Sunday, October 7, 2007

Life and times of Jess, sparkle, and Janna

Friends and family,

Some time has passed since I’ve written much of an update. Life has held some milestones, challenges, and spectacular displays of beauty in the intervening months. I seem to learn basic life lessons best through slightly ridiculous personal drama, so in classic form of exceeding limits, crashing and then reflecting, I’ve learned that unsustainable life pace needs to change for expectant women, even before the baby arrives. (Note the hotlinks peppering email.)

Some experiences between the June 14th information robbery at Justapaz and this rest :

Milestones. It was a marathon sprint to finish and publish the Spanish and English versions of the 100-page human rights and peacebuilding report, “A Prophetic Call: Churches Document Their Suffering and Their Hope.” The English version is available here. The seemingly endless rounds of violation case review, drafts, and edits, review of tallies and graphs, and translation were my focus for a few months. They became my obsession for the last one.

While finalizing the report texts, I moved into organizing the release event and coordinating with some journalists for the press work. It was “nutso!,” as my Dad would say. I did not know what I was getting into with the last-minute press campaign, but despite our lack of experience, adequate preparation and time constraints it was quite successful! We managed to position the issue of church violations and policy recommendations in the national public eye and establish Justapaz and the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia as resources.

Radio programs started calling at 5:40 am and TV anchors showed up for interviews the day before we were expecting them. I’m just glad I washed my hair that day. I wrote up some quick report cliff notes for the others and interview content was sound. The story was covered four times on TV news and five times by radio stations, a few with outlets throughout Latin America. Ten newspapers from around the country ran stories based on our press packet.

The high level of interest from the press was unprecedented and surprising. An unanticipated contributing factor: the release of our publication coincided with press statements from a self-defined Christian political party reporting that numerous candidates are under threat. We’re in a heated election season here in Colombia, and while there are no existing alliances (or political affinity) with the “The Independent Movement for Absolute Renovation,” MIRA, we are both part of the “evangelical” minority in a Catholic nation. So, apparently we gave each other bounce in the press. I actually don’t trust that audiences listen closely enough to identify the different interpretations of “the signs of the times” and recommendations put forth.

* * * * *

The beauty of birth and new life. During these weeks a few spectacular human glimmers, reflections of the sacred, forced me out of my head and centered me on the beauty that still springs from Eden. Namely, participating in the anticipation and then accompanying the birth of Anna Sofia in our apartment.

Some of you know that my second cousin Laura Souder, her husband Aaron Kauffman and their delightful 2 year-old Abigail live in a small town called La Mesa, just a few hours outside of Bogotá. Mennonite Mission Network sponsors their service at a Mennonite high school. We both sought out the same obstetrician who is renown (in our circles) for holistic pre-natal care and home births in pools.

Laura, Abby and Aaron settled into our apartment several weeks before the due date. I am grateful for the family stay and friendship, especially given Jess’ absence due to work travel. Highlights: Abby’s cheerful morning greetings tugged me from bleary-eyed verification of a murder testimony. Aaron put “It’s a Beautiful Day” on repeat as I translate a graph of the composite of violations—homicide, torture, death threat. Irony fueled that night’s work session. I’m gone long hours, but Sparkle and I eat delicious, balanced meals every day thanks to a very large, but always pleasant, Laura.

The birth itself was all of the wonder, little of the pain and none of the scariness that I’ve associated with labor and delivery. I was more nervous going into the labor than Laura, but three hours and two pushes later, we were eating apple crisp and admiring the little human rose bud, Anna Sofia. Learn more, see pics here. What a privilege and opportunity to witness a delivery with the same team (Dr, midwife/dula and nurse) just six months before I plan to give birth, also in our living room!

* * * * *

Challenges. I’d emptied myself into the work and thought that I would experience a sense of relief and satisfaction when this was all over. Instead I felt depressed and desperate to resolve the shortcomings of the final results. Weariness and pregnancy hormones caught up with me, but there was still so much important work to be done! So I tried to continue through the tears. Dearest Jess, friends and colleagues told me to stop. The admonition that first struck home was, “I tell you this not for you, but for the well-being of your baby.” I listened. I consulted our doctor about some of my symptoms, and he affirmed the wisdom surrounding me. Excessive work wore out this mom-to-be, and I needed to slowdown.

That afternoon I picked up a book recommended by my friend and Justapaz colleague, Paul Stucky. “Cecilia’s Sin” is the historical novel of a 15th century Anabaptist woman who records the persecution of fellow believers. They file into her home and she records their testimony under the cover of night, by candlelight.

“ ‘The story,’ she said, impatiently, almost angrily. ‘My decision. I made it as if there was not choice to make. I chose the story over my own blood, over poor little Belikan, my own flesh. I did it so quickly. But it is my passion, Pieter.” She walked to the window and peered between the slats, pushing the curtain aside as she did, without turning around she said as if to herself, for she knew Pieter could not hear, “I hope it is my callas well.” Then, turning to face him she said, ‘I know it is my obsession, Pieter. But now you must tell me if it is also my curse.’

p. 35, Cecelia’s Sin

In the end she burns all her records—every last page-- before she is, presumably, drowned.

Where am I in this stream of women who record stories of humans hunted like wild game? On one side I have Cecilia, a martyr from 16th Century Amsterdam. On the other, Liliana, a young lawyer accompanying victims here in Bogotá. Liliana’s organization suffered an information robbery five days after Justapaz. But the similarities end there. Unlike our community, the attacks on her organization continue: she and her colleagues suffered additional break-ins and are now living under death-threats. There is fear in her eyes and a shortness of breath when she speaks.

I think that we at Justapaz have the spiritual and political coverage of the international community to thank for the grace we experience, which allows us to continue our ministry without further harassment. Your prayers and actions make a difference. I caress my growing belly and give thanks.

These are critical moments and my understanding is weak. How to balance the cries of the victims, the opportunities to amplify voices of the orphan and the widow, with the needs of little one growing inside me? I reread Ecclesiastes 3, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” And yet I’ve clumsily resisted Pete Seeger’s nudging to Turn! Turn! Turn! This emptiness, a little burnout I suppose, is determining some immediate aspects.

Joy growing. These days I find joy in anticipating our baby and in our nuclear family—in planning a mural and laughing as Jess talks lovingly to my stomach in an exaggerated gravely voice. (“It’s because babies can only hear vibrations at this point, but can start to recognize voices,” Jess explains, beaming.) Our reading on our developing baby also deepens the experience. I don’t know how I’d be doing without Jess right now. He’s been firm in pointing out the ridiculousness of an unsustainable workload, but loving and patient in the expressions of my fatigue, despite his own work stress. I am so fortunate.

So, these are the life and times of unconditionally loving Jess, our sparkle at 18.5 weeks and Janna at, gulp, a few days to 30 years.

Peace and hope,


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