Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Witness to Life

Today Tim and I celebrate 16 years of marriage! In fact, at this very moment we were probably sharing our first kiss as husband-and-wife. Cue "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" and the recessional. I can picture us now, walking down the aisle hand-in-hand with huge grins on our faces.

We have shared wonderful years together, and I can still say enthusiastically "I love this man!" He truly is my truest friend, my heart's desire, and my greatest champion. I look at our two sons, both so utterly unique but also reflections of their dad and me, and marvel at this life we have crafted together.

We have been abundantly blessed for sure, but we can testify that marriage isn't easy. A shared life is difficult. To walk through this world as joint seekers is a journey that is opposed. But it is worth it and worth fighting for. We would both shout that from our rooftop.

I love that I am in love with my husband. I am humbled by the fact that he chose me then and he chooses me today. I rest in the assurance that he will be by my side tonight, tomorrow, and all of the days to come.

Happy anniversary, Tim.
I do.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Canine Christmas

First, let me introduce you to a new member of the family. Not our immediate family, unfortunately, but Aunt Beth and Uncle Barry's newest addition: Bella Athena. Beth rescued forlorn Bella in Centennial Park in November, and she has already become a beloved part of their family - even their three cats accept her.

So, we were all very happy to have her join us this year for Christmas in LaFollette (two little boys most of all!). Seth has been wishing for a dog all year, and Bella only fueled this desire. Sweet Bella also has prepared me to seriously consider adding a dog to our family early in the new year. Anyway, with proper introduction made, here are some favorite pictures from Christmas 2009:

On Christmas Eve, we said goodbye to Bella, who headed back to Nashville with Beth and Barry. We returned home, accompanied by MiMi and BaBa, for the 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service at our church (our first time to try the late service - Reed fell asleep) and to prepare for Santa's arrival. Of course, the boys were excited to open one gift on Christmas Eve (shown below).

After discovering what Santa brought and opening our stockings, Tim prepared his annual Christmas breakfast - Reed's self-declared favorite part of Christmas day.

The big surprise from Santa: an Xbox 360!

Family photo, Christmas 2009.

Friday, December 11, 2009


One story of God's particular favor toward me on my recent Haiti trip came in regard to a baby named Jakob.

I spent Friday and Saturday at the orphanage holding this seven-month-old, who was abandoned at their gate just two weeks prior to our arrival. He weighed little more than my sons weighed at birth.

On Saturday I spent the day trying desperately to get him to take a bottle of formula. He was lethargic and refused to eat. So, as I tried to interact with all of the other children starved for attention, I was working with this baby who was literally starving.

After seven hours at the orphanage, the bus came to take our team back to the hotel, and I had to leave Jakob behind. I was undone. As we drove away, up the muddy road, I was weeping. Suddenly, our bus became stuck in the mud. We had to get off and walk back to the orphanage, while our bus driver turned around.

As I plodded down the muddy road, I wondered, "How am I going to go in and see Jakob again and then have to leave him behind again?" When we arrived at the orphanage gate, the Haitian caregivers came out and took us by the hand. They led us inside to the courtyard where they had created a circle of chairs around a bucket filled with rainwater. They sat us down, propped our feet on cinderblocks, and washed our dirty feet.

It was a profound moment for each of us, for different reasons and used to minister to us in a unique way. For me, it was an act of tenderness, offering the comfort and consolation I needed for a broken heart.

That night I called Tim - my only call to him on the whole trip - and implored him to pray for my ability to leave Jakob the next day. We would be leaving the orphanage and driving to Port Au Prince, headed home. I had no idea how I was going to leave Jakob behind, with him still so sick and weak.

The next day, however, I found him alert, responsive, and eager to eat. I fed him a large bowl of porridge myself! And when time came to leave, I had a calm heart that was clearly God-given. I was able to spend some parting moments holding him before laying him in his bed and saying goodbye. Only God could have made our parting so peaceful on both of our ends.

Today another team is bound for Haiti, taking shoeboxes filled with goodies to each child at the orphanage and many in the community. This will be the first Christmas gift these children have probably ever received. And I am thrilled to imagine their faces as they receive their gifts. However, I know that what matters more to these children is the gift of time, touch, and tenderness they will receive from the members of the team.

I am so happy to know that little Jakob has some love coming his way. That someone will be holding him, feeding him, talking to him, and nurturing him. To know this is a precious gift for me today!

Friday, November 27, 2009

We Gather Together

Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving with a family gathering at our house. In all we had seventeen family members for the day, though Tuck, Kristy, and Blake had to say their goodbyes before we served the feast. Here are some photos of our holiday:

Our celebration was two-fold: it was also Landon's 20th birthday. Notice how Reed dressed up for the holiday! Below, post-dessert bliss: homemade pies and whipped cream, courtesy of MiMi.

Keeping the post-turkey coma at bay: shooting some hoops.

Let the game play begin! We're a card-playin' family - 3:13 and Canasta two of our favorites. (Can you tell? Aunt Camie doesn't like having her picture taken.)

Reed and MiMi entertained us with some holiday duets on the piano. I think Seth finally heard enough.

We don't limit our games to cards, though. Here, MiMi teaches Reed how to play Mexican Train Dominoes.

Family pictures 2009: Pictured on top, the McCalmons, our family, and Grandmama. Pictured below, our family with MiMi and BaBa.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I’ve just returned from my second trip to Haiti, and to be honest, it already seems like a dream. Barely a week has passed since we left for our trip, but here I am, back at home, back in the routine, and trying to remember all that has transpired.

Many of my teammates, including myself, got this response when we told people we were going on this five-day trip: “Five days? That’s not very long…” I guess it’s not in actual time, but in Haiti time five days feels like much longer. When you’re with the orphans, a single day in their world stretches on and on.

Why does it seem this way? Well, there’s the heat, with no escape from it. There’s the absence of creature comforts, like a clean toilet. There’s the utter lack of any distraction from your present circumstances. There’s the urgent need each of the 120+ children have for a personal touch, a moment of tenderness, and a fraction of your time and attention.

It’s a completely sensory experience where your brain and body don’t get a moment’s rest from the sight of their poverty, the smell of the living conditions, the sound of voices trying desperately to communicate, the touch of their hot, sweaty bodies and small, grasping hands, and the taste of the hot, humid air where the convergence of dust, sweat, garbage, and excrement is palpable.

You hazard to ask, “What time is it?” counting down the hours until the bus will take you back to your hotel where you can take a cold shower and fall into bed. And when you finally make it there, you lay in the dark and think of the children still there … Still in the heat and stench. Still in the dirt and grime. Sleeping on concrete floors and thin mattresses.

And you can’t wait for morning to come, so you can go back to them.

The Heart of Haiti

Journal Entry: Street Scenes

We're on the way to our final day at the orphanage. It's a beautiful day - paradise. The ocean before me makes me think of the vast hearts, the capacity for love, and the depth of need in the lives of these children. Indeed, in this country.

Women crouch over large bowls scrubbing clothes. Young men amble down gravel lanes or lean against trees. The workday has begun, but for them there is only the long stretch of day until night comes and darkness closes in on them once again.

The riverbed is dry. Last night the island was washed in a downpour, but today it is parched.

What are you thinking as you stand there?

From time to time we pass women carrying large baskets of bread or fruit on their heads. How do you bear the weight and walk with such grace? We pass a yard filled with intricately carved furniture, and the artist is at work. He looks like all of the aimless others, yet he is not sitting idle. Who will buy your creations?

School children in their uniforms walk down the street - the girls' heads boasting ribbons and cheerful bows. So neat and pretty and proud. If we speak the words "God has a plan for you," do you believe us?

Barbed wire curls atop block walls where broken glass stands and glitters. The sight is surprisingly beautiful in this brown world of dirt and rock and grime, yet it reminds us that this is a place of desolation and desperation. They need more than help ... they need HOPE.

Journal Entry: Final Night

The same stars that light the sky over our hotel light the sky over the orphanage. The same crickets chirp and dogs bark. Not five miles away a city sleeps in squalor. Families cram into rooms smaller than some of our closets.

Rain from today's downpour drips through the tin roofs of shanties piled beside the river, where thousands of people collapse in sleep before waking to another hopeless day. UN officials and businessmen chatter below at the pool and the bar. They talk and laugh as strains of music fill the air with romance, drowning out the sound of poverty and death.

Tomorrow the sun will rise, we will go home, and life will go on. The children will wake to the same sky we fly home through, huddle on their dirt floors, and live with the memory, maybe fleeting, of eight American women who came for a few days, held their hands, cradled their bodies, and told them about the love of a man named Jesus, who is everything they need.

May they remember. May they believe.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Haiti Trip - Days 1/2

On Friday, November 6, our team of eight ladies and John Miller of One Vision International got a very early start on our journey. Setting out at 5:30 a.m., we flew from Knoxville to Charlotte to Miami to Port Au Prince, Haiti.

From there, we traveled by bus north to Caberet. We arrived too late to visit the children on Friday, so we went on to the hotel. The next morning we woke to see the beautiful countryside of Haiti that had escaped our notice in the darkness of the prior night.

Here's our lovely team: Deena, Lisa H., Mia, Susan S., Rachel, me, Lisa B., and Ellen. Oh, and don't forget our brave leader, John Miller.

Since it was a Saturday, all of the children were present - little ones and teenagers too. We were blessed to have translators David and Cecile. Cecile is married to Dr. Noel, who works closely with One Vision and John in the care of these children and on the plans for their future home. Deena and Rachel told the children Bible stories each day and led them in games and activities.

Lisa and I spent some time with the teenage girls. I had a short Bible study with them, and then Lisa spent some time talking with them about purity. Dr. Noel and Cecile had a desire that we begin abstinence education with the teenagers at the orphanage, and Lisa did a wonderful job. They listened intently and asked questions when Lisa gave them the opportunity.

The children were eager to be held, so I was perfectly content to oblige. It's not uncommon to have a tired little one fall asleep in your arms.

Since my prior trip last May, the children have been moved to this new location. If you remember, they were previously living in an abandoned nightclub. Most of them were sleeping on the former dance floor under a thatched roof and sharing two commodes. The new location is situated beside a river and offers much more space and protection from the elements. Enclosed within its walls is a small church, several structures, and eight commodes. The structures are used for school rooms, a kitchen, and housing. Below you can see the church (I'm perched in the doorway catching a breeze), the kitchen, and the river.

As you saw above, our team worked alongside the caregivers to prepare lunch for the children. They actually did all of the cooking (after all, how would we know how to cook rice for 120+ children in a pot over a fire?), while we helped with dishing out the food and serving the children.

The following picture of Mia expresses how we were all feeling by this point in the day ... and it was just our first day. It's impossible to paint an accurate picture with words or images of what it's truly like to be there: it's so hot, so humid, there are so many children, there is so much need, there is a language barrier, the bathrooms are indescribible, and yet you yearn to offer more, help more, hold more...

Here are the children devouring their midday meal. It's always a heaping plate of rice with some type of meat and gravy. Even though the plates are piled high, the children eat every single bite.

An afternoon shower brought this lovely gift to the skies:

After we left the children, we visited the property that One Vision has purchased for the future site of the orphanage. We walked through the neighboring community, where we were greeted by hundreds of people. The residents of this modest home invited us inside to pray for their family of seven, including a three-week-old newborn who was sleeping on the one bed.

One Vision has purchased 40 acres for the future home of the orphanage. The plans include a dormitory with an adequate kitchen and bathroom facilities; a school (which the community children can attend too); a church; and a farm. It will change the lives of not only the 120+ children currently in One Vision's care, but it will change the lives of this community as well.

They need to raise about $100,000 to build the orphanage and are hopeful to reach that goal very soon. If you would like to make a donation, please mail it to One Vision International, P.O. Box 20608, Knoxville, TN 37940. Mark your check's memo "One Vision Haiti." Thank you!