Merry Christmas Eve from Thessaloniki

The wind is rattling the door shutters in the apartment, but inside it is cozy and calm. It’s what I’ve always wanted Christmas Eve to be, yet what it rarely is. Thessaloniki itself is a bustling commotion of people, strolling in plazas and stopping at cafes and shops along the way. There is a festive sense of waiting, evoking childhood memories anticipating the joy and surprises of Christmas.

Thessaloniki is not a new city for us, so we drink in the familiarity even as we explore new places and sights. It’s a special city – a city of miracles and churches, of children caroling out of tune on Christmas Eve, pocketing money and chocolates, and priests coversing with strangers in coffee shops. Time stops as you sit in cafes or tavernas, in churches or apartments.


Being Orthodox we feel at home in these churches, the saints guiding us through every icon, an urgency and expectancy in their gaze, as if to say “Watch and wait – you’ll see. These things you worry over, the cares you hold tight, the burdens you bear – lay them down for a moment. Stop for a moment. Be enveloped in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.” This faith is like this city – familiar yet new; timeless, enduring, ageless yet ever-available.

It is good to stop. It is a gift to be still. My life has taken on the familiar urgency of a large American city and I find myself longing for the time we had last year, longing to stop and reflect. We try and set aside time, and yet the endless tasks, scrolling, time-wasting, and real work creep in making us believe that we are trapped.

As I stop this afternoon, I can’t help but think about birthing babies. It’s something I know well, my earned fact as it were. Each birth was unique – seemingly the only commonality being myself and my husband. But there was one other thing that was common in my births, and that is that time stopped. Nothing mattered but the birth of that baby. Nothing. Each labor pain was separated by what felt like an eternity. And then, with the “I can’t take it any more” pain of transition, the work of pushing began until a cry broke time, and a baby was born. Time stopped, a baby born, a miracle.

The mystery of birth and the mystery of the incarnation – both invite us into a timeless miracle. A baby born, a world changed.

This afternoon, in the quiet of a rented apartment in a city in Greece I will myself to enter into the timelessness that I entered into during those long hours of labor. I will myself to enter the timelessness that believing the mystery of incarnation requires, the timelessness that this city, this season, and my faith urge me toward. The timelessness that birthing babies necessitates. The timelessness of a “long expected Jesus, born to set his people free.”

Merry Christmas Eve! May you too enter the timelessness of the miracle of Christmas.

A Baby and the Cold Slush of Winter

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I slog my way through dirty, melting snow as I walk to work. The pristine fluffy white of one week ago is replaced by the dirt and grime of the city, coupled with slush caused by rising temperatures.

It is Thursday, my last day of the work week, and I am tired. In winter everything takes longer. It takes longer to get ready in the morning, longer to walk to the subway, longer for the subway to arrive, longer to get groceries.

Everything is longer. Everything is harder. It’s more difficult to see grace; more difficult to give grace.

Yesterday I visited a friend who has just had a baby girl. I held her little body in my arms, marveling at her perfection, struck by how this little miracle came to be.

In the midst of the cold slosh of winter, I got to hold this wonder in my arms. Outside may feel cold and heartless, but inside is warm with wonder and grace.

Outside the world is raging, unaware that inside is a six pound wonder. Outside people argue and push, morosely facing winter’s worst. Across the country fires and floods change people’s lives in moments.

But inside there is a baby, perfectly formed and known by a God who still believes that this world is worthy of being redeemed. She is entrusted to, and loved by, an imperfect family and friends; people who will hold her and teach her, love her and cry with her.

And as I hold her I am in awe – in awe of baby soft skin and six pounds of perfectly formed fingers and toes, in awe of the strength and fragility of life, in awe of my friend who waited so long and wanted this baby so very much. Mostly in awe that somehow God believes that we in our human frailty, born as helpless babes who grow to be imperfect children and adults, are worth redeeming.

It’s Thursday and I’m tired. But then I remember – there’s a baby and it’s all okay.

My Ramadan Baby

I remember the day like it was yesterday. The Islamabad sun, hot and bright, burned down on my mom and I as we walked to the hospital with my first-born – Annie – in a stroller.

It was May of 1987 and it was Ramadan, only a couple of days before the huge Eid celebration that would mark the end of this long month of fasting for Muslims around the world. We had been living and working in Islamabad since January and I was 9 months pregnant with our second child.

After a false start a couple of days earlier, my mom and I headed out to my  regularly scheduled prenatal appointment.  After examining me, my doctor said “Sometimes we need to push the horse and cart!” Which was code for “I’m going to give you something to speed up this delivery.” I was more than willing to oblige.

It was a text book induction and just after midnight on May 25th I gave birth to a gorgeous, blue-eyed, fuzzy-headed baby boy. I was smitten.

I wrote about my Ramadan baby 6 years ago, when I was a new blogger. As I reread the piece I wrote, I realized it communicates the story exactly as I remember it, so I have reposted it below in honor of my Ramadan “baby’s” 30th birthday!

Date: May 25, 1987

Location: Islamabad, Pakistan

Place: Ali Medical Center

24 years ago today at 10 minutes past midnight I gave birth to my second child. It was toward the end of Ramadan and this showed significantly in the absence of staff in the hospital. Earlier in the evening as I labored, my husband and I began to worry aloud that the doctor, busy breaking the fast at her home, would not make it and we would be left on our own. We needed her assurance in seeing to the safety and health of a pregnant woman in transition (me) and a baby that wanted to enter life. My mom, well versed in cultural norms in Pakistan, assured us that the doctor would arrive on time. But as we waited and wondered, we were deeply grateful for the calm presence of my mother.

As the hospital staff ate their fill of Ramadan specialties before dawn came (and with it the arduous fast that would not break until 7 or 8 at night) two babies made their way into the world.  The last azaan, calling the faithful to prayer, was heard earlier through the brick walls of the labor and delivery room, ensuring that even those inside would know it was time to break the fast. At that point all hospital staff disappeared, oblivious to the labor pains of two women, as they rushed to ease their hunger pains.

One of those babies was ours: Joel Rehan Braddock Gardner, born with a head of blond, fuzzy hair and deep blue eyes. I took one look and fell in love with 6 lbs and 12 oz of baby. It was magic. The second baby was also a boy – a little Pathan boy, as dark-haired as Joel was blonde, born to a family who lived in Peshawar. They had made their way to Islamabad for the delivery, ensuring that their first child would be born at a good hospital.

It was a text-book delivery and after 6 hours of laboring and a few pushes, Joel took his first breath and let out a yowl. I don’t even know if yowl is a word but it describes what was a mixture of a yodel and a howl. He was a perfect, 10 fingered, 10 toed, baby boy. Dr. Azima Quereshi was the doctor presiding over the delivery. After observing me labor without drugs and breastfeed immediately after birth, she looked at my mom with tear-filled eyes and clutched her arm saying “I’ve read about deliveries like this, but I’ve never seen one!”

The hospital staff enjoyed their own show that night as they sent staff in by two’s to see “the white lady who had her husband in with her during the delivery,” something that was unheard of at Ali Medical Center and most hospitals in Pakistan. “Who wants the men in there?” was the incredulous question voiced by Pakistani friends and acquaintances.

The Pathan family showered the hospital staff and doctor with gifts of fruit, Pakistani sweets of gulab jamun, jalebis, barfi, and savories of samosas and pakoras. This ensured a favored place with staff as low on the ladder as cleaning people and as high as surgeons. 

We were not so favored. A gift of imported Cadbury Chocolates delivered in a fake gold bowl for Dr. Quereshi seemed appropriate and we went on our merry way, taking Joel back home to the F-8 residential area of Islamabad to meet his older sister Annie and settle into a bassinet.

It was only later that we realized our faux pas in not buying treats for the entire hospital. We had failed to publicly recognize the role the rest of the staff had played in helping us deliver a healthy baby boy which, from a cultural perspective, was a huge thing to acknowledge!

And so Joel came into the world and today he turns 24. His blonde hair has turned into light brown, he still has deep blue eyes – and his yowl? That has turned into an infectious laugh, ability to argue anyone into the ground and a great personality.

Happy Birthday Joel – We are so blessed by your life.

To the One Who Got Pregnant too Soon

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I woke with a familiar pressure on my bladder. It was the middle of the night, and I needed to go to the bathroom. I came back to bed in tears.

“I think I’m pregnant.” I whispered to my sleepy husband as I shook his shoulder. “That’s ridiculous” he said as he turned over and fell back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, stayed awake. I knew I was pregnant. We had a toddler and a baby who was six months old. I was exclusively breast feeding and hadn’t yet gotten my period back after the pregnancy, so my husband’s response was completely reasonable.

But when you know your body, you know these things. Nine months later we had a beautiful baby boy, born two weeks earlier than his due date. He was 6 lbs and 10 oz of beauty and joy. But the inbetween time was not so much. People who saw me pregnant would look at me in astonishment and say “Haven’t you had that baby yet?” thinking it was the previous pregnancy gone on too long.

Yes – I actually had given birth to THAT baby. This one was a different one. This one was THIS baby. That one was THAT baby. Sheesh.

There were a few things that I discovered about myself and about other people during that time. I offer them here in this space, knowing that your situation may be different, but hoping that you will feel some nuggets of encouragement.

  1. You owe nobody, I mean nobody, an explanation. When people say things, when they comment about your pregnancy you don’t have to tell them anything that you don’t want to. When they ask if you were planning this, if it was a surprise, if you’re happy …. those are intimate questions, and you don’t have to let people know the answer.There will be people that you can share with and cry with, but the average bystander and acquaintance is not worthy of your explanations. Whether you used birth control or not – it’s none of their business. Whether you were planning this or not – none of their business. Don’t feel any pressure to give people a response.
  2. Your baby is not a mistake. Your baby may be unexpected; your baby may be a surprise — but your baby is absolutely NOT a mistake. Mistakes are supposed to be erased, they are supposed to be corrected. Surprises are unexpected and take some rethinking and adjusting, but ultimately you do adjust. There is a massive difference between a mistake and a surprise.
  3. You need safe people. You need people who will listen to you, judgment free as you rant and rave about your body, your mother-in-law, your oversexed husband, your life in ruins, all of it. You need to be able to say that you want to run away to safe people who know that these feelings will pass. Safe friends who will love you and protect you from a world that feels overwhelming are a gift.
  4. Be okay with asking for help. I made a vow that hurt me for years when I got pregnant unexpectedly. That vow was that no one would ever see me out of control. It was such a mistake. I carried such a heavy burden of having to keep it together. People who knew and loved me knew that I wasn’t keeping it together, but I tried to hide it under the vow that I had foolishly made. When I finally broke free of that, I cried and cried, ending the crying session with a soul-deep sigh.I was finally free to admit my need for others, my need for help. Don’t be like me. Ask for help.
  5. Routine could be your best friend. When you find yourself pregnant and you have a toddler in the house, routine is a wonderful gift. Routine means you can say “No, I’m sorry – I can’t do that. It’s nap time.” Routine builds security in you and your children. Routine gives you time to recharge and drink tea. Routine is not binding – it’s freeing.
  6. Be okay saying “No.” “No – I can’t make a dessert for the women’s brunch.” “No, I can’t chaperone the preschool field trip.” “No, I can’t baby sit your kids.” “No, I can’t work those extra hours.” “No, I can’t fill in for a sick nurse, or a sick Sunday school teacher, or a sick anyone anytime anywhere.” No. No. No. For some reason, I was an easy yes. I remember one time sitting at someone’s house helping her fold her clothes and make apple crisp. Suddenly I thought “This is ridiculous! I’m the one with five kids! I’m the one who needs to fold clothes and make apple crisp – AT HOME! I realized that I needed to put healthy boundaries around my time.
  7. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t need everything that western society says they do. They don’t need hundreds of outings, they don’t need a bunch of different play groups. They need you. They need Grandma if she’s around. They need security and safety. Self-actualization is way far away on Maslow’s hierarchy. Don’t worry about it. If play groups help you – well then, have at it. But if they don’t – then don’t worry about “socializing” your child. Believe me, there is a lot of socialization that your kid can do without.
  8. On days when you are so tired, and you just can’t do it anymore, there’s always tea and reading time. Put quiet music on in the background and read to your little ones. Then, put them in their happy places while you read yourself.
  9. One day you will get your body and your sleep back. It won’t be the same, it can never be the same. That’s the price we pay for having these little humanoids who grab our hearts with their vice-like grips and create a gap in our well-oiled shiny armor. But there will come a day when you put on a little-maybe-big(ger) black dress and go out with your true love again. There will come a day when you have a full night sleep. There will come a day when all of your children – even the surprise ones – are potty trained. There will come a time when you watch your own television shows and movies. There will come a time when you miss your kids. But it won’t be for awhile.
  10. Allow people to celebrate for you. You may think this is the worst thing ever, the timing is all wrong, you were going to go back to school to get a masters degree, you had finally lost all your baby weight, your husband is looking for a new job, you just started back to work — there may be all kinds of reasons that you have for not being able to celebrate. But others can celebrate for you. When I arrived in London, unexpectedly pregnant with my fifth child, no one in Cairo knew. I hadn’t told anyone. I arrived in London and my best friend met me at the airport. I hugged her and then burst into tears. “I’m pregnant!” “You’re so lucky!” she said. She had had a couple of miscarriages and she knew what it was to be gratefully pregnant. It was perfect. No – I didn’t feel lucky. No – I felt totally overwhelmed. But her reaction was so wonderfully spontaneous and lovely that I began to feel a measure of hope with her response.

You could still be wondering why you are pregnant when you are in labor and about to deliver the baby – but once you see that tiny, little person, you will be in utter awe and the heartburn will be gone.

So to you who got pregnant too soon – I hear you. I’m with you. You join the multitudes of us around the world in that special “I got pregnant too soon and I realize I can’t control my life club.” It’s a club that humbles you and grows you up quickly. No one intends to join the club, but once you’re in it, you realize that it’s a pretty great club after all.

Get a Life

“Oh, for God’s sake…get a life, will you?”–William Shatner

 

Connor left nearly a month ago to return to the University of British Columbia. As he and Lowell pulled away from the house I felt the bottle of grief shaken within me lose its scarcely screwed on lid. Before I knew it I was drenched, inside and out, with sadness. I came into the house, sat in my chair, gently held my coffee cup and cried.

In my sad spot I remembered that this is our Adelaide’s last year of high school too and a fresh wave of grief dragged me under. It felt like my heart would break.

I wondered at the strangeness of parenting. We wrap our lives and our hearts around these miniature people. We tend, nurture, guide, direct. We attend concerts and games, plays and competitions. We give up our rights to complete thoughts, finished sentences, sleeping in on Saturdays, uninterrupted conversations, Sunday afternoon naps, free time, long showers, the late show. We trade it all in for diapers, runny noses, giggles, knock knock jokes, princesses, pirate ships, play dough, lego towers, swing pushing, nail painting, homework helping, eye rolling, door slamming, curfew pushing kids! And if we get a minute we’d admit that it was a fair trade. For the most part we’ve loved it—!

In that sad moment in my chair I wanted those days back again. I wanted another turn at it all. I wanted to hold fiercely on to the childhood of my children. They said it would go fast and for the longest time I thought they were mocking me…but now I realized with horror at how right they had been. It was over with my kids before it had really begun in me.

As I sat sipping my coffee, which now oddly tasted like nostalgia and sorrow, I thought to myself, “Robynn, You need to get a life”! I suppose it was a mild rebuke from my more sensible self to my emoting sobbing self. Even as I thought it another thought quickly jumped up in defense of me. Wait a minute…I do have a life!

I do. I have purpose. I’m a spiritual director in training. My brain is being stretched and stimulated by the program I’m enrolled in. I have a broad worldview. I’ve had the humbling privilege of travel and crossing cultures in varying places around the globe. I’m a part of an Environmental Missions effort. I’m passionate about climate change and its effects on the world. I care deeply about the oppressed and long for justice. I have deep friendships with interesting people who expand my world in significant ways. My thoughts are often outside of my inside domestic duties. I read books, I engage in conversation, I watch the occasional documentary, I listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts.

Honestly I think that’s one of the best gifts I’ve given my children. They’ve seen my heart for others. They know I have a wide circle. They’ve heard me rant about racial injustice, about welcoming the immigrant, about caring for the poor. They’ve seen my eyes fill with tears with concern for friends that are hurting. They know I have dreams and goals and longings outside of our home.

I attended an international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan. Multiple times a year we’d have to say goodbye to our parents. It was devastatingly difficult. But I’m convinced it was made marginally easier because we knew my parents had purpose. We knew they loved each other well. Their marriage was solid. We knew they’d be ok without us.

Kids need to know that their parents are going to be all right when they’re not around. It’s too much pressure for a child to believe that his mother’s or his father’s emotional well-being is connected to him. He needs to know they have a life without him.

There are ways we interpret our obsession with our kids that sound noble and self-sacrificing. But I wonder if we scraped those notions back down to the frame if we’d find something more self-serving than we originally thought? Does it give us a sense of importance? Are we tethering our identity solely to our role as caregiver?

I’m not saying that being a parent is not an important vital job. By all means it is! But the goal is to work yourself out of a job. We want to raise adults that are independent, that no longer need us for their daily cares. We want to train up people that know what it means to contribute in valuable ways to the world around them. They will not know about that unless we show them. It will be important to your health and the health of your progeny that you have some other meaningful thing to give yourself to.

I suppose there’s no real easy way to say this….but moms and dads –you have got to get a life! I don’t care what age your kids are now, begin, even today to imagine a little life outside of your children. Start researching ideas of what you might want to do. Pray it through. Take up a hobby that energizes you. Are there distance education classes you could enroll in even now? Are there places you could meaningfully volunteer? Are there courses offered in your community that might spark your imagination? Do you have dormant dreams that you used to think about? What would it look like to fan some of those back into flame? The little people won’t be little for long. Start now and get a life!

 

 

The Urban Disadvantage – State of the World’s Mothers 2015

state of the worlds mothers 2Every year around Mother’s Day a report is released from Save the Children called the “State of the World’s Mothers.” And every year, I write about it.

Because it is so important to me. If I could spend all day every day with moms and babies, I would. There are so many reasons for this – but partly its because I have five of my own and I learned so much from those younger days. I know what helped and I definitely know what didn’t help. Healthy moms and babies are critical to a healthy world.

In the last 60 plus years, the number of city dwellers in the world has increased by over 20%, so that half the world’s population now lives in the city. While this creates incredible advantages for many of us, there are many others who live in extreme poverty where disease is prevalent, nutrition poor, and violence high. The World Health Organization (WHO)estimates that nearly a billion people live in urban slums, shantytowns, on sidewalks, under bridges, or along the railroad tracks.” One of the worst places in the world for a mom and a baby to be is in a city slum. 

state of the worlds mothersThis year’s report is on mothers in urban settings and is appropriately called “The Urban Disadvantage.” Here are some summary findings, taken directly from the report:

“Every day, 17,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Increasingly, these preventable deaths are occurring in city slums, where overcrowding and poor sanitation exist alongside skyscrapers and shopping malls. Lifesaving health care may be only a stone’s throw away, but the poorest mothers and children often cannot get the care they need.”

  • The world, especially the developing world, is becoming urbanized at a breathtaking pace. Virtually all future population growth in developing countries is expected to happen in cities, resulting in a greater share of child deaths taking place in urban areas.
  • In developing countries, the urban poor are often as bad as, or worse off than, the average rural family, and for many rural families, moving to the city may result in more – rather than less – hardship
  • Few countries have invested sufficiently in the infrastructure and systems, including water and sanitation, which are critical to addressing the basic health needs of the urban poor. More countries need to adopt universal health care as a national policy to help address the unmet needs of the urban poor.
  • While great progress has been made in reducing urban under-5 mortality around the world, inequality is worsening in too many cities.
  • The poorest children in almost every city face alarmingly high risks of death.
  • High child death rates in slums are rooted in disadvantage, deprivation and discrimination.
  • Malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45 percent of deaths of children under 5, leading to over 3 million deaths each year, 800,000 of which occur among newborn babies.
  • Among capital cities in high-income countries, Washington, DC has the highest infant death risk and great inequality. Save the Children examined infant mortality rates in 25 capital cities of wealthy countries and found that Washington, DC had the highest infant mortality rate at 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. While this rate is an all-time low for the District of Columbia, it is still 3 times the rates found in Tokyo and Stockholm.

Here’s the good news: We know what works! This is huge. Save the Children looked at six cities that, despite significant population growth, have made strides in saving children. Again, from the report:

The cities are: Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Cairo (Egypt), Manila (Philippines), Kampala (Uganda), Guatemala City (Guatemala) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia). These cities have achieved success through a variety of strategies to extend access to high impact services, strengthen health systems, lower costs, increase health awareness and make care more accessible to the poorest urban residents.  1) Better care for mothers and babies before, during and after childbirth; 2) Increased use of modern contraception to prevent or postpone pregnancy; and 3) Effective strategies to provide free or subsidized quality health services for the poor. 

The yearly report always ends with recommendations, and this year is no exception. As a public health nurse, I am always encouraged and discouraged about this report. On the one hand, the statistics are depressing and overwhelming. On the same hand, its all well for a group like Save the Children to talk about what needs to be done, but it is completely different convincing country, state, and city governments that money needs to be given to these efforts.

So where’s the good news? The good news is in places like Heartline Ministries in Haiti. I’ve never been there, but feel like I know two of the midwives who work with Heartline – Beth and Tara – through our email and online interaction. They are two of my “sheros.” Heartline’s mission statement is “Intentionally walking alongside the impoverished men, women, and children of Haiti during their life journeys, meeting critical physical, emotional, financial, educational, and most importantly spiritual needs.” Their maternity center exists to provide prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care to women in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. If you want to know where your money is going to, and want to make a difference, I highly recommend this group. Connect with them on Facebook here.

And the other place I’ve written about before. Shikarpur Christian Hospital has met the needs of moms and babies for years with little recognition and a lot of perseverance. Pakistani and Western staff work hard to give great care to moms and babies in Shikarpur and surrounding areas.

In my public health heart, I know that for real and lasting change to happen, policies are needed at the highest levels. I know that some things are completely impossible without the support of local government. I know in my soul that for real and lasting change, hearts have to change. But while some may say these places are bandaids on a gushing wound, I would say that until we live in a perfect world, thank God for the people who are willing to put on bandaids.

Photo Credit – https://www.pinterest.com/pin/13370130120653125/

Dear New Mom

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Dear New Mom

I can tell this is new for you. You have that glow of joy and uncertainty as you readjust the blanket around your tiny baby. You protect with your arms against the crowds that are pushing around you in this crowded subway space, and you respond tentatively to the occasional smiles from strangers. For who doesn’t love a baby? 

I wish I was sitting closer to you so that I could strike up a conversation. So many things are going through my head. I’ve given birth to five babies on three continents – I like to think of it as a kind of record. I remember so well those beginning days where all the world was colored baby.

What would I say to you new mom? Right now you’re either basking in the glow of new motherhood or hating that everyone thinks you should be basking when all you want to do is sleep and cry. Sleep when the baby sleeps. It’s so hard to do but it’s so important. Don’t spend energy cleaning the house or going on social media or instagramming your life. Sleep.

Take advantage of the space people will give you for a short time. For a short time, the only time in your life, people will expect nothing from you other than to be with your baby. Don’t pass up this opportunity. I promise you will never get it again. If you have the chance to sleep until ten in the morning with your baby, do it. You will be so glad.

Your baby will cry. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. Babies cry. They just do and it can be so hard. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself if it gets too hard. Put ear plugs in and separate yourself for awhile. Sanity is critical and there may be times when you think you are going insane. So step away for a time if you need.

A bit of sadness is normal in those first days, and periodically it may surface. But if it continues, go seek help. There’s postpartum sadness and then there’s postpartum depression. They are two very different things.

You are not weak for asking for help. The Western world does this baby thing all wrong. Away from moms. Away from friends and sisters. Isolated in suburbia or not knowing your city neighbors. New moms and babies are created for community, for help. Find yours.

That mom that asks you if your toddler is potty-trained yet? Best stay away from her. Because it will continue into higher stakes and bigger comparisons. And it will be beautifully, camouflaged passive-aggressive behavior. First it will be about potty training. Then it will be about talking. Then it will be about grades and sports. It will end with her daughter marrying a “good Christian boy” and you will have to confess that you want to kill her. It’s not worth it. Competition is never-ending and it will not help you. Break the madness. Live above and beyond competition.

When you have an uneasy feeling that your pediatrician is wrong – they probably are. So gently or forcefully push them. Same with that teacher who misjudged your child – don’t be afraid to speak up. The one that thinks your child is going nowhere? You’ll be sending them a copy of their college report with all A’s. Trust me on that one.

But also know that your kid is not perfect. And they probably did bite the other toddler in the church nursery. If you accept early on that your kids are not perfect, it will be easier when others let you know in clear language.

Know that the playing field levels when they are teens or young adults. That’s when parents with perfect children go into hiding, or at least get a little quieter. Because it’s hard to maintain a perfect image past those wonderful middle years.

Remember that well-oiled and shined armor that served you so well when you were single and newly married? It now has a soft, sweet-smelling crack in it. Arrows from others can find their way straight through the crack. Know your safe people and cry and laugh with them. Be kind to those who aren’t safe but don’t let them into your sanctuary.

Above all remember, there is so much grace needed in this journey of parenting. Grace for your kids. Grace for your husband. Grace toward in-laws. Grace toward the well-meaning and clueless. Grace to yourself.

That baby that you cuddle so close will one day be an adult. An adult who you drink coffee and laugh with, an adult who you cherish. And there is little sweeter than enjoying a relationship with your adult child.

It’s your subway stop now – but wait, you forgot your diaper bag. The first of many things you will forget. Goodbye new mom. I wish you joy and grace. 

Picture Credit:http://pixabay.com/en/baby-mother–arms-legs-mother-arms-164583/

On Protection in the New Year

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When I look back at parenting small children I sometimes take in a sharp breath. Not because anything tragic happened, but because tragedies could have happened, and many times over. From croup that sounded like a wounded puppy, in an isolated area with no medical help, to high fevers and salmonella, you cannot parent five children without several ‘catch your breath’ moments.

And I think about protection. And how much we want it and need it and pray for it. Protection. Preservation. Safety. Shelter. Refuge. Strength. So many words associated with protection. From the minute our babies are born we are endowed with a fierce need to protect. Our babies are the gap in our armor, the place where an enemy can send a sword and pierce us, sometimes fatally.

Protection. Protect — “[pruhtekt] to defend or guard from attack, invasion, loss, annoyance, insult, etc.;cover or shield from injury or danger.”

But babies grow up and as they grow, our ability to protect diminishes by thousands. No longer are we with them night and day. We share them with people, some worthy and others unworthy, and we let them out of our sight. We know that this is what makes a healthy adult, but it is not without fear that we release them.

If we are honest, we know that even when they are small a certain amount of danger in the form of germs is a good thing. A healthy immune system is not born of protection but of exposure.

What about us? What about me and my family in the new year? Is a certain amount of danger a good thing? Is a bit of risk necessary? Is protection from God born, not of isolation, but of exposure?

Just as we cannot protect our children from everything, we cannot protect ourselves as we go into the unknown of the year. We don’t know the paths where we will trip, the places where we will shudder under the weight of fear.

A year ago I wrote a piece on fear. In that piece I wrote this:

“While I don’t believe we are all called to go into war zones, and I believe we must exercise discernment and wisdom, particularly when we have others who we are responsible for, I do believe that no matter where we are and what we do, when we live under fear, we are using bad currency. When we make decisions based on fear, we go bankrupt.

When fear is our currency, we cannot live effectively. Whether this be around parenting, around work, or around where we are called to live, this is truth.When fear is our currency, we forget that safety is not about where we live, or work, or play.”

While thinking about protection, I picked up a Christmas present from my daughter, Annie. The book is a new one by Eula Biss titled On Immunity: An Innoculation. I loved Biss’s first book, No Man’s Land, and my daughter was quite sure I would love this one as well. Her most recent work comes from the personal experience of researching vaccinations when pregnant with her son. In the first few pages of the book, Biss recounts the familiar story of Achilles. So badly did Achilles mother, Thetis, want to protect him, that she took him by the heel and immersed his body into a river to make him invulnerable to injury. Achilles becomes a famous warrior, but as fate would have it, an arrow finds the one place where he is vulnerable and he is killed. Thus the famous story of Achilles heel.

The point is clear. There is no way we can shield ourselves from all the danger, sadness, hurt that comes our way in life; no way we can protect ourselves from the same in this new year.

The more I ponder this, the more comfort I feel. The picture I see in my mind is me, standing on the sand of a vast ocean, holding my arms forward in surrender, in humility. Like the tide of the ocean, the year will come with joy and with sorrow, it will hold things I will love and things I will hate. There will be times where I feel exposed but I will never be without his Presence.

As I was writing this, a memory came to mind of my son Joel. We had been in Cairo only 2 weeks when he slipped on the sharp edge of a bed and cut open an area right above his eye. He was two years old, screaming and bleeding profusely. Somehow we made our way to the emergency room in a hospital on the banks of the Nile, and a kind doctor took care of the wound, with tiny, precise stitches. And as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.” I couldn’t protect him, but I could be present. Maybe my presence was enough. 

“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” Isaiah 66:13a

We Have Work to Do! State of the World’s Mothers – #SOWM

During my flood relief trip in Pakistan a couple of years ago I witnessed severe malnutrition among babies and toddlers. Break your heart malnutrition and hunger. Shout for joy Plumpy’nut solution in some cases. Moms and babies have my heart – probably because I am one and I had five. Getting a good start in life changes a generation and with catastrophes like floods and earthquakes, the chances of having that good start decrease.

For the past 14 years Save the Children has published an annual report on the state of the world’s mothers. The report is long and detailed, providing key findings as well as giving recommendations. The data includes information from 176 countries on the health of children, health of mothers, and economic well-being. Finland came in first and Congo came in last.

This year’s report was released yesterday. Here are just a few of the findings:

The birth day is the most dangerous day for babies world-wide.

More than a million babies die on the first day of life, usually from preventable causes. While great progress has been made around maternal/child mortality, newborns continue to be the most vulnerable of all with little progress made around their health and survival.

Three primary causes of death were identified.

These include complications during birth, prematurity and infections. For all three of these there are interventions that work, that are effective, that can change these statistics. The number of newborn deaths could be reduced by 75% if these preventive measures were put into place. That’s a staggering success rate!

The interventions cost pennies to put into place – from 13 cents a day to $6 a day.*

  • steroid injections for women in preterm labor (to reduce deaths due to premature babies’ breathing problems);
  • resuscitation devices (to save babies who do not breathe at birth);
  • chlorhexidine cord cleansing (to prevent umbilical cord infections); and
  • injectable antibiotics (to treat newborn sepsis and pneumonia).

This is a big deal. Give a baby a healthy start and you change a generation, one baby at a time. Where it stands now is a public health crisis. 

So what do we do? How can we help? If you’re pregnant you help by taking care of yourself, of your baby; by eating right and getting prenatal care. Others of us can pass this information on – if we live in countries that fall at the bottom of the list find out what we can do in both big and small ways. If we live in the United Kingdom or the United States – take a look! The United States falls 30th despite spending approximately 18% of its GDP on health care. This is just sad.

  • 1 of 2,400 women in the United States will die from a maternal cause. This statistic is the same as Iran.
  • In the United States 60% of newborn deaths occur on that critical first day of life.
  • The United Kingdom fares better but not great at number 22 on the list. 

Take a look at the report linked below and the Save the Children website. Learning about this is the first step in making a difference! I’ve also included a link to a Huffington Post article that has a great infographic you can share. Huffington Post infographic.

What do you think of the statistics and the low cost interventions? Have you had maternal child health experience where you have seen these interventions work? Would love to hear from you in the comments! 

My Response to the Gosnell Case

Trigger warning – the first part of this article holds a graphic description.

Only hours before I boarded our flight to Istanbul I read the first article I had seen about the Gosnell case. It was an article easily missed in the NY Times. For those who may have missed this story, this is a doctor on trial for the murder of seven babies aborted in the third trimester of pregnancy. He thrust scissors into their necks and cut their spinal cords. He called this “snipping” and had allegedly done this to hundreds of babies through the years. He was also responsible for the death of a woman who was pregnant. He was operating out of a licensed clinic in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health, though given ample reason to be concerned, did not act in any sort of responsible manner.

As I read the account I felt I would be sick. I wanted to immediately respond – but I couldn’t. The response to this kind of horror is not easily articulated with mere words. In the week following, I would periodically think of it and rapidly push it from my mind. Then my nephew, Tim, sent me a long article from The Atlantic, urging me that Communicating Across Boundaries folks needed to hear the story, that it was a story that would elicit righteous, appropriate outrage.

Since that time many others have written and the articles range from excellent to completely frustrating. I knew I couldn’t respond in the way others had so I’ve decided to tell a story. A story that happened 17 years ago in Cairo, Egypt. I ask you to join me in this journey back in time.

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“Take care of your baby!” 

The words were authoritative and stern, coming from my Egyptian doctor. He knew the value of babies – he was a fertility specialist and women from all over Cairo came to him because they wanted a baby. The irony of this was not lost on me and my husband – I was pregnant with my fifth child.

To say this was unexpected was a royal, first-class understatement. Our fourth had been born three years prior and everything ‘baby’ was gone. Crib, snuggly, swing, walker, toys, clothes – maybe even a rocking chair had been willingly and eagerly given away. With four children ages three to nine and a half we were set.

Two boys. Two girls. Two Egyptian Siamese cats. A life overseas. Done we were!

I had it all planned. We would live in Cairo until we retired. Our kids would enjoy and thrive as third culture kids, knowing how to navigate the world at early ages.

But earlier in the fall unexpected events had catapulted into a crisis. The joy and comfort that surrounded our lives crumbled to pieces like some of the artifacts around the ancient pyramids. Our life was crumbling before our eyes and this was the last straw, the proverbial needle breaking our poor, aching camel backs.

And so there I was, in a sterile examining room watching the strong heart beat of a tiny babe through the wonders of modern technology.

Truth is – I though I had lost this babe. I had been in London only a couple of days before and had begun to bleed. Bleeding in the first trimester often means one thing – a miscarriage. I was with my best friend Betsy and she had begged me to rest, begged me to be careful. I had said a tearful goodbye to this baby that was unexpected to me, but fully known by the God who weaves all life together, sperm and egg uniting to form a unique being. God – author of our stories; creator of our lives.

And now? This baby was alive! It would live and a Muslim doctor was exhorting me, no – commanding me to “Take care of my baby”.

He knew the value of life. 

I headed out of the office and I began to weep. My tears fell on dust-covered streets that had not seen water for months. The crisis of the fall, the dark night of our souls, had given birth to Life.

In a blur of tears and with the help of tomato soup and bread made with the loving hands of a friend, I knew without doubt that this baby was His Grace. God’s opinion that our marriage, our family, our lives would go on.

I write this today as my statement, my response to the Gosnell case. Because the two physicians could not be more different.

For one scorned life, while the other protected it. The one discarded life as though it was food that had rotted in his dirty, godless refrigerator. And the other? He valued life and saw it as a fragile gift from God, to be nurtured at all costs.

Designer Babies

Doctors enlisted to curb "sex-selection&q...

The waiting room has just two couples in it. They are slightly nervous, self-conscious, avoiding eye contact with each other. The room is dimly lit and resembles a sterile, designer living room. Magazines are in carved racks on one wall as well as stacked perfectly, fan style in threes, on a glass-topped side table. A stand in the corner holds a carafe, the card written in black calligraphy tells the couples it’s “lemon and strawberry infused water”.

Nothing in the room suggests that this is where couples go to pick out their babies. Their very own designer babies. The first decision will be on sex– male or female? But then it moves on: Will it be black hair or blonde? Blue eyed or Brown? Tall or short? Art or sports?

Smart or ….no that one’s easy! The couple smiles at each other, their eyes communicating the message — We don’t want any dumb kids!

This is not a brave new world. This is today. Couples are increasingly able to pick what they want, when they want it. Consider this advertisement from the leading fertility group around sex selection:

Recognized by ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox, Reuters, and United Press International News Services as among “THE” worldwide leaders in gender selection technology.

By examining the genetic makeup of embryos, we can virtually guarantee* your next child will be the sex of your choice.

  • Leaders in Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)
  • Among the most successful gender-selection programs anywhere
  • Screening for over 400 hereditary diseases
  • Critical procedures performed by MD and PhD specialists
  • Available to nearly all patients (not just those with genetic disorders)
  • Now combinable with Microsort sperm sorting at patient request
  • Featured on 60 Minutes, CNN, ABC, NBC, Newsweek, Time and more

In 2009 an article titled “Designer Babies: Ethical? Inevitable?” told of a woman who had applied embryo screening on eleven 3-day old embryos to determine which one would be the most likely to be disease free. She then had that one implanted in her uterus.

At surface this can, perhaps, seem empowering. What parent would ever choose for their children to have a disease? We weep over our children’s minor difficulties, like not being invited to a birthday party, let alone those big things like diabetes and leukemia. One professor claims this is just “Responsible Parenting*”.

But there is a dark side to this. As humans we are prone to extremes – and while many may choose to use this technology just to avoid disease, others would abuse.

Because that’s how we are.

In that same article Richard Hayes, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, says this:

“If misapplied, [these technologies] would exacerbate existing inequalities and reinforce existing modes of discrimination … the development and commercial marketing of human genetic modification would likely spark a techno-eugenic rat-race,….”Even parents opposed to manipulating their children’s genes would feel compelled to participate in this race, lest their offspring be left behind.”

While I’d like to assume the best of this race called ‘Human’, I see too much evidence that we would modify to our own detriment, and face the unforeseen consequences of our choices.

Equally troubling is that the developing world continues to face enormous problems with infant mortality and morbidity as well as child malnutrition, even as this side of the ocean dabbles in extreme technologies to produce a “Super Race”.

My post from yesterday received a variety of comments, and I appreciated all the perspectives brought into the discussion – one of the things that didn’t come into the discussion was our increasing ability to control all of life – from conception to sex selection to gender reveal to when we die.

This discussion goes far beyond designer babies – but designer babies are one more spoke in this wheel of control.

What do you think? And are all these even related or am I off base? Continue the discussion with me through the comments!

On Earthquakes and Babies

“My friend is having a ‘Reveal’ party” said my daughter.

“A what?”

“A reveal party – gender reveal – where you invite people over and you have cake and you ‘reveal’ the sex of your baby”.

I laughed. “Oh” Pause “Well – we had five of those!”

Five reveal parties. One took place in Illinois,one in Pakistan, one in Florida and two in Egypt. Five reveal parties on three continents! That has to be some kind of record. The difference was this – there weren’t a lot of people invited to our ‘parties’. Just my husband, a doctor or midwife, a nurse, a friend or mom, and me. And we didn’t call them “Reveal Parties” – we called them deliveries.

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

But oh how we rejoiced when we heard those words “It’s a Girl!” and a lusty cry from a newborn infant. Or “It’s a Boy!” and in our situations, even lustier cries.

Call me old. Call me unable to keep up with the times. I don’t really care. I think reveal parties are ridiculous. I think they’re over the top, I think they’re not at all about the baby, and I think they’re about Big Business. Big Baby Business.

If you want to know the sex of your baby before birth – that’s great. Have at it. I won’t judge. But if you want to do little cake thingies and party favors and Big Reveals – I think it’s crazy.

Because there’s a natural reveal party waiting right around the corner. It comes after hard work and tears and real labor – but no reveal party is like the natural reveal.

No amount of work, fun, cake, and punch can ever top the Great Reveal

The Great Reveal – when you’re holding a six pound plus infant in your arms, your throat is catching as you say ‘hi baby!’ and you see the man in your life, who never cries, with tears coming down his cheeks looking down at your tiny daughter or son in complete awe.

As a wise friend once told us, there are only two real surprises left in life – And those are Earthquakes and Babies. 

Guest Post – A Response to “Burqas for Babies”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs most readers of Communicating Across Boundaries know, since childhood I have known about  the veil, whether it be the burqa or hijab. Many of my Pakistani Muslim friends wore the burqa, and I watched the hijab grow in popularity during our years in Egypt. I often defend this practice, feeling like the eyes and judgement of the west would best be turned inward rather than being a voice of disapproval toward a practice they know little about.

It was with shock however that I read an article sent to me by a friend  on a recent fatwa (legal ruling) issued by a cleric in Saudi Arabia saying that babies should wear the face veil. ‘Burkas for Babies’ Saudi Cleric New Fatwa Causes Controversy

I immediately contacted one of my Muslim friends and asked her to guest post on her reaction to the article. This article is longer than usual but I urge you to read it – first off because many of you don’t know Muslims – you only know what you read in the newspapers or see on television. Second – I guarantee you will learn something and have a greater appreciation for a faith that may differ from your own.

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24:30 Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.
24:31 And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their………..
33:59 O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

These are verses from the Quran. To understand these verses, we have to understand pre- Islamic, Arab society in Mecca. Mecca was the place of pilgrimage for the pre-Islamic polytheists, and Arabs from all over came here to worship, making it a very rich city. The Meccans were an arrogant people. Women and the poor were treated with little respect. Though men had wives and families, prostitution was rife. The rich noblemen visited prostitutes and when a son was born, they drew straws to claim the paternity of the child. Most newborn daughters were buried alive and women did not have any status whatsoever.

Into this scenario, Islam brought modesty and respect for women. Pre marital sex and adultery became crimes. It also established the girl child’s right to live. People were not allowed to kill their female babies. Earlier the Polytheist Arabs used to bury their daughters alive in the burning desert sands, post Islam their daughters had status. They could accept or reject proposals. They could also inherit half the property their brothers inherited, (this is because the money a girl inherits, is hers to spend. No one including her husband and children have any right to it. Moreover, she also receives her meher from her husband and he has to support her financially in every way. The brother on the other hand has to give the meher to his wife, support her from his income despite any wealth she has, support his children, any unmarried sisters and his widowed mother.) Therefore what the daughter receives compared to the son is fair and just. Men twist it to mean that a woman is less than a man in Islam, which is not true.

Islam also gave great emphasis to certain character traits, which had to be compulsorily developed in any Muslim, man and woman. Chief among these were modesty, humility, generosity, kindness, justice, fortitude and patience.

Many verses were revealed about these qualities. The verses which obligate modesty are the ones above among others from the Quran Chapter 24:30,31

Verse 30 exhorts men to lower their gaze and Verse 31 says the same to women. The verse for women goes further though, as it tells women to cover their bosoms and not to show their beauty and ornaments except what appears ordinarily, except to the men who are their mahram (close relatives one is not permitted to marry).

Ayat 59 in chapter 33, regarding the covering, was revealed when some women complained to the prophet of eve-teasing. Muslims lived in a mixed society much as they do now and as such it was a dress code that said “I am a modest believing woman”. Also any Muslim man would recognise a Muslim woman and protect her. A Muslim is certainly not supposed to molest her or make unseemly comments or passes. Nor, as per the previous verse, is he supposed to look with desire or lust upon a non-Muslim woman much less molest her.

There are those who say that women get molested because of the way they dress, but in Islam you are only responsible for your behaviour. When the Quran has told Muslim men they have to lower their gaze, then they have to lower their gaze, irrespective of how any woman is dressed. They are only responsible for their own gaze, not for any woman’s dress or lack of.

Men cannot take one verse and force it upon women and disregard another verse which relates to themselves. Islam simply doesn’t work that way. For all Muslims these are Divine decrees and not following any is a sin.

There are disagreements between those who interpret the verses of the Quran regarding the prescribed covering of women; according to the majority, hands and faces are not to be covered, while some insist that the woman has to be covered from head to toe. Covering though, does begin only after puberty. Women of Abrahamic faiths used to wear a robe and cover their hair in a scarf for millenniums, much as Muslim women do today.

No society or religion though, has ever asked babies to be covered. It is disgusting that a society that professes itself as religious, should in anyway, be so degenerate that innocent little babies are not safe from their lustful and depraved thoughts and actions. Looking at babies with sexual desire is so reprehensible, nobody can ever condone it. What happened to modesty and lowering of one’s gaze? Personally, I believe very strongly in the hijab of the mind.

There are some questions I am asking myself? Does a baby go out on its own? No, of course not! A baby can only go out when it is accompanied by an adult, usually the mother. In this case, how does a baby, which is accompanied by someone close to it, get molested outside the house? So where has this baby been molested and by whom and if it is someone close to it, even someone who by every law is its protector, then how would covering it up, help?

The question of health too occurs to me. Lack of Vitamin D is very common in many countries among women who are either housebound or then cover themselves completely. How would the bones of a child develop if they were covered from head to toe when they were outside?  How would a growing child play and enjoy all the things that is a child’s right by the innocence of their nature, to enjoy? I follow my religion because it makes a lot of sense to me and when something goes against nature’s design, which I only think of as God’s Design and Plan, then it doesn’t make sense to me. Covering any human being up in a way that will deprive them of their nutritional and health needs doesn’t make sense to me.

Instead of bundling women and children and even babies, should not some way be found instead to control the lusts of men, which are not just uncontrolled, but crossing every limit of decency? Shouldn’t the protectors of faith see to it that the right teachings are received by Muslim men, so that as believing men such a thought doesn’t even enter their heads.

Instead of punishing women by pushing them behind burqas, even the Quran has not prescribed for them and punishing babies, why don’t these learned protectors of faith, find a way to teach the men who practice these pervert acts that go against the laws of God, Nature, and man the right religion?

The writer of this post is a poet, photographer, and contemplator of life. She blogs at Weaving Tapestries. 

The Face of Hunger

This piece was originally posted just under 2 years ago when I began blogging. At a time of year when my refrigerator is full, and making or buying special sweets and savouries is daily on my ‘to do’ list, I find it’s easy to lose perspective; to fret about what I can’t afford instead of recognize all that I have, and all that I need to realize about those who go without. So with that in mind I wanted to post it again. Thank you for reading.

I was not  familiar with the face of hunger. 

While I am aware of this as a problem, my personal experience with it is limited.  Somehow the problem of hunger had worked its way to a corner of my brain that registers “Real but not understandable” in a robotic voice.  I grew up in the developing world and children with bloated stomachs and tiny legs were common.  As can often happen when one is a child and sees their world through a child’s eyes, adult experience is needed to bring better understanding and perspective.  It was in this context that I saw the face of hunger with new eyes, with transformed vision.

It was in Pakistan 2 years ago – the beginning of week two of my trip to take part in flood relief with internally displaced persons.  This particular village had just been re-inhabited   You could see the line from the flood waters on the mud and brick homes about three feet from the ground.  The crumbling bricks promised the need for a complete rebuilding of the homes to make them safe.  Animatedly, the women told us their story:  “The water came!  We knew we had to leave – we took whatever we could and walked 5 days to Khanpur.  We couldn’t walk at night because of the robbers.  Look!  Look over there!  You can see that the water is still here! We lost so much.  We just returned a couple of days ago.”

It was another story of loss and displacement.

This day it would be a tail-gate clinic.  This put ‘tail-gating’ in a new context and forever changed the idea for me.  We opened the back of the van and arranged the portable pharmacy as best we could and began the clinic.

There seemed more than the usual number of malnourished children on this day.  We were giving out Plumpy’Nut, the miracle pint of goodness guaranteed to make a dent in malnutrition, like it was candy.  “Two tablespoons, morning and evening”  “Buh chumcha isubh, isham.”  We had it memorized so when the doctor needed the community health worker/interpreter we could function alone with no need for interpretation.

The face of hunger came half way through the morning in the person of a young mom, emaciated with her dark eyes sunken into a lovely face, a baby clinging to her breast sucking furiously, desperate for a drop of milk.  The breast was completely dry, there was no milk.  The baby’s face and body so thin, wide-eyed, not even energy to cry.  I stepped back, hardly believing what I saw.  My heart caught in my throat and I felt a wave of nausea.  The baby couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 kilos but by his length I knew this was not a new-born.  Maybe seven or eight months old.  The mom was desperate.  This was not a malnourished child – this was a child that was starving accompanied by a hungry mother. Plumpy’Nut was not going to work its miracle this time.  This baby needed an act of God and admission to the mission hospital. The mom was holding her baby with a depth of love that words would fail to describe.  Cradled in her arms, her eyes pleaded for help and a miracle.

I don’t know if the miracle ever came.  The nature of our work was moving to different areas with medical needs every day.  There was a need to move forward no matter how difficult the situation; we couldn’t afford to be paralyzed by emotions that would prevent us from helping other people with other needs at other villages. During those minutes we did exactly what we should have, what we could have.  Vitamins, Plumpy’nut, instructions to the mom, a letter to authorize admission to the mission hospital, all with the un-spoken thought “It’s not enough, I know it isn’t enough”

This was the face of hunger. I had seen it, touched it, wept for it. Now stamped in my brain, marked on my heart, I would never forget, could never forget.

The robotic part of my brain had been re-programmed with human emotion to cry out to God to feed and comfort the face of hunger.  My response to “care for the widow and the orphans” would be forever adjusted.

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress” James 1:27
During this time of year, when hearts and pocketbooks are more open, might I suggest a couple of organizations to donate to that work specifically to provide either food directly or to develop projects that affect the local economy, ultimately offering long-term solutions to the problem of hunger. 
  • Food for the Hungry – With a mission to “To walk with churches, leaders and families in overcoming all forms of human poverty by living in healthy relationship with God and His creation.” this organization is well-run and innovative in its approach to world hunger.
  • Central Asia Harvest Project, Kazakhstan – this project “seeks to improve the quality of life for small-scale fruit farmers of eastern Kazakhstan through a farmer to farmer training program and development assistance designed to improve farming methods and livelihoods.” I’ll be doing a longer post on this organization in the next week.
*The picture shown is not a picture of the child mentioned in the post. While this child is malnourished, she was treatable with Plumpy’nut and vitamins.  

Pint-Sized Miracle

There are times when we need miracles to ponder – to remind us of what’s important, to encourage us, to make us kneel in amazement. Lillian Trasher Orphanage in Assiut, Egypt serves hundreds of children and adults and is a place of many such miracles. My friends, Michele and Joseph, have a family connection with the orphanage and visit there often. The following happened just this week during their scheduled visit to Lillian Trasher.

The Big (Pint-Sized) Miracle in the Lillian Trasher Orphanage (Egypt) by Michele Rigby.

About 4 years ago, when we were visiting my in-law’s orphanage, we saw a little baby that had recently been brought into the home. She was literally at death’s door. Her mother died in childbirth, and her father kept her until she was about 10 months old but realized she was dying.

He brought her to the home and said, “She’ll probably die but we brought her here anyway.” She was in such poor condition she looked like a newborn weighing only a few pounds. This baby was tiny, dirty, in pain, completely malnourished and diseased with significant problems with her colon. I don’t think I took a picture of her while we were there because she looked so bad and it was a sad situation.

Last night we went down to the toddlers section and passed out chocolates. The 2-4 year olds were so cute and so fun, but one little girl really caught my attention. She looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure why. She threw herself into my arms and had the widest grin you can imagine. She was all smiles and laughed at everything I did.

She was “pure sugar.”

We went back down again tonight because I felt I needed to see her again. I asked the girls in charge of the babies, “What is her story?” I found out that SHE WAS THE BABY that we had seen when we visited the orphanage. I almost burst into tears. It took everything I had to hold the emotions back. It was a miracle before my eyes.

This beautiful, bright little girl must be God’s beloved because he saved her from death and she is thriving. Though she looks like 3-4 years old, she is actually about 5, so she is smaller than she should be. Regardless, she is well, happy–and probably the most joyful child there. When she saw me the second time, she came running into my arms. I wish I could take her home–I would in an instant if I could.

Truly God loves these children and uses them to affect me (and thousands of others) in a profound and lasting way–Nothing like a tiny child to bring you to your knees. I am praying that she has a long, beautiful life and brings many people to the knowledge of God through her story and her precious (and infectious!) smile and spirit.

Seven Point Four Pounds of Perfect


She’s perfect. All seven point four pounds of her
.

Her soft baby skin swaddled up in a light baby blanket; her perfect face peeking out, a head of dark hair covering her soft spot. Her eyes, though closed, scrunch up as though she is trying to make sense of this world she has come into. Her tiny mouth purses then her lips curl up as if in a smile. Medical experts claim they don’t really smile at this age – and mothers nod, knowing the experts are a bit text-book and theory crazy.

She’s less than 24 hours old and has ten fingers, ten toes and a perfect suck reflex. She’s as perfect as the pink rosebuds on the coffee table just beginning to open, gifts from a family friend.

As I hold her I know that I am holding a miracle. A miracle; “God’s opinion the world should go on”.*

Outside the world is raging. During the hours since her birth Syria is ravaged by internal conflict, a bomb goes off in Afghanistan, people argue ‘personhood’, and humans that at one time were new-born infants bash each other with guns, swords and words.

But inside a new-born baby is held, perfectly formed and known by a God who still believes that this world is worthy of being redeemed. She is entrusted to, and loved by, an imperfect family and friends; people who will hold her and teach her, love her and cry with her.

And as I hold her I am in awe – in awe of baby soft skin and seven point four pounds of lovely, in awe of the strength and fragility of life, in awe of my friend who gave birth within five minutes of arriving at the hospital. Mostly in awe that somehow God believes that we in our human frailty, born as helpless babes are worth redeeming.

She’s perfect, seven point four pounds of perfect.

*Carl Sandburg

The God Who is Pro

As I look back at the journey of my soul I know that there have been times when I believed I could out-sin God’s mercy, out-frustrate his patience, and take advantage of his love. That somehow despite all the words of truth that contradict this distorted theology, I would be the person that finally caused God to say “That’s it – no more chances”. Audacious? To be sure. Distorted? Definitely. But real thoughts and feelings? Yes. Thoughts and feelings that had to be purged and purified, sifted through the truth sieve like flour is sifted to take out any tiny rocks or impurities before being used for baking.

Often friends with a clear picture of truth were those who helped me with the sifting. Today I am thankful to Robynn Bliss, a sifter, for her thoughtful comment on the post “Sometimes You Can’t Keep Silent”. May her words of truth wrap around you like a blanket of protection. Today may we know more of the God who is “pro”.

“I am pro-woman. I believe in supporting women, towers of strength in their communities and families, to fully engage the lives they’ve been given. I’ve prayed with women making decisions that will impact their souls. I’ve agonized with women coming to grips with decisions they’ve made. I believe God is pro-woman. He created her and declared that she was good too. He further invited her into the creative process by endowing her with the privilege of housing infants before they are birthed. She gives birth. It’s her’s to give. God gives life. And it’s very good. He’s pro-life. He longs that his created would truly live. His definition of life is so much deeper and richer than ours. His capacity to encourage life goes beyond political confines. He is pro-LIFE.

The difficulty is that God is also pro-choice. He allows his created to choose, to make choices. He longs for us to choose life but he doesn’t stipulate that we must. He waits and whispers in the core of who we are that there is so much more to living and to life.

He cheers loudly in his still small voice for us to choose him…but he’s patient and his love is unending. And God is pro-forgiveness and pro-second chances, He’s pro-mercy and pro-new beginnings.

Sometimes You Can’t Keep Silent

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:31a

52 years ago this year I was born. I was born into an already established family of three brothers and my parents. I was a girl. My status in the family was predetermined – I would be loved and enjoy princess privilege. But the big thing is this: I was born.

I was born and God called it good. Just like you who are reading this were born – and God called it Good. God called this little being knit together inside a safe womb, safe from all the outside factors that could cause danger to the life and development of this little being, God called this “Good”.  Just as someone who knits watches carefully for slipped stitches or a missed pattern, so does God knit us, form us, and watch us, all the time calling it good. The knitter will go back and find the missed stitch, even if it takes a lot of time, to form that perfect pattern that will be the mittens, or the socks; the scarf or the sweater.

And so I can’t keep silent.

The Huffington Post UK edition posted an article “Killing Newborn Babies No Different To Abortion Say Medical Ethicist” and I read on as if I was part of a futuristic psycho-thriller; The Hunger Games or Brave New World. The opening lines are chilling: “A medical journal has called for the acceptance of ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn baby), causing outrage among pro-life campaigners and raising an array of ethical questions.Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Alberto Giubilini from the University of Milan and Francesca Minerva from Melbourne University argue that foetuses and newborns “do not have the same moral status as actual persons”. (Read the rest of the article here)

When I was pregnant with my third child I had a friend come up to me one day. She began telling me her story. Her story of an unexpected pregnancy in a developing country and a plane trip she will never forget to Europe to end the pregnancy. She wept. And she wept. And she wept more. And once we had cleaned up her tears from this story, she told her second story. There was another baby and another country. Another trip and another “safe” abortion. Safe to everything but her psyche.  Like scales falling from her eyes, she told of the realization that these were her babies and they didn’t have a chance to be born, to take that first breath. They didn’t have a chance to be called “Good”. She told me because she watched my growing baby in awe. She was zealous for my safety, my nutrition, my activity – this baby must LIVE. And the baby did live. And he was perfect, just like our first two babies. We called him Micah and my friend held him, and she wept.

Five I have. Five that were called “Good”. Five that came into our lives despite some circumstances that were less than good. Despite some times in our marriage that were less than lovely and far less than perfect. Five that came, not to a wealthy family, not to a family that had it all together, but they came, and God called each of their births good. Annie, Joel, Micah, Stefanie, Jonathan. Knit together by God. Called Good at conception. Called Good at birth.

And so I can’t keep silent when I see an article called “Abortion Safer Than Giving Birth: Study”  with the byline “Getting a legal abortion is much safer than giving birth, suggests a new U.S. study published in January” (Reuters Health). I can’t keep silent when I read the words “Women who are having abortions are having a safe, common surgical procedure or taking medication for the same reason,” she (Dr. Ann Davis) told Reuters Health.

I can’t keep silent because I’ve been told it’s not “common”. I have believed the rhetoric that says “We all agree that there should be fewer abortions”. But if we want fewer, if we strive for less, why are they, as the researchers point out, common?

“Abortion care and pregnancy care should not really be any different from consenting people for any other procedure.” Ah – but there you see is the problem. It is different. Because any other medical procedure doesn’t involve the health of two – it is about the health of one.

My heart breaks for those who feel they have no alternative but abortion. My heart cries out for them. I have wept with women post abortion, and I have wept with women pre-abortion who made a different choice. And I believe in a God who loves. Who forgives. Whose mercy and grace no one can fathom. But I can’t keep silent. This being, knit together in the womb, this is a baby, made in the image of God. This is Good.

I write this blog to communicate across boundaries, to have a voice in a public place, and I know there will be readers that disagree, that may see this as an insurmountable boundary. Those of you who read my blog know I am not a right-wing fanatic. No right-wing fanatic writes in defense of Muslims and Muslim opinion, of arranged marriage, of wanting health care for all. Right wing fanatics don’t do workshops on culture and healthcare for Planned Parenthood. And if you disagree with this post, I respect your opinion, I respect you as a person made in the image of God. But it would be a false pretense if I was not bold enough to write this, if I pretended that I thought this was ok. And so I can’t keep silent.

Personal choice has eclipsed the sacredness, or otherness, of life itself. It is profoundly disturbing, indeed shocking, to see the way in which opinion-formers within the medical profession have ditched the traditional belief of the healer to uphold the sanctity of human life for this impoverished and inhumane defence of child destruction.” Lord Alton, co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group

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