Friday, November 28, 2014

A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

The amazing couple that wrote "Half the Sky" is back! If you haven't heard me talk about "Half the Sky" and what a great book it is, and how anyone involved or caring about women and children around the world should READ it, then you haven't been around me enough. This was my favorite book of 2013.

They have now written "A Path Appears." This couple makes normally dense reading fun by having facts and statistics about poverty, problems, and possible solutions woven through stories of real people doing real things. While "Half the Sky" focused on women's issues around the world (rape, birth, equality, education...), "A Path Appears" is more about charities: how to give and do it well. They state often that, "Talent is universal, but opportunity is not." So this book is ways to give opportunities.

"Let's remember that the difference between being surrounded by a loving family or being homeless on the street is determined not just by our own level of virtue or self-discipline but also by an inextricable mix of luck, brain chemistry, child rearing, genetics, and outside help. Let's recognize that success in life is a reflection not only of enterprise and willpower but also of chance and early upbringing, and that compassion isn't a sign of weakness but a mark of civilization."

Caid will tell you not to get me started, but seriously...can you say that Bill Gates (or any rich rich person), walking into work, truly works HARDER or LONGER to deserve the thousands he makes an hour--compared to my friends in Brazil who put in a 12 hour day in the sugar cane field and make a dollar an hour?

Don't tell me he deserves it because he worked harder or is smarter: 50% of that was set just because he won the family lottery of being born in the Gates home rather than in a third world country. 30% more of that is from the education and love and care and investment of those around him his whole life. Okay--I'll give you up to 20% of the reason he is successful is because he made wise, hard, good choices. MAYBE 20%. But you can't convince me that this means he deserves his income and my friend in the sugar cane deserves his.

"Not one of the fifty biggest donations to charity in 2012 in the United States went to an organization that principally serves the poor at home or abroad. Of all the money donated in America, only about one-third goes to the needy." (It goes on to explain most of donations are to the arts or top universities not serving the bottom half of income population--the rich giving money to themselves.)

"The 85 wealthiest people in the world have approximately the same net worth as the bottom 3.5 billion." How can this be okay, my capitalist friends? The book is not a shares about many people, in the richest percentile, including the Gates, who are pledging to live off less and give more.

"The number of children dying before the age of 5 has almost halved since 1990. In 1980, half the population lived in extreme poverty ($1.25 a day). That share is now down to 20%. By 2030, almost every boy and girl in the world will go to primary school and learn to read. For all of human history until 1950, a majority of adults were illiterate."

"Treat making a gift (donation) as seriously as you would making a big purchase, like a new sofa. Be careful about making blind donations. To be generous does not mean being gullible or a pushover." They had lots of facts about charities...and how unfortunately, many are simply not efficient or worth it.

"One basic question is whether to focus on problems in the poorest countries or in neighborhoods closer to home. We believe both are reasonable options. We push back at the idea that we should "solve our own problems first" before tackling global challenges. The needs abroad are unquestionably greater. Your donation also goes much further abroad, and if all lives have equal value, then it is certainly cheaper to save a child's life or educate a student in Uganda than in New York."

They give many stories of awesome charity groups in the USA and abroad doing great things. Charity:Water is highlighted, which was neat since I had a great chat with a friend about this, and personally have a crush on their non-profit, trying to copy all I can. Over all, helping kids with basic food and health issues is cheap (twenty cents to a couple thousand dollars to literally SAVE a life), especially in a third world country where it is getting supplies/care to them that we in the USA take for granted.

What is expensive is education. Once basic food and health issues are covered, education is normally the next focus, as it should be: but it is much harder to measure (once you get past basic reading and math), and extends much deeper into the life and culture of the people: meaning you are often up against generationally set ideas--whether this is against female circumcision, equality, cooking/cleanliness habits, gender roles, violence, alcoholism...the list is endless. "It takes a life to reach a life." And that is expensive.

It was noted preventative care is always cheaper and more efficient than trying to "fix someone" once they are "broken." Their suggestion was investing in a nurse visitation program to unwed, younger mothers, as studies proved their children had less birth problems (from drug/alcohol abuse) and better early care leading to a higher graduation rate. Their premise is that the care you receive the first 2 years (and while pregnant) of life will pretty much determine if you graduate high school and can become a "productive member of society."

In the USA, Head-start and other preschool programs did not make a notable difference in children, and neither did them coming from a one or two parent home: if they were making above poverty level income. But they were the two most defining aspects for success or failure in poor homes: preschool helped give what the parent(s) were not able to, and having two parents in poverty homes cut the chance of abuse by around 80%.

After pre-school, most government intervention plans in the USA cost upwards of $2,000 per year per student. And that was considered a reasonable plan. Here was their take on a good question:

"Does it make sense to visit a literacy project in India to see it for yourself when the money spent on travel could send dozens of Indian children to school for a year? Our answer is yes, as long as the money comes from your entertainment budget and not your giving budget."

I really enjoyed this book, and feel it is an important read for anyone in the non-profit world. It asks hard questions about giving good and efficient care and opportunity--instead of just trying to fix things. It has the facts and statistics we need to know. It also highlights many good things happening in the world, and tells their story; and stories are what we remember once we close the book.

And of course they have a website. Those in Christian ministry need to have a knowledge and perspective on what is going on in secular charity, and this book gives it. But I did like "Half the Sky" better, even if just because the facts shocked me into action.

Limes and Naps

The baby is two inches, about this size of a lime, but resembling much more of a caterpillar. 

I finally understand what bothers me so much about being pregnant: I feel old. For the first time in my life. I look younger than I am. I have always acted younger as well--this is part of my personality. Even getting married I was thinking, "Are they really just going to let me do this? I am just a 31 year old little girl giving my life away!" 

But now I feel old. I can understand the baby taking all my energy. I can understand these weird burps and stuff that happen. I can even get used to the fact my stomach will never be the name: but I never thought it would require all my drive and creativity as well.

When I used to have PMS (one day a month), there would be three stages: Stage 1: Don't touch me, I just want to curl up in a ball and stair at the wall until I can finally fall asleep. Stage 2: I am tired and grumpy, and just want to read a book/watch a movie. Stage 3: beware I am not my cheerful self, but I am determined to get things done and go on with my life.

Most mornings I now live in Stage 1 and drag myself into Stage 3 sometime around lunch. Sometimes I get a few normal hours in there somewhere. Now, getting something done is a major victory instead of normal. And yes, I do cheer myself on. I really miss my creativity and drive: I truly value those qualities. Luckily, most of the time I am too tired to miss anything greatly.

Thanksgiving was simple and perfect. This is my second Thanksgiving married, but definitely the best--last year Caid had a 24 hour bug that meant all he ate was ginger ale, laying in bed. I tried to be the dutiful wife and stay with him most of the day. 

This Thanksgiving had Anna and Rowan spend the night, watching old videos on Thanksgiving eve (which should be a "thing"), waking up slow and going to watch "Big Hero 6," with $5 bills from Dad, coming home to food being everywhere and people everywhere and lovely godchildren and smash brothers. Then a glorious nap for way too long, visit to Starbucks, and more lazy togetherness. 

I did manage two hours of shopping in on Friday before succumbing to a nice nap. Is just such a nice thing in life to be thankful. 

In other news, some amazing friends of mine, Pastor Flavio and Mercia, are just looking too cute:)
They are due for their first baby girl in the middle of January.
Not only are they working on saving or a home (they currently live in a Sunday school classroom at the church in Cajueiro Claro), but they are hoping to have a natural birth--or at least the option to TRY to have a natural birth. 

For those of you who are mommas or have studied about this and are passionate about it, this is a cause that deserves your attention: in Brazil, well over 80% of births are c-section. Brazilian women have three basic options: 1. Go to the public hospital when you go into labor, where there are long lines, often no doctor, and rather unsure level of care given. (more information here) 2. Schedule a private doctor to do a c-section (minimum charge $1,000), or 3. Try to get one of the 6 doctors in Recife (pop. 4 million) who actually specialize in natural births (minimum charge $5,000). 

Mercia looked at many doctors and finally chose one, going for #2, the more affordable option. But the doctor informed her that she would schedule no later than Dec. 29, because she was going on vacation all of January (remember, Mercia isn't due until January 14th), and it would be a scheduled c-section--no other option (Read this for the whole story). 

If you would like to help out this amazing couple who has given their lives to serve children with Living Stones, then here is the link to do so. I am asking this as a friend, not as the coordinator of Living Stones. Unfortunately as I would like, we cannot give this opportunity to every mother in the ministry in Brazil (yet), and so we are just passing the word along a friends. Thank you for caring:). 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pregnancy Thoughts

Since we are so bad at keeping secrets, since I couldn't write about being pregnant on my blog, I didn't write anything. But I did think a lot. Actually, I thought/prayed/slept a lot--going from one state to the other without even realizing it...
Size (by food)
Nov. 9-15
Nov.30-Dec 6
Dec. 7-13
Dec. 14-20
Dec. 21-27
Dec. 28-Jan.3
Jan. 11-17
Sweet potato
Jan 18-24
Jan 25-31
Feb. 1-7
Feb. 15-21
Feb. 22-28
Mar. 1-7
Mar. 8-14
Mar 15-21
Mar. 22-28
Mar 29-April 4
Acorn Squash
Apr. 5-11
Apr. 12-18
Apr. 19-25
Apr. 26-May 2
May 2-9
Butternut squash
May 10-16
May 17-23
May 24-30
Winter Mellon
May 31-June 6
June 7-13
June 14-20
Jack fruit

 Isn't this the coolest? So the baby is (nine weeks) an olive size. Other random thoughts:

* I wanted 10 kids when I was younger, I wanted 5 kids as soon as my friends started having kids. I wanted 3 kids when I got married, and now I am just trying to get through this one kid. (Note: yes, daddy, I want as many kids as God wants for me.)

* Apparently, my nose has always had the ability to smell EVERYTHING, my brain just didn't use that sense until NOW. Why? Because my brain hates me.

* My creativity and energy has been sucked out of my life and into growing a baby. I now live for a long morning nap. 

* I have never felt so connected to food before. I love food. Food makes me feel better. And yet, half the time food sounds awful. 

* Caid is being a darling about being a good husband, but when he holds me it hurts my tummy and when he breathes on me it makes me nauseous. He is working on being patient. I am working on not making faces when he kisses me. 

* None of the cute pictures we took to show off my belly will post for my Facebook profile. Apparently, my belly is too far away from my face to show them both. And yes, I am excited to blame my belly on having a baby in there, even if I did "stick it out" to get the picture.

*  If I had been God, I would have planned the "yucky" first trimester later on, when I at least have a baby bump to prove something. I keep worrying about being pulled over by a police officer, crying/emotionally falling apart, and then saying "I'm pregnant--" why would he ever believe me?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

One Year Married

We left for Brazil serving six Living Stones programs, and came back with one functioning Living Stones, and five that are in other stages of ministry. Coming together to build up strong.
I had a way of doing things. Undone. Learning to ask and submit to others instead of plunging forward on my own. Undone. Even within my own body, in my middle of middles, there was an undoing of my life as I knew it, as a baby was being created.
I suspected the morning I left for Brazil. That somewhere in the last weeks, a miracle created inside me. A secret—just God and this new soul knew about—tingling in cells buried deep in me. In Brazil I was in Brazil—my focus on a long list of things to do and people to see. And we did. Now I am home and find I am pregnant. And I sit and stare into space about it (from the utter exhaustion that overcomes me random minutes of the day, and from the whole idea of it—it is quite a lot to get your head around).

Undone were all of my plans, and this one was stated: having my baby in Brazil. My firstborn, a Brazilian. Caid hugged me and said, “The whole thing scares me, but I think this is how things are going to go.” I nod, my mouth closed from nausea and overwhelming first trimester issues—relocate, change, move everything…all while pregnant? The idea seems impossible. Yet one by one things seem to be falling into place.

We, Caid and Rachel Ferguson are happy to announce that we are expecting a baby June 17, 2015. With Caid finishing his bachelor’s degree spring 2015, we have decided to begin our ministry together in Brazil, and welcome our new baby into our lives there. Our needs are in two phases:
Phase 1 is raising $10,000 for airfare, all birthing expenses, and basic relocation costs. We are also asking for a small group of faithful monthly supporters, who feel called to minister with us. We need $1,000 a month for basic living costs.
Phase 2 is when we return fall 2015 with specific and concrete plans, welcome you to meet our child, and raise the funds for a vehicle. Thank you for your care and interest on the adventure that God has called us on! 

 So that basically sums up my first year of marriage. This last month has been going to Brazil, being pregnant in Brazil, coming home from Brazil, and planning the next steps. I am completely, 100% on-board and excited about having our child in Brazil: how amazing has this adventure with God been since I was 16 and felt Him say “Brazil is yours?”
Caid has been helpful and loving in all ways possible, especially in my grumpy “don’t breathe on me” first trimester. He has stepped up and been my support in ways I didn’t even know I needed. He is leading our family in faith, as we seek the Lord and truly believe He is leading us to serve and trust Him in Brazil.
So married one year. Caid made it through all of my “month-a-versaries.” Now he shakes his head as I let him know that now we get to celebrate each month of pregnancy…and then, each month of our baby’s new life…will it ever end? Well, I hope my writing/blogging doesn’t.