Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Daddy Was Himself

On July 29th, my daddy died.  I missed the memorial service and all the stories told about Daddy because I am in California still recuperating from my surgeries…so here are my thoughts on my father…please allow me this luxury.

Daddy was complicated and frequently misunderstood or under-valued. 

So much of Daddy re-defined how lives can be lived.  He was the second child of a father who abandoned him, his mother, and brother in 1932 at the height of the depression.  His mother had a 6th grade education and after a couple of years, she married Rob.  The marriage was more of an oral contract than anything based on love or even mutual respect.  She would clean, share his bed, cook, etc. and Rob would take care of her boys so that she would not ever have to abandon them to an orphanage.

Much of Daddy’s outlook was greatly influenced by that kind of poverty…and is something we see daily with young girls living in poverty and the decisions they make.

Daddy met Mama while he was finishing his time in the military, which was a way out of poverty.  He was a high school dropout and she was a college graduate from a family that valued formal education.  They had a whirlwind courtship and married on 10th of October 1953…nine months later I was born. 

Daddy went back to school and got the then-equivalent of a GED, a Bachelors of Arts, and a Masters of Divinity.  Our family, at his last graduation, included three children.  In hindsight and having a son with ADHD, I think Daddy also had ADHD.  School was not easy for him and with children it took lots of work and patience, but when he decided that he needed to do something (like quit smoking after I was born) he did it. 

He had enormous determination when there was hope for more…I think loving Mama gave him that hope.  He and Mama were married almost 62 years and they loved each other deeply all those years.  

For more than 40 years Daddy was a pastor in two branches of the Presbyterian faith: Presbyterian (U.S.) and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian.  He strongly believed in women being ordained and having equal participation in the church’s leadership.  He strongly believed in civil rights for all.

One of his strongest held tenants of faith was that the Church should be open to all. 
When I was a girl the KKK came into the area where we grew up, Daddy preached against their hate (and lost members who return later while he was still the pastor).  He tore down their propaganda fliers off telephone poles.  He received death threats in the night by phone.  One of the few times I ever saw my daddy cry was when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated.

Later, his congregation was the first to integrate in the ARP Church since the Civil War…and it happened with him threatening to resign because “the church was to be open to all...or it was not God’s church.”  He modeled for me what the Church could be…had to be, in order to be faithful.

Daddy and Mama left the U.S. in their 60s to go teach English in the People’s Republic of China.  I think he was happiest there.  He thrived in China teaching graduate students and preparing them to go to the West to study.  The students loved him, as did the university.  In fact, after they left China, they found out  that their portrait had been hung in a hall with local and federal communist leaders…the two Christian teachers from the West.

Daddy was not a pastor of the country club variety.  He was himself…a man who grew up in poverty, who believed in openness, who welcomed all, AND who - late in life - left the known to teach in the unknown.  I learned from him that being yourself was a much happier way to live one’s life - whether it was popular or not - and that taking risks could lead to joy.

As a child who got little attention, Daddy did love to be the center of attention which came easy because he was funny, a GREAT story teller, and he loved to croon old songs.  Our Nicaraguan staff enjoyed the time when he and Mama came to visit.  Daddy would sit in the kitchen and - in English - flirt and tease the women in the kitchen who were cooking for volunteers.  They would come out of the kitchen always laughing. 

Daddy showed me realities in this world that shaped me.  I miss him…and when I leave California to finally go to South Carolina, I dread going into that house and not hearing “Hey!  Baby!  Come give your daddy a kiss.” -Kathleen

Thursday, August 20, 2015

New Co-op Office

In our community we often say, “Until things change, they remain the same.”

Well, something big has changed!

COPROEXNIC has moved out of our office!

COPROEXNIC is the agricultural co-op that works to help Nicaraguan small hold farmers get better prices for their crops through marketing, processing and exporting organic peanuts, sesame, cotton and coffee.  We helped start the co=op and have worked hand in hand with them for a long, long time. Now, after 20 years of sharing office space… 

…first at a folding table on the front porch of our house…later a desk in the entrance of our office…then 4 desks squeezed into a very tiny room in our office……the agricultural co-op has moved out! 

Last week COPROEXNIC rented a house across the street: three rooms, two porches, ample parking space inside for their three vehicles.  

Watching them move was a joy: they were giggly and giddy. They laughed happily while toting off their files and computers across the street. They immediately set up their coffee maker and played host to us when we came over to visit. A week later, they are still thrilled…you can see for yourself and take a tour of their new offices in this video

With Kathleen recovering in the U.S. and Mike there with her, COPROEXNIC is having to learn to get along without Mike: they are working with me, but they are also doing a lot more on their own. This move across the street is a huge step toward independence that all of us – JHC-CDCA and COPROEXNIC alike – have long professed to be working toward, but is often a two steps forward one step back kind of process.  
I’ll be honest: it’s been a hard few months around here, and it’s not getting any easier, so we’re going to take this move as a victory and celebrate it. Celebrate with us…Woo hoo! -- Becca

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Choked Up with Gratitude

I wanted to write about my friend Martha today, but when I sat down at the computer, no words came out.

Right after she died, I had no trouble writing a heartfelt blog post in celebration of her life and committing to fighting the cervical cancer that killed her.

Today, two and a half years after her death, I am seeing Martha just before she died, hollow cheeked and wild-eyed as she said to me over and over again, “Rebe, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.”

I don’t know why Martha’s death is affecting me so much now, but I do know that grief isn’t a linear progression.

Maybe it’s because when Martha died I thought we would all be so glad to have her beautiful voice recorded so that we could listen to her always, but now I can’t bear to listen; the recording isn’t the same, and I know we will never hear her sing to us again.

Maybe it’s because when Martha died I didn’t understand the pain that her daughter Abril would go through for the rest of her life. When I spend time with Abril now, I am amazed at the gorgeous young woman she’s becoming at 13, but my closeness with her also means that I’ve glimpsed the abyss that Abril treads around each day, and I’m beginning to understand that she will always tiptoe around that chasm.

Maybe it’s because when Martha died she was older than me and Abril was so much older than my girls that I thought they’d had a long time together. But this year my daughter Eibhlín and I will be the same age as Abril and Martha were when Martha died. I now see that the time they had together was the blink of an eye, that another year or ten would never be enough time with my daughter.  

Dr. Gulnara Martinez, obstetrician gynecologist
The reason I tried to write about Martha this week is that on Monday a new doctor started at the Nueva Vida Clinic. Dr. Gulnara Martínez is an obstetrician gynecologist. She will be caring for the women of the Nueva Vida community every afternoon, prenatal care for our new mothers program, annual exams, breast exams and PAPs. If any PAPs come back with abnormal results, Gulnara can do cryotherapy, freezing and removing precancerous lesions right there in the Clinic before they even get to a size the human eye can see. By the time Martha even got her PAP results, her cancer had spread to other organs.

Maybe the real reason I can’t talk about Martha today is because my throat is choked by a lump of gratitude for the designated donation we received to hire an ob/gyn for the next five years. Being able to hire Gulnara, to have women’s health care at the clinic every day, means that maybe a daughter in Nueva Vida will be spared having to spend her life tiptoeing around the void where her mother used to be. That is a victory worth talking about. – Becca