Heartbreak

Since moving to Rwanda, we’ve attended what I lovingly declare a “rock band church.” It’s a much different type of worship experience than what I experienced growing up or at Moody in Chicago. And some days it’s great. Some days I want to clap and sing and dance with praise for Jesus. Just not these days.

My heart is heavy with this place. When we first moved, I had very disturbing dreams related to war and genocide. It was a topic always on my mind walking the dusty red dirt roads that I had seen in news and documentary footage covered with bodies and blood. And last week, they came back.

Maybe it’s the rain, and the coming of April. Maybe it’s the fact that we are experiencing a significant exodus of friends this spring, and thus we are starting to understand the pain of leaving. Maybe it’s holy week, and the reflection on the bloody, gruesome truth of the gospel.

But I’m sad. I’m in a season of mourning. And so to clap and dance seems repulsive to me. I know that we rejoice and praise in all seasons, but some seasons I feel like it’s ok to praise God through tears of weeping.

This morning Fred and I read through the Jesus Storybook Bible beginning with the garden through the Ascension. It might be too much violence for a three year old boy, I know. It’s too much violence for me too. But yesterday leaving church we drove past a man who looked dead lying next to the road (he wasn’t dead but had seizures). That’s too much for any of us to have to see and experience.

There are seasons of unconditional joy, and there are seasons of beauty from ashes. I listen to contemplative music and hymns. I read psalms of lament because God can handle my questions and sorrow. He doesn’t require that I move quickly through the grief. And for me, Rwanda is full of grief – grief over the reality that I can’t end suffering, grief over time lost with family and friends, grief over the weight of sin.

But resurrection is coming.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

 

 

Paul is 1

Paul! You are one year old. It’s hard to believe that you are no longer an infant, and yet, it seems like you have always been part of our family. What a joy and a delight you are, sweet boy.

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Two boys – a phrase I repeat often around here. My two boys. I have two beautiful boys. What a gift.

You bring such happiness and fun to our otherwise boring life. Your squeals and new tricks make us all laugh – especially Freddy. Just this week, you have learned to walk. Like your other skills before, you learned on your own. You watched, and then achieved. No one trained you and encouraged you. You just saw everyone walking and decided to join in. Already you are trying to run and to dance. I pray nothing will ever hold you back from your dreams, son.

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You can say “mama,” “dada,” “bye,” and “uh oh.” Will you be a chatterbox of words like your big brother? You are pointing at what you want, and your shrieks of joy (and sometimes anger) pierce our ears.

You wave to strangers and try to get them to smile back at you. You see the world as a place of acceptance and love. I pray you model that in your life, son.

Your brother hurts you. It’s part of life. He’s learning, of course, but we know it will happen again. You react with shock and sadness, but you come back for more. I pray that you will be resilient and grace-filled for the larger hurts coming your way, son.

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You dive into my arms when you see me, when you are afraid or need a hug. I pray that you will always run to others when you need a hug. There are so many beautiful people in the world whom God is preparing to love you well.

Dear Paul, we are so privileged to know you. May you know that you are loved, seen, known, accepted, cherished by your parents.    12321664_10100215734160335_5073889210588218806_n

 

No room at the inn

I’m angry today, and I think Jesus is angry too. I spent the last two days with Jeanne.* Jeanne is 17 years old, and back in March, she was raped. But her rapist wasn’t the first man to victimize her. Jeanne’s father abandoned her mother and his four children long ago. The reality is that generations of men who have gone before her have harmed the women in her life. Her rapist was one of many.

Jeanne is now pregnant. And the violence imposed by the men in her life continues without skipping a beat. The man who married her mother (in full knowledge of her four children) doesn’t want an unwed pregnant child in his house. And apparently the other men in his community don’t feel it’s their place to challenge him on that. She’s forced to live an hour bus ride away from her mother with her auntie, whose husband begrudgingly will accept her. But he refuses to let her go to school after the baby is born.

I wish these men were an exception. I wish it were true that the world is full of strong, compassionate, caring, gentle men. But alas, it seems that those of us who grew up with caring fathers and come home to loving husbands should thank our lucky stars.

The irony of driving an 8 month pregnant teenager around on December 15 and begging people to take her in is not lost on me. Two thousand years later, women are still treated as trash. The burdens on this young girl are ignored. The men in her life are happy to cast the burdens onto her. She is expected to carry this child, birth it, and care for it alone (and God forbid she raise her voice in complaint!).

And lest we think that poor treatment of women is only found in the developing world, let’s look at our American homes and communities. According to a 2001 study, the leading cause of death among pregnant women in America was homicide by the baby’s father. Rape culture permeates marketing, media, music, and books. Our churches preach that women should submit to men and that men need to be respected. Sexual violence is ignored and covered-up. We teach modest dress as the solution to rape. My son watches The Little Mermaid and learns to sing about how women talk too much and are much more attractive when they are silent. And on and on and on.

Jeanne is having a baby girl. What can we expect for her life given all of these men she’s surrounded by? More victimization? O Church Arise. We must speak against the cowardice that treats women as property at best and as an inconvenience at worst. Where are all the good men? I know they exist. Why are the women who care for her (myself included) not surrounded by men doing the same? Why are we women cleaning up messes made by men, hiding in shame, and fearing the next mess? Where are the NGOs and churches that teach men that women are human beings desiring of love and respect? Jeanne’s daughter needs the cycle broken. There are countless women advocating for Jeanne and her daughter. Where are the men?

 

*Jeanne is a pseudonym

12 years

Dear BB,

This weekend we celebrated 12 years of marriage. We could fill a lot of (boring) books with memories that are precious to us. Here we are, 12 years in, two beautiful small sons, different careers than we imagined, living in Rwanda. Only an author-God could write such a tale.

And yet, it’s not so different than what I thought it would be. You introduced me to the idea of a larger world. Before I met you, 60 miles was the farthest I’d lived from the farm town where I was raised. I always wanted to travel the world, but I lacked the nerve. Then I met and married you – a man to whom the words “can’t,” “won’t,” “shouldn’t” are mere challenges. You have a fundamental belief that there’s nothing in the world outside of your grasp.

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I think that’s why I am always amazed that you would want to marry me. Where you see endless possibilities and opportunities, I see roadblocks, valleys and walls. It must get exhausting convincing me that it’s not too hard. But you do. You keep pushing me to new levels of trust and discovery. Maybe I’m your biggest challenge yet! A lifetime challenge, perhaps.IMG_0108

I don’t say it enough, but I appreciate your faithfulness, your willingness to never quit on me, to never accept my “can’t.” You believe in me like no one else. Thanks for 12 years of memories. I’m so glad our sons have you as their father – a man who will never stop challenging them, believing in them, calling them to do more, but also a tender man of grace. You aren’t a taskmaster or a coach. You’re a cheerleader with endless energy. We love you!

6 months and a birth story

My sweet baby Paul is six months old. Where does the time go? He’s pure delight except from 4pm-6pm when he insists on yelling (not crying or screaming) no matter what you do. He seems happy and like he’s having fun, but it’s so freaking loud. And I’m usually on edge those hours anyway.

He can almost sit up on his own. He adores watching his big brother. He grabs and chews on everything. He’s a good nurser, takes 2-3 naps a day, and wakes up 1-4 times a night. He’s almost always happy – even laughing when big brother sits on him, kicks him, smacks him, and jumps on him.

He has his 6 months appointment tomorrow so I can’t say for sure, but he’s big. Thick and chunky just like Freddy was. He’s still got hair, and his eyes are turning brown.

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And now (finally!) his birth story, with lots of details so skip this part if you’re not into that sort of thing.

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I saw my midwife on Monday, March 2 and had my membranes stripped as I was past 40 weeks, and due to my previous c-section, the hospital would not allow inducing or going past 42 weeks so we needed baby to cooperate. Not much was happening down there, but the baby was low, and my cervix was thinning out (probably thanks to lots of evening primrose oil!).

Tuesday, March 3 was my 33rd birthday. We went out to dinner with our friends, and I ate lots of pasta and bread and salad and dessert as you do when you are in America and super pregnant. I woke up around 1 am on March 4 to a more serious-feeling contraction. It was more like what I had been reading online – similar to menstrual cramps and starting in my lower back. I had about 5 more over the next hour when I decided that it was something different and (maybe!) the start of the real deal. I texted my Rwanda ladies since they were awake. And I woke up BB to give him a heads up but told him he didn’t need to do anything. He responded by asking me why I wasn’t in the bath and drinking wine like the midwives and doula had told me to do when I thought labor might be starting. Um, because it’s 2 am. I agreed to text Heather, my doula. Heather recommended I take some Tylenol PM and try to sleep. I did both and would just wake up to have the contractions every 10-20 minutes for the next couple hours.

At about 5 am, I couldn’t really sleep any more and was getting hungry. I just tried to start the day as normal as possible while the contractions continued. I could talk through them, make breakfast, etc. But I asked BB to work from home for a bit while we decided whether it was real or not. Heather suggested that it was probably not real labor since babies like to come at night, which was discouraging to me and was probably the reason we were frantically running around the house packing a few hours later when it was clearly “real.”

Around 11 am, things started picking up. I had to moan a bit more and stop what I was doing, and they were coming a bit faster. Freddy was painting in the bathtub while I sat on the floor, and all the bending and leaning over was causing me some more serious pain.

At about noon, BB was on a rather important phone call when I was having a more serious contraction in the living room, and Fred was climbing all over me. They were coming closer to 5 minutes apart. That’s when I told him that I needed him to stop working. He took Fred upstairs so I could concentrate, and by 1 pm I told him my mom needed to start coming over. I heard him calling my sister (who lives in the city) and telling her to cancel her plans and take a cab over ASAP. I was still hearing Heather’s prediction and not really believing it was real, but the pain was real, and I was anxious to have Bill focused on me instead of Fred.

My sister came over, played with Fred, got me some heat packs, etc. My lower back and hips were starting to hurt. I was laboring on the floor leaned over a ball. It was kind of loud and chaotic in the apartment so I moved to the bathtub with my candles and music, which was very peaceful and helped my hip pain a lot. 

My mom arrived around 2:30 I think, and Heather doula wasn’t far behind her. Heather and BB took turns sitting with me in the bathroom, bringing me water and snacks. Bill was force feeding me Gatorade and Clif bars like a true marathon runner.

At about 3 pm so people were getting nervous about building traffic since it can take about an hour to get to the hospital from where we were living during rush hour. Heather (also a midwife) recommended checking my progress to see whether we could wait until after rush hour to leave. I was only about 3-4 centimeters, but the baby was really low and the cervix was thinned out so we decided to start making our way.  Heather had just told BB to try and sleep for a bit. About 5 minutes after he laid down, Heather told him we were leaving.

It got super chaotic at this point. I had packed, but of course there were last minute items to gather. And at the same time, my mom was packing up Freddy to take him to her house. It was hard to move from the bath to getting dressed and leaving as my contractions were getting closer together (maybe 3-5 minutes apart).

The car ride was excruciating. BB did really well keeping his cool, navigating traffic through the city, and getting us there in record time safely. Contractions in the back seat of the car were awful and at this point were coming every 3-4 minutes.

I arrived in triage and had to be monitored for 20 minutes while this cranky nurse asked for my address for the millionth time. At this point, I was getting scared. I was tired, and things were really hurting. I had lost the calm focus of my bath and felt out of control. I started crying a bit when I was in triage without Heather and BB who were parking the cars. The nurse was telling me I had to lie down to get the monitors on. I said “I’m trying, but it hurts,” and she responded, “I know it hurts. I had two natural births back when it wasn’t trendy.” So that’s how it’s going to be.

My midwife came and checked me, and I was at 6. Wahoo! Really moving along. It was about 5 pm, I think at this point. I was able to go to the Alternative Birthing Room since I was planning an unmedicated birth – complete with large tub, exercise ball, and a queen size bed. BB quickly set up the battery-operated candles and music, turning down the lights to try and help me get back to my focus. Heather began filling the tub.

Because it was a VBAC, I had to have continuous monitoring, which was so incredibly annoying! It was wireless and waterproof so I was able to go in the tub, but those stupid straps never stayed in place. And I had to have a IV put in (not attached to anything, just the port). These two tasks took FOREVER and all I wanted was to get back in the water and try and concentrate. The monitor wouldn’t work; they couldn’t find more batteries (Bill offered to run out to the store for them). It was pretty ridiculous. 

This really nice young nurse came in to do the IV, and unfortunately, I was not very kind to her. She would not stop chatting and coaching me through my contractions (as if I didn’t have enough people there coaching me!!) so at one point mid-contraction, I yelled “NO MORE TALKING!” And then she couldn’t get the IV in. Sorry….

Shortly after that, BB called out to the room “people. let’s get it together here. we’ve been trying to get in the tub for a long time,” which was also a funny moment. 

At long last, I was able to get into the tub and get some relief and concentration back. I ended up being on my back a lot, which I never thought I would, but it was the most comfortable, and allowed me to be more submerged in the water. The contractions were no joke, but my hip pain was bothering me most. After an hour (or more?) in the tub, Heather suggested I get checked again and use gravity to keep things moving. 

I think it was about 8:30 pm. I was at 7 cm, which was a bit disappointing since I had been laboring for about 3 hours (but not surprising with all the chaos of getting set up at the hospital), and my bag was bulging. My midwife broke the bag thereby inducing a few contractions where I may have used some foul language. Transition time!

I was super scared of transition. I kept imagining that it would get so much worse, and I was already feeling tired. I never really got that “I’m going to die” feeling, but the whole time I kept feeling scared like I couldn’t do it. But, I didn’t really have a choice. It was an interesting experiencing – unlike a hard physical exercise challenge – I couldn’t stop. My body and nature was in charge, and it was just a mental challenge to let my mind go along with it. At this point, I was basically mentally checked out. I was shutting my mind down and sleeping in between contractions. 

So, we encouraged gravity to work. Walking, dancing, squatting, sitting on the toilet, sitting on the birthing stool, leaning on this huge bean bag. At one point I had to pee but didn’t feel like I could walk to the toilet, so they just laid towels down. I thought peeing on the side of the road in Rwanda would be as extreme as my public peeing would be, but apparently, you can get lower than that.

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After an hour or so, I was laboring on the toilet and felt the first of the urges to push. So weird! It felt a bit relieving but so out of control. Before that, I was enjoying BB and Heather massaging my back and hips during contractions. As soon as these pushing moments started, BB leaned in to hug me, and I pushed him away violently and screamed “get off me!” He took it like a champ. Something in my brain switched, and I just didn’t want any more touching!

My midwife checked me again – 9 with a lip! Thus began one of the top three hardest times. We didn’t want gravity putting any more pressure on my cervix so I had to lie down on my side. For an hour! While experiencing excruciating hip pain. This is when I really was freaking out. Crying a bit, whining a lot. That sucked. Not my finest hour. Also, started puking. I had been having terrible heartburn all along (cheese and Gatorade may have been bad choices).

P1050886If you could hear, you’d hear me whining and begging for relief.

But finally, we made it to fully dilated, and I could get back in the tub to push. Hooray! I think it was about 11:15 pm. It took me a while to get the hang of pushing. At this point, the contractions were still only 3-4 minutes apart (they really never got closer than that), and I could completely fall asleep in between them. So weird. My brain was shut down, and I could only perceive a few things going on around me – almost like I was in a dream. When the baby was crowning, I could touch his hair, which was weird. They kept encouraging me to keep my hand there to help motivate me in pushing, but it wasn’t comfortable. They brought a mirror over so I could watch (again thinking it would motivate me), but it was sensory overload for me. I could feel how badly it hurt – I didn’t need to see it as well!

Finally, my midwife said she was a little concerned? interested? perplexed? by some bleeding going on and said that I needed to get the baby out on the next push or I would have to get up and move to the bed so she could examine things. (The water was turning quite red, which freaked BB out a tiny bit, I learned later). I couldn’t speak, but in my head I was thinking “show me the forklift that’s going to life me out of this tub with this head between my legs!” I think that was the motivation I needed. Two more pushes, and baby was OUT. It felt so amazing to have relief from the pressure. So crazy how the pain almost immediately goes away.

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I got to hold him right away, and BB checked between the baby’s legs and said “I see a giant scrotum!” Not exactly the hallmark moment I was hoping for. I couldn’t linger in the tub long because she wanted to check that bleeding, and I needed to deliver the placenta outside the tub.

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Baby Boy went to daddy, and I went to the bed to finish my work. Such sweet relief. I had a 2nd degree tear that needed repair – probably because he came out in one giant push with his hand by his face. But otherwise, we were all fine. He cried right away and was looking all around. He weighed in at exactly 9 lbs and 20 inches long. Born at 12:22 am on March 5, 2015.

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It was crazy and healing and overwhelming. I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to have surgery and that I got the birth I wanted. It really couldn’t have gone better. I’m also glad no one offered me an epidural because I would have said yes. I kept trying to remember why I chose that path, and I really couldn’t in the moment. I also had such an amazing team – I needed Heather and my midwife to keep telling me that everything was normal and that I was doing great. Whenever I said “I can’t do it,” Heather would respond, “you are doing it.” That’s BB’s favorite thing to say to me now.

So, we are blessed beyond belief to have our little Paul Lawrence (Paulie, Baby Paul).

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Opportunity

First, some adorable kid photos. Fred is now “two and a half” as he is prone to tell anyone who asks. He talks extremely well, nonstop. I don’t know how he understands as much as he does, but I do know that it’s going to come back and bite me soon. DSC01230DSC01244

Paul is five months old, fat and happy. He’s rolling now, and his favorite thing to do is to watch Fred do anything. Fred is happy to oblige.

We just returned to officially begin our third year in Rwanda after a nice 4 week vacation in the States with our families. It was everything a vacation in America should be with the extra bonus of Maine lobster.

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I’ve been back in Rwanda a week and while much of it has been either positive or neutral, I can’t help but be overcome by the negative. It’s just plain hard here. (It’s hard everywhere, but I’m particularly focused on the hardness of cross-cultural life). Jet lag is torture, especially with kids. It’s exhausting to get back into the routine of managing a house full of staff. While we are so very blessed to have awesome people working with and for us, it’s hard to be a boss – especially cross-culturally and with language issues. There are endless questions and mistakes. I find the challenge of directing particularly hard with all of my White American privileged guilt about the whole thing. Some days I just want to curl up.

And then I lose my temper. A lot. I lose it with BB, with Fred, with the staff, with other drivers. Today was one of those days where I have had multiple beautiful opportunities to ask for forgiveness. I will not get it all right. I will not cease to make mistakes (even big ones). I am warring with my flesh, but I will be grateful for the times that the Spirit leads me to repentance. I am convicted today that my mistakes might not be permanently scarring (all the time), but that my repentance might lead to permanent healing.

Onward we go into year 3.

 

Saying Yes

Twelve years ago today, sweet BB got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. That story is here. Little did he know, what he was really asking was “will you travel internationally with two kids while you suffer through the flu?”

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Marriage for us has been a series of yeses. Some hard, some easy, some beautiful, some through clenched teeth. Some hard fought, some with tears and trepidation. Some with jumping up and down joy.

Will you make a home with me?

Will you adjust your family traditions?

Will you go into debt with me?

Will you stay up late arguing with me?

Will you laugh with me everyday?

Will you be tender with my heart and fears?

Will you encourage me when you don’t want to?

Will you sit in hard doctor’s visits with me?

Will you love my family through hard times?

Will you tell me I’m beautiful when I’m not?

Will you forgive me when I am unforgivable?

Will you provide for us while I follow my dreams?

Will you eat 7 foods for 30 days with me?

Will you sell everything and move to Rwanda with me?

Will you stay up all night with my sick kids?

Will you wake up covered un my sick kid’s vomit?

Will you make love to me when you are beyond exhausted?

Will you take risks with me?

Will you listen to me talk about work for hours and hours?

Will you let me tell you what to do (sometimes)?

Will you forgive me when I am late coming home from work (just got that text!)?

Will you continue to say yes to me even when it’s hard?

I admit. I often say no. I often want to say no. But I will keep trying to say yes. Because that’s what I said on that gorgeous sunny day May 11, 2003 even though I had no idea what I was getting into!