Pregnant in the D.R.

 

Pregnant in the D.R.

Only a Few Days Now and We’ll be a Family of Six

What a pregnancy this has been. I’m writing this from the perspective of a husband and father as my wife isn’t quite up to sitting down at a computer to type out her feelings.

What a crazy nine months. Our pregnancy with our fifth child (we lost one during a pregnancy in 2007) has been quite the experience, as our new daughter has been an added blessing and challenge in our transition to our new roles as missionaries, especially for my wife.  I thought I’d share some of the various ways Jenni’s pregnancy has been a bit different this time around.

The News

Surprise!First off, we can’t forget Lyla’s (that’s her name) grand entrance into our lives. We found out that we were pregnant only a week and half before we left for the Dominican Republic. I remember Jenni feeling very lethargic last summer and she just couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally, I just said, “Umm, do ya think you possibly could be pregnant?’  And the word “pregnant” just hung out there in the air for a bit before we both looked at each other with feelings of “are you kidding  me” and “no way” to “What??…How??…NOW??” Of course a pregnancy test confirmed our suspicions, and then we had quite a frank “talk” with Jesus.  Not that we challenged Him, but just that we felt like the timing was a bit… inconvenient in our human perspective.

While we were a little flabbergasted (I love that word) about our pregnancy, we weren’t all together shocked by the Lord. He has been in the habit of giving us these little gifts in our lives wrapped up in reminders of  “Obey me” and “I know what I’m doing.” And after we get over ourselves and our preconceived notions of what we feel is the best timing of things, he sends us this message in our hearts – “You may not understand it now, and it will rock your world, but this is my present to draw you closer to Me.”  Indeed! Each of these “gifts” (our adoptions and pregnancies just to name a few) have been amazing reminders of His love for us. And now we have the pleasure of receiving another beautiful miracle with the joy of and praises to our great God. Another living example of His magnificence and His love for us. Blessed indeed.

You may not understand it now, but this is my present to draw you closer to Me."Of course we also love the story of the day we were prayed off at our home church, Calvary Chapel Chattanooga. At this point we had told only two close friends about our news. So then our pastor, Frank, proceeds with sharing about our time in the body at Calvary and how our calling to the mission field reminded him of his calling to move from Florida to establish the church in Chattanooga. And as he illustrates his own story, he states that the only difference was that his wife was pregnant at the time. As those words hung out there for a bit, we take a glance over to see our friends sitting near the front row almost falling out of their chairs, barely holding back their laughter. Apparently, Jenni and I also shared enough emotion to peek the curiosity of some others (specifically Pastor Erik, our missions pastor) in the audience who quickly approached us after service and asked us if we were pregnant.  The cat, as they like to say, was out of the bag.

And so, we moved forward in faith (again), while chuckling a little to ourselves about how crazy it’s going to be to pick up and move to another country while also fully knowing we are expecting.

Not the Only Living Thing in Jenni’s Tummy

The amusement with the reality of her pregnancy ended abruptly, though, when after only a couple of weeks into living in the Dominican Republic, Jenni begins to get very sick. At first we chocked it up to morning sickness, which would be new for her as she didn’t experience that with the other pregnancies. But after comparing symptoms with a few other people who weren’t feeling well either, we discovered that it wasn’t morning sickness after all. Instead, she (along with the others) learned that she had a parasite which she ingested somehow (from bad water or food most likely).  This news was NOT good. First off, she got so sick that her muscles (she has a neuromuscular condition) completely grew weak, leaving her with a harder time to walk and function in a normal way throughout the day. Not to mention, it was even worse dealing with this while living in a public missions house (where we spent the first 6 weeks). You know how it feels when you’re sick. You just want to let go of all forms of decency and just veg out.  And of course with her being pregnant it caused us to jump through a few more hoops in regards to her treatment of it (including a rather eventful trip to the emergency room). But that kicked off her pregnancy in a foreign place in such a way that from that point on it never had been the same physically for Jenni.  Thank the Lord, though, that the medicine did kick in and the parasite was evaporated.

Cultural Differences

Being pregnant in the Dominican Republic comes with a few different cultural perspectives. Pregnant women are treated surprisingly better sometimes than other women. They are in general very cared for as both Dominicans and Haitians feel that pregnant women are fragile, as if they will break easily if jostled, bumped into, or if they move around a lot.  This even carries over to a few laws. For example, pregnant women are not supposed to sit in the front seat of a car (although we haven’t been so obedient to this rule, much to the dismay of our two oldest who would love to steal the opportunity to sit up front).  Pregnant women also apparently don’t clean their own homes. Even when Jenni was only about four or five months into her pregnancy, locals (especially other women) were shocked when they learned that Jenni still did a lot, if not most, of the housework.

Another big difference are the OB/GYN appointments.  Jenni’s doctor’s office is located in a private clinic attached to the private hospital where we’ll have the baby delivered. When it’s your day for your appointment you are not given a time. You just show up to her office, sign in, and wait…for a LONG time (our longest has been three hours so far). The doctor has morning and afternoon office hours and she sees you on a first come, first serve basis, so the key is to get there an hour before she is scheduled to be in so you get your name on the list early.  Like all other things related to time in the DR, there are times she comes an hour or two later than expected. The “waiting room” is a very crowded, narrow, non air-conditioned hallway that is shared with about ten other doctors. There’s a tiny, old school television set hanging from the wall that usually has a fairly risque Spanish soap opera showing. But the other people waiting in the area are very friendly, and even more so to us gringos, especially when we have Asher with us.  And while it’s so much fun sitting around in this environment with the kids and all, we typically would drop Jenni off and then go run errands while she waited.

We have been impressed and are quite confident in her doctor, who went to medical school in Mexico. She specializes in ovarian and cervical cancer as well. And best of all, she speaks English well enough to make it comfortable and less nerving for us. And while I’ve never been in the room with Jenni during an exam, she tells me that the technology used may be slightly older fashion (think our parents’ generation) but is still thorough. I won’t get too graphic here, so if you want to learn more about this aspect, you’ll have to contact Jenni – haha.

Jenni is scheduled to have a C-section three days from now. And while everyone, including even Jenni’s own doctor, is surprised that we are staying here to deliver the baby, we feel very good about it. C-sections are by far the preferred method of delivery here as something like 90% of women have them (Why? Let’s just say it has something to do with wanting to keep their husbands pleased in bed). Because Jenni had a C-section with Asher, we knew that was the method we would have to do again. And with that percentage as high as it is, it is a good indicator that doctors must know what they’re doing. Dominicans and Haitians do after all have babies themselves.

The Wait is Almost Over

We are so excited for Lyla’s arrival. Our other kids are getting more and more excited themselves. And while it clearly isn’t up to us, one thing is for sure … we feel that this little girl will most likely be the last child we have (well … naturally at least).  Of course the Lord may decide to give us the joy of more “gifts” in the future. And while we’d most assuredly be shocked, we would equally welcome those opportunities to embrace those special ways to enjoy His love and presence in our lives.

We can’t wait to introduce you to our sweet Lyla. Be sure to return to the blog (and our Facebook page) in a few days to (virtually) meet her for the first time!

The Hard and Good Parts of Change

As we had our family time in The Word and said prayers tonight, we read about how God supplied manna to the people of Israel and then also how He produced flowing water out of a dry rock after Moses faithfully was obedient to follow His instructions.  God showed how He loved the people of Israel and took care of them, even when they were (at times) so doubtful in what He was doing with them in the wilderness. They went from predictable lifestyles as slaves into a state of freedom, but the freedom came with some changes. Those changes in lifestyle brought out the worldly emotions and fleshly reactions to life’s stresses in so many of the Israelite people. But the Lord was still faithful. He allowed the “wilderness time” to work at their hearts, and then He later blessed them with the promised land.

We’re getting much closer to “go” time for our family as we embark on our missions call to the D.R.  And it’s starting to hit home with all of us. We’ve already begun to shed many a tear over the changes taking place…and we haven’t even moved yet. I remember moving as a young boy from Pennsylvania to Tennessee. It was the summer before my eighth grade year and I was leaving the greatest group of friends that I’d ever known. We were a great click of friends who all lived in the same neighborhood and all went to school with one another. We also played on the same sports teams and were in the same Boy Scouts troop. We went on excursions together, like winter campouts and frozen lake hockey games, sleeping on an aircraft carrier in Charleston, and going to several Baltimore Orioles baseball games (I still can hear the crowd cheering on Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr.).  We also went through those pre-puberty stages together…awkward, but a rite of passage closer to manhood…you can’t ask for a greater bond after that. If I needed to, I would have died to save them (and I did in many of our imaginative days in the galactic world of Planet Backyard).

It was hard to leave them and say goodbye.  And it was hard to adjust to the new life in the foreign world that is the “deep south” mountains of Tennessee, which now has turned to be the “home” I’ve known most in my life, and where I’ve experienced blessings upon blessings. And of course many of those blessing are in the form of relationships with some of the most incredible, and Godly, people. The Lord has used these new friends to continue to shape me into the man I am today…one so drastically different than I thought I’d become (and that’s a really good thing). It’s hard to leave them. It’s hard to go through the emotions of doing life differently. Changes are hard.

Tonight, after eating our dinner on our plastic plates and drinking out of our water bottles, my kids shed more tears thinking about leaving their friends and our dogs. It is hard for all of us. Although our youngest, Asher, who’s two, seems to be taking it the best. Oh, to have that resilience to change…that’s the everyday life of a toddler…changes upon changes. New things to learn each day. It’s no skin off his back (yet I think it will hit him in many ways all too soon, especially after he begins to understand that we won’t be seeing his grandparents as much). But for the rest of us, it is hard because we know what we’ll be missing. We have gotten so used to our life here in Chattanooga.

But like Moses, we must continue to be faithfully obedient in heeding the Lord’s call, despite the hard changes we face. And as we venture off into the midst of a new land (much more foreign than the mountains of Tennessee), we look on to the future blessings that await us…ones that the Lord promises will be far greater than we’ve ever experienced thus far.  No doubt, the changes in our new life in the D.R. will be great and at times very challenging, but our “promised land” awaits us. It may not be a physical land that’s flowing with milk and honey, but I’m confident it will be an opportunity for us to experience life more connected to the Almighty. How could it not be, as He has called us to this journey. And by following His will, His Word promises that we will experience more of Him. And that’s exactly where I want to always be.

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Please be sure to visit our CURRENT PRAYER REQUESTS page to see what you can specifically be praying for our family in this time. Thanks!

We Are Family! Meeting the Mak Peeps.

When you serve in a foreign nation and everything is new (including the language), it’s not uncommon for others of similar backgrounds to come together. Think of the various communities or “little” villages that emerge in cities across the nation – Little Italy, China Town, etc. Over the past several months, prior to us joining Makarios, we began to establish some communication with others serving in the Dominican Republic that we would hopefully one day develop close ties with once we moved to the D.R. We definitely look forward to those relationships still occurring (Cutts family, Iannone family, Luther family and James family) and having the opportunity to enjoy some time with all of them. But it definitely feels even better knowing that now we enter into an even tighter community of like-minded people who each are involved in the Makarios ministries occurring in the D.R.

This past week we had the opportunity to meet and get to know most of the other American staff members who will be serving alongside us in the D.R. (minus the Upton family and Snapp family) and also getting to better know those back here in the States doing everything they can to build up the support of the organization back home (Sharla, Chuck and the other Austin Mak staff). Ever since we felt the Lord leading us to accept the position with Makarios, we still had this tiny bit of anxiety lingering as we still had not met face to face (minus one Skype conversation) with any other person from the organization. Well, all fears vanished as we had the chance to finally meet everyone in person, and to our joy the Lord has really done an amazing job of putting this team together. We are super excited about the others we will not only be serving alongside, but who we also be living with and who we will be turning to when we celebrate the joyful occasions and when we need prayer and support during the times of struggle. In many ways, it’s just like our own little village…the Makarios family.

By far this is the greatest aspect of joining Makarios. Before, our family was headed down there alone and we were only relying on the little bit of communication we have had with the others mentioned in the first paragraph. I think the Lord knew that we needed more people directly in our lives down there. Now, we have the joy of joining others in a combined effort to serve the Haitian and Dominican people together. This will lead to even more common experiences that we can go through together. And the on-the-ground support system will be even better for us, which as a father is a huge relief (or answered prayer). My wife and even our kids now have other people in the Mak community to interact with. We can’t wait to virtually introduce you to each of them as we continue with our life on this big adventure.

The Menold Family

The Menold Family, serving alongside us (and the others) at Makarios.

First, we wanted to introduce you to the Menold family (stress on the “men” and not the “old” – haha). Josh and Jen Menold, from Raleigh, N.C., are the only other couple with kids who will be moving to the D.R. at the same time. Josh is serving as the Director of D.R. Operations with a focus specifically on managing the finances, organizing the outreach services, facilitating the visiting groups, and co-leading with me on the various Christian leadership opportunities involved in the ministry. Jen is serving as the host for all visiting groups. One of the greatest things about having them on the Mak team is that they have five children, all eight years and under. Oh what a huge answered prayer. Jenni will have another mom (who also is homeschooling) she can talk with and each of our kids will have other English speaking kids to play with from the start. I can’t tell you how big of a deal this is for us.  We loved spending time with them this past week and learning more about how the Lord called them to serve and humbly follow the Lord. There are many, many aspects of their journey that we share in our story as well. You will hear much more about Josh, Jen and their kids throughout the years on this blog.

It is exciting to see the team come together, knowing that indeed all of the American Mak staff will truly become a part of our family as we go through this wild journey together.

But even as I type those words, my heart aches about leaving the family (by blood and by re-birth) we leave back here in Chattanooga. There are too many of you all to list.  This is definitely the hardest part of leaving for the D.R. Because to “leave” you actually have to “leave” someone behind. And that’s all of you who we love so much. Of course, it’s definitely NOT a good-bye. It’s an “until the day we see you when you come visit us on the beach.” We look forward to sharing the joys and pains of our journey via Skype, Facebook, Google+, Blackberry Messenger and all the other forms of communication we’ll be using (and of course through this blog). Thanks for all you guys have done to encourage us! We love you all deeply!

Happy Gotcha Day to Addie

Happy Gotcha Day to our Addie

As we shared in our story, one of the initial aspects of our call to the mission field  (but we didn’t know it until much later) was through the adoption of our children from Haiti. Adopted children have a special holiday called “Gotcha Day” that pays tribute to the date that they met their forever families for the first time.  January 2, 2007 was the day that Addie became a part of our forever family.

We make our Gotcha Day celebrations a personal family day rather than with an all out party.  Usually, it’s marked with eating sweets for a good majority of the day (today, we ate donuts for breakfast and are having ice cream for dinner) and our child gets to choose where they’d like to eat for lunch (Addie chose Moe’s).

Getting a little spiritual for a minute, our kids adoption days remind me about the importance of our “gotcha days” with our Savior.  Some people have definitive dates when they were saved. I had a series of important incidents that the Lord used to incrementally call me to surrender to Him and seek salvation through Jesus.  So, today as we celebrate our daughter’s gotcha day with our family, I’d like to encourage you to make your salvation day a bigger deal in your life, as it truly is a more important date than your date of birth. It’s the date you were adopted into His family. And that is truly something to be celebrated.

Ephesians 1:5-6
“In love He predestined us to be adopted as his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will— to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.” (NIV)