Childhood Memories

Disclaimer:

The following is a memory from my childhood. A note on memories. They are not always accurate. Details might be wrong. Also, these are the memories of a child, my understanding of the world around me was that of a twelve year old. My main concern in posting this article is to not cast a bad light on the country of Haiti. I do not want that. I think the events that happened are universal to any society that is going through upheaval, not specific to Haiti. So, without further ado..

I was twelve years old. We were living in Cap Haitian, Haiti. We had just moved back to Haiti maybe six months before, after living in the States for five years. Haiti was the home of my father and mother, and I had memories of Haiti from when I had been younger, so it felt like home.

There had been a Coup d’etat, the government had been overthrown and the country was in an uproar. We had been hiding in our house for a week with little word of how things were going around the country. My father religiously listened to the radio throughout the day and he had a ham radio in his truck that he could reach a missionary compound that was maybe a thirty minute drive away in Vaudreille where my Grandparents lived. My father and Grandfather had a prearranged time that they would talk over the radio twice a day. 

The first day that everything fell apart we had heard explosions and gunshots. We had all hid in the stairwell of our house, the safest place we could find in our open, airy, tropical home. Not sure if any of the bullets were aimed our way. During the day we could hear the low roar of a mob, far off in the distance. And I wondered what that mob was doing. I had overheard stories of mobs attacking rich people’s houses, dragging the occupants out into the street and killing them in horrible ways and then ransacking their houses. The sound of the mob was the sound of death. I hated that sound. 

We stayed inside, rarely venturing into our concrete-block-walled yard. We had very little groceries in the house and had been subsisting on macaroni and a large bag of pancake mix. 

The first night of the trouble, my father had told us to lay out an outfit in dark colors and pack one small bag. He was afraid that our house might be attacked in the night and that it would be necessary for us to run on foot from the house. He had spoken to our night watchman and the watchman knew the trails over the mountain that could take us to the missionary compound, and he was willing to lead us if necessary. 

I had always wanted to hike over that mountain, it always looked so romantic, looming over the Northern Plain, often covered in clouds. The whole idea sounded exciting, but it also made my stomach churn. I remember laying out my black tshirt and my blue jean capri pants. I packed a small blue jean bag with leather straps that my mother had brought as a gift for me when she had gone to South Africa for the funeral of her missionary father. I always slept with my favorite stuffed animal, Potbelly, and I couldn’t decide if I should stuff him in the bag so he would be ready to go or should I sleep with him and then, if I was awakened in the night, I could stuff him in the bag at that time. I can’t remember what I decided. 

My mom had a large jewelry collection, none of it worth a great deal, but each piece representing an exotic location she had visited. My mom got out some dark green fabric and showed me how to sew a simple little drawstring bag. We sewed two bags and then put our jewelry in the bags and stowed them in our travel bags. 

When I woke up the next morning, I looked over, and all my travel stuff was still there. I was surprised and thankful that we hadn’t had to run in the night. But, we left our stuff layed out every night that week, just in case. 

After a week, my Dad came in after talking on the ham radio with my Grandpa. After talking with my mom, they announced that we were going to drive to the missionary compound and stay there until things had calmed down. 

What about the drive there? What about the mobs? What about the gunshots? What if we got stopped? 

My Dad said we would not get stopped. Everything was going to be ok.

We each packed a small bag of valuables and clothing and then loaded them into our truck. The watchman agreed to stay on and take care of our pets and take care of the property. 

Our truck had once been a Tap-Tap, a vehicle outfitted to act as public transportation. The back had a roof and sides. My dad had changed the benches in the back to make them more comfortable and he had installed a tail gate and wire mesh doors that could completely close up the back. 

Usually, my brother and I would sit on the benches and we would get a bungee-cord and fasten it to the two wire mesh doors to hold them closed from the inside. If my dad wasn’t carrying passengers he simply used a padlock to shut the doors from the outside.

This time my dad put a mattress down on the floor of the truck bed and instructed us to lay on the mattress. Then he shut the wire mesh doors and locked them from the outside with a padlock. He had canvas curtains that he could put down when it was raining. We hated those curtains as it shut out any breeze and made it very hot. He put down the curtains so that nobody could see into the back of the truck, and we couldn’t see out. 

I lay on the mattress on the floor and just stared at that padlock through the dim gloomy light. What if our truck DID get stopped by a mob? What if the mob set our truck on fire? I knew this was a possibility. I had seen burnt-out vehicles by the side of the road before. What if the mob pulled my parents from the truck and killed them and we were just stuck in the back of the truck, unable to do anything?

I looked over at my brother. He had his headphones in, music blasting. I scooched a little closer to him, layed on my back and stared at the sliver of light coming between the rubber curtains. I held on as the truck slowly made its way down a very rutted and washed out dirt road. I mentally kept track of where we were, each bump and turn giving me a clue. I didn’t move from the mattress. I had no desire to get up and peek through the cracks. Finally the truck pulled off the dirt road and onto a paved road that was also rutted and full of potholes, sections of pavement missing every once in a while. My body tensed. We could drive faster on this road, but we were still in town. Just a little bit farther and we would be out of Cap Haitian. The closer we got to Vaudreuille and the missionary compound, the safer we would be. 

Finally, finally, the truck took a sharp right turn and then stopped. I knew we must be at the gates to the compound now. The gate would be locked and guarded, but they would recognize our truck and let us in quickly. 

We finally pulled into a grassy driveway behind my grandparents house. My dad got out and I could hear him talking to my grandparents. I shook the back door, Hey, let me out. And he walked over and unlocked the gate. My brother and I jumped out, holding our bags. We all then acted like we were having a holiday visit with my grandparents. My grandmother showed us our rooms, my brother and I sharing the room we had always shared when staying with them. A cannonball from the Citadel, a large fortress in the North, acting as a door stop for our door. The whoosh of ceiling fans. The chimes of my grandmother’s clock. 

My grandmother explained when supper was, when breakfast was, what the shower schedule would be, what she and Grandpa’s work schedule would be, as they were still working full-time at the Christian Radio station. It was all so orderly. Just like my grandmother. 

I laid on my bed that was made up with seventies style flowered sheets. I pulled out my book and started reading.

The Lending of a Piano

I play the piano. I have been plunking the keys since I was probably two or three, though my first memories are of me trying to “play along” with my mom when I was maybe four. My mom’s hands would seem to be flying over the keys, and I really wanted to be part of this magic. I would hit a couple keys at the very top of the keyboard, sure that if I played gently, it wouldn’t mess up the song. We had an old piano in our living room/dining room there in the North of Haiti. It was in the corner of the room and I remember being drawn to it. It did such amazing things. 

We left that house when I was six and moved to my grandparents farm in Eastern Kentucky. We were living in a small trailer. No room for a piano. In fact, over the next ten years I did not have a Real Piano in my home. My parents got me a keyboard when I was pretty young, then later, as I pursued music more seriously, they got me a nice keyboard, a Roland with a full length keyboard and weighted keys. It also had a cool function where I could record myself playing, play back the recording, and play along with myself. This function worked great for me because I knew lots of duets and I could rarely get someone else to play the other side with me. 

Over the years I learned how to keep an eye out for Real Pianos (because keyboards are great, but nothing can replace real strings and hammers and keys that respond to the lightest touch). I would enter a home and glance around, any pianos? Oh, you have a piano! Do you mind if I play? When we would travel to different churches, I would linger afterwards, waiting for everyone to leave the sanctuary so I could sneak up and maybe play a quick song on the vacated piano. I was drawn to the instrument, some kind of magnetic force I wasn’t even aware of. 

Of course, I have always said, it would be a lot easier to play guitar. Then you just carry your instrument around with you. Alas, a pianist does not have that luck. But, I have good memories of all the pianos I have discovered and stolen a couple moments from over the years. 

The church we attended when I was in eighth grade had a giant Steinway Concert Grand Piano. And for some reason I can’t remember, my father had to be at the church pretty regularly during the week, and sometimes he would take me after school, and the secretary gave me permission to go in and play. I remember sitting in the auditorium-like sanctuary, all the lights off except a little lamp on the piano. I remember the keys were a lot heavier than I was used to. I would belt out the grandest song I could come up with, and at that age, it wasn’t anything too grand, and I would marvel at the richness of it all. It was heavenly. 

Later, when we were back in Haiti and lived close to the Baptist Seminary, I would often walk down our mountain that we lived on, go to the seminary and get the key to the Chapel where they had a lovely brand new upright piano. It was draped in a thick, quilted, fitted cover. You had to pull it off just-so or it would get stuck on a corner. None of the keys were chipped. There weren’t any notes you had to avoid because they would stick. The sound was warm. The empty chapel with it’s wooden benches making a holy atmosphere for creating music. 

I remember when we moved to Bethel, Alaska right before my sixteenth birthday. We had only been there a couple days and one of the local pastors came and introduced himself, invited us out to lunch with him. We went to the local pizza place and got to know Pastor Ralph Liberty a little better. He was the friendliest, jolliest pastor I had ever met. My dad mentioned that I played piano and I was needing a place to practice. Pastor Ralph immediately offered the piano in their church, a little Assemblies of God congregation. I started walking to the church regularly to practice, and our family started attending the church. They had a new, black, baby grand. It was perched on their little platform stage, to the side, right by a window. I remember the carpet was a rich burgundy color and the light came in weakly through the small windows. I would turn on the little lamp on the piano and pull out my books. I had just started piano lessons at the local community college and my new teacher was determined to challenge me. The first day she sent me home from my first lesson with the Rachmaninoff Prelude in C# minor that was written on four staves in certain sections. I had never had a piece that difficult and I was determined to prove myself worthy. I remember sitting in the little sanctuary, pushing forward one measure at a time until I could finally play through the whole thing, very, very, very lento. 

A couple months after that my parents found me a little spinet piano that just barely squeezed into the tiny house we were renting. My days of searching out pianos to practice on were finally over. I loved that little piano, and I wore it out. But, looking back, I am glad for the adventure I had in seeking the lending of a piano. I inhabited many sacred spaces that became my own for the short time I was there. 

And so I say Thank you. Thank you dear churches. Thank you dear friends. Thank you dear strangers for lending me your piano. Those moments brought me great joy. 

You Don’t Belong Here

You don’t belong here. 

 

This has long been a theme in my life. As a white American child growing up in Haiti, I felt it, You don’t belong here. Even in Haiti among the different missionary groups, each group keeping to themselves, You don’t belong here. 

 

Living in Eastern Kentucky, attending a small country school with the name Esther Picazo. Every time my name was called to take roll, it was there, as the teacher stumbled over how to pronounce Picazo, You don’t belong here. 

 

Maybe the only time in my childhood that I didn’t feel that singling out was when we lived in Bush Alaska, in a town that was about half Y’upik Eskimo and half white Americans. Somehow, the culture of that little town made me feel welcome, even if it was only for a couple years. 

 

But then college, as I walked past a group of tall, tanned, blond girls, all talking about fashion and their latest dates, I felt it radiating out to me, You don’t belong here. 

 

My time in Chile was more of the same, as I struggled to communicate in my very poor Spanish, a look of surprise and then, Oh, You don’t belong here! 

 

Moving to our little city here in Eastern Tennessee, everywhere you go, there are pre-existing groups of friends. Polite, but still holding up the invisible sign, You don’t belong here. 

 

And over time, you learn how to make your own groups of friends, you carve out your own little niche. Create your own little cliques. A fortress where you can stand and say, This is where I belong! Though sometimes the walls of that fortress are a little shaky. Sometimes they don’t withstand time. Sometimes those friend groups dissolve. Sometimes the cliques reform and suddenly you are not on the inside, but are left out in the cold, You don’t belong here. 

 

And sometimes I forget. I think it’s just me. I’m the only one that feels this way. Everyone else belongs. I’m the only outsider. 

 

Except. If you listen to enough people. Really listen. You find out. Most people feel this way at some time or another. 

 

Many years ago, during a worship service at our church, God gave me a vision. I was standing in heaven, before the throne of God and my knees were shaking and I was overawed. And God spoke in this thundering voice and he said, What right do you have to be standing here? And I almost panicked. Sure this was the end. I had no right to be here. I was so sinful and imperfect. But then, I looked at myself, and I realized that I was entirely covered, head-to-toe in a white gown, all my imperfections were hidden underneath this gown. And I spoke boldly. I said, I can be here because I’m covered. I’m covered with Jesus’ righteousness. And I showed off the gown. And God smiled his approval. And my fear went away. I knew everything was ok. I could be there. I was welcomed. I belonged. 

 

The last verse to the hymn Solid Rock has been going through my head.

 

When he shall come with trumpet sound,

O may I then in him be found,

dressed in his righteousness alone,

faultless to stand before the throne. 

 

And maybe that’s just another reason I love Jesus so much. He claimed me. He paid the price for my sin. He opened up a way for me to be with him and he stands with open arms and says, Come, this is where you belong. With me. 

Happy Birthday America

My relationship and feelings toward the United States of America has always been complicated. I grew up in Haiti among people of many different nationalities and America had the reputation of being the bully of the world. They also had the stereotype of being uncultured, crass, oblivious. As a child, I was not overly impressed with my American citizenship. 

 

Before I was born, my American Father and my British Mother had given birth to my brother in Haiti. The United States, Great Britain, and Haiti all refused to give my brother citizenship because my parents had spent very little time in their home countries. My parents made the decision that the entire family needed to have citizenship from the same country so they moved to the States and began the process of getting citizenship for my brother and my mother. I was born during that time in Kentucky. 

 

I remember as a child, asking my parents why they didn’t go to Great Britain and get everyone citizenship there? That would have been way more cool than being American. I can’t remember their exact answer. I think it had to do with the fact that they were working as missionaries in Haiti and the United States was closer and easier to travel to than Great Britain. I think there were more reasons than that, that’s just the one I remember. Maybe something to do with the fact that an American passport is easier to travel with? 

 

I was living in Haiti when the United States decided to put an embargo on this tiny little island country. I watched as food, fuel and medicine became very difficult to find. And I was ashamed. Ashamed of my citizenship. Angry at the US and the harm it was causing to this tiny country where I lived. That anger lingered a long time. Maybe some of it is still there. 

 

As an adult I think I’ve had a good reality check. I spent some time living in Chile, gave birth to my second child there. Loved Chile, but it wasn’t home. I’ve read articles and followed devastating stories of the lack of medical freedom in other Western countries. I’ve talked with friends from Russia, learned a little bit about growing up in the Soviet Union. Essentially, just learned a little bit more about the world than I knew as a child. 

 

My husband and I are wanderers at heart. It’s hard for us to be settled down in one place. It feels bizarre that we have actually lived in the same city for sixteen years now. It’s a common conversation for us to talk about where we would like to move. Especially when things get crazy here in the U.S. Let’s just leave, my husband says. And I take him seriously. Ok, where should we go? We start listing off countries. And as we say a name, I point out the problems that I am aware of for that country. And by the end of the conversation, we always reach the grim reality that there really isn’t any “better” place that we could go and still be able to raise our large family in the manner that we see fit with the minimum amount of dangers to our children. 

 

And now, I realize that I have a multi-national audience. I will just point out that while our country probably has just as many pitfalls as any other country, we are familiar with these pitfalls, we are citizens here, not foreigners, and we know all the ins and outs that we wouldn’t know in another country. No offense meant towards other countries. 

 

And so, here we are on the 4th of July. Firmly established as American Citizens. Not going anywhere. And it’s my country’s birthday. 

 

I got on Facebook this morning and was bombarded by heavy discussions about mask wearing. Pros, Cons. A lot of strong feelings. Our county’s health department has mandated mask wearing. Our Mayor has spoken out against it. Our Sheriff has spoken out against it. This has caused a very big stir in our county. The division is irritating to me. But, now I will tell you what I like about my country. We have the freedom to speak out and tell the world at large what we think. I think your law is stupid, and I’m not going to follow it. I think your “mandate” is unconstitutional and these are the reasons why…I think all of you all should stop fussing about masks and just wear them! I think we need to fight this! I think everyone should be more worried about this virus! I think the virus is a scam! I think we are all going to end up dying in the hospital if people don’t take action soon! 

 

We have the freedom to voice what we think without fear of retribution. 

 

We have freedom to speak up about anything and everything. Hey! Black Lives Matter! Hey! Blue Lives Matter! Hey! Medical Freedom is important! Hey! I hate that decision that our President made! Hey! I think your State is stupid for opening up their economy in the middle of a pandemic! Hey! I think your state is stupid for shutting everything down and ruining their economy! 

 

Though all of our viewpoints have become very polarized, we still have the freedom to voice them. 

 

I worry about this freedom being taken from us. I can see a political trend where this right is slowly being gutted. I pray that those who want to silence all these voices will not be successful. 

 

From my standpoint,  this is the strength of our country. The freedom to think what we want, hold whatever views we wish, and the freedom to voice those opinions. 

 

I do not hold with the view that the United States is the most amazing country in the world. I don’t hold with the view that Being Christian and Being American are one and the same thing. I do not hold with the myth that America has been a paradise, a bastion of freedom, for all peoples since day one. 

 

I will tell you what I am proud of though. My husband was able to quit his job and start his own business with very little hassle. I can send my children to a free public school, or I can keep them home and homeschool them. I can go to the church of my choice and worship in the way I choose without fear. My city is clean. The trash is picked up weekly. I have reliable clean running water and electricity. My city is full of parks and playgrounds that I can enjoy without charge. I am an hour away from a beautiful National Park that is also clean and well-kept and free of charge. If I have any complaints, I have places where I can seek justice. 

I still have mixed feelings about my birth country. These past months have been a time when minorities have been voicing their reality that this country is not as Free for them as it is for others. Here’s the thing. While our country may not be the Home of the Free…yet…we have the potential. We have the framework to make it happen. We still have the freedom to pursue change and reform.  Our country is not static. All the things we don’t like, we can change. And that is probably about as free as we can get. 

 

Happy Birthday America. 

The Traveling Clothes

It’s funny how an outfit can get associated with an entire time period of your life. When I was six and half years old we moved from Haiti back to the States. My mom was planning on going back to school so she could become a PAC and come back to Haiti to do medical missions. 

 

I remember shortly before we left, I was looking in my closet, and in the back of the closet found an outfit hanging up. It was a white sleeveless tshirt with blue anchors all over it. There was also a pair of navy blue culottes. Culottes? I didn’t own any culottes. Now, my next-door best friend Helen had lots of culottes. Maybe these were her clothes hanging in my closet? Maybe she had left them here and Mom was just waiting till she could give them back? I went and asked my Mom and she said that actually this was my traveling outfit, I was going to wear these clothes when we got on the plane to leave Haiti. They were my traveling clothes.

 

Oh. Ok. 

 

I remember the confusion of emotions. Excitement that I had a new outfit with CULOTTES! (I’d always wanted culottes!) Anticipation of getting on a plane. But also a bit of dread since I had no idea what all this meant. 

 

I remember when we got to the airport. My clothes were new and a bit stiff. The airport in Cap Haitien was still small and simple at that time, an open air tin roofed structure with a small area of seats. Lots of gates and chain link fences. For some reason or other me and my best friend quarreled at the very last minute and we either did not say goodbye or it was a very stilted farewell as the group of missionaries that had accompanied us hugged and kissed us on our way. But, I didn’t have too much time to dwell on that, we were getting on the plane. 

 

My mom handed me some Chiclet gum that she had bought from a vendor outside the airport. We rarely got candy or gum so this was a special treat. She instructed my brother and I to chew our gum while the plane was taking off so our ears wouldn’t pop. We obediently and industriously chewed our gum as the plane creeped down the runway, turned, and then suddenly started moving very fast. Everything rattled, we gripped the armrests, and then abruptly, all the shaking was gone. We were up in the air. My face was glued to the window as I watched Cap Haitien and the Mountain and the Bay slowly become smaller and smaller, and then all I could see was the ocean underneath us. 

 

We stayed in Florida for a little while. My only memory of that was going into a grocery store with my parents. Being a lot closer to the floor, I happened to see a small bag of Reeses Pieces in the trademark orange bag. The bag was open and only had a couple pieces of candy left in it. I quietly picked it up and tried out this little treasure I had found. Wow. This stuff tasted good! I quickly finished off the bag and then hid the evidence. Maybe a year later, I learned in school that you were not supposed to eat candy you had found because it might be poisoned. I was still too young to understand how poison worked, and I went through an anxious period of time while I wondered if that candy from a year before was still inside of me and might poison me yet.  

The next time my memory kicks in was when we arrived in Nashville, TN. My mom was looking at two different schools, one in Nashville and one in Morehead, KY where we had lived before on the family farm. 

 

While in Nashville, we stayed in a little guest house of sorts. An upstairs tiny apartment. I remember it was rather dark inside. I’m not sure how we got hooked up with this guesthouse. Some kind of church or mission connection I imagine. I remember that outside the house were long grassy lawns that my brother and I ran around on. And downstairs was a grizzly older woman who I somehow made a connection with. When we left that place she gave me a stuffed toy cowboy as a parting gift. I named him Cowboy Bill and kept him for the rest of my childhood. 

 

I remember while we were staying at this apartment, my Mom bought us a box of Lucky Charms cereal. This was amazing. We did not eat cereal in Haiti. In Haiti we had cooked breakfasts. Oatmeal, pancakes, toast, etc. What was this heavenly ambrosia? It had marshmallows in it! Marshmallows! For breakfast! And they were all pretty colors! And this began the long debate in my mind…Do I eat all the marshmallows first and then have to eat all the plain oat cereal afterwards? Or do I eat all the plain oat cereal first and then end the meal with the bliss of mouthfuls of marshmallows? (It took years of gaining maturity before I could learn to enjoy eating it mixed together, the perfect blend.) 

 

Though I’m sure I had other clothes, all of my memories of that time are of me wearing my white sleeveless tshirt with the blue anchors, and the navy blue culottes. A dark haired little six year old girl. Silently taking in the world in her traveling clothes. 

 

In Memory of My Aunt

I just got news that my Aunt Rachel passed away a couple hours ago. She had been fighting a long hard battle with cancer and today was the end. 

 

And I sit here. Feeling numb. 

 

I haven’t been in touch with my aunt, besides the occasional FB message, in years. Lots of reasons. Family is complicated. My relationship with my aunt was complicated. 

 

But, there was a time when it wasn’t. 

 

When I was six and half, we moved back to Kentucky from Haiti. My mother was planning on returning to school to become a Physician’s Assistant and we were looking at being in the States for the next five years. We settled into a little trailer on my Grandparents farm in Eastern Kentucky. My grandparents were still living in Haiti as missionaries, and my Aunt Rachel and her two children and husband were living in my grandparents house. 

 

We were now neighbors. 

 

This was the mid 80s. My aunt homeschooled at a time when it wasn’t popular. She had an opinion about everything, and taught me the art of discussing a broad array of subjects. She was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. 

 

She taught me how to play piano. She would sit down and start playing something really fun, and then if we kids showed any interest at all, she was quick to sit us down and show us how to do it ourselves. She taught all of us kids (my two cousins, my brother and I, my next-door best friend and her sister) all kinds of fun duets on the piano. When I showed even more interest, she taught me about chords and inversions, and then she taught me how to play Fur Elise and how to jazz up Silent Night. She would sit and play Chopin and I would sit next to her, watching her fingers fly over the keys, mesmerized. 

 

Every summer my aunt would get on a kick. One summer it was roller skating. She made sure we all had skates and then made a big space on her porch and we would skate and skate. She taught us how to skate backwards, and do twists and turns, tricks. We would limbo with skates on. Another summer it was jump rope. She got out a big rope and attached it to a post on her porch and showed us how to swing it and then taught us how to jump in the front door, and jump in the back door. We learned how to jump with the steady beat of my aunt turning, the rope at just the right height, and then we learned how to jump to the erratic turnings of my little cousin who could barely get the rope high enough for us to get under. We knew all kinds of jump rope rhymes and had so much fun. 

 

One summer my aunt put up a volleyball net in her yard and taught us all how to play volleyball. She was an avid nature person too, and she knew the names of all the animals and plants and birds. She was a wealth of knowledge.

 

My aunt also had ponies. Ponies that she trained herself. She trained them how to respond to word commands and very gentle nudges of the reins. Heaven help the child who pulled on the bit or was rough with the ponies in any way. She taught us how to saddle them up and how to ride and we would spend hours riding through the wood trails. 

 

One summer she got a buggy and taught one of the ponies how to pull the buggy, then we would ride up and down the holler road in the buggy singing folk songs. 

 

In the winter, if we got enough snow, she would hitch up an old sleigh of sorts to the pony and would let us ride behind, whooshing through the snow. 

 

Later, she got her kids into gymnastics and she persuaded me to take gymnastic lessons with her kids for a while. My cousins far out-paced me, they had natural talent that I was lacking. But I remember her willingness to help drive me to the gym so I could learn too. 

 

She loved animals. Especially birds. She always had a pet bird of some sort perched on her shoulder or her head. At various times she had ponies, dogs, cats, snakes, pet rats, ducks, hedgehogs, frogs in aquariums, and a whole host of different kinds of birds. And there are probably some other animals that I have forgotten about. It was a child’s paradise. 

 

When I moved away at the age of eleven, back to Haiti, she was a constant correspondent. Her letters and cards were always full of stories and words of encouragement. She was convinced that all of us kids were the smartest kids in the world and was sure that we would be amazingly successful as adults. 

 

When I think of my aunt, those are the years that I remember. 

 

For various, complicated reasons, we fell out of touch, only keeping a hazy eye on each other via FB. But, when I heard that she had cancer and was not doing well, I reached out to her. Thanked her for being such a wonderful aunt to me when I was a child. Thanked her for passing on her love of music. Told her how, when I teach piano, I always think of the way she taught me, and I try to emulate her. 

 

She wrote back, kind words. 

 

I am glad that we had that moment. 

 

And my heart is numb. 

 

Thank you Aunt Rachel for being An Aunt Extraordinaire and for investing in my childhood. I pray for peace for your children and everyone else that you have left behind. 

 

Grace and Our Mental Health Crisis

This morning the sun is shining. It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve seen sunshine, even though I know that’s not true. It was raining yesterday, and yesterday seemed to last about three months. It was a long hard day. Last night our schools announced that they would be staying closed at least through April 24th. Even though I knew that was going to happen, hearing the announcement on the phone felt like a door that I had held cracked open in hope, had been slammed shut in my face. Well shoot. I really AM stuck with figuring out how to school my kids for the next month. 

 

Right now, I am mostly worried about the mental health crisis that has hit our family. I have several children receiving mental health services. I have been receiving mental health services. As life has gotten more overwhelming, my personal doctor offered for me to see their in-house psychologist and we started meeting. It has been helpful to have someone I can talk to in confidence about the challenges I’m facing and who can ask pertinent questions to help me figure out how to proceed. 

 

This week she called me on the phone and said that we would need to do our sessions on the phone for a while. I agreed. Yes. That makes sense. But, it’s sad. I don’t do well talking on the phone. I’m not an auditory person and I find it a bit of a challenge to have phone conversations with anyone except the closest friends and family. I also know that having a private conversation in my home will be next to impossible. And, I know that being able to see someone face-to-face speaks to my soul in a way that phone conversations don’t. 

 

I’m not the only one in the family that is being moved to TeleHealth.  And I know that expecting a child to be able to get anything out of a video conference is ridiculous. It’s not going to be effective. And that is overwhelming to me.

 

At this time, when life has turned upside down, we need these services more, not less. 

 

It’s not anyone’s fault. I understand. Seeing patients face-to-face is putting both patient and provider at risk for exposure to the virus. I understand. 

 

I know that our family isn’t the only one in this boat. This pandemic we are in the middle of is stressful for all members of society. But I think the foster kids and foster parents are being especially hard hit. Strict routine is one of the most valuable tools in the toolbox for helping kids who are processing trauma and hard transitions. It’s also a giant tool for kids who have special needs. There are a lot of families out there whose kids simply can’t handle wearing PJs all day and just doing whatever seems like fun. It just doesn’t work. 

 

As a parent in this situation, I am feeling the urgency to establish a good routine for the house to help give ALL the kids a sense of security. But at the same time, I am so stressed out that I am having a hard time establishing that routine. Are these stay-at-home orders going to affect my husband’s job? (Not yet, thank you Lord.) Are my parents ok? What about my husband’s grandpa in the nursing home? Did my oldest daughter sort out her health insurance? What if she gets sick? Our court case involving our foster kids got delayed because the courts shut down. What is this going to mean for our situation? I heard that covid-19 has reached Haiti. What is this going to mean for our friends and family still there? What will it mean for that country? My friend who lives in Bush Alaska and works in the hospital there told me they only have 7 respirators. What is this going to mean for the town where I graduated high school? What if they get hard-hit? I’m in the process of bringing my son home early from his out-of-state school. How do we get our plane tickets refunded? 

 

All of this is going through my head, and then it’s raining outside, and the kids are fighting with each other, and I feel like I am the last person in the world to be able to handle this situation well. 

 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

 

I guess this is going to have to be my go-to verse. I’m not feeling it. I’m not feeling God’s power. I’m not feeling super-spiritual. All I can see is my weakness and my need right now. My family’s need. So, it becomes an act of faith. I will keep taking one step at a time, exert my tiny bit of strength, and trust that God is going to magnify that effort and turn it into Enough. 

 

My prayers for all of you today as we push through this crazy time, one day at a time. 

Just Remember

Well, the Coronavirus is all over the news. And it seems like I should say something about it. Seeing as I have a blog and all. 🙂  Whenever I try to think of “words of wisdom” for the masses, I come up blank. All I can do is share what’s been happening in my life. So here goes. 

 

I’ve been keeping an eye on the news the last couple weeks. I have been concerned. Not really scared. Just concerned. I decided it would be a good idea to follow the CDC’s advice to have extra supplies on hand. I’ve stocked up a bit. Not a ton. I’m feeding thirteen people every day and I simply don’t have the refrigerator space or the pantry space to stock for large periods of time. But, if we couldn’t go to the grocery store for a week or so, I’d be ok. Since I have a hard time imagining a Capitalist country like ours not finding a way to sell me groceries, I’m not over-concerned about that. I’ve stocked up on some vitamins and OTC medicines. Some medicinal teas. I’ve got a bit more cleaning supplies on hand. I’ve got toilet paper. 🙂 Not an insane amount. I just bought what I usually buy, then grabbed one more package. (I was smart though! I bought it before the mad rush started.) If the kids’ school gets canceled, well hey, I home-schooled for twelve years. I’ve still got all my old supplies on hand. Not a big problem. 

 

All of this “prepping” has kind of happened as a Side Issue. Life has been so incredibly busy that I really haven’t had time to just focus on Worrying about the Coronavirus. When my thoughts do turn that way, I’m finding that I’m having a lot of flashbacks from my childhood. I grew up in Haiti and we lived through a lot of political turmoil. There were many times when we couldn’t leave our house for a week at a time because people were rioting and we could hear gunshots and all the roads were barricaded by angry citizens. And we just stayed in our home and hoped that we would not become a target to anyone’s anger. Going to the store was not an option at all. We just had to make do with whatever we had. One time we were stuck in our house for days and all we had was a giant bag of pancake mix and a bunch of pasta. It took years for me to enjoy pancakes again. 

 

We also lived through an embargo that was put on the country where medicine and fuel and food were very difficult to find because the US wasn’t allowing it to be shipped in. Our family had to ration our driving. My brother and I biked and walked a lot. We carpooled. We just didn’t go anywhere. 

 

Sickness? In Haiti we had TB, HIV, Malaria, Typhoid, Anthrax, Diphtheria, Hepatitis, and a whole host of tropical diseases just floating around everywhere. My mother held medical clinics in our home. All those sick people would come and sit on benches in our yard while my mom would see them in a room in our house, one at a time. We washed our hands a lot. We used Clorox a lot. We got sick sometimes. We recovered. 

 

When I compare those childhood experiences to what’s happening right now, I just kind of shrug. Yeah. This is really nothing. 

 

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to downplay people’s worries. I’m not overly concerned because I have seen God’s faithfulness through much worse circumstances. If God could help my family when I was a child living through tumultuous times, then, I know that God can help me and my family now. 

 

Not everyone shares my history. Maybe this is the biggest thing you’ve lived through. Maybe this is really shaking up your world. I think the pattern holds true though. When we are faced with trials and worries, we look back. We remember other hard times that God helped us with. We remember how God has helped other family members. We think about the stories in the Bible, how God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness. We remember God’s faithfulness. And in remembering, we strengthen our faith. And as our faith is strengthened, we can let go of our fear. 

 

 

Fear not, for I am with you;

Be not dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you,

Yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

 

                     Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV) 

“Hillbilly Elegy” and Jesus

I’ve been reading a new book, “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance. It is a memoir of growing up a hillbilly and a commentary on the working white class from Appalachia. 

 

I just went and read several reviews of the book, now that I have finished it. I find it very amusing that I was completely unaware that this book was actually a cultural phenomenon to explain why Trump was elected. I was also unaware that it is a Pro-Republican book and that a multitude of Universities across the country chose this book for their summer reading, and apparently that choice shows how racist and conservative these Universities are. I found it especially amusing to read a review from someone who actually lives in Eastern Kentucky Hillbilly Country who claims that since Vance did not technically live in Eastern Kentucky, he had no lawful claim to the title “Hillbilly”.  (I find this amusing because I was born in Eastern Kentucky, and all the years I lived there, it was always made very clear to me that I was “Not From Around Here”.)

 

So, in my ignorance, I thought it was a book about a boy growing up in a poor, dysfunctional family and an attempt to pinpoint what things in his childhood actually enabled him to rise above this upbringing and end up doing well for himself. And at the same time, an attempt to understand why his particular culture (hillbilly) is the way that it is. 

 

I’m not going to even attempt to analyze this book in it’s political context. I’ll just tell you what I took away from it. Dysfunction is everywhere. People do crazy things. It doesn’t make sense. The dysfunction and craziness affects a child’s ability to grow up into a stable adult. Some kids can be helped. Others can’t. So far, we don’t have any way of measuring who is going to “make it” and who isn’t. Though we can statistically say that the majority of children growing up in dysfunction will take that lifestyle into their adulthood. 

 

So, what do we do? What should our response be to such gloomy news? 

 

This week I read some interesting verses in Luke 6.  Here’s what verses 30-31 say:

 

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

 

I remember when I was 20 years old. I was living in Haiti for four months, staying with friends. I went out with an old childhood friend of mine and we were walking through the marketplace in Cap Haitian and an elderly man approached me and asked for money. I brushed him off and kept walking. My friend confronted me. Why didn’t you give him any money? You have money! What would it have hurt to give him some? 

 

I was shocked. Having grown up in Haiti, being surrounded by people begging any time you went out in public, I had adopted the habit of just saying no. There were too many people to help. I didn’t have enough money to give to every single beggar, so I simply didn’t give to any of them. My friend’s accusation was a jolt to my system. Maybe my approach was wrong? 

 

Shortly after this I went to Chile for 5 months to stay with my brother, sister-in-law and their new baby. Chile also has a multitude of beggars. As I went out with my brother, I watched as he gave something to every single child that approached him. He commented that he had been convicted that he should give to anyone who asked him. I decided that I too wanted to be like that, and I adopted the habit of giving to anyone who asked me. 

 

Over the years there has been the occasional person I have said No to, simply because I felt very much like I was being “handled” by a professional and I hated the feeling of being taken advantage of. But, later, after walking away…I have always felt bad. I am not called to decide whether someone is worthy of my charity. I’m just called to freely give. 

Yes, there have been situations when I have helped someone and then they have continued to ask for help and continued and continued to the point where I felt like if I helped them in the way they were asking, I would simply be enabling them. In those situations I have said, No, I can’t give you money, but I can help you with something more longterm like getting a job or finding housing or enrolling in school.

 

Taking this back to the “Hillbilly Elegy”. We are surrounded by people who have been or are being harmed by living in a dysfunctional home. Some of those people will respond well to help, whether it be mentoring, counseling, encouragement, opportunities, education…others will not respond well. No matter what help they get, they will remain stuck. So, what should our response be? Well, Jesus said to help everyone. He didn’t give any addendums over whether that person was worthy of help, or whether it would be a waste of time to help, or whether that person was a lost cause. He just said to help people.

 

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6: 35-36.

 

So, that is my take away. This is a crazy world, full of hurting people who simply aren’t making it. All I can do, and what I am called to do as as Christian, is help wherever and however I can. 

 

Better Late than Never

This past 9-11 was interesting for me.  I suddenly got interested in the events of that day 18 years before.  Yes, every year our country has a day of remembering, and every year I have felt melancholy as people shared different memories from that day. But I did not feel like I was entering into the mourning like my friends were. 

 

When 9-11 happened, I was living in bush Alaska. I had an almost one yr old baby. I was pregnant with my second. I didn’t have a tv. The events of that day seemed very far away. I did not sit in front of the news and watch the events unfold. I just heard about it after the fact, in a tidy little written news article I found on the internet. I also had a very complicated history with the US, having lived in Haiti while the US put that country under a strict embargo. Seeing firsthand the suffering that the Haitians endured because of US politics made me feel very ambiguous about being an American. 

 

When 9-11 happened, I saw it as an outsider. How sad. Those poor people. It was some kind of crazy disaster that was happening far away to people that had no connection to me. 

 

So, this past 9-11, I suddenly felt very curious. I started watching little video clips that people had posted about various aspects of that day. Then I got on Youtube and found where someone had posted an unedited clip of the news, playing straight from 8:30am to 11am on that day. Over a couple days, I sat and watched the whole thing unfold. I cried a lot. Suddenly feeling very connected to the confusion and pain and bewilderment as people watched their country being attacked. I went and found another video that was made a year after, that showed what was happening at the government level during that time. I watched an amazing clip of a fireman who had been in the building when it collapsed and somehow he got out. He gives God all the credit. I watched some footage of different news camera men who had been on the scene, watched their live footage as they lived through the chaos. I watched an amazing little documentary about all the boats that spontaneously gathered to help evacuate Manhattan. And I cried some more, this time at the wonder of people coming together to help each other, uniting.  And then finally, I felt like I had watched enough. 

 

And I wondered. What was that interest all about? I’m still not sure. I do know that I hate mourning. I hate entering into emotional pain. I distance myself from it. It’s not good that I do that. Instead of feeling the emotions, I just shove them down. I used to be pretty purposeful about it too. If something was getting too overwhelming for me to handle, I would literally envision a big walk-in closet. Then I would envision myself going in, taking an empty box, setting the problem into the box, shutting the box, and putting the box on the shelf, and then I’d walk away. 

 

Perhaps God is letting me do some catch up. Let’s open that closet door and start unpacking all those boxes. One at a time.