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Sunday, February 27, 2011

It's tough to be a dad ...

Jay came in brushing the snow from his shoulders and stomping his feet to kick off the packed snow and ice from his boots.  Maea looked up from her cozy spot in front of the fireplace and offered this sage observation ...

"It's tough to be a dad," she observed.  She went on to explain ...

"You have to take care of monsters, bad guys, dead fish and snow."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

They bowed their heads, and prayed for YOU!

As the sun sank low in the sky, the teachers and care-givers at Kind Hearts gathered the kids together in the schoolyard.  Moments before, the yard was full of children running and laughing, with an almost frenetic energy, like they were trying to squeeze out every ounce of fun & play possible in their last few minutes with us. 

Now - as they grouped together in a circle, 100 children fell eerily silent and hushed and still.  They knew that it was time to say good-bye. 

Tesfa, Children's Hopechest country director, asked if any of the kids wanted to say something.  I really wasn't expecting the kids to say much, let alone to stand up and share heart-felt, profound words ... but they did.

Three of the older children stood up front with Tesfa, and in soft-spoken Amharic, with Tesfa translating for them, they told us how much they loved us, and how thankful they are for their sponsor families.  They asked us "please don't forget us" and "please come back again!" 

My sponsor child, Mulunesh, was one of the children who stood up front, (she's on the far left, with her long braids freshly shaved, because of a lice outbreak at home) bravely speaking in front of her friends in her quiet voice.  She was so thankful and proud to have me and Emme there to spend time with her and her friends.

(On a side note:  The photo below has special meaning to me.  I was so busy with all of the kids and all of the coordination with the travel team and activities, but Mulunesh was always nearby, holding my hand or making sure she was in the group of kids I was working with.  And if she wasn't right next to me, she was always keeping me in her line of sight and making eye contact with me from afar.  I snapped this picture of the group of kids, and only later did I look back on this photo and see her eyes looking directly at me from the crowd of kids.)

Some of the kids settled on to an open lap (below, Michael Schaefer's sponsor child, Yikram, sat on his lap) while the rest of the kids gathered into a group.  Three of the oldest kids stood up front to say a few words and then Tesfa asked if any of the other kids wanted to add anything.  A few hands went up, and as Tesfa pointed to each child individually, they bravely stood and shared their hearts with us.

When all the words had been spoken and hearts had been shared, the kids bowed their heads together ... and they prayed.  They prayed for us, who were standing there with them and were about to fly back home to America, and they prayed for their sponsor families, who they know by name. 

This was one of those sacred moments and I quietly clicked my camera without even raising it to my eye - letting the lens auto-focus and hoping it would capture some of these precious moments when the kids prayed for their sponsor families.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Milestones should be made much of ... and we are now serving ONE HUNDRED children at Kind Hearts care-point in Ethiopia (through Children's Hopechest) -  and ALL of the kids are sponsored!!

The photos above were taken by Paul and Jenn Cooper when they visited Kind Hearts on January 11 to meet the children they sponsor.

100 children have come to know they can rely on nutritious food every day, loving attention and care from their teachers and care-givers, and a Christian education that will break the hold of poverty on their lives!  A team of 16 people from St. Joseph, MO will be travelling to Ethiopia in March and they will be delivering letters to the kids from their sponsor families!

There are 2 more children that will have their profiles done soon (and they already have sponsor families waiting for them!) which will bring us to 102 kids at Kind Hearts.

The final bidding process for the fresh-water well project is underway right now, and as soon as the licenses and government permits are in place, we will be breaking ground!  All of the funds for the well have been raised by St. Jo Christian School (SJCS) in St Joseph, MO who will have a team on the ground in March!!

Trees of Glory care-point is now serving 99 children and every child is sponsored!!  Nick and Jessica Irvin just returned from Ethiopia and they delivered letters to the children from their sponsor families.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Snowy Respite ...

If you've heard crickets from this blog lately, it's because we've been battling the flu (not the stomach variety - but the fever, head-ache, body-ache, coughing, congestion, can't get off the couch for 3-4 days straight variety of influenza).  Jayden and I are the only ones to have not succumbed to it ... so far.

It started last Friday when Jay came down with it, spending all day Saturday in a haze of pain and throbbing head-ache.  By Monday, Emme had it and missed 3 days of school.  By Wednesday, just as Emme was recovering, Wesley started coughing, two rivers flowing from his nose, and his eyes had that feverish stare.  Thursday night, Maea came down with it and as of last night, she has started moving again.

On Saturday night, as we ate dinner, Wesley started coughing (hard enough to gag) and he threw up his dinner right into his bowl.  Everyone immediately cleared the table - I've never seen them all move so fast.  It was like a bomb went off on the table and they all dove for cover.  And there sat me and Wesley - him looking at me with wide eyes and wondering where THAT had come from?!?!?!?  I looked at Jay and said, "WHEN DOES IT END?!?!?!?"

Evidently ... after 9 days of somebody being sick, it ended last night. :)  It seems that everyone is on the road to a full recovery.

Late last night, as the snow continued to fall and the wind picked up speed, whipping the flakes into dangerous drifts and white-outs, school (for Jay) and work (for me) were cancelled.  The kids already had a day off for President's Day - but for Jay and me, it came as a surprise. 

A snow day?  That's a first for me ... in the 7 years that I have worked for Dura Supreme (cabinetry), I can't remember a snow day.  It's pretty rare in Minnesota where it snows 8 months out of the year :)


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Why did you let me? Why didn't you stop me?!

Once upon a time there was a girl, ...

a girl who dressed like a boy.

No pink, no ruffles, no necklaces and no silly nail polish.

Her mom tried to slip in a "girl" item here and there .. but to no avail.

The "girl" clothes were always discovered ... and the "offensive item" was rejected and returned.

And then ... something changed,

and the little girl who dressed like a boy,

started to dress and act ... like a girl.

And now she looks back at pictures of herself, and she says to me with a little pleading in her voice ... "Mom, WHY did you let me dress that way?!?!"

And I explain ... "Despite everything I said and did, Emme, you insisted on dressing that way.  You insisted that you knew what was best and you did it your way, even though I explained to you that there may be a different and better way.  It wasn't harmful in any way, so I went along with it.  A little girl, dressing like a boy, is not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all.  Believe me, when it really matters, I won't give in." 

"But mom", she pleads, her voice rising now, as she presses an old photo face down into the table, "I didn't know any better and you did, so you should have made me."

And it is at this point that I smile inside,

but I keep a very serious look on my face as I say to her ...

"You are so right Emme.  You're able to look back at that time now, and realize that you did not know best.  So let's keep that in mind when there are times when you demand to do it one way and I demand to do it another.  Maybe ... just maybe you'll look back on those times with the clarity of hindsight and realize that it saved you from asking ..."Why did you let me?  Why didn't you stop me?!?!"

There are times when this little analogy has come in very handy.  I may take a stand on a certain situation with her - and then the old bag of tricks comes out and she throws them all at me at once, with yelling and tears and temporary fury ... "but all my friends are doing it!  their parents let them do it!  you're too strict!  I wish I had different parents!  I hate this family!"

Sometimes I get angry and I meet her fire with fire of my own. 

But we always end up looking back at the time when a little girl insisted on dressing like a little boy ... and the little girl later admitted that her mom knew best.  That comes in handy right now as she traverses the tightrope of the teen years.

Happy 14th Birthday to our beautiful, head-strong, first-born daughter!  We promise to hold that tight-rope as steady as possible and never, never let go. :)

When I was shopping for Emme's birthday, I picked a beautiful, PINK sweater for her, and Maea looked at me like I was crazy and said... "It's PINK mom!  She won't wear that!"  And I smiled my knowing smile at Maea and I said, "I think she'll love it."  About 2 days before her birthday, Emme said to me ... "Mom, don't get me anything that's navy blue or gray, I want something colorful and fun!"

"What do YOU think is colorful and fun," I asked, "your definition and mine have been different in the past.  Are you thinking bright green, or yellow or orange?"

And she smiled a little sheepishly and said, "maybe even pink."

"Hmmmmm", I said, "I didn't even consider pink" as I winked at Maea.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Not so picture perfect ...

The temperature finally clawed its way above the zero mark, and we with cabin fever spent some time outside ... me with finger poised over the shutter. :)  The snow is REALLY deep and I stepped off the plowed path to take this picture and sunk to my hip in the snow.  I got the shot - and the kids thought it was funny.

I know they LOOK picture perfect ... :)  but I don't post all the eye rolls or the frowns or the yelling, "HURRY UP AND TAKE THE PICTURE!"

- or Emme stomping off down the path because she's just plain DONE!  (The joys of a dramatic teen-ager.  Everything is a crisis - ALL. THE. TIME.)

I'm not making light of it.  I think I can vaguely remember when EVERYTHING was a crisis.  ALL. THE. TIME.  But that was a long time ago and I'm sure my parents don't even remember. :)

So here's one of the photos between the "picture perfect" shots.  After I take a test shot -  I check the lighting and sometimes I zoom in on the faces to see if they are crisp and in focus.  "Oops, Wesley," I said, "I think you have some food stuck in your teeth."  The older kids, wanting to get the photo session over as quickly as possible, "helped" him clean his teeth so we could resume. :)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tomorrow .... they walk a little taller!

To all of the Kind Hearts sponsor families. 

To everyone that bought a bottle cap necklace from Samantha Davidson (Little Goody Two Shoes) to provide funds for shoes. 

To everyone that donated for our Kind Hearts shoe fund ...


Today in Ethiopia, our 99 children at "Kind Hearts" care-point got a very special gift. 

Just a little something from all of us ... to all of them. 

A little reminder that we love them and pray for them - and we want their little feet to be protected from the jagged rocks, broken glass and thorns as they walk to and from school every day.

I can imagine 99 kids going to bed tonight ...

some of them holding their new shoes while they sleep

some placing a protective arm across them

some placing them near their head before they fall off to sleep, one last peek before darkness falls.

This much I know ... they did not get kicked off at the door and left in a jumbled pile. 

A good pair of shoes gives a child dignity and self-worth.  Many a child will wake tonight and reach out to touch their shoes and they will say a prayer of thanksgiving ... for the shoes and for the people who sent them with love.

And on the way out the door tomorrow ... they will walk a little taller and wonder about these people, these families, that love them from afar. 

And they love you back.  They told me so.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

While she lay lifeless, her baby lay lifeless ...

Laying on her side in the dust, her tiny body was gripped again by a contraction but she no longer had the strength to scream. The baby that had kicked and somersaulted so strongly a few days ago, was now eerily still. As the contractions continued, relentlessly pressing baby against bone, she panted shallowly in the heat and the dust. Raging with fever, she slipped into merciful blackness where there was no pain and there was no screaming.

She lay unconscious within the circular walls of the mud hut, while her husband’s family wrung worried hands. While she lay lifeless, her baby lay lifeless, strangled by the crush of contractions against pelvic bones that were too small to deliver a baby. Sometime within those 3 days of obstructed labor, her baby died … just inches away from life-giving air. And now this 14 year old child, with child, was being poisoned as her baby decayed inside of her.

The third child of nine, when Meseret turned 13, her mother allowed her to be married and she was taken to live in the next village, with her husband and her husband’s mother. Marriage at a young age was common in her village, and although she was scared and missed her mother and brothers and sisters, it was one less mouth to feed for a family that was already chronically malnourished. Her age and her small stature conspired against her, and while her child-size body swelled with child, her pelvic bones were not large enough to let a child pass through.

Somehow, Meseret survived the ripping and tearing, and the poisoning from her dead child. While she lay unconscious, with fever in her veins, the baby decayed and the skull collapsed and he slid from her womb into the dust.

Days went by and the smell from the hut forced the rest of the family out. Her fever subsided and her breathing became more rhythmic as she clawed her way to consciousness. Weak and gaunt, her mother-in-law held a cup of water to her cracked lips. Her mother and sister bathed her broken body there in the dust of the hut, rinsing the blood and urine and feces from between her legs and beneath her body. But the flow of urine and feces did not subside and the stench worsened, and the skin on her legs began to blister and fester from the vile fluids that constantly seeped, and her horror and humiliation worsened as well.

The family “made a shade” for her with some sticks and rags, and laid her there. Out of the hut, so the smell would not permeate every stitch of clothing and make them gag when they ducked through the doorway. Husband packed up and left – who could blame him. She lay there alone in her own filth, eating and drinking as little as possible to staunch the flow of filth that would not stop. “Cursed,” is what the villagers called her.

As we sat in the small auditorium at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, Feven (the Public Relations Director) explained to us what caused obstetric fistula. A girl, too young to be with child, and small statured from chronic malnutrition, may not be able to deliver a baby through the pelvic bones. This is called obstructed labor, and when it happens in a Western Hospital, birth is assisted with forceps or suction or Cesarean (c-section).

In rural Ethiopia, where there is little access to medical care, when the baby’s head lodges in the birth canal, the pressure of the baby’s skull against the pelvic bones compresses the tissue and blood flow stops. When the baby is delivered (usually stillborn) there is a hole (fistula) between the birth canal and bladder and intestines. Waste leaks from the bowels into the birth canal, running in a constant flow down the legs, the acid eating the very skin off the legs and the stench forcing isolation and humiliation. Horror.

Obstetric fistula are all too common in rural Ethiopia and the Hamlin Fistula Hospital has pioneered procedures to repair the fistula – and gift these young girls back their life! Amid the teeming streets and diesel fumes of Addis, lies a quiet, protective sanctuary with white sheets, filtered sunlight through tall windows, quiet female voices, walkways with green ferns enveloping and flowers cascading.

Some girls are paralyzed, hunched or crippled from the birth trauma and need extensive physical therapy just to walk again. Others just need the surgery to stop the flow of bodily fluids. All of them need rehabilitation of the soul from the crippling grip of worthlessness and humiliation from being cast off and shunned.

Each girl is given a bed in this sanctuary and she discovers other young girls existing in the same hell – she is not alone. A colostomy and/or urostomy is performed first, to redirect the bowel and/or bladder to an external bag so that the skin and tissues can heal before the fistula can be repaired.

A colorful, hand-knitted blanket is gifted to each girl and they cocoon themselves in it as they walk the walkways, tucking their stoma bag within its colorful folds. Each girl is also taught a skill so that she can earn a living and hold her head high when she goes home again. As we toured the quiet grounds and wards, we could see groups of girls with their heads together, talking quietly, smiling and nodding, and learning to weave or sew or embroider.

Two patients get fresh air and exercise.  One works on her embroidery skills
while the other talks with a friend (stoma bag is visible beneath her gown). 

Colorful, hand-knitted blankets are an emblem of the hospital and
the girls wrap themselves in color and tuck their stoma bags inside the folds.

Feven explained in a hushed voice, “The saddest thing is that these girls are missing out on the most beautiful part of their lives. They should be talking and walking with their girlfriends, laughing and learning with their mothers, flirting and holding hands with their boyfriend, and truly starting to experience life as a woman. And for lack of knowledge, their bodies are destroyed at the very moment they are giving life.”

The Hamlin Fistula Hospital provides care and life-saving surgery free of charge for the girls whose bodies have been destroyed by child birth – and they ask a few things in return from their patients. If you ever become pregnant again (yes – most are able to get pregnant and deliver a healthy child after fistula repair) you must come to a hospital for pre-natal care and delivery of your baby AND … most importantly, go back to your village and spread the word about the Fistula Hospital – so that other girls seek pre-natal care during their pregnancy (to prevent obstetric fistula) or if they have a fistula, to tell them about the Fistula Hospital so they can be cured.

For more information about the miraculous work being done at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, here are a few resources …

Click HERE to watch a documentary called “A Walk to Beautiful”

Go to your favorite book seller for “The Hospital by the River” by Catherine Hamlin

Click HERE for the website

Greta Byers and a team of volunteers in Wisconsin made over 140 colorful scarves
as gifts for the patients at the Fistula Hospital.  We spent an evening wrapping
lotion, hand-soap, chapstick and a hand-written prayer within each scarf to
deliver to the patients while we visited.

Before travelling to Ethiopia, I asked the hospital if there were any supplies
they needed us to bring.  They requested stoma bags.  A medical supply store
in Iowa donated hundreds and I filled a suitcase with boxes and boxes
of stoma bags.  (Lost in translation ... the hospital requested large holster
stoma bags and I researched high and low for what this holster or belt was. 
When the stoma bags arrived, one look at the brand name "Hollister" and
I understood what they meant.  Not holster - but Hollister.)