told us the story. 45 children called Hands & Feet home and everyone one had a story. 5 different buildings house children. It was a strange feeling. I expected to come to an orphanage and feel badly for the children. I've been to orphanages before in other countries, but this was different. Compared to what I had already seen in my half-day in Haiti, I knew these children were treated like kings and queens. They were affectionate and sweet and well-adjusted. They did not scream for attention, instead they gave hugs and kisses like that was what children freely did and were supposed to do. And it is.

The men I went with were from all different backgrounds all connecting back to Chris. It was clear that several of them were used to efficiency, and getting the project done, and well... actual work. They were ready to get to it. Our job was to do whatever Hands & Feet needed. Chris told us last year he painted a little and put together a swing set, but mostly they played with the kids. I noticed some pretty significant construction going on with about 8 workers getting after it. Michelle fixed us lunch, roasted chicken. Pretty sure the chicken was alive a few hours before. I woozily wandered out to see what the other guys were about to get into, still feeling the van ride motion sickness, and now a type of work I was clearly not used to.

I grabbed the shiny new work gloves I brought, and gingerly climbed the homemade extension ladder to the second story where concrete blocks were being passed up and then again up another step ladder that should have been retired. All the other guys were already in place, so I was processed to the roof, while the Haitian co-workers laughed at me for being so pale, and obviously out of my element. The heat was pounding down on me. It felt like I was closer to the sun that any other time in my life. The next thing I know... 30 minutes pass of an assembly line of tossing concrete blocks (20lbs) and placing them on the roof. The speed was incredible. They looked like they were passing pillows, and I was the only white guy in site. I figured the other guys were down on the second floor admiring my passion and work-drive, or they were much smarter and slower, and probably drinking water.

Minute 25 I realized that throwing up was inevitable. Minute 28 I thought I was going to pass out. Minute 29 I imagined I was going to stop sweating and die of dehydration. Minute 30 I stepped out of the line and bent over to catch my breath. They all laughed at me. Apparently it had been a game to see how fast they could wear me out. I looked over at Larry and he smiled, and said, I'll tell you later. Larry by the way, wasn't doing anything but watching. I hated Larry at that moment.

I struggled down the ladder after barely half of one hour. I fought myself from letting go of the ladder all together on the long one- just so I might never have to work again. I somehow found myself at the water jug of "American-safe" water to drink and sat down on the front porch in a rocking chair. All the other guys came down too and grabbed some water, and one gung ho alpha male (out of the many that were on the trip) came over and said, "fun, huh?" I wiped my brow and said, "I'm just trying not to throw up." They all laughed. They thought I was funny. I wasn't being funny.

Back to work. I couldn't hardly see straight. My knees were starting to shake. Sweat was rolling off of me and everyone else. Concrete block after block after block. I finally pulled away for another break. It was probably 2:30 by this time, not knowing that 3:00 would be stopping time for the real workers, since they had been at since 6am, because Larry was a mute who enjoyed seeing white preachers suffer.

I wanted to lay down and die. Gung Ho came back over to me, and said, "Are you going to say anything to us." I said, "No really, I'm trying not to throw up." They laughed again. I walked into the bathroom, shut the door, and gave up the fight. I have never expelled that much fluid in my life. I felt like a fire hydrant being turned on for kids to play in on the street.

I wiped my mouth, changed my shirt, and went back at it. That was almost 3pm of my my first day of a mission trip that would be 5 full days in Haiti. Surely, it would get better from here, right?

I was wrong about Larry.

I had survived the night and actually felt much better. For all basic purposes, I might as well have been on another planet. This planet did not have cell phone coverage, air conditioning during the day, nor warm water. The only great thing about it- I wasn't alone. All seven of us were going through a bit of withdrawal, and clearly none of us were in our element. I think Larry and Michelle were well aware of this and had a few things that for whatever reason made the world better. Larry let me in on his stash of Pepsi. They were giant glass bottles that were covered in silt seated in a wooden box that had clearly never seen a super market in the last few decades. Folks would drink em, they load everything back up, and swamp them out with a redemption discount. I'm not sure if it was for the environment or because Larry loved glass bottles. Either way- Larry totally redeemed himself.

Schedule was everything. The students went to school, came back to their home with 40+ siblings, played, did chores, and all ate supper together. By 8pm the crew at Hands & Feet had everyone in there rooms. We would all sit on the porch, rock in chairs, and listen to Michelle and Larry. From March to September they hosted groups like us to come and help with the ministry and get a taste of Haiti. The orphanage was sweet, and Haiti was gritty. At one point, I asked Michelle if she grew tired of answering the same questions ( I already knew what Larry thought about it!). You could tell she didn't mind and was just happy to communicate in English with adults. Larry was two different people. There was Larry the crew leader, protector of equipment, and keeper of order, and then there was Larry the father figure to his children. It was amazing to see the visible love that Larry and Michelle had for these orphans.

Michelle's every thought revolved around her different kids. She loved to talk about their progress, intelligence, and where she thought they would end up working in life. Some doctors, some mechanics, and even a pastor or two.

They loved to tell the redemption stories. Michelle started with one about Larry and Larry would interject if he felt the need. A baby was left in the care of Michelle and they were looking for placement of her. Natalie had no where to go, and a children's facility fell through for taking care of her. Larry agreed to care for her for 30 days. His words, "I can do anything for 30 days." After a few days in, Larry went to work, and caregivers came in to help with Natalie since she appeared to have some disabilities. They called him after he'd been gone most of the day, and said Natalie had been screaming all day. Larry came home, and when he walked in, she immediately stopped crying. 30 days turned into an adoption. Natalie has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheel chair. She requires constant attention, but she lights up when Larry walks in. Redemption.

Kirby is two years old and lightning fast. Michelle said to let her know if we saw a little boy running around without his shoes and possibly without his pants. "He can't hear, so don't yell for him... just let me know." We were told that Kirby should not be alive. His condition is microcephaly. His head is smaller than it should be and it almost always- the child never survives. Kirby's only apparent issue is a lack of hearing. Michelle plans on teaching all 40 children sign language and has already picked out a local boy to help Kirby learn how to communicate. Bigger than that, It is possible that with the right doctors, and medical care, some of Kirby's hearing might be restored. I have a feeling that Kirby's story of redemption is far from over

Each child had their story. Michelle and Larry seemed to know them all. This wasn't a situation where someone answered an add for a job. This was not a 40 hour a week- something to do- until the next thing comes open. This was a calling, and it was clear that Michelle & Larry were called. They told a story of a baby being brought to them. The parents came to them, "We had five children and four have died of starvation. We'd like one to survive." and they left the baby there. Another's mother had died of Aids, and the baby tested positive for HIV. We visited this beautiful baby in the children's hospital ( a room with 30 metal cribs, 30 children, and two ceiling fans). Michelle's prayer was for the mom's blood to carry the HIV and in a few months, when they tested again, the little baby would not have the life ending virus so he could come and live at Hands & Feet. I want that too.

Crystala topped them all. Her mother was 15 and when she knew she was going to deliver, instead of going to a hospital, or telling someone else, she went into a public restroom (4 toilet stalls lined up like out houses) and delivered a baby girl. After watching life itself come from within her, the mother threw Crystala away. She dropped her down the toilet and walked out.

A young boy saw the girl come out with blood all over her, and knew she had been pregnant. He ran over to the bathroom and could hear the cry of a baby. He called the police. The UN police arrived, and dug down over 28 feet through filth, disease, and human waste hoping to find a baby. Michelle showed me the video. Crystala survived two births in one day. She escaped from a mother who didn't want her, and she was saved by concerned boy, UN workers, and a loving God who must certainly have big plans for her life. Redemption.

I held the three year old Crystala in my lap. When she looked at you, you wanted to cheer for her. I was watching a living, breathing, and laughing miracle.

Lying in my bunk that night, thankful for the fan that circulated cool night air, I couldn't help but think about how God is in the redemption business. I saw his love on display through Michelle and through Larry. They are more than employees of Hands & Feet. They are protectors of the weak. They are advocates of the defenseless. They are in the redemption business, and business is booming.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Haiti: Part 1 & 2

I wish I could take the credit for writing the following posts because I think they are amazing, but all the credit goes to our friend Jay who joined Jonathan on his recent trip to Haiti April 26-May 2, 2010. Here's Jay in Haiti with my J behind him:


Flew to Miami with six other men. None of them from my church, and I only really knew one of them well. Chris had invited us all to go on this trip. I originally told him no. I felt like I had too much going on at my church. He didn't flinch, "Hey man, you are always going to be too busy. You should go with me on this trip."

I had kind of found myself in this place where I felt like the universe was being set in motion, its every rotation, dependent on my existence. I was Desmond, and if the button didn't get pushed....

We all are "too busy" It's all relative to what we think is "busy". The fact is, we are all replaceable, and only make time for the things we truly care about. I preach about taking the good news about Jesus around the world and showing God's love to others almost every week, but my calendar only reflects a self-important administrator who makes sure there are enough chairs on Sunday. I talked to Shantel, prayed about it, and called him back. I was in. Turns out 5 of the 7 guys who went told him no too. Chris had his work cut out for him.

Spent the night in a pink Embassy Suites only to wake up at 4:30AM to catch the flight to Haiti. I don't have a problem with planes. My issue comes into play with motion sickness on roller coasters and car rides. If I'm not upfront, its over. We landed at what was left of the Port Au Prince airport. chaos. Entrance into the country and customs was basically a mean lady with a stamp and ball point pen. I imagined there to be only 8 ball point pens in all of Haiti after the Earthquake. I smiled at her, she smiled back, and I was in. I still got it.

We were told you would land, and they would throw your luggage into a pile, and you'd have to scrap for it. Apparently that was all yesterdays news because a conveyor belt was now handling the action. It was relatively tame inside the baggage claim. Outside was a whole nother story. It looked like the Haitian equivalent to a Justin Bieber stampede at a mall performance. We waited inside the fence for our driver to show up. That felt like a long wait.

Someone showed with a scrap of cardboard that wrote "Christoph" with the "er" trailing off like a bad junior high election poster where the mom refused to help the kid, and the kid lost because he couldn't space his name properly on a piece of paper and the "er" was in tiny print falling off the self promotional cliff. We followed him.

The next 500 ft. to the car felt like 50,000. I didn't look anyone in the eye, and I felt like Jason Bourne being chased by baggage hitmen wanted to "tip" me to death. We ended up next to this mini-van with 6 grown men essentially competing for the same tip. AWKWARD. Somehow this was handled and OTIS our driver and surprisingly, there was a small American with us, who barely said a word. Otis and Larry were our protection.

Larry never formally introduced himself, but he helped to lead the Hands and Feet Orphanage in Jacmel where we were heading. Having no clue what this trip was going to be like, only preparing for the worst, I had taken anti-nausea medicine for the van drive. 65 miles to Jacmel, and it took over 3 1/2 hours.

At first we were asking Larry questions. "Why was the airport like that?" "How long will this trip take?" "Is this normal?" Larry was clearly uninterested in answering any questions, and promptly dosed off into a nap, which left us to take in the sights for ourselves. Now, most of you know me, I am what you would call an extrovert. I enjoy conversation, an experiential journey as we openly communicate thoughts, and possible humorous things we might see while driving. For almost 4 hours, no one spoke one word. Larry knew what we would see could not be explained.
I sat in the front seat, doing my best to avoid losing my lunch in front of grown men I barely knew. We drove past the actual airport that had been damaged from the earthquake, and I could tell that it had once been a fairly nice place. Rubble was everywhere. The road was barely recognizable except for the three lanes of traffic on the two lane road. Pick up trucks with a covering over the back and two benches to sit on either side would be filled with 20-40 Haitians at a time piled in the popular taxi transportation. They would "tap tap" on the side, and the driver would pull over. The Tap Taps were everywhere. The other thing that was everywhere: people. It was like they were walking around but had no place to go. It really felt like aimless wandering, with a mixture of motor bikes zipping in and out of the three laned- two lane roads. Everyone honked their horns.

There appeared to be one road from city to city and anyone with a vehicle was on it. Inches off the road, tent after tent was lined up for living. It felt like no one was farther than 1 foot from the road. Everything was ruined. I wish I knew what Port Au Prince looked like before, I was told Haiti is the 4th most contaminated place on Earth, and the first three are due to nuclear fall out. Contaminated makes it sound so distant. This was unimaginable. We drove past flowing rivers of trash. Imagine a man-made lake-bed to help irrigate the city so no water would over-take it. Now, replace the gushing water with sewage. People were wading through it trying to scoop out debris. It was liking watching a fireman take a squirt pistol to blazing inferno. Trash was everywhere. Debris, rubble, garbage, and children all floated around and played together. Children were chasing each other inches away from the highway. Some had clothes on... no one had real actual shoes. But hey, I'm here to tell you that Crocs have made a global impact!

The paved road became the equivalent to a bmx rally track. The potholes were almost vehicle sized, perfect for a dirt bike to catch some air. We bounced around in the minivan like someone giant had picked us up and was shaking us violently to see how we'd react. More rubble. More devastation. Hopelessness loomed in the air like a fog that never ended.

I never saw any fast food restaurants. I thought McDonald's were everywhere. Not in Haiti. There was nothing in Haiti. Gas Stations were miles and miles apart, and actual offices and buildings didn't seem to exist anymore. The only thing I could make out were car dealerships. That was odd too. They had no inventory visible. Everything was concrete walls and fences, the ones that survived the earthquake. The "Walmart" in the major city of Port Au Prince was nothing more than an open market with hundreds of items piled on top of each other in the open sky for people to rummage through. I saw this massive pile- the size of a one car garage- of t-shirts. Shoes were the same way. They looked mildew stained and ratty. I asked Larry if that was donations given from earthquake relief. He said they were for sale. That was the open market. We drove on.

Just past the rubble, debris, urine and garbage stained streets, just beyond the lean-tos, tents, and fallen huts, you could barely make out the beach. From the van, it looked like a picture you'd see in someones beach house. Palm trees and little boats, and perfectly blue ocean. paradise right?

The second part of the trip was up a mountain. The one road in the country followed the curves of a mountain with blind spots at every turn. All you could hear were little moped and motor bike honks, and I imagined the whole thing to be a very ridiculous video game, only with no extra lives. I dozed off at one point, only to wake up to a soldier with an AK-47 staring at me through the windshield. He had a funny blue construction hat. I rubbed my eyes to see the UN sticker, and the earth mover behind him. The roads were falling apart and earthquake landslides had made the barely two lane road... less than one lane for the motorists to honk at each other on. 20, 30 minutes, finally the machine gun toting humanitarian let us pass. 5 miles, another stop with an earth mover chipping away at one side of a mountain only to toss it to the other side. By this time, 15 motor bikes had sped past us, only to screech to a halt with a UN soldier almost clotheslining one of them. Finally we were allowed to pass.

The downhill turn of the mountain was treacherous also. Otis didn't want to drive too fast, as little cities would pop up and people would wander out in front of you like a stray dog hoping to be put out of its misery. So, we'd drive fast, we'd drive slow, and Otis braked so much, I wondered if we would have to put our feet through the floor like a flinstone mobile. The anti-nausea medicine started to wear off and my prayer life took an uptick. "God, please don't let me throw up in Haiti in front of grown men I don't know." That was the last half-hour. I prayed so much so, that I'm not even sure what the orphanage looked like once we pulled in.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Goodbye Nashville, Hello Haiti

The above pic is our friend, Tyler (far left), my hubby J (center), and our friend, Chris (far right). These three guys plus 4 other men left for Haiti Monday. Haiti had been on J's heart long before the earthquake, so when Chris decided to go back (he volunteered there last year pre-earthquake)J jumped at the chance to go with him. They are there with Hands and Feet project working at an orphanage. Will you pray for this group of men this week? They return home May 2.

Here's another shot of Chris with his family, Kim, McKinley and Jack. Chris organized the trip and I loved this shot of his family. They are some of our dearest friends and we love them to death.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Papa Eddie w/ The Kids

On Wednesday, I had to go for my follow-up appointment to get my stitches removed. My mom and dad, Juju and Papa Eddie, volunteered to come to the house and watch the babies while I was gone. Mom snapped these pics and I just smiled ear to ear when she emailed them to me. I am very blessed to have such an amazing family that loves my kiddos and wants to hang out with them. Here's Papa Eddie and Joshua:

Here's Papa Eddie and Mary Elizabeth. He had obviously told her a pretty funny secret:

Of course, like most women, JuJu isn't in any of these pics because she was taking the picture! THANKS JuJu for snapping these pics.

Hard to believe how much the babies have grown, huh? I am starting to get asked if they are twins more and more often as they are relatively the same size now.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


So, I had a *little* scare a few weeks ago and I thought I would share my experiences with you.

It all started April 1. My youngest twin, Luke, had been referred to a plastic surgeon/dermatologist for a consult on a birthmark that had been on his belly since birth. Over the years, it has grown quite a bit, changed texture, changed color, etc. We had seen several derms over the years, but since our insurance had changed, it was time to find a new doctor. Our pediatrician referred us to this new doctor, Dr. C, to let her have a look. She took one look and immediately decided it needed to come off, so he had surgery earlier this year. Luckily, the pathology on the birthmark was clear. I was so impressed with her, I decided to check her out for myself. This all leads me to the office visit I had with her on April 1.

As she looked over a few spots that had been removed previously (see that post HERE), she mentioned that I shouldn't need a full body scan because I had been to my last doctor within the last 6 months. I looked at her puzzled and I think she immediately realized, I had NEVER had a full body scan. "You've never had a doctor look over your body for suspicious moles?" she asked. Nope. Never thought to ask for one, and the previous derms have never asked to do one, so I really had never even considered that this might be something of importance. Never mind that I have had 3 spots removed over the last 3 years.

She immediately told me to disrobe and for all you ladies out there, well...let's just say I wasn't "prepared" to get naked. But I did. And she found 5 spots that "she really didn't like the looks of" She went on to discuss melanoma, how she wanted them off ASAP and proceeded to book me on April 14 to have them cut off. I left the appointment feeling uneasy. How had I not realized the spots didn't look "normal"....why had I never thought about having a doctor examine the rest of my body? I called J and sobbed to him, but then quickly composed myself as I realized that God was just as much in control at that moment as he was before she identified those 5 spots. Oh, and for those of you that were wondering: the reason they were "weird" is that they aren't raised like a "normal" mole, the color is dark and inconsistant throughout, and they are not perfectly fact, they appeared like a blot of ink.

J and I drove in silence to the office on the 14th. I think we were both a little more nervous than we let on, especially because I knew the doctor was not normally in the office that day, but she had come in specifically to remove these spots. When I arrived, the nurse let us know that our insurance would only cover 3 spots to be removed at one time and Dr. C had decided that the two on my upper back and one on my belly were the most important to remove. The nurse applied the numbing cream and we waited for Dr. C to arrive (she had been in surgery all morning).

The procedures weren't that bad. I'm sure the numbing cream helped. J sat on the chair across the room and admitted later that he tried not to look as she put needles in me to numb the spots. He said he glanced my way long enough to see a bloody stitch coming up and decided that was all he needed to see. I left nice and numb with a promise from the doctor that I would get a call with the results as soon as she got them. I came home and surfed the net. Bad idea. Those spots DID look like the spots they showed on melanoma sites. I stopped surfing the net. I did talk to two friends on the phone who are both melanoma survivors. Both were AMAZING and gave me all the info I needed to not feel so scared of a diagnosis.

Finally, on Tuesday, I got the call from the doctor. No Melanoma. I felt like I let out enough air to fill my lungs for an eternity. I don't think I realized until that moment how much I had subconciously worried. The bad news? They are dysplastic which means that aren't normal. The worse news? On one of the spots, they didn't get "clear margins" which means they didn't get it all and in her opinion, it would have turned into melanoma, so I have to go back May 14th to get more of that area removed. She is also going to cut out the other two spots that day. She feels confident that they will come back the same as these last three, but it's important to go ahead and get them off before they do get funky.

I guess the reason I am typing this is that I want people reading this to be more proactive than I was. If you have a spot that looks odd, go to a doctor and get it checked out. If you need one in Nashville, shoot me a message...I think Dr. C is great and would be happy to pass on her number. A big thank you to those of you that knew about this and were praying for us...we felt it and that is the only reason that I was so calm in this whole process!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Yellow Teeth, Lung Butter, Etc.

A few more random thoughts from me....

I didn't realize until I really looked at the pic above how yellow Isaac's teeth look. I showed him the picture and I think he finally realized why I stay on them about brushing their teeth. We go to the dentist every 6 months and it's a miracle, but so far, none of the kids have had a cavity. One of my regrets is not taking better care of my teeth growing up, so I hope this was all the wake up call he needed. I promise his teeth are not normally that yellow.

My migraines have been almost non-existant since I started with the chiropractor a few weeks ago. Yes, I was skeptic, but it's been amazing how a few adjustments in my neck have stopped the migraines dead in their tracks. Right now I am going once a week, but I just love the doctor and I feel fabulous in the headache department. I do think I am trying really hard to get another sinus infection which seems to come about every 6 months. As Angie V. calls it, I've been coughing up some lung butter so I'm sure I'll be good and sick by this time next week.

I've had a lot of mixed emotions the last few days about how I should stop putting my thoughts out there so openly. Not necessarily on this blog, but I've had a few friends ask things along the line of "what would Brea do" and I find that my answers tend to be completely opposite what they were thinking and I end up feeling like I am putting my gigantic foot in my mouth. I know they wouldn't ask if they didn't want my opinion, but I do end up feeling like a butt when my advice isn't in line with what they were thinking. At the end of the day, I want to know I was being real, but on the flip side I certainly don't want to hurt others with my thoughts or feelings.

One of the other things I have been thinking and praying a lot about: do I have a different view on adoption simply because we were fertile? Would I feel differently about the whole process if J and I had never been able to conceive children? In reality, I honestly don't know what infertility feels like. I welcome feedback on this (heck, I welcome feedback on anything I talk about!) I do remember J and I talking when we first started the process before Mary Elizabeth and we felt very convicted about the type of child we would like to adopt. We certainly didn't want to take a healthy, white infant away from another couple who couldn't conceive so we chose to be more open when it came to the child that we would adopt. Sure enough, we were the only couple open to M.E.'s specific situation and I think somewhere deep down, it made me feel good to know that it wasn't an us vs. them type situation.

So that's what is rolling around in my head in the last few days. If you have an extra minute, please say a prayer for a friend of mine, H. She and her husband are in the midst of a domestic adoption where the birthmother is in limbo about whether or not to sign TPR. The baby is now a week old and this situation is very hard on everyone involved. I'm sure they would be so thankful for your prayers!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Adoption = Hard

I was a little surprised to log in today and realize this was my 500th post. The whole reason I started this blog was to "loosely" follow Mary Elizabeth's adoption. Here I am, almost 3 years later, still talking about adoption and now we have gone from 3 to 5 kids.

Adoption has been a bitter pill for me to swallow recently. Joshua's mom came to visit and although it was wonderful and we made amazing memories, it brought back a lot of feelings I had when she originally placed him with us. I kept thinking, "in a perfect world, she would be raising her son" but wow, this world is so far from perfect. I'm working on a post about her visit that I'll be sharing soon.

I also have several friends who are in the process of adopting, both internationally and domestically. I find it difficult to bite my tongue when they say something that really isn't ethical, etc. I have to remind myself constantly that I was once in that place where I thought every child internationally available for adoption was an orphan, where I assumed adoption was ALWAYS the best option, where I thought that the adoptive parent was a saint for opening their home, that every black child in a white family was from Africa. Now I know that adoption is one of the hardest things I have ever been through and yet one of the most rewarding.

I have to remind myself that it's easy to feel this way, I have two more amazing kids.....I'm no longer in the horrible wait for a referral. It's easy to tell someone now that the agony of the wait will disappear once they have placement. I remember what I felt like when people would say "your baby will come, just trust in God" I wanted to smack them and yet, I find, that I am now giving the same advice with a little more detail.

I guess I've just come to realize that my children are not my own. I am blessed that God chose me to raise them. I have never done anything to earn them and God certainly doesn't want me out there patting myself on the back that I opened my home when he is the one who wanted me to be open. It's difficult to know that although I know Joshua's mom doesn't regret her decision, I still cry sometimes because I wish her circumstances were different. Yes, that would mean he would not be here with me, but it also means he wouldn't have to face the loss of his biological family at some point in his life.

I worry about the hard questions he and Mary are going to get one day. My Anna is in middle school, I KNOW the mean things kids say. Just the other day, she came home in tears because a boy had told her she looked like a second grader. Now, mind you, she is a peanut and probably is the size of a second grader, but to a tween in middle school those words were devastating. I mainly worry about the hard questions they will ask ME one day. I just have to cling to this:

Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Some New Pics

This is J.T's new face when he sees the red light on the camera before the flash. I will say "cheese" and this is the face you get for EVERY picture: New Years Day 2010. Anna wasn't home so she isn't in this pic:
Me, Mary, and Joshua vegging on the couch:

I'm Back, sort of...

It's hard to believe when I come to this page that it's been over 2 months since I put my thoughts down on "paper" I guess I could say I've been too busy, sale madness is starting. Or, I could possibly blame it on migraines. Yep, that sounds good. In reality, I find that sometimes the thoughts that roll around in my head sound better in my head than putting them out for the whole world to read. I certainly don't want to tick someone off with my "views" on things like parenting, adoption, etc. and yet when I do read someone else's blog that has completely different views from me, it has made me want to come back on here and start "talking"

I think it would take a book to tell you everything that has happened since my last post. Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went. Joshua's birthmom came to visit for several days at Christmas and we had a wonderful time. We celebrated New Year's Eve with some friends and spent New Years Day with family. January seemed to fly by and I finally broke down and went to the chiropractor for my migraines/back. So far, it has been a total success and today I am at one week with no migraine. M.E. and J.T. started mothers day out on Thursday. In 11 years of being a mom, I've never had a child in MDO so this was exciting and scary all at the same time. I was surprised at how much I got done in a 5 hour period and even more thrilled when J.T., my child that doesn't nap, took a 2 1/2 hour nap upon arriving home on Thursday. I kept checking him to make sure he was breathing simply because I'm not sure I've ever seen the boy sleep for over 30 minutes except for at night.

Looking forward, the sale is one month away (well, drop off at least) and I am working hard at scheduling workers and getting all the other "little" things done that help make the sale a success. I'm actually really looking forward to it this year. I've been in a cleaning out mode and have more to get rid of than ever before so I'm sure I'm keeping the VIP tagger quite busy. It feels good to purge out the old. I've taken several bags of adult clothing and household goods to the Goodlettsville Help Center to donate. I love it when I haul it up to the door and come back to a clean trunk in my car.

My youngest twin, Luke, had to have some surgery this week. He was born with a birthmark on his belly. That sweet birthmark helped us tell our children apart for a while, but it has continued to grow and change texture so it was time for it come off. The surgeon ended up taking off another pre-cancerous birthmark right below the original so Lukey has been feeling pretty crappy this week. We decided post surgery that they MUST have given him speed as he was riled up like I have never seen. He ate post surgery like he had the munchies: downing a grilled cheese, a bag of chips, two icees and a sprite in a little over an hour. He is on restricted activity which we have found means NOTHING to an 8 year old boy, so he constantly asks to do things which would be considered limited. He is doing great though and the meals from family and friends have been so appreciated as I have literally had time to do nothing while taking care of wild man Luke.

A friend that I have never met in real life is adopting a baby this week. She sends out wonderful detailed messages about their journey so far: bonding with the birthmother, their time at the hospital and today is the hard part, birthmom is being dismissed from the hospital. Reading her messages brings back SO many memories of our experience with Joshua. Although I look back on our experience and wouldn't change anything, it doesn't make me hurt any less over the loss that his mom felt that day and how I felt like I thief.

I have also noticed in the last few weeks that complete strangers come up to me and ask if M.E. and J.T. are from Haiti. I guess you don't realize how much the media has hit home with people about the orphan crisis until you are approached in this way. Honestly, I love to see their reactions when I say "nope, Memphis and Houston" Most tend to get this look on their face as if they are waiting for me to say "just kidding" and when they realize I am serious, they begin to ask questions and make comments how they didn't realize there are children in the U.S. that need homes.

So that's the mini-update on me. I'm going to try to do a bit better about updating and I need to get some new pictures on here of the kids. They are growing so fast and getting so big. J.T. is crawling, has a tooth and is pulling up on everything. I'm quickly realizing my baby days are coming to an end.