Not better or worse, just different.

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(Photo taken by our son, Moses, which I think greatly illustrates this point.)

All I wanted to do was go to Target. I wanted to push all of my kids down the long aisles, across the floors so clean you could eat off of them. I wanted to shop for everything at one store. I wanted to know that if a kid did have an explosive diaper, I needn’t fear. All I had to do was take them to the clean bathroom that has a DIAPER CHANGING TABLE. What?!?

It’s the little things that I miss(ed) about America.

So you can imagine my surprise, when visiting America, after going to Target a few times that I all of the sudden started to resent these trips. To my husband I’d say, “No, no, you feel free to drop by the store on your way home. I’d rather not get out with all the kids.” Of course I was in the throes of first trimester morning sickness, chasing two preschoolers and a toddler while feeling like I was gonna puke. Nothing sounded fun. But even after the morning sickness subsided, I really didn’t want to go to Target, or anywhere for grocery shopping for that matter.

How did the thing I supposedly missed the most become the thing I loathed the most?

Along with the lesson—the grass is always greener on the other side—I learned that there were actually some great benefits to the lifestyle I had back in Ethiopia.
Sure I miss(ed) the independence of taking all of my kids on my own to do our family’s grocery shopping.
But, who can beat having small stores with fresh, organic vegetables walking distance from your house?
What is better than walking across the street to the outdoor “restaurant” for your freshly-made morning bread?
Oh we want meat today? We simply send our guard across town to pick it up.
Though at times it’s quite a feat to manage, it’s actually a life of luxury not having to load up ALL my kids in the car for the hour long shopping trip once a week.

This is just a small example of the many things that are different about living abroad, not necessarily better or worse. My husband and I quickly realized this upon our 5 month visit to America last winter. So much was different, but we couldn’t quite call it better and we couldn’t call it worse. It was just different.

I think in a lot of ways this thinking has preserved us from the awful rotting game of comparison that can sneak up on us daily.

If we were in the states our kids would have…
family nearby, friends who speak the same language, access to limitless parks and playgrounds, a chance to go to an English speaking co-op or school, church programs, camps, retreats. We would have grandparents to watch kids for date nights, ease at starting a business, access to great teaching, community with people of the same culture/language…

The list could go on and on. But it’s not so bad that we don’t have those things.

Here our kids HAVE…
family that visits for weeks at time (allowing for optimal bonding), friends who love and appreciate them for who they are, not how well they speak, parents that teach them daily about life and God, camels outside their house, access to constant adventure, and the opportunity to learn how to overcome being “the oddball” or “different” daily (maybe one day they will have empathy for the marginalized or “other”)
We HAVE,
a chance to bond as a family, the beauty of other cultures, friends that are friends not based on our similarities, opportunity to speak another language daily, hot/sweaty/mosquito-infested nights that make us appreciate the days that are cool and bug-free, affordable childcare and house help, real COFFEE, amazing friendships that go deep, other foreign friends who share our unique experiences making us bond in a different way, an opportunity to offer jobs and build up the community of people here.

I’m often asked, especially by diaspora visiting,
“Why have you stayed in Ethiopia so long? Do you really like it here?”
And I can honestly respond (though there a million reasons),
“Yes, I do. And who knows why or how we’ve stayed here. God’s placed us here, so He has given us all the grace we need to live here.”

You can’t compare the two places, and you certainly can’t call one better or worse.

They are just different.

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Why I don’t write anymore

You may think this is the reason why I don’t write anymore.

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Yes that is my son standing on our pet tortoise, next to our newborn baby. But actually…

I often avoid writing (or even journaling for that matter) about life here in Ethiopia. I fear it becomes overdramatized. I’ve read so many stories, blogs, books, journal entries from people that have lived abroad, and though all well-intentioned and often powerfully inspiring, it seems at times overdone. Like a roasted chicken cooked in the oven too long, you chew and chew only to find it rubbery and inedible. Everything written becomes overly intensified, hard for the “normal, everyday” person to read. I hate that.

Because life is uniquely hard when living as a foreigner, but it is by no means exceptional. You try to make a difference in the country you’re in and you’re often met with opposition in its many forms. I never want that intensity to be received over-intensified. I fear writing does that. Life is challenging no matter where you are in the world. Abroad those challenges (though sometimes—-stress the word sometimes—- are more difficult) they are often simply unique.

Nevertheless, my second fear, apart from the content of my writing becoming overdramatized, is the fear that my unique experiences—that have value, that will possibly be helpful to an audience–will be lost in a great abyss of my pride, apathy and laziness. My thoughts die with me, unless I share. I must put experience to ink (or keyboard) and share the mysterious beauty of what I’ve been through. God has been present. God has been active. God has been real. Despite how I might or might not sound there is ample reason to uncover these mysteries and not withhold what might be something of encouragement to the 21st century world that God has caused me to live in.

Maybe I sense there is some kind of requirement, after what I’ve seen and been through, to write. Feel free to join or not, but please know there is no hyperbole or exaggeration, no pretense and no hubris. I am simply writing with feeling what my senses have sensed. Maybe it will encourage you, maybe it will inspire you, but ultimately my hope is that it will leave you in wonder of how truly real, good, and loving our God is.

Florence Marie Smith’s Birth Story

Florence Marie Smith
Born May 7, 2016
At 6:05 p.m.
6 lbs 6 oz.

Florence means “to flower, or to blossom in faith”, it’s the female version of “Florian” who was a Roman soldier and martyr, who died for allowing Christians, like himself, to worship freely. Marie means “wished for child” or “bitter.”

The last week of August 2015, not knowing I was already 4 weeks pregnant with her, God spoke to me saying, “You can have your baby here [in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia] if you want.” After a few questions, tears, and overwhelming sense of peace, when I did (much to our utter surprise and completely unplanned) a week later find out that I was pregnant, it was those words from God that echoed in my ears. He knew. He knew I was pregnant. He knew it would be good for our family. He knew how best to guide me.

From 36 weeks on, it felt like each day could be “the day.” My Braxton Hicks were so frequent and so intense, it left me wondering if she would be born in the kitchen. Everyday the kids anticipation grew, Margot became a pro at talking to and about Florie, with “baby” being her clearest word spoken. Moses and Otto, likewise, were fascinated with the idea of her coming out soon. They would leaf through the Usborne Kids Body Book at pictures of what a baby looks like inside the womb and how she comes into the world. Our neighbors and friends grew anxious with us, commenting frequently on how big I was saying things like, “Are you still pregnant?” We were all so beyond ready.

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On Friday May 6th, around my due date, upon seeing my doctor walk down the corridor for my appointment, I had a contraction like I had never had before. It was the labor kind of contraction—like a menstral cramp, strong, lasting almost a minute. I kind of laughed it off and tried to keep myself from thinking about it, as I had for weeks been so aware and expectant only to my dismay.
The rest of the day the menstral cramping continued, even through the night. They bothered me so much, I woke up and went on a mosquito killing spree throughout the house from midnight to 2 a.m. in an attempt to occupy my mind (and get rid of 100s of those pesky things!).

When I woke the next morning contractions had slowed down 15- 30 minutes apart and sometimes not at all, but I still sent a text message to my team mate, a German midwife/OBGYN named Sonja, who agreed to be with me to assist the doctor’s delivery, letting her know how I was doing. I tried to rest as much as I could throughout the morning. I was still uncertain if these were real labor contractions or the Braxton Hicks I had been feeling for weeks. Finally at about 2 p.m. it became clear I could no longer lay down and rest through the contractions. I texted Sonja who came right over to check the heartbeat and see if I was dilated.

Her report was that my cervix was still very high, not even dilated and it was unlikely anything would happen in the next couple of hours. She asked me if I wanted to rest or go out with Joshua, leaving the kids at home in her care. I felt so defeated and tired. I couldn’t believe nothing had progressed. Thankfully, Joshua looked at me with a smile and said, “Yes, let’s go on a date!” I responded with, “Okay. I guess it’s likely to be our last without a baby for a while!”

So we left the kids at about 2:30 p.m., and went to a restaurant close by with a beautiful garden and fresh juices. I ordered a sprite and water, Joshua ordered a juice and coffee. We talked about life, work, family, friends, and all the while my contractions though strong remained inconsistent. 3 minutes in between, 10 minutes in between, 5 minutes in between. They were 30 seconds long, 1 min 30 seconds long, 2 minutes long, 1 minute long. Nothing that doctors would deem worthy of rushing to the hospital. There was no consistency except that they all felt very uncomfortable to me. At about 4:30 p.m. we talked about whether we should go to the hospital or go back home. I just couldn’t decide. I felt like going to the hospital, but I certainly didn’t want to labor there long. Joshua reminded me Sonja had said I wasn’t even dilated.

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So we decided to go home, talk with Sonja, check on the kids, and plan on eating dinner before heading to the hospital. When we walked in our compound at 5:00 p.m. I noticed my contractions were getting stronger, but I still could breathe through them without anyone noticing I was in pain. Sonja offered to pray with me. I couldn’t even walk up the stairs to pray, so we prayed outside. She told me, “I think you want to rest Melissa, but God has a mountain for you to climb. He wants you to know, soon you will rest. For now it’s time to climb the mountain and depend on his strength.” We prayed. Little did we know that mountain would be climbed in less than an hour.

After praying, I felt another really strong contraction and told both Joshua and Sonja we need to go to the hospital. Still no one thought she would come quickly. By 5:30 p.m., our friend Karen had arrived to watch the kids. Joshua asked our guard Miki to come along to pick up chicken sandwiches at a hotel to take back to the kids along the way.

As soon as the four of us got inside our bus, I had the urge to push. I looked at Sonja and said, “You are going to have to delivery this baby here.” She assured me we could make it to the hospital. So we drove about 10 feet, and another urge to push came over me. I knew that the bumpy roads were going to make it worse. I thought there is no way I can make it through a bumpy 15 minute journey to the hospital, up the stairs into the labor and delivery room. So she agreed to let us go back to the house. As Joshua backed up I changed my mind again, knowing the kids couldn’t see me deliver a baby. That could scar them. And, the laws in Ethiopia make it very difficult for a foreigner to obtain a birth certificate without proof that you delivered in a hospital. I had to make it to the hospital. Sonja likewise thought it’s best to go to the hospital.

We rounded the corner, going over bumps that felt like they were pushing the baby out of me. As soon as we turned the corner my water broke. Sonja asked Joshua to stop the car. She hopped into the front seat next to me and said, “We are going to make it to the hospital.” She checked me to see if I was dilated and where her head was. It had only been minutes since we left our compound, but I was certain I couldn’t make it to the hospital. Sure enough I was dilated. Sonja knew though, with a few strong pushes this baby would come. So she yelled at Joshua, “We are going to the hospital. GO! Melissa you can do this! We will make it to the hospital!!”

What is normally a 15 minute drive was reduced to a frantic 7 minute drive. I had 5 strong contractions with multiple urges to push during each contraction. Sonja put her hand in me to keep the head from descending lower down than it already had. Every time I got the urge to push, I would tell her “I can’t do it!” and she would respond with “Yes, you can. You are in control of your body. God is your strength. Her head is still up. We will make it to the hospital. In Jesus name, contractions stop.”
It was amazing to have someone so confident, bold, and full of faith speak over me during labor, during what has turned out to be the hardest, most stressful 7 minutes of my life.

As we crossed the dried up river bed, turned the corner into Cornel, where the hospital is located, Sonja at this point was holding my legs closed & lifted. All my body weight was on my arms in an attempt not to push. As soon as we were in front of the hospital. Sonja and I (barefoot, covered in my broken water) ran hand in hand up three flights of stairs to the labor & delivery ward. As soon as we got there I went into a labor room to push, but the nurses rushed in and told me to get down the hall. Sonja helped me up. As soon as I got into the delivery room, I tried to deliver on the bed but knew squatting was always my preferred position to deliver in and she was about to come—finally! I hopped off the bed, and the nurses were yelling at me in Somali and Amharic to get back on the bed. Sonja was yelling back at them to wait. I managed to stay off the bed and squatted. So with about three quick pushes she came out, I had my arms out this time to catch her! And so did Sonja, remembering how my babies had come quickly this way.

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So within 3 hours I went from not even being dilated to fully dilated and ready to push. Within 15 minutes of saying goodbye to my kids and getting in the bus, my water broke, I held off on pushing for 10 minutes, until finally running into the hospital and up the stairs where Florie was born.

The doctor came in right after she was born and asked me, “Did you not know you were in labor?” We didn’t even have time to call the doctor and tell him we were actually on our way to the hospital. The placenta came quickly, there was a small tear that didn’t need suturing, and Florie was screaming with a full head of hair. As they wheeled me into our room, the door was hung open overlooking the sunset shining down on the old buildings of Dire Dawa. One of my desires, that always seemed selfish, was to have a similar beautiful scene like I had with Margot. Margot was born right before a beautiful sunset as well. I cried tears of joy as I looked at the beautiful image before me. I couldn’t believe the love of God is that extravagant to even care for and give us the desires of our heart, ones that seem insignificant. He cares.

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I had to apologize to our guard, since he saw the craziest scene in the backseat of our bus. Doctors, nurses, security staff, all came by the room the entire night to meet the crazy “ferengie” (foreign) woman who ran up the stairs without her shoes on to deliver her baby. It was so sweet seeing the fruition of prayers, hopes and dreams, culminating on a comical (though stressful) and beautiful delivery of the precious life, Florie.

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Sonja and I recalled how God knew this is how it would unfold. The day he spoke to me back in August 2015, the Lord already had this story written. I’m so thankful I got to be a part of His beautiful writing. It’s been a joy to stay in Dire Dawa, recovering and relishing in her first few days of life, in the home that Joshua, Moses and I moved to four years ago. Now our home is full with three additional children, and a new housemate. It’s been a joy to talk and see the faces of neighbors and friends who saw me right before Florie was born. It’s been a joy to trust God’s leading, and to endure, and then finally to see the story unfold even more beautiful than I could have imagined.

All glory to God.

And these days following Florie’s birth have not been without pain. I’m here typing with 100s of bites covering my body. Mosquito bites, fleas, scabies, or bed bugs? We just don’t know. But the relentless itch and pain is almost more than I can handle, but still being here is worth it to me. And I know that God is still good—-in the detailed love through sunsets and in my anxiety, fear and the unknowns around me. He’s good.

One of our friends spoke and prayed over me a month before she was born, and said “in this season—this next month—you will know, no matter what that God is good.”

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Forgiving My Attackers

Recently, I shared what happened on the scariest day of my life in a town I now call “home”. Living through many transitions, in different cultures, has forced me to find a new meaning for what home really is. You can read more about that post here.

After hearing about what happened, my husband was (rightfully so) full of a lot of anger. It took everything in him not to go to that mountain and hunt down those children. Thankfully, he didn’t. That night he dreamed a very vivid dream. The next morning morning, a Saturday, he woke up and told me how he saw in his dream our friend Sammy going up to the mountain, catching every single one of the attackers and bringing them to the police station. We thought it was interesting, but really didn’t think much of it. Our friend Sammy knew about what happened, but hadn’t alluded to doing anything about it.

Monday morning Sammy called us. “I found them all. They are at the police station.” I couldn’t believe it! Not just because he had actually managed to catch them, but because Joshua had dreamed he would do this very thing nights before. It was encouraging to us, knowing we weren’t alone. God really cared for us, and was making his plans known to us.

Sammy asked us to come down to the police station to be sure to identify all the perpurtrators. After much thought and prayer I decided it would be best to go as a whole family. Joshua, myself, Moses and Otto all piled in a bajaj and headed to the police station where I looked face to face with my attackers. They looked bigger than I remembered, and yet their frames drooped in repentance. All of them, but one were clearly on the verge of tears from shame. What was I to do? I wanted to forgive them, but could I, really?

Carefully, making eye contact with each one of them, I clung tightly to my 4 month old son cradled close to me in a baby carrier. My skin began to crawl as I saw the eyes that were once filled with so much hate, anger, and evil. But, these teenagers look like children?

Breathing in the remembrance of my offenses against God, and His forgiveness given me because of the punishment Jesus’ took on my behalf, I sighed out words of forgiveness. Not by my own strength, but by the strength of God. I couldn’t have done it without Him. His hand was so apparent in the details that led me to even look at these boys again. With God’s help I could forgive them.

I forgave them, but it was hard. Through this struggle to forgive, I’ve thought and meditated long and hard on what makes forgiveness possible.

The reason why it’s so hard to forgive is because sometimes there seems to be no justice. Someone must be punished for what they did, right? These boys needed to feel, experience, and bear the pain I felt, so I thought.

But, someone already took the punishment. Jesus took the punishment for all of our problems, mistakes, and offenses against one another. He bore it on the cross. So justice was served against a man who didn’t deserve it. I don’t have to serve it back again in order to forgive those who wronged me. What freedom! Punishment has already been absorbed for all our wrongs, so we’ve been forgiven greatly. Forgiveness recieved, means forgivness can be given.

Don’t hear me say it’s easy, but do hear me say it’s now possible.

Home is where He is

It’s Christmas time, and instead of migrating to a colder clime or mastering the ski slopes of Aspen or the Alps, my family is driving 12 hours back on a crowded two lane road to our home. Home is a town that doesn’t see rain half the year or daily highs under 90 degrees. Home is a city where no one speaks our native language very well. Home is a medium sized town in the heart of Africa. Dust collects in every crack, crevice, and makes itself known on every surface. It’s so dusty at times your skin starts to collect a film of it like when the sand sticks to you at a beach. It just won’t wash off!

We’ve found Home to be difficult, but also it is what it is, and after 2.5 years of making it our base camp it’s just that to us now—-our place to rest, work and live. With a place becoming home, I’ve learned something has to happen for it to be that. One of the most important things is going through some tough life experiences. You get through it, then come out thankful, and then—and only then—does the place where you learned to endure attain this magical quality. It feels right & good, and it becomes home.

In order to get to that point of calling Home “home”, I went through two of the most challenging things I’ve ever faced in my life (even over childbirth!). For today, I’ll share the first.

August 2013, just a little over a year ago I went on a hike. It was a climb many foreigners had done before, though the edges are laced with cactii, the path is decent and easy to follow. Along the path, it’s common as a foreigner, to collect a posse of begging children. Most of these children aren’t really in need. They have a roof over their head, families, and food on the table, though I wouldn’t say their life is comfortable or plush. Though they are asking for money, usually there isn’t an expectation that you would give.

Up the mountain I went with my American friend visiting from India. We only brought a water bottle, my phone, and I had a 50 birr bill (2 US Dollars) in my skirt that would cover our bajaj (auto-rickshaw) ride home. The afternoon was beautiful as far as we could see and as we hiked past mud huts, old rock stone formations, we quickly neared the top where the mountain had a flat surface like a football field you could see across.

The call to prayer, coming from speakers below in the town, “Allah Ak bahr…” echoed in my ears and more faintly in my mind. The crowd around us went from a crowd of girls and boys ages 2-10 years old, to a predominantly male crowd ages 10-15. The latter looking just as small, naive and childish as the former. So I thought nothing of it. After inhaling the sights from the look-out point, we smiled at the kids around us, and started to turn around to make our way home. They urged us to walk further. “No, no, this way, there is a fort you must see. It’s not far.” They spoke in broken English, since their native tongue was a language I didn’t know or understand.

We agreed, since it seemed just about another 100 yards ahead. As we made it to the fort, my friend grabbed my arm, and whispered in my ear “they keep trying to touch me inappropriately.” As I turned around I noticed every once in a while, like a game, they would try to slip a feel. I got angry and told them to stop. As soon as I started feeling uncomfortable I really took my surroundings seriously. Here’s what I gathered: Friday, call to prayer, no adults within ear shot (as they’ve all made their way to the mosque), not a single girl stood on the mountain top except us. What was a small group of boys was now a larger group scattered all around and higher up on the peaks.

Another boy asked me for my phone, I refused and he began to try to take it while another boy attempted to take off my clothes. I took a step back screaming for them to stop, and realized they really didn’t want my phone in the first place. I scrambled to find my 50 birr bill in my long dress’ pocket, only to find it had probably already been taken. What would the locals do in my situation, I thought, and I picked up a rock to let them know I was serious. As soon as they saw I had picked up a rock, the gang of boys above us hurled rocks. We began to run, without any hope of escaping. They had us in their arms, unable to move, and break free.

I looked past the mountain we were on, and into the distance a group of dark storm clouds were forming above the valley between the peaks. My heart sunk. It felt like my spirits of hope, love, courage, and grace—and the expectation of God delivering—-sunk like an anchor from a boat to the sea causing my body to lie paralyzed unable to move. I’m going to die. Or I’m going to get raped. I don’t know which I would prefer. And all I could think about was how I wished so badly I was back home holding my fourth month old son in my arms, with my 2 year old bouncing at my feet. Anywhere but here. I looked back, and saw through the grabbing and struggle, my friend and I were separated.

I was screaming in the other foreign language I knew (that they probably knew some of), “HELP ME!” They mocked me and began repeating all my attempts to get them to stop.

What felt like years, was minutes, and finally my friend hit a boy hard enough and broke free, startling my captors, enough for me to escape their grip. She screamed, “RUN!” We ran as fast as we could, not caring that we were getting marred by cactus needles. We struggled down the mountain at times scraping our hands on the rocks to out pace the teenage boys following closely behind.

Screaming, crying, and making a spectacle so that someone would hear us, we made our way into a hut in hopes to stop the pursuit behind us. It didn’t. The women in the huts had less control of their village children, than we did.

Finally after making our way down the mountain, not sure if we were in the clear, we found an adult man, and I insisted in tears he take us down the mountain. He repeated “stop crying, no, no, you don’t need me.” We insisted, as I held his arm tightly and my friends hand, we finally made it to the street at the bottom of the cliff and found an auto rickashaw to take us home.

I’ve never felt more relief and more sadness as I did riding in that auto rickashaw home. I was startled by what had happened, in pure disbelief that the quaint little town I was raising my children in, could harbor the most disgusting evil, cruelty, and filth as I’d ever seen.

Where was God? Never had I felt so strongly I might die. Why would a good, gracious, loving God, put me through that? Yes, He delivered me (and now a year later, I see how apparent His hand was), but in that moment I felt so strongly, like never before, my God has abandoned me?

Have you ever felt like you were about to die, literally?

Have you ever felt like God had completely abandoned you? As if you were in the depths of Hell itself, with evil around you?

Processing my experience, I was quickly led to Psalm 23:

“though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.”

Never had I known what this scripture truly meant, until that day. It was the darkest moment, and even as I was in it I saw an actual valley with dark clouds above it. My heart and environment felt the same. But, here’s the most important part—-but, He was with me. I could fear no evil, for He was there. He didn’t abandon me; He provided a miracle, and we did escape. Though our bodies were touched in ways deplorable, our hearts, minds, and spirits were unscathed. And hope came to us, and we made it out alive and better for it.

Jesus didn’t promise the men who followed him that they wouldn’t experience tragedy, pain or that they would be untouched by evil. He merely, but so powerfully said “I will be with you always.” And this is the hope the Psalmist had, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.”

When I think of my awful experience that day, and the city it happened in, I’m okay with calling it home. It is where I’ve encountered the worst, and survived. It’s where two of my children (and probably my newest daughter will) have learned to take their first steps, say their first words. It’s where I’ve welcomed three anniversaries and celebrated three of my birthdays. It’s where my son turned 1, 2, and 3, and where I learned to speak a foreign language I thought I’d never learn.

Home is where Jesus has felt so near, as I often have been curled up on the bathroom floor from giardia, food poisoning or morning sickness. Home is where I knew what true community meant, and what a grace it was to see it. It’s where my husband cradled our kids in the middle of the night, when I was too tired to hold them. It’s where I’ve felt extreme joy and extreme sadness.

Home is where Jesus is, quite frankly, and He’s everywhere. So I’m always (even in the midst of despair) in a good place, because He’s there. I’m Home.

Why I’m having my baby in Ethiopia

Ever since we made the decision to stay in Ethiopia to have our 3rd child, we’ve received many mixed reactions. Blankless stares, raised eyebrows, stern warnings, smiles, head nods, and bits of encouragement. It’s been a mixed bag. We expected this. Still I think it’s time, for those who don’t know the full story, to hear why we made this decision.

Ask any of my friends who grew up with me—I’m not a risk-taker, I’m not adventurous. I like habits. I like following the crowd. I like normal. I like the suburbs.

But God, by the immeasurable love of Jesus, changed me.

I could no longer operate like the scared 7 year old girl who didn’t want to dive into the deep end. Promised to me were promises that He would be with me wherever, however, and whenever. With these promises I started taking more “risks”, and living boldly. For people who just met me, they’d think who is this crazy girl walking down the street barefoot, moving to Africa, and now having a baby there? That wasn’t always me, and it still isn’t how God wired me. But, love changes us. And it changes me everyday.

So today I’m at peace calling Ethiopia the home of my family of four, and the place where we will welcome our daughter into the world.

Both my sons Moses & Otto came quickly and smoothly—no medicine, no intervention, and no doctor (with Otto). So as we were planning where we would have our dear Margot Cate, we were confronted with the reality: all of my labor & deliveries have been relatively easy. I’m not high-risk, I’m 27 years old, healthy, and well-read about child birth.

Why would I go to another country to have a baby?

I was reminded of the Israelites who repeatedly struggled with fear. They made their decisions based not on the reality of God’s faithfulness in the past, but by their present emotions. God led them out of Egypt, and still they worried. God parted the red sea, and still they questioned His might. God rained bread and poured out water from rocks, and still they grumbled. I don’t want to be like that. I’m prone to be like that, but I don’t want to be and I don’t have to be.

I can choose to remember God’s faithfulness in my past two labor & deliveries, and make a decision based off of that, not my fear of the unkown or the endless “what ifs”.

So that’s why we are having Margot Cate in Ethiopia. God has done nothing in my life to make me question His ability to extend His strong arm out to me, even in a developing country like Ethiopia. He’s given me only reasons to stay here & trust Him. So that’s what we are doing.

Join us in prayer. As I mentioned previously, just because I made this decision doesn’t mean I’m immovable or unemotional. Pray and ask God to be our anchor in this season of trusting Him with this labor and delivery. Ask for peace, health, and comfort for all of us as we welcome our 3rd child into the world.

I look forward to reporting back about His goodness after she’s born! 🙂

Dear Friend (A Letter to those Struggling with Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infertility)

My dearest friend and neighbor,

Though I don’t fully understand the pain you are going through, I must tell you that the minute I heard the news I cried. I don’t like this—not for anyone and especially not for you. It’s true that it doesn’t seem fair (and will it ever?), and it’s true that nothing will bring back that precious life to your womb. What would he/she have been like? What would a playful and loving child of yours do? How would our Maker have seen fit to knit their face, body and personality to mirror His?

As I look at my children, I ache. I ache because I don’t know why I’m watching them laugh and play. Fully aware that each breath is a gift to them, I remember how fleeting their life is, as is mine. No future moment is promised me. And yet, why have I gotten any time with them? Why am I carrying a child now, after you’ve just laid your newborn to rest in the earth?

I don’t know why. I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know why it keeps happening to so many women. I don’t know why the young teenage girl after one night with a boy becomes pregnant. While after years of trying you, in your 30s, married and able to care for a child, are left wanting still.

I don’t know why after prayers and tears and more prayers and more tears all you see is a test with a negative sign, all you know is burying your children before they’ve been able to look you in the eyes.

I just don’t know. We may never know why. But, there is something I do know. Confidently, I can say these things, with out a shaken voice, with my life dependent upon them:

God loves you

If you are his daughter or son, meaning—if you love Him by trusting in Jesus, following Him with your life—do not fear, do not worry, do not question this—Oh, how He loves you! His love is the same whether you have children, or whether you are barren the rest of your life. His love has not changed. If you don’t believe it now in your gut, don’t lose hope of it ringing true again. It is true, whether you feel it or not.

He cares for you

“Casting all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

I’m always humbled as I think about loss or infertility in light of the position God put himself in, as he sent his precious son to earth to suffer for the sake of the world. He knows loss and He cares.

Your tears are caught; your cries are heard

“You have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?  Then my enemies will turn back on the day when I call. This I know that God is for me.” (Psalm 56:8-9) What can be more comfort than knowing, as you are in bed at night rolling over from side to side, unable to get up from the grief or pain, He’s kept count as he’s collected each of your tears. He knows. He knows more than you even know about your own sadness.

You lack no good thing

When I was trying to get pregnant with my first, almost half a dozen of my friends were making their pregnancy announcements. I confessed to one of my recently pregnant friends how I was struggling with jealousy, and I was sorry. I’ll never forget how with a heart full of sympathy she quoted this Psalm to me, “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (84:11)

I highly recommend reading this short blog post by a couple that has come to understand why they “lack no good thing” and saw infertility as God’s mercy to them.

Value doesn’t come from children

Many moms will not tell you this, but it is crucial to say it. Truly, there is a gift in not having children in the same way there is a gift in not getting married. Our culture (especially among Christians) can emphasis to women the importance of marriage and children. At the end of the day neither marriage nor parenthood will exist in Heaven. It is a temporary, fleeting thing for all of us. You are not more valuable if you are married with children, as you are single or married without biological children.

Adoption, though hard, is beautiful

This is delicate. I say it not to everyone, but to the one whose ears prick at the word maybe this is for you—adoption. My husband has three adopted siblings. I’ve seen first hand, after years and years, how challenging it can be to raise someone from different DNA and circumstances than you’re used to. It is challenging. Most things in life that are challenging are what makes life most beautiful. We are all adopted children. What better way to show that blood doesn’t define a family—a family is defined by God—than to adopt a child who otherwise would not have a home.

Here are a couple resources if you are led in this direction:

A Sermon on Adoption: The Heart of the Gospel 

Adopted for Life

Calm before the (beautiful & miraculous) Storm

One of the biggest mysteries in life I so undeservingly get a front row glimpse into is childbirth.  From the moment the small embryo is taking form to the emotional lung-filled cry of their first breath there is this great, puzzling, magnificent experience hard to describe. Now that I’m carrying the second miracle of my life, I’m reminiscent of the first. Relishing in the smallest details of this experience because I know their significance and I know their beauty more deeply now that Moses, my first son, is talking and walking and embracing life with energy I wish I had.

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I remember this calm in the last few weeks of pregnancy and my hypersensitivity to everything happening in and outside of my body. Even the way the trees swayed beckoned time to welcome the arrival of my unborn baby. Prayer and time reading the words of God were rich. Every moment was full of anticipation and gratitude. Anticipation for what was to come and gratitude that we had made it this far. My baby, though unborn, was wiggling as alive as ever ready to take it’s first breath of air on it’s own. It was the calm before the storm. This metaphor feels redundant and overused lacking meaning in a lot of ways, but it sums it up so well. The storm wasn’t necessarily bad either. But, the calm was so peaceful, so serene, and so hopeful. There is this surrender before birth. I cannot know the day or hour labor will begin. I cannot control, though I may try, the outcome on the other side. At some point, especially with Moses, I had to surrender to the will of God and the unforeseen future as a mom. It was freeing and peaceful.

It’s funny now, even on the second go around, I’m having the same experiences. There is this daily surrender to the Lord for what’s to come. There is this very real anticipation and awareness of everything in and around me. I’m in a foreign country, with a foreign doctor, and a foreign language. But, surprisingly I feel this sense of calm. My body and soul are forced to surrender. I have no idea what Otto’s birth will look like. I have hopes and dreams, but no assurance a part from knowing that I won’t be alone. If there were some research done, I’m sure these calm emotions would involve the God-ordained hormones acting effectively and graciously.

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God truly has an abundance of mercy and common grace for every woman on earth in the midst of the greatest curse of pain in childbirth. How sweet that He did not leave us without these natural pain relieving hormones, oh and my favorite the hormone released that makes you forget the intensity of pain in childbirth only hours after.

There is one phone call I made only hours after delivering Moses, where I literally felt drugged. The felicity and bounty of joy I felt outweighed and distorted my view of the reality of painful childbirth I had experienced. It was as if nothing had happened but I breathed a few breaths and there came my son.

Disclaimer: I know not all women have had a smooth labor and delivery. But, I don’t think that’s a reason to doubt that our bodies have been equipped with many graces to handle the life-threatening experience of childbirth.

So as I’m cozied up under my computer typing these words, remembering and reliving the calm before the storm, I’m thankful to have this experience again and I’m even more trusting of the faithfulness of God and the extended nearness of Christ who experienced the worst pain of all. He knows, he cares, he comforts, he’s here, and most mind-boggling of all He will be there days or weeks from now in the midst of the miraculous moment when He ordains time to welcome the start of my second child’s first breath.

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Unlikely Employer


For Peacemakers 2

I never imagined I would be an employer at this young of an age. Most homes in Africa, no matter how impoverished, employ “house-helpers” to participate in the endless amount of chores that a day demands. It was very hard for my American “I can do it myself” upbringing to understand why I needed one. That was until I had my first outing to buy vegetables. It took me nearly all morning to go purchase what I needed to cook with, not to mention cleaning, chopping and then actually cooking lunch.

It’s a fact of life here—you employ others to help.

Where I have come to feel thankful in this, no matter how against my desire (to not have people in my house half of the day), is that it serves the community. The women that work in my home are all husbandless. One a widow, one a single mother, one a waiting-to-be-wife; it’s quite a mix.

What these women share most in common is a need for income. Both the widow and the single mom have responsibilities at home, that requires them to be at home for part of the day, so they work for us part time. In turn, for their hard work, faithfulness, and time we pay them what they need to live and thrive.

Halle, the babysitter, (obviously not her real name) is recently widowed. She LOVED her husband. Since we hired her he’s been in and out of the hospital. Even though she’s a strong women, who has survived more than most can imagine, she failed to manage to hold back tears. Almost every day there were tears, prayers, and hope that he would live another day, and he did. Then 5 months later when his liver and kidneys failed, he finally went home to be with God. She was devastated, but her hope was rooted even more deeply in something else other than in her husband’s vitality, it was rooted in God. When the time came for her to find provision she looked around and saw that working for us was exactly what she needed to continue to provide for her home.

Lovely, our house helper is a single parent mom. She’s a student, and she helps run her uncle’s home. Her son recently enrolled in his first year of school at an average educational establishment, for Ethiopia, that costs a whopping $10 a month. That unfortunately was $10 too much for this family. We thought, prayed, and talked (Joshua and I) about how to best handle this situation. Our first inkling was to just give the money to her and say “Here! This is for your son’s education”. But we were advised against it, then we decided to “up” her salary what she needs in order to pay for her son’s schooling. She was nearly in tears with gratitude. It was exactly what she needed for her son’s school.

So though I, somedays, loathe having someone else watch my kid or clearn my house or do things that I feel like I should be doing, I’ve come to be thankful.

Thankful for one, that I have help to do what would be any otherwise impossible job.
And two, that the three other women that help me in my home, who I’ve come to adore, who have what they need to run their own households.

Life doesn’t have to always be about “win-win” situations, but in this case, it’s definitely that. I’m thankful. Yes, a win-win situation.

1st Trimester Maternity Leave

I often wonder why women don’t have a 1st trimester maternity leave. Doesn’t it make more sense to have the first three months of their pregnancy (where they are sick, moody, and tired) off from work?

Anyway, though I did not get three months off from language learning, I did take a bit of a leave from blogging since August because…

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Yes, I’m pregnant with our 2nd child.

We are elated. Moses knows something is up because from August-October I was pretty sick, but then now I have this growing belly for him to pounce on. I’m hoping he will learn the word “gentle” before April arrives!

Now that the sickness has waned, and 2nd timester in all it’s glory has begun, I’m going to try to find time to keep this blog updated with a written account of all the sights and sounds from the Horn of Africa.

Thank you for understanding why I was on “leave.”
🙂

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