Friday, April 11, 2014

Boise or Bust

Wes paused long enough at the top of the driveway to ask again if we were forgetting anything. The duffel bags, backpacks, and extra shoes were all stacked behind the third row of our Suburban. Crayons, stickers, and extra rubber bands for the Rainbow Loom were tucked neatly away in seat pockets and carefully organized containers. There were way too many snacks, but like everything else, each had its own place.

For the first twenty minutes, Lyla sat back appreciating the whole adventure of cramming her mom, dad, and each of her siblings into the car for a seven hour drive to Boise. Life couldn't be better.

The drive down went relatively well, although the supply of stickers I brought to occupy Lyla dwindled dangerously low toward the end. We also made her cross her legs for the last 45 minutes, reminding her we were "almost there" at least half a dozen times. Man, am I glad that worked.

We are blessed to have some great friends in Boise- the Ricks and the Wadsworths- and we split our time between the two families.

On Saturday evening, we hiked out to a fishing spot with the Wadsworths.

With its wide open spaces and arid landscape, this part of Idaho offers a COMPLETELY different kind of beautiful than our own western Washington.

Shoes came off and hands dug in as soon as we got to the lake.

The further the sun sank into the horizon, the quicker the bait disappeared.

I am ashamed to say that it's been over twenty years since I've held a fishing pole. TWENTY YEARS! That is so embarrassing.

There's nothing like showing off the day's catch to reveal each of my children's personalities.

Yep. That last one scares me a little, too.

We spent Sunday morning eating the most delicious cinnamon rolls and watching general conference with the Ricks family.

By hour seven of our drive home, the inside of our car looked like a small explosion had gone off. I'd say it detonated somewhere near the Rainbow Loom- those little rubber bands were EVERYWHERE.

Our children's ankles were buried somewhere beneath a mass of empty chocolate milk containers, half-eaten bananas, and an unnerving amount of Cliff Bar wrappers. A nearly empty trash bag sat uselessly in the midst of it all- I did try.

It was a great trip...even if Lyla ended up in a thneed.

Also, if you haven't had a chance yet to read what my husband is working on, go check out

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Manhattan Minutes

Our fellow passengers watched as we heaved three completely worn out children back on to the plane in Haiti.

We were bound for a completely different world-

New York City.

New York was as cold as Haiti had been hot...which made for quite the packing challenge.

We spent a whirlwind of a day there visiting with my mother and navigating the subways, sidewalks, and snowbanks of Manhattan. Those three heaps of exhaustion we had lugged on to the plane back in Haiti did pretty well...considering. Wes and I did okay, too, but WOW WERE WE TIRED!

We tried to blend in by posing for photos with helpful subway employees. Seriously, this guy with a Jamaican accent came to our rescue as we stared blankly at all the screens, trying to figure out which train to take when and where. 

After a grueling 45 minutes on the subway with what felt like half of Queens, we found our way to the 9/11 Memorial. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy flooded the museum and it was still closed for repairs. 

Like most people I've talked to, I remember exactly where I was when those towers came down. Wes and I were visiting his mom in Idaho. We had just celebrated Beau's first birthday. 

I remember the feelings of disbelief as our eyes fixed on the continuous news coverage over the next few days. And how we finally turned on I Love Lucy reruns (yes, just like the Alan Jackson song) and watched them numbly until 2 AM.

The memorial is fitting- a giant void, yet beautiful. 

Shortly after leaving the memorial we bumped into George Washington.

Pretty cool.

We also saw the New York Stock Exchange.

And since we've spent many a Friday night rooting for Nicholas Cage as he rescues the Constitution in National Treasure, everyone was excited to find Trinity Church.

Of course, we HAD to go inside, too.

Our stomachs eventually grew impatient, so with just enough time before needing to catch our flight home, we headed to Chinatown for lunch.

To my mother, who braved the weather and traffic to drag around with five already travel-weary souls, thank you. May it not be quite as long before we meet up again. And may we not be as tired!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Our Haitian Son: What Sponsorship Looks Like

He's shy, I had heard. Really shy.
The gate opened and we pulled into the orphanage for the first time. Orlando's face washed through my thoughts as my mind sifted through the handful of photos we had received over the last three or four years. 
I wanted to recognize this boy we pray for daily. This boy who calls me Mom...

We began sponsoring Orlando several years ago and even before traveling to Haiti appreciated the tangible experience through Imagine Missions. This post is about what sponsorship looks like. For those of you who have asked...

THIS is how you can help.

It costs $420 per year to sponsor a child- that's $35 every month. 
This amount helps provide food and primary education for the children. They are now getting three small meals a day, including chicken once a week. It's really not much, but it's far more than other children in the community are getting.

Every year sponsors are asked if they're willing to provide a Christmas gift for their child.
Gifts are collected in July and distributed among the luggage of teams planning to visit the orphanage before Christmas. Last year we were asked if we could provide a set of church clothes, including shoes, for Orlando. We also included a few other fun things in his package. Sponsors are asked to keep gifts modest. 

Each sponsor receives at least three letters every year from their child.
There is no official mail service in Haiti that delivers to Despinos. Letters are carried back and forth by various teams visiting the orphanage. It's a surprisingly good system.

Before we left for Haiti in February, I received several emails from sponsors wanting me to take letters to their Haitian children. What a treat to get to hand them out!

We flew home with bulging pockets, too.

"Do you know Judy?" a boy asked as the sun went down on our last night at the orphanage. "Can you give this to her?"

His was the first of many letters we carried on the plane the next morning. 

We cherish our sweet letters from Orlando. 

The orphanage is on Skype!!
About six weeks before visiting the orphanage, our family went to see Disney's Frozen in the theater. That infectious song "Let It Go" followed us all the way to Haiti, where our eleven-year-old daughter sang it over and over AND OVER again.

Last week, during a Skype call with Orlando and a few other children from the orphanage, we heard the same song again...with a Haitian accent. Those children had been practicing and it was SO FUN to see them flash their beautiful smiles as they sang parts of "Let It Go."

So that's sponsorship. Click here to find out more. 

Sponsorship doesn't necessarily include a long flight to Haiti, sleeping in mosquito tents, and walking the dusty streets of Despinos. But for our family, wrapping our arms around fifteen-year-old Orlando and seeing his very REAL smile was unquestionably worth the difficulties of getting there.

And, yes, our Haitian "son" is incredibly shy.

Orlando is in primary school at the orphanage. In a few years, he will hopefully be ready to take the government test to enter secondary school, which is kind of like high school. Less than 20% of Haitian children attend secondary school- it costs $600 per year.

We plan on paying for Orlando's tuition when the time comes, but there are several children at the orphanage who still need tuition sponsors. Again, for those of you who have asked...this is another way you can help. Go here to find out more.

For other posts about our trip to Haiti please click below:

The Airport
The Orphanage
The Mouths of Babes
Nights on the Roof and a Little Voodoo
Lilly and Rose
A Tearful Good-bye

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Picnics at Midnight

It was back in December when it all began. I had been asleep for maybe an hour or two when my pillow grew uncomfortable. I jabbed at it a few times, squishing the corner into just the right position, and rolled over.

But...then I felt someone STARING at me so I opened my eyes. It was Lyla and her face was inches from my own. Her eyes were intense.

"Mom, I'm hungry." This clearly wasn't a statement. It was an ultimatum.

I reached for my phone and checked the time. It was just after midnight. "Okay," I mumbled. "You can have an extra big breakfast in the morning."

"I'm hungry NOW."

Right about then my brain started hurting. These kind of conversations with Lyla never go well during the day, let alone in the middle of the night when I'm half-asleep.

We went back and forth for probably too long until I eventually closed my eyes and Lyla walked away- although, to tell the truth, I'm not sure which came first. The important thing three-year-old won.

Was that the morning I found the entire package of uncured ham left out on the kitchen table? Or maybe it was the $30 worth of cheese? I don't know. I've woken up to a lot of spoiled food over the past few months.

Oh, and let me tell you there's definitely something violating about waking up to sliced turkey on my pillow. It's just so wrong.

I've pulled her bedcovers back to find half the missing Girl Scout cookies...with all the peanut butter licked off. Also wrong.

One night she came to my bedside and invited me to a picnic. I stumbled out of bed to find a pink fleece blanket spread neatly at the top of the stairs. There were dainty pink teacups and tiny plastic plates all neatly arranged around the edges. Lyla stood there proudly, her bright eyes and open arms ready for my praise and gratitude.

In my mind I can hear an entire grocery store of grandmothers with the answer- She's not getting enough to eat the night before, Dear. Well, after weeks of force-feeding her extra helpings of last-night's dinner, I still wake up to trails of powdered sugar in the hall and half-empty bags of chocolate chips in the pantry- which, by the way, I've also tried locking.

It looks as though I'll be enjoying a few more picnics at midnight.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Haiti: A Tearful Goodbye

"Can't we say goodbye in the morning?"

I continued to mentally shuffle our itinerary but in the end was prepared for her answer.

"It will be easier to say goodbye tonight," Melissa explained.

Her tender tone embraced the word "easier," cradling it with meaning. My eyes fell to the ground and something inside hurt. Our time in Haiti had been brief but long enough for my heart to understand-

Love doesn't necessarily grow slowly.

We spent the evening at the orphanage prolonging the inevitable with hugs and picture-taking.

Our children had traveled thousands of miles from home to discover friends who, despite very different circumstances, were just like them.

As the sun went down and darkness set in, we knew it was time. I wasn't ready for the torrent of emotions that hit me as I climbed up into the back of the truck and we pulled through that heavy steel gate. I sank into my husband's side, warm tears tracing rivers down my cheeks.

Goodbye was anything but easy.

The next morning tears again filled my eyes as our plane made one last pass over Haiti. I struggled to sort through all my emotions.

It wasn't until Wes paired our experience with Isaiah 54 that I found clarity.

Haiti from wesleyjz1 on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Haiti: Lilly and Rose

Here are Lilly and Rose at about seven weeks old.

Melissa, the director of the orphanage, first met them when they were three weeks old. Born at home and having never seen a doctor, they weighed a fragile 2.5 pounds each. Their mother was barely eating enough for herself, let alone to breastfeed two babies. I'm told that sweet Lilly (on the left) had a vacant stare and appeared to be on her way out.

We found out about these babies as we were preparing for our trip and immediately began collecting infant formula. Others did the same, preparing for their own upcoming trips to the orphanage. In the meantime, Melissa helped supply as much formula as she could.

I prayed for Lilly and Rose and hoped to meet them. I wondered what their chances were.

It was a Sunday afternoon, our last full day in Haiti, when I held Rose in my arms. My daughter, Sophia, cradled Lilly. They were beautiful.

When it came time to for them to go home I climbed into the truck with Melissa and their mother, who held baby Rose on her lap. I held Lilly close in my own arms as we pulled out onto the busy road. 

Melissa drove us just around the corner to a neighborhood significantly less fortunate than where we were staying. Several children stood outside a collection of small mud huts. They wore no clothes. 

We carried the babies into their home and I took in the deficient space a mother shared with her five children- it was no bigger than four of my kitchen tables put together. It was dark inside- the kind of dark that presses on you- and the air was putrid. We brushed the dirt aside, laid the babies on the mattress, and said good-bye.

I smiled at the children outside as we climbed back in the truck. 

Some babies in Haiti are blessed to live short lives, taken back to their heavenly home as pure as they came to this earth. I do not know God's purposes with precious Lilly and Rose, but clearly their blessing is to survive. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Haiti: Nights on the Roof and a Little Voodoo

It was sometime after midnight when I woke up on the roof of the mission home. I sat up. Through my earplugs I could hear large dump trucks barreling down the road and a donkey who must have been looking for company.

It was our first night and it took a minute to register- 

Oh yeah... I'm in Haiti.

Right about then my bladder started cramping.

Ug. Really? Is it safe to climb down the stairs from the roof and walk through the mission home in the pitch dark? Would someone think I was an intruder? Would I MEET an intruder?

I decided to wait and tried to fall back asleep.

More dump trucks. What good were my earplugs doing anyway?! I pulled them out and set them in the corner of my mosquito tent. 

Now I could hear the donkey loud and clear and apparently he was still lonely. What's more, he had woken up every rooster for miles around. With every cock-a-doodle-doo my bladder jumped.
I couldn't hold it anymore. I moved between the rest of my heavily sleeping family and down the stairs into the house. 
I'll have you know there are no Haitian boogiemen in the mission home. Go ahead and pee in the middle of the night.

In the morning we woke up and looked around. Melissa had told us we could take photos from the rooftop and so we discreetly pulled out our cameras. 

There seemed to be a lot of unfinished walls in the neighborhood. Melissa told me they had been that way for years. Most people ran out of money before finishing their structures. Many of the walls had started to crumble and several had trees growing up in the middle of them.

And speaking of trees...Haiti has very few of them. French colonizers devastated most of its forests to make room for sugar cane plantations and its beautiful mahogany was shipped off to France to become fine furniture. Most of the few trees that spring up nowadays are cut down quickly for fuel (most Haitians cook with charcoal).

Haiti must have been breathtaking in all its splendor. Its history is tragic.

The road from the mission home to the orphanage is dusty- at least in February. On either side is a canal filled with trash, an occasional wallowing sow, and highly suspicious water. My kids were immediately drawn to the many grazing goats along the sides of the road. Wes and I quickly glanced at each other. Not okay with our children accidentally falling into the disease-laden ditch. We quickly established strict parameters.

We had been told not to take photos along the road between the mission home and the orphanage. Otherwise, there would be a photo here of the local voodoo tree. No joke. There is a local voodoo tree complete with dangling bones- evidence of someone's curse on his neighbor. Nice.

By day three, we were all comfortably walking back and forth between the mission home and the orphanage, waving to neighbors along the way and calling out "Bonswa" with a smile.