Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why We Go.

     A year or so ago, a former classmate had a conversation with me regarding mission work in Rwanda.  He said something along the lines of "unless you are living there, aren't you really doing more harm than good?"  I have been haunted by this thought since.
     He isn't alone.  This is a common sentiment in my generation.  We want to empower people to help themselves.  We don't want to sweep in to "help," then leave again to return to our cozy lives stateside.  It's true too.  What good, really, is it for a well meaning group to just show up for a little window of time, build a house, paint a church, play with some kids, then leave again?
     I get it.  When people travel to developing countries do to projects, to give hand outs and "tour" the lives of the impoverished, it does hurt.  It's counterproductive to create a culture of reliance on handouts.  No one benefits long term in Africa, Central America or in the streets of America with this kind of service.  Of course we want to train people to care for themselves.  But what does not showing up at all really look like?
     Let me tell you the flip side of this thought for those that doubt.  I live with the results of not showing up, not caring and not investing in the lives of those children.
  • The flip side, when he is tired, he can't stand the feeling of his jeans on his tummy unless they are squeezing so tight that they cause skin breakdown.  The feeling of the threads of his socks leaves him on the floor in tears.
  • The flip side, he can't sleep all night without old memories creating havoc.  Without having a physiological response to fear when the lights are out and he is all alone.  That's what it looks like when we don't show up.
  • It looks like this child climbing on your husband's new coworker, inappropriately touching and cuddling with a stranger.  Any attention is attention, right?
  • Not showing up at all, it looks like that little brown eyed boy eating more food in than the rest of his family easily at every meal.  His little brain still, still, has doubts that there will be more food when he needs it.  That's what it looks like.
  • It looks like my sweet son closing his hand in the van door again and waiting calmly for me to open it to get his hand out. Without tears. 
     Doing nothing means that are thousands millions of children that don't get touched.  That don't have anyone look them in their eyes, count their toes, tell them they matter.  Those that argue for nature over nurture, I would venture to say are naive to what the lack of touch looks like in the rooms of an orphanage.  Did you know that those rooms are quiet?  The babies, they learn quickly that crying only uses energy.
     There isn't a numerical value for the time spent listening to a child, playing with them or just being present. If my son had been routinely rocked, snuggled and told that he was loved, I know without a doubt that the last three years of my live would have been very different.  
     And this is why we go.  Ryan and I know in our hearts and believe for our family that every moment matters.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Hitting the desert yesterday to avoid the April snow.
     Yesterday we had another one of those conversations.  The kind where my heart ends up in my throat, I panic a little (Do I know what to say?!? Why is this happening without Ryan?!), I fumble with my words and then I jump in.
     The entourage and myself were hangin' in the desert at the zoo.  We were literally the only people in the place and spent a lot of time watching the hummingbirds.  Nothing out the ordinary.  Then Etienne said "Mom, I can remember riding on my mom's back before you got me.  She had black hair and everyone around me had brown skin too."
     Pause. What?
     I took a moment to respond.  I asked him how he felt to remember that.
"I don't know.  Maybe happy a little."  He skipped ahead of me with his siblings.  
     We go along thinking we are in the midst of an ordinary Monday, and then BOOM! some memory from the back of this kid's brain creeps up.  At first I thought that maybe he was mixing memories of photographs with memories from before he came home.  However, he hasn't wanted or seen photos in at least 3 years (his choice).  I guess I may think that he has memories from one of the older kids, the "nanny," carrying him.  Ultimately, I don't know and I don't think it matters that much since he says he felt okay with it.  
     It's probably nothing that E didn't sleep well last night; that he began his day at 4:50 AM.  I will ride this one out and see where we end up.  Someone asked me how I felt about this memory.  As long as he isn't hurting more from it, I will embrace it.  There are so many holes and speculations and unknowns in my boys' histories that if a flash of a black hair and brown skin brings Etienne comfort, I will take it.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I Can't Leave This Out.

     The genocide of Rwanda started 19 years yesterday.  My heart has been heavy all week, reflecting on a country and a people that I so dearly love.  That I consider part of my own family tree.  I haven't ever written about those 91 days; partly because my words could never capture the horror, the suffering or the still painful wounds that Rwandans feel today.  If you aren't familiar with the genocide, please read a bit here.
     In 1994, I vaguely remember some short news clips regarding Tutsis and Hutus and machete warfare.  In the summer after it was over.  I was busy being a camp counselor and my biggest worry was my weekend plans.  I had no idea that this genocide would someday intertwined with my future.
     You see, no matter which way we spin it, there isn't any denying the impact of this piece of history in my sons lives.  Most likely, their birth parents were orphaned by the genocide.  There are is very real chance that their own birth families were killing each other during those horrifying few months.
      Can you imagine how we will tell their story?  How will we explain that it is was only pure evil that led to the massacre of 20% of the population?  As they get older, I think a lot about this.  Ryan and I try to absorb anything Rwandan-movies, books, presentations, groups; because we love Rwandans but also because we want to know as much as we can about our family history.  When God chose Rwanda for us, we knew our family would forever become Rwandan-American.  And so we crave anything we can get our hands on, whether painful or joyous.
     Joyous.  I absolutely use joyous when I describe Rwanda's history.  Let me explain.
     As we traveled the streets of Rwanda in 2009, we noticed the men in baby pink jumpsuits, filling pot holes, tending to gardens or loaded together in the backs of trucks.  We knew that these men had been convicted of war crimes.  The man driving us around, he was a survivor.  A survivor with machete scars on his face that made it impossible to ignore what had happened to him.  Yet one afternoon, as we waited outside a passport office, I watched as that kind man, that man that snuggled my skinny blond son and greeted my Molly with a kiss on the head each morning, shake hands with a man in a pink jumpsuit.  He shook his hand and exchanged pleasantries.  I don't speak Rwandan and it doesn't matter what they said.  It was this act that is burned into my memory forever.  This act of forgiveness.
     I am sure that our driver wasn't confronting his perpetrator when he shook that man's hand.  Yet he was, wasn't he?  Showing kindness to a group of people that he killed his parents.  Who does that?
     Rwandans do that.  Everywhere.  Those men in pink, they are on the streets intentionally.  They are there so that reconciliation can and does and will continue to happen.  And that leads to healing and recovery and growth.  And that is one reason that I am in love with the land of a thousand hills.
     And that is the part of the story that I will so proudly tell Etienne and Ezekiel.  That their family is part of a story of forgiveness so remarkable that the rest of the world has paused to soak it in.  That their birth country is a place of a thousand hills, with a history of heartache but with even more with hope.

“What I learned in Rwanda was that God is not absent when great evil is unleashed. Whether that evil is man-made or helped along by darker forces, God is right there, saving those who respond to His urgings and trying to heal the rest.” 
― James Riordan

“In all my travels, I've never seen a country's population more determined to forgive, and to build and succeed than in Rwanda.” 
― Rick WarrenThe Bishop of Rwanda: Finding Forgiveness Amidst a Pile of Bones

“Wherever God spends the day, He comes home to sleep in Rwanda.” 
― Naomi BenaronRunning the Rift

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Well this is new.

   Crazy Tuesdays.  Ryan teaches at a junior college which leaves me shuttling everyone from point A to point B.  I met him at Etienne's football practice, dropped E off, then left to get Molly at her rehearsal.  An hour later, Molly, Zeke and I were taking a walk as Ryan and the other boys arrived home.  A few minutes later, Etienne ran to catch up with us, already in tears.  He is mad.  Apparently, flag football was "good."   We attempted to continue our walk but E was tearful and looking for a fight.  After bullying Zeke and being scolded, he was literally on the sidewalk having a full out temper tantrum.  The 68lb'r was screaming, kicking, punching and sobbing as I struggled to identify our trigger to the meltdown.  I let the other kids move on ahead, sat down on the sidewalk, and wrapped him in a full body hug.  Mostly to smother the screaming and avoid neighbors calling CPS.  We lay on the sidewalk until he could calm himself enough to insert a thumb in the mouth (don't judge, this is our self soothing to get calm), but he still couldn't walk without yelling and crying at me.  Eventually, I just picked him up and carried him the couple blocks home.  Ryan and I turned on some lullaby music, ran a warm bath and stuck him in there alone for a bit.
   Ten minutes of lullaby songs and lavender bath water later, Etienne was able to verbalize that he was really mad at me.  It was one of those moments where I had patience and compassion only by the grace of God because his fit, rage and tears had been off the chart.  But I didn't lose it and I wasn't faking it as I waited for an explanation.
"Mommy, I was mad at you that you didn't stay with me at my football practice.  You weren't with me."
     Throat swelling shut.  Eyes melting.  No words.  I wrapped him up in a towel and a hug.  We stayed that way a few minutes.  When I found words, I told him that maybe we could work on our emotions some more.  That maybe he was feeling afraid that I wasn't with him; and that maybe he felt sad when we were apart.  We made a plan that next time he feels this way, he will give me a hug and tell me that he had missed me.
     This is another big leap forward.  I am conditioned to the ridiculous melt downs and fits.  I understand the reasoning that my son feels abandoned and that he can't comprehend his feelings.  I am a RAD mom; it's how we roll.  What I am not used to is this progress, this stretching of his little heart.  But I am a quick learner.   I will take it.