In my last post, I casually mentioned that I was in Haiti for a live birth a few years back. While those of you who are close to me know the gory details, there are a lot of people with whom I have never shared this story. I find that around Christmas time, especially, I have this desire to share the story of how little Shelisa came into the world.
This was our first trip to Haiti, with the largest team I have ever been associated with. While it was so nice to get to know everyone on the team, I don't really reccomend traveling to Haiti with that many people.... annyway...there we were, all 16 of us plus our country hosts in the middle of a tent city in Port-Au-Prince called Soupis. Earlier that morning, we had helped the pastor we were working with set up his make-shift church. We spent most of our time building a "fence," seriously a couple of large sticks sticking into the rocky dirt, which surrounded the tent church. So many folks showed up, praising God while waving their hands. It amazed me then, and still amazes me now, to see clean, pressed dresses and suits emerge from make-shift homes. There was no exception at this church service and it was so neat to witness.
The pastor's (recent) wife, Shelly, was pregnant. None of us knew exactly how far along she was. She was a tiny little thing, none of us really knowing she was pregnant from behind. So, it was a little interesting when she let out a scream into the afternoon, letting us know the baby was getting ready to come. Hospitals in Haiti, or at least in Port-Au-Prince during the year of the earthquake, do not take walk ins. They do not have ambulences to come and get you where you are. When they were called, the hospital staff told us that Shelly's appointment was at 8 that night, and they would see her then.
Returning to Shelly, with our dear friend Asha attached to her side, it became pretty obvious that she was not going to last until 8pm. By 5, her contractions were already 2 minutes apart.
This was a time in my life where I didn't fill in those gaps. You know the ones? We have them about other cultures. Many of you reading this might have the same gaps I had as you read this story. There was no doctor, there were no nurses. So, logically, our instict was to use our hour long health care training and set up to have the baby. Looking back, I do wonder if one of the many, experienced Haitian mommas and friends there would have been more helpful in this situation. Nonetheless, we set up and prepared for this baby to enter the world.
Everyone has their own perspective of the events that traspired after that. Setting up a plywood pallet with our backpacks as pillows, Shelly laid down on the pallet as we bleached every utensil we could find. People gathered around as we hooked up electricity and the sun set. The generator hummed in the distance, the smell of gasoline from said generator filled the air and the breeze from the ocean a few miles away hit our sweaty faces. Some people took pictures and video. Others gathered in the corner to pray. Some, like me, were timing contractions, updating people, and sanitizing everything.
Expecting a little boy, we were all shocked when a pale little girl popped out and was placed on Shelly's chest. It honestly was the most beautiful and horrible thing I have ever seen, being in the middle of that tent city on that night in December. Watching as the baby crowned and finding floss to tie off the ambilicul cord, it was all incredibly surreal. Its an experince I will never forget...and I will never ever forget how it felt to catch the placenta in a plastic bowl in the middle of that chaos and beauty.
The reason I think about this, on the month of Shelisa's 6th birthday, is because it does bear so much resembelnce to the Christmas story. I think about Shelly's face when she knew she was having that baby then and there. I think about the women, those amazing Haitian women, who gather together and just know the right things to say, the ways to joke, the prayers to mutter. The way they gathered and supported Shelly so lovingly was such a learning moment for me. I think back to our western team, our good hearts to help and our total dramatazation of the whole thing, too. As if women in Haiti don't see this situation all the time! I think of how much we wanted to help and how in that moment so many of us felt the call to be midwives. I think about ol' Pastor George, a man who had created a scandal within the church itself by getting pregnant before getting married. I think about how much he cared for his wife, staying by her side. What a beautiful, imperfect, perfect story.
What a lucky and wonderful thing for me to see them regularly in Haiti now, to be invited into their home and speak their native language with them. What a treat it is for me to see how Shelisa is growing up to be strong and kind- just like the rest of her family. How amazing it is to see her parent's marriage and the testimony it is to their community. Just like Jesus, Shelisa's crazy birth story was only the beginning.
All I can say about this story is that it was holy. It was dirty, but it was holy. It was in the poorest slum in the western hemisphere, but it was holy. It was an ambilicul cord tied with floss and placenta in a bowl, but it was holy. There were chickens running around and people waving their hands around praising God very loudly, but it was so holy. That moment they held Shelisa was so peaceful. She was here. Their little girl was here.
I can only imagine the way that Christmas night felt so many years ago. Maybe Mary was expecting to have her baby surrounded by her parents and not in a stable in Bethlehem. Perhaps they were expecting some kind of God-baby to be born that looked differently than a helpless infant. Maybe there were animals running around or strangers watching.
But, all I can imagine is that it was holy. Holy doesn't have to look prestine and put together. Holy doesn't have to involve your predetermined expectations. Holy seems to look a lot like something beautiful coming into something messy. I, for one, am certainly glad for the holy birth of Jesus...and Shelisa. :)
My Christmas Eve growing up looked like going to mass, eating a ham and dressing up. It looked like lasagna, or some other Italian food, on the side because we were DeLucas. It looked like getting an ornament and Christmas pajamas and trying to go to bed early to wait for Santa to fill the bottom of my tree with gifts from the North Pole.
I learned about Jesus, about the stable and the donkey ride into Bethlehem. But, it wasn't until I traveled to Haiti that my eyes began to see the true story of Christmas and why it mattered that I did not understand it more.
There have been a few Christmases that I don't experience culture shock when coming back into the US to celebrate with friends and family. My first year in Haiti, back in 2010, I experienced Christmas on the island. It wasn't until last year that I repeated that, spending Christmas on Hispaniola once again. In the times in between, though, I bundled up and flew to southern Alabama to be bombarded with love from family, along with consumerism and lots of events. While it has always been special, it has also been a struggle at times.
Last year, I brought Christmas gifts down to Haiti for our Fet Noel- or Christmas Day Party- with our kids program. It was so nice to be back on the island- the warm air, the ocean breeze and the friends who are like family- it was so nice. As I unpacked the gifts, I felt excited to give these little ones gifts and also kind of weird bringing the consumerist part of Christmas to Haiti. The staff and kiddos were excited, though, and that meant so much to me.
The day before we were set to celebrate, I cuddled up with one of our staff's kids and grabbed a book from the pile I'd brought from the states. "The Christmas Story," it read on the cover as a white Mary, Joseph and Jesus graced the front of the book. Written in English, I attempted to translate the children's story to make sense to sweet Laira, paying such close attention to my words. At one point though, I had to admit, the story did not translate well. Why? Because it was so inaccurate.
I'm not talking about Jesus or his incarnate birth. I'm talking about the way in which we Americans think he entered the world. We can't grasp it because we don't live it. We don't know what it's like to have to travel far, no matter what your circumstances, because a government needs something from you. We don't get how people can be transported to and fro on barn yard animals. We can't imagine not having an Air B and B or a friend in the city we need to be in. We can't imagine a lot of things.
As I was reading to Laira, one of the things that stood out to me the most was the scene of after the baby was born. Sweet baby Jesus, clean and white and surrounded by two clean donkeys. His angelic and clean parents, there holding him. Peace. This is what we have come to imagine as peace: quiet, surrounded by loved ones. However, this is not what I imagine now.
As the only live birth I have ever fully witnessed was in a Haitian tent city, I can tell you this is not how a baby enters this world. There's placenta and blood and screaming. There is crying and heaving and prayers. There are people, especially those who belong to a communal culture, who gather around simply to watch and be a part of this story. There are animals who do not merely lie there. The chickens come in and out of the scene, often being chased off by a midwife or townsmen. There are goats who are eating everything in sight. There are sheep, disgusting, unsheered sheep who bahh off in the distance. There are stinky cows who get in the way and you have to just figure out a way to move them. This is what I imagine this story to be in reality.
And, because of her own country, Laira did, too. She looked at the pictures and literally laughed. She knew, Jesus doesn't come like that.
Because of her, and my time and interactions with people in Haiti, I know this, too. I don't believe Jesus did or does come like that. He doesn't wait for us to be cleaned up. He doesn't wait for the perfect circumstances or the perfect government. He just comes.
Emmanuel: God with us. This name meaning is why it is so important for us to understand the difference between our western story and the realistic one. He comes to be with us, and at what cost? At what discomfort? He just comes. And, He proved to us on his birthday so many years ago that He comes to us in the middle of our literal crap. He comes to us when barnyard animals are running in and out of the stable. He comes to us when we are confused at circumstances. He comes to us when we are in pain and in the dark.
I believe this is one of the most important lessons Haiti continues to teach me. As I go to my events, get dressed up and enjoy myself, I must remember that God is with me when I get offended by a comment, when I feel depressed and angry and when I am struggling. He's not just with me in my picture perfect moments, no, that's just not how Jesus comes. Peace, that true peace, comes from Him entering these circumstances and simply being with us. It does not come from the way we look, the pictures we are in, or the gifts we give. It looks like a perfect God in an incredibly dirty and imperfect world, coming to be with us.
When I went to Tanzania so long ago, I remember logging everything in the journal I had purchased before I went on my 3 month trip. With each entry, I gained perspective and hope. That summer I learned and observed so much, and I was able to process it because of my own dedication to making time to write.
Fast forward to now, the end of the year 2016. Since that summer in Tanzania, so much has changed. I am married to that same adventureous man I made the initial trek with, and together we have been working in Haiti and the Dominican Republic since late 2010. I stopped journaling around 2013.
Things got really hard and messy and complicated. When I went to write, I could no longer eek out what I was witnessing or what I was learning. That stretch lasted until about...oh, November 2016. I am back in the USA for a season and in this time, I have learned a lot about myself and had so much time to think about what I have learned in these years backlogged.
So, I have decided to start a different kind of journal. This one is messy, confusing at times and full of adventure. It is not really chronological, nor is it neat and tidy. This journal will, however, hold the stories so dear to my heart and the lessons I have taken away from them (along with the questions I have from these experiences). Feel free to tag along with me, or not- because these stories are coming out one way or another :).
overthinker and under-planned; development worker, believer, friend, wife, sister, daughter; learning a lot every day.