Boy, was I Naive……

If you had asked me before we started this adoption journey what it would look like, I probably would have told you something along the lines of this:

• We’d figure out where we were going to adopt from.
• Then we’d work with the people in charge and eventually figure out who we were going to adopt.
• We’d bring them home – and things would be noisy and crazy and full of adjustments.
• But after a while – maybe a year, maybe two – we’d settle into the new normal and life would go on pretty much as it was – just with more kids and more noise.

Boy was I naive’.

If our adoption story had gone that way, here’s a sampling of what I would have missed:
• I would have missed hearing Haitian roosters who couldn’t tell time – and crowed at 2:00 in the morning.
• I would have missed the sounds of Haiti in the night. It truly is musical.
• I would have missed getting to know some truly amazing people who have given and currently still give so much of themselves to help others.
• I would have missed the privilege of sitting with others in their pain and sadness – a privileged place that few are allowed to enter into.
• I would have missed a lifetime of learning about poverty, corruption, the 3rd world, racism and problems that are worth fighting against.
• I would have missed getting to know some great kids – Michno, Sonia, “Small Man” Peterson, Kenbe, Judith and Kerby and many more.
• I would have missed out on seeing some miracles – and not only did I see those miracles, I got to, I get to see those miracles as they turn from children without a future to children who healed and have a future and are a blessing to many. Elli, Roselaure, Danny – you are just a few of them.
• I would have missed out on conversations with an 80 year old lady in the hospital who told me that God gave her a second chance at life through a successful heart surgery and I gave her a chance to make a difference for kids in Haiti. There is a building at the orphanage named after her.
• I would have missed the opportunity in 2011 to sit on the porch at the orphanage late at night – in shorts and a t-shirt – while messaging with my wife who was at home in the middle of a major snow storm with wind chills approaching 30 degrees below and well over 2 ft of snow falling in 2 days time. I missed the storm and I’m still grateful.
• I would have missed out on being uncomfortable.
• I would have missed out on getting to know people at my current church – people like Christy and LeMaar and Susie and Pastor Darrell and Laura and…….
• I would have missed out on learning about and getting to know the people at Potter’s House School.

Boy was I naive’. Boy am I glad I was wrong. Has it been easy? Not a chance. Would I trade? Maybe for a day or two every now and then.

But not a chance.

TJV

Time – Wait for It

I’ll be writing more about it in the future (see what I did there – a reference to time?) but I wanted to share a couple of things about time and 2018 and how that has impacted my life.

2018 has not gone the way that I expected it would. I started out the year finishing up a long term substitute teacher assignment that I expected would last longer. While I agree on the reasons why they transitioned to substitute teachers who were experts in that field, it was still disappointing. If you are so inclined, add Mary Dornbos to your prayer list. She’s the teacher I filled in for and she’s still struggling with cancer.

The end of January, I had a medical procedure (more on that later) that I expected miight take a week or two to recover from. That was my anticipated time schedule based on what the doctors anticipated time schedule was.

God’s timing is different. As I’m writing this a number of months out, the recovery time has changed significantly. There looks like there will be long term, if any, recovery from some of the side effects.

That’s not the time frame that I wanted.

But God’s timing is not always our timing. And God’s ways are not always our ways.

So, as Laura Story wrote in her book, “When God Doesn’t Fix It” there is a time where you need to switch the question. You need to switch from asking, “Why God?” Or shouting, “Why God?” To asking, “How God?” “How are you going to use this, use this mess, use this pain, use what happened to your glory?” “What’s your plan?”

What’s your timing, God?

Waiting for God’s timing is hard. We want to be in control.

But the sooner we realize that we aren’t, the sooner we can hand that part over to God.

God’s timing is good. Sometimes it’s so good we can’t understand it.

Sometimes it’s so hard we can’t seem to stand it.

Sometimes the clock is facing the other direction so we can’t see his time.

What time is it? “Don’t worry, my son, I’ll take care of that.”

But what time is it? I just want to know!

“Don’t worry about what time it is, let me worry about that. Just follow my Iead.”

Okay God, you’re on.

Me

Understand…..

There’s a saying….

It’s hard to know who really said it first – it’s been attributed to many different people all in slightly different forms.

We studied it in college. Well, it’s about history and I was pursuing a history minor, so that’s not a big surprise.

What was it?

“Those who fail to understand history are destined to repeat it.”

I could bore you with a history lesson about the various people who, throughout history, neglected to learn from the mistakes of the past. And it came back and bit them in a big way.

Napoleon

Julius Caesar

Those are just two – I could give you many more. But instead, I want to share two assumptions that this saying makes about human nature and two reasons why it’s important to learn from the past.

Thing #1 – this says that, in many ways, human nature hasn’t really changed that much over the centuries. There are things that have changed, the tools we use, the housing we live in, the surroundings have changed, but the nature of human beings hasn’t changed that much
⁃ We’re still more likely to do the evil and the bad thing than we are the good thing.
⁃ We’re still more likely to put ourselves ahead of others.

Thing #2 – that we are a pride filled and frankly rather obnoxious bunch. What? How does it say that? It’s pretty simple.
⁃ If we, as a people, did a really good job of learning from the previous generations, then this saying wouldn’t need to be. It’s sort of like saying, “Make sure you breathe.” Well, of course, there isn’t the need to say that because with the exception of seriously ill individuals, we do that automatically. If we, as a human race were consistently attempting to look back at the past and learn from it, we wouldn’t need to mention it.
⁃ But we don’t. How does the saying go, “When I was two, I thought my Dad knew everything. When I was 13, I thought my Dad knew nothing. Now that I’m 33, I know that my Dad is pretty smart.” (Excuse the paraphrase but you know what it means.). As a country, we are doing a pretty impressive job of acting like the past means nothing and of saying and acting like it’s different this time.

With those being said, let me share with you two brief reasons why we should learn from the past:
1. The Wheel.
2. The rear view mirror.

What?

Do you know the person who first invented the wheel? No, me neither. But I’m really glad he did. It would be a lot harder to do life if someone hadn’t already invented the wheel. But they did and now we can get around a lot easier in many ways and many places..

Don’t reinvent the wheel – look back at history, learn what was done well and imitate it. Learn what screwed up and learn from that too.

The rear-view mirror – in order to know where you are going, it helps to know where you’ve been. Knowing the environment you are in, the roads, the type of traffic, these are some of the many things that help you understand where you are going. These are some of the things that you learn while looking in the rear view mirror.

I wish I could say that I felt that people who are “movers and shakers” in today’s world have learned from the past. I can’t.

I wish I could say that I was confident that they would learn from past mistakes. They don’t appear to be doing so.

Those who fail to understand history are destined to repeat it. As things move forward on here, we’re going to do a fair amount of looking back to attempt to learn from the past.

I hope you’ll join me.

Tom

Imagine This…..

You live in a very poor “neighborhood” in a very poor country.

If you’re doing well, you make $3 a day selling things at the market.   What kind of things?   Pretty much anything you can think of –food, art, you name it.

You barely have enough money to feed your family and to have a 10 x 12 shack to live in.

You are fortunate enough to have been able to save up some money and buy a “moto” for you to get to the market.   But it’s hard to fit all of your family on a “moto.”  

The trip from your shack to the market usually uses a gallon of gas per day.  Between traffic, hills and poorly running engines, that’s a reasonable estimate.

And then, the government announces yesterday that they are raising the cost of gas (no longer subsidizing it) by $1.25 per gallon.   Suddenly another 40% of your income goes to buying gas so you can go to the market and try to sell the art and jewelry and stuff you’ve made.

So, which meals do you skip?   Lunch?  Nope, can’t skip that one- because you already are.   You and your family are already used to living on two meals a day.   That leaves a total of 14 meals left in a week.   You could barely make enough for that – and now your costs are going up. 

So, do you skip 5 meals a week?

Do you skip two days at the market?  That’s going to hurt your income even more.

Ugh, this is not fair.   Why does the government do this to me?

I don’t know how I’m going to feed my children.   I don’t know what to do!

That is why people in Haiti are rioting this weekend.   They were hanging on to life literally on the edge and suddenly their costs are going up substantially – and they don’t have the ability to absorb that increase.

As Martin Luther King said it:

“A Riot it the Language of the Unheard.”

Right now, literally as I’m writing this I’m talking to friends in Haiti who are saying this is some of the worst rioting they have ever seen and they are being told (I don’t know by whom) to expect it will be worse on Monday.

Please join me and pray for peace in Haiti.   Pray for protection – for all lives, but especially for the lives of children and those who care for them.

There are many people in Haiti who have reached the end of their proverbial rope and feel like this is the only way they can be heard.   Pray that God would open up other ways to resolve this.

Thanks for praying,

Tom

P.S. There is hope that a rainstorm that is predicted for Tuesday will help cool people down and reduce the rioting.   Tuesday is a long ways away.   Oh and that rain storm – might actually come in the form of a hurricane.

Which brings the potential for a whole additional set of problems – flooding, crop damage, house damage, job loss, sickness, and the list goes on.

As a friend of mine told me about an hour ago,  #lovinghaitiisexhausting

Twitter and the Earthquake in Haiti

(This was originally written for the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Social Media blog when I was on the External Advisory Committee there.)
(This was originally written in 2011 – before certain political figures and television “former” stars gave Twitter a bit of a black eye so to speak).

Many people think that the only thing Twitter is good for is telling people what you had for dinner and what coffee shop you are at.

Wrong.

Let me tell you a story about how Twitter worked to help the orphans in Haiti……

Prior to January 12, 2010, I used Twitter for a couple of main reasons:

  • To interact with real estate and mortgage people all over the country.   It is a great way to keep up with people all over the country, talk to them about what’s happening and to not feel so “alone.”
  • To keep up the news and the markets.   In the mortgage world, it was and is very important to keep on top of what is happening in the markets, the economic reports, the direction of the interest rate market and things like that.

So, I had found a number of the main news sources and was following them.    Places like the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, the Washington Post, CNBC, the Today Show, Ann Curry, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, Al Roker, Barry Ritholtz and a bunch more were all on my “follow” list.   I also followed all of the local TV stations and newspapers and their reporters.   I created a separate list in TweetDeck (my favorite and almost only twitter app) that shows only what they are saying.

Now keep in mind, the orphanage that my wife and I adopted our two youngest children from is about 15 miles outside of Port Au Prince Haiti.

Well, I’m sitting at my computer at 5:07 pm on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 and Tweetdeck pops up one of those boxes in the upper corner of my screen showing one of the new tweets that just came in.    It was a tweet that changed my life forever.

“Major 7.5 Earthquake hits Port Au Prince Haiti” and then a link to their article.    I clicked on it, read the article with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.    This was bad.   Devastatingly bad.

Within 10 minutes, I had reached our Adoption Coordinator via instant messenger (located in Colorado) and she was on a cell phone with John B (the orphanage director’s husband).    So about 25 minutes after the earthquake, I had confirmed news that our orphanage had survived and that we had experienced no casualties at the orphanage (though we didn’t know the status of our staff who weren’t on duty at that point.)

And then the phone calls started coming.   Being an adoptive parent and a board member, many families who were in process of adopting knew me and my family and started calling us and asking us what we knew about what was going on with the earthquake.   I’m so glad that I was able to reassure them that their child was safe within 25 minutes of the earthquake.

From 5:15 PM on Tuesday until 4:00 AM Wednesday morning, I spent virtually the entire time glued to the computer and the phone.   I was scouring all of the major news websites but I soon learned that I was able to find out more news of what was really happening in Haiti and with the earthquake on Twitter than I was anywhere else.    So, I’m searching Twitter using terms like #Haiti and #PAP and #Earthquake and getting live reports from people on the ground in Haiti.    I was then able to pass that information on to our supporters and adoptive parents.   Using Twitter to keep on breaking news from the “front lines” is a great benefit.

But that wasn’t the most powerful way that Twitter changed the lives of orphans in Haiti on January 12, 2010.    The most important aspect of Twitter that made a difference that day is Twitter’s ability to be the great equalizer.   I’ve had interactions with people on Twitter who I never would have had the opportunity to if it weren’t for Twitter.   News reporters, CNBC guest commentators, PGA golfers and others are all on “that” list of people who I’ve tweeted with that I never would have otherwise.    But probably the most popular one is Ann Curry from the Today Show.

About 8:30 or so that night, Ann Curry posted on Twitter, “Trying to get in touch with anyone in Port Au Prince Haiti who speaks English – need an interview.”    I chimed in, “I’m “talking” with our orphanage there – they all speak English.”

We went back and forth a bit trying to connect.   At the same time, I was IM’ng with our staff in Colorado and they were talking/texting with our staff in Haiti (when they could get through.)    Then I got a message from Ann – “How do we get in touch with them?”    Shortly after that, I got an e e-mail that said:

Tom Vanderwell, Ann Curry is following you  on Twitter

I haven’t framed it yet, but I think I’m going to.

It was then that I had to step away from the computer for a minute because the power of Twitter just kind of hit me.    Here was this mortgage lender from West Michigan talking to one of the anchors of the Today Show in the middle of the first night of an international disaster.

All because of two things:

  • The power of Twitter to be the great equalizer – More of the “high profile” people are accessible than they have ever been.
  • The willingness to speak up.   Twitter is most powerful when you aren’t a Twitter “Stalker” (always listens but never says anything) but also aren’t a “Twitter Hog” (someone who clutters up the space with very little of importance.)

Back to the story – Ann and I exchanged a few more DMs and she got the contact info that they needed down in Haiti.    About 30 minutes later, I got a Facebook message from the orphanage director’s daughter (working on her laptop outside the orphanage where she could still get a signal – they didn’t know if it was safe to go inside).     The Facebook message said that Dixie was talking to a producer from NBC.

What was the end result of the Twitter conversations that I had with Ann Curry?

The Today Show started the Wednesday morning broadcast (the day after) with an interview with the orphanage director.  Because of Twitter, Ann Curry’s willingness to be accessible and my willingness to speak up, the orphans in Haiti, especially the ones at “my” orphanage got a lot more publicity than they would have otherwise.    And that additional publicity led to additional support at a time when we really needed it.

My recommendations are:

  • Set up Twitter to develop a list/group (depending on what app you use) for the news people that would impact your life and your work.
  • Don’t be afraid to interact with those people and places – not as a spammer or trying to sell something but as someone who cares about their community and has something useful to add.

You’ll be amazed at how powerful Twitter can be.

TJV