Tag Archives: Healthy Families Healthy Planet

Find your voice for mothers

Healthy Families Healthy Planet

Click on the logo to apply for a Healthy Families Healthy Planet training seminar in Peoria, Ill. on Sept 6.

There are two little girls that I pick up out of bed almost every morning.  One of them is sitting in my office, cradling a stuffed turtle in her arms.  She is giving it kisses and singing it to sleep.  Now she has another little toy that her imagination has transformed into a bottle.  She wants to be a Mommy.

It may happen someday, and when that time comes, I will be a worried, emotional, joyful, wreck.  I pray that for her, like her mother, the decision to become a Mom will be completely hers.  I pray that she becomes a mother at a mature age, with a loving partner, and has access to health care during and after her pregnancy.  I hope that when she gives birth, it will be in a clean environment, surrounded by experts, and access to emergency treatments.  I know that giving birth is one of the most dangerous things a woman can do, and I will never take for granted the loving care with which she will be surrounded.

I won’t take it for granted, because I know that there are millions of women worldwide that do not have such care.  They do not have control over when they will be married, or when they will become pregnant.  They are valued for little more than the children they can produce.  They are forced into pregnancy too young, and once they have a child, their only option is to become pregnant again.  They are misinformed about how to avoid and delay pregnancies, and once they do become pregnant, they have little guidance about how to have a healthy child.

Giving better education and access to maternal health and family planning is a moral imperative.  This is from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s page about maternal health: 

Every year, complications from pregnancy and childbirth claim the lives of nearly 300,000 women and permanently disable many more, mostly in developing countries. Mothers suffer primarily from hemorrhage, sepsis, obstructed labor, and disorders caused by high blood pressure.

In addition, more than 2.6 million babies are stillborn, another 2.9 million die before they are a month old, and many suffer neurodevelopmental disabilities and impairments. Most neonatal deaths are caused by preterm birth, asphyxia during birth, and infections such as sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis.

Effective, low-cost interventions are available, but they are not reaching all of the women and babies who need them. In developing countries, many women deliver at home and rarely see a trained healthcare provider before or after the baby’s birth. Skilled providers in poor countries often lack access to current tools or do not use them. Families may not seek care or follow medical advice.

This is why I am an ambassador for the Healthy Families Healthy Planet project.  HFHP is a partnership between the United Methodist Church and the United Nations Foundation.  The mission of Healthy Families Healthy Planet is to give mothers a voice.  Far too many women have no voice.  They have no advocate.  HFHP is trying to change that.  Two years ago I went to a training in Ohio.  I sat in awe of the powerful women that I met.  I wondered at that meeting if there was a place for me in this project.  

When I thought of my girls, my wife, my sisters, my friends who have given birth and never once wished they had a plastic sheet to lay across their dirt floor as they went into labor, I found my voice.  As I learned about complications that women I know and love faced and survived that would mean certain death in other parts of the world, I found my voice.  As I practiced my elevator speech, learned addresses of Congressional offices, watched documentaries, and met with Congressional staffs, I found my voice.

I am one father, and I have big dreams for my daughters.  As I realized that my dreams were not just for them, but for the daughters of the world, I found my voice. I am one father.  I am one voice.  I invite you – father, mother, brother, sister, son, or daughter – to find yours. 

On September 6, there is a Healthy Families Healthy Planet training seminar in Peoria, Illinois.  Follow the link below (or linked to the logo above) to read a little bit more about the training, and apply to come.  There is no cost for the training.  It starts at 9 a.m. with breakfast and ends at 6 p.m. with dinner.  Come and pray.  Come and learn.  Come and share stories.  Come, and find your voice.

Apply here for the training in Peoria on September 6.

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Epiphany – The first Baby Shower

Matthew 2:11 – “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Upon this verse, much folk theology has been built.  The story of the wise men, or magi, or astrologers, coming to visit Mary is an important part of our cultural understanding of Jesus’ birth.  One thing needs to be clear, despite the beautiful song set to tune of Greensleeves, they were not kings.  There isn’t really a reason to believe there were three of them.  There were three different gifts, but no where does it number the men.  I don’t bring this up to make any grand theological point other than to remind us of how often we read into Scripture, and how difficult it can be to unpack centuries of tradition.

Many legends, song, and art has been built around these mysterious men with their gifts.  Almost all of it is speculation.  The traditional interpretation of the gifts is spelled out pretty well by this Yahoo Voices article.  It goes something like this:

Gold: A gift for royalty, acknowledging that Jesus was of a Royal line.

Frankincense: An expensive incense that was burned as a part of worship in The Temple.  This signifies Jesus’ divinity.

Myrrh: An expensive oil used for perfume.  According to this explanation, myrrh was most commonly used among wealthy Jews as an anointing oil for the dead.  Thus, the myrrh is seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and a reminder of his mortality.

While this explanation fits nicely into popular modern Christian theology, I’m not sure it really has any historic merit.  For instance, how would the strangers from the East have known Jewish ritual customs of the Temple?  And it doesn’t say that they worshiped him as a deity.  Instead, they “paid him homage.”  Also, isn’t every baby mortal?  Why would anyone need to be reminded that a king will someday die?   According to Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope, at one time Frankincense was the most valuable commodity on earth.  It was also used as an eyeliner by Egyptians.  Not much symbolic value there.

I’ve never been one to go deep into this explanation. I figure it has legs enough without me.  This year however, I found another explanation of the gifts.

Frankincense and myrrh have been used for medicinal purposes for over 5,000 years in places like India and Saudi Arabia.  I do not pretend to know anything about their effectiveness.  There are several websites that you can find with articles extolling the virtues of these ancient oils and resins.  What you and I think about their effectiveness in healing though, is inconsequential.  What seems clear is that men from the East might have understood these two gifts to have medicinal value.

Mary gave birth to a son.  Though we often sing “Silent Night,” anyone that has been anywhere near the birth of a child knows that there is nothing silent about the experience.  Giving birth is a messy and dangerous.  Today a mother dies in childbirth once every two minutes.  In many parts of the world, it is the most dangerous thing a woman can do.  According to the Lukan account, Mary gave birth in a stable, surrounded by animals, with no midwife.  She gave birth in what we would be considered, even then, deplorable conditions.  I’ve written before that the unnamed miracle of Christmas is that Mary survived.

What I have not noticed before this year, is that the reason she survived might have come in the gifts presented to Jesus by the magi.

To a modern reader, the gifts of the Magi seem strange and impractical.  To explain these peculiar gifts, many have placed dubious symbolic meanings on them.  Instead, I feel it much more likely that these gifts were extremely practical.  Notice that Matthew says that the magi “Saw the child with Mary his mother, and then knelt down…”.  These gifts might have saved Mary, and indirectly Jesus himself.

We would be good to take note that Mary’s “Baby Shower” was an act of valuing the life of a woman.  Though Mary gets the short end of the stick through much of the book of Matthew, this act of gift-giving is a reminder of how important a mother is to a child.

This Epiphany, my church is remembering the gifts of the Magi by having a “Baby Shower for Mary.”  The youth of our church are baking cookies, brownies, and muffins. We are putting up cheesy paper decorations, and playing a few silly baby games.  All have been invited to bring a gift in honor of Mary.  People will bring diapers, onesies, blankets, socks, lotions, shampoos, and more.  All of the gifts will be brought to the Crisis Pregnancy Center, which helps women in need.  They operate a clothes closet for infants, and are in constant need of the expensive needs of a newborn.

This small act of mercy might help a mother care for her child.  I’m hoping that in time, we can do more than give gifts to the Center.  I’m hoping that we can develop a relationship with them, providing mentors, support, and classes.  This is just a first step toward helping children and mothers in our area.

Like the Magi so long ago, we may pay homage to the newborn King by making sure his mother survives.  There are other things we can do for mothers worldwide.  The Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project raises awareness about the need to support international family planning and maternal health initiatives.  It is an organization of which I am proud to be a part.

This Epiphany, brings gifts to the baby.  Save a mother.

The Unnamed Miracle of Christmas

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Our Baby Shower for Mary invitation posted on Riverside’s facebook page:

baby shower for mary

 

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Who gave you this authority?

ImageI walked by the chapel on my way to lunch.  “Come in,” my heart whispered.  It was still racing a little.  I didn’t want to stop.  The adrenaline was still flowing after meeting at three different offices on Capitol Hill.  At each office, I was with colleagues with the Healthy Families Healthy Planet project.  Surrounded by my sisters in Christ, we made our case on behalf of women around the world in front of two Senators and a Congressman.

We walked the halls of the Temples of Power, and strode purposefully across the Capitol.  We talked about the 222 million women that wish to delay their pregnancies, but cannot gain access to contraception.  We spoke for the 270,000 women that die each year from complications to child birth and pregnancy.  We spoke for the thousands of mothers that can be saved.  We reminded the staffers that funding international maternal health and family planning initiatives could prevent 54 million unintended pregnancies, 26 million abortions, and 7 million miscarriages a year.

In just my second trip to Washington as an adult, I gained access to some of the most powerful people in the world.  As I walked into the Dirksen Senate Office Building, I felt a sudden surge of desperation.  I knew my facts.  I knew the stories.  Yet I was suddenly faced with the grandeur of it all and doubted.  “Who am I?” I thought.  Surrounded by so much marble and glass, I could not help but feel the power of my own insignificance.  Then something funny happened.  Each meeting was a little easier than the last.  Each time I looked at my notes less, and looked into my heart more.

Image

From left: Rev. Carrie Carnes (a friend and colleague), Kelli Tripp (a member of Rep. Aaron Schock’s staff), and me.

Now back from the three meetings in 90 minutes, I was still in high gear.  Still breathing a little heavy.  My mind did not want to stop.  It wanted to keep going, keep talking, keep engaging. “Come in,” my heart beckoned.  I walked into the chapel of the United Methodist Building.  I stepped a few rows in, past another taking a similar pause, and sat.  I breathed.  My heart slowed.  My mind opened.  I prayed.

I prayed of exhaustion.  Exhausted by the three days of learning and training.  Exhausted by the walking and the waking early. Exhausted by the stories of the suffering women endure around the world.  I prayed of mourning.  Mourning despair of mothers who have lost children.  Mourning my brother in Christ at the training that talked about his own mother losing 10 infant children over the course of her life.  I prayed of celebration.  Celebrating the strength of so many women.  Celebrating the women in my life, and the women I was surrounded by at the training.  Celebrating the victories, and the chance to speak the truth to power.

I prayed and sunk deeper into my chair as the Spirit washed over me.  Then I saw the Bible, once again my heart beckoned, “Come.”  I opened the Bible, and read the first verse my eyes focused on, “When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23, Common English Bible).

Who am I to do these things?

I am a father.  I am a father who loves two daughters with all of my being.  I am a father who dreams of their future and wants to open every pathway to joy in their lives.  I am a father who wants to see my daughters grow to be educated, independent, powerful women.  I am a father who wants nothing less for all the girls of the world.  I am Papa Robb, who will stand up for the girls that no one else will stand for.

What kind of authority do you have for doing these things?

I claim the authority of the women that suffer needlessly.  I claim the authority of the the motherless infants, and the wifeless fathers.  I claim the authority of the communities that are stuck in the cycles of poverty that keep them from abundant life.

Who gave you this authority?

My authority lies in Christ Jesus, who came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am given authority by the one who raised the widow’s son, who let Martha sit at his feet and learn, who engaged the foreign woman at the well, and defended the woman caught in adultery.  I do these things by the power of the one who called out the most powerful men in the world, who defied their pomposity, and saw through their grandeur.  I am given authority by the one who suffered crucifixion at the hands of the powerful, who suffered in silence and grace, determined to fulfill his mission of peace, justice, and salvation.  I am given authority by the one who was Resurrected, and offers to me the same Resurrection.  I am given authority by Jesus Christ, who has already claimed the victory

I finished my prayer.  I thanked God for this moment.  I thanked God for beckoning me to come.  

And now I will go.  I will go with the strength of the women and men I have met on this journey.  I will go with the strength of knowledge.  I will go with the strength of love.  I will go with the strength of Jesus Christ, who came that all may have life, and have it abundantly.  I will go with the promise that the work we do is just, the promise of God is steadfast, and the victory is already won.

Related: Read about the Unnamed Miracle of Christmas

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My first Father’s Day gift came years before I was a Dad

I’ve been given a lot of Father’s Day gifts over the years.  I’ve gotten shoes, books, a basketball, shirts, and pictures.  When I was in eighth grade, I got a phone for my room.  This might sound strange.  Not many eighth graders get Father’s Day presents.  I remember once telling a friend about the gift my Dad gave me for Father’s Day, and he was confused.  My Dad always gave my sister and brother and me gifts for Father’s Day.

“Being a Father is the best thing that ever happened to me,” he would explain to us.  “And I couldn’t be a Father if it wasn’t for you.”  Although that was only technically true of my sister (his first born), I never argued the point.  The message was clear, and it was one that I don’t think I truly grasped until I was a father myself.  Becoming a father is the best thing that ever happened to me.

I am the father of two girls, and I adore them.  Their laughter is beautiful music.  Their smiles are the greatest of masterpieces.  Their imagination is mind-boggling.  Their dance is breath-taking.  I savor every moment that we are together.  They make me want to be a better person.  I want to give them everything.  On this Father’s Day, I want to give them a gift.

This year though, I’m not going to give them a doll or a toy.  I’m not going to give them a book or a Blackhawks t-shirt.  I’m going to give their gift to someone else, and they are compassionate enough to understand.  Instead of giving to them, I am going to give to other daughters, because everytime I look at my daughters, I can’t help but see the future.

I dream of my daughters growing up in safety and health.  I dream of them getting educated, finding their talents, discovering their gifts.  I dream of them making lasting friendships and falling in love.  I see tremendous giftedness in both of them, and my most important role as a father is to help them see and develop these gifts for themselves.  My dream for them is to fulfill who they were created to be.  My dreams for their future are a luxury that I will never take for granted.

My dreams for their futures are a luxury that most fathers in the world cannot afford.  For most daughters of the world, safety, dignity, education, and health are unattainable dreams.  So my gift to my daughters on this Father’s Day is to the daughters of the world.  My gift this Father’s Day is a word of encouragement.  It is a word of awareness.  It is a call to action.

Maternal health is not a women’s issue.  It is a global concern.  For millions of women, giving birth is the most dangerous thing they will ever do.  Motherhood should be a gift of life, but far too often it is a death sentence.  In many places in the world, women are valued for little more than giving birth.  They are treated as a walking uterus, to be valued if they give birth, and thrown away when or if they cannot.  Girls are forced into motherhood too soon, when it is biologically possible but anatomically dangerous.  They are not allowed to rest and heal between pregnancies.  They have little access to contraception.  If pregnant, health care is difficult to find, and often impossible to afford.  And postpartum care is not even on the RADAR for most.

My faith does not let me standby and allow this to happen.  Jesus raised the widow’s son because he had compassion for her.  He healed the woman that was bleeding for 12 years, returning her to a life fully integrated into the community.  He invited the women to learn at his feet, alongside the men.  He debated a foreign woman at the well, and exulted her faith.  Jesus believed that crazy notion that women are to be valued and treated with dignity and respect.

I believe the same, and so I am called by that same Jesus to do something.  I am called to give my daughters – and all daughters – a gift.

no woman no cry posterThings you can do:

  • Go to Healthy Families, Healthy Planet.  This initiative is funded by the United Nations Foundation, and housed by the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society.  On this useful website, there are fact sheets,  resources for worship, tips for hosting a panel discussion, and instructions on how to host a screening of the film, No Woman, No Cry.
  • Find or host a screening of the incredible film No Woman, No Cry, which tells the story of four women with at-risk pregnancies.  This is a touching, emotionally charged movie.  It is documentary film-making at its best.
  • Write to your Senators and Representatives, and tell them to support aid for international maternal health and family planning.  Supporting women’s health is the single most cost-effective form of aid that we can give.  Remember, Family Planning does not equal abortions.  Increased access and education about contraception can reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and reduce the demand for abortions. US Aid to International family planning efforts in 2012 provided contraception to 31 million families.  This helped prevent an estimated 9 million unintended pregnancies, and 4 million abortions.  Maternal health and family planning is Pro-Life. (source: the Guttmacher Institute)
  • Men, stand up and be heard.  Too many believe that maternal health is a woman’s issue.  In most of the world, men’s voices are the most influential in determining public policy and education.  If more men demanded that their daughters were taken care of, it would happen.  There are education programs being set up through developing nations teaching men about their role in family planning.  Stand up men, for your sisters, your mothers, and your daughters.  Do no take the dreams you have for them for granted.

Dads, give someone a Father’s Day gift.  Give a daughter hope for a future where she is not sold into slavery for her uterus.  Give a daughter hope for an education.  Give a daughter a dream for her future.  Give a daughter the gift of life, and life abundant.

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The Unnamed Miracle of Christmas

Mary survived.

She gave birth to a boy surrounded by animals, filth, and dirt.  There was no midwife or doctor or antiseptic or sterile instruments.  There was no one to help.  She was young – probably not fully physically mature.  Still, she gave birth to a boy and survived.  The unnamed miracle of Christmas is that Mary survived.

Healthy Families Healthy Planet

I first heard this statement from Katey Zeh, Project Director of Healthy Families, Healthy Planet.  This initiative of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society is funded by a grant from the United Nations.  Its mission is to educate people about the dangers of motherhood in the Global South, and to advocate for the protection of these mothers.  They have produced this video, which is worth a watch.

A lot of people get very tense when you start talking about family planning.  This is a hot-button issue in American politics.  Yet I believe that this project is one of those things that can and should transcend partisan politics.  Maternal health is a pro-life issue, and so is family planning.  Family planning includes education about contraception, birth spacing, and the importance delaying a girl’s first pregnancy.  Maternal health is not a women’s issue.  It is a human issue.  When women are healthy, their children are healthy.  Education about women’s health reduces abortions, miscarriages, and maternal mortality.  That is something we should all be able to support.

In many parts of the world, where women are still treated much like cattle, family planning and education can be a matter of life or death for a mother and her children – both born and unborn.

This Christmas season, as you ponder the miracle of God becoming flesh, think also of Mary.  Think also of a 14 year old girl you know.  Ponder what would happen to her if she were forced into pregnancy, and was unable to access a doctor, a midwife, or even a clean floor on which to give birth.  Think also of the mother that died in the last 90 seconds in childbirth.  Think of the women that are valued not as people, but for the service their uterus provides.  They are forced into pregnancy too young, and too often.  They are giving birth in terrible conditions.  They are dying.  Their children are suffering.  They need us.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief provides a guide for putting together Birthing kits.  If you are interested in putting these together, you must follow the guidelines precisely.  Follow this link, then click on “Birthing Kits” along the right side of the page.  This is a great way to #BeChristInChristmas.

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