So, What Grade would you give the Teddy Bears?

How did they do? How did we do?

If you look back, we had three goals we wanted to accomplish:
• Make sure that the U.S. government, in particular, the State Department is aware of and watching out for the good of our kids.
• To strongly urge the U.S. government to communicate with the new government in Haiti that the U.S. State department is watching and wants the new Haitian government to make sure our kids were okay.
• To get humanitarian parole so that we could bring our kids home safely and soon (and finish the paperwork later.)

Let’s address the last one first. Did we get humanitarian parole for our kids? Nope. Realistically, did we expect we would? No, but we also knew that if we went in asking for three things, we had a better chance at getting two of them than if we went in asking for only the two. In addition, it ended up being okay because within approximately a month from that time, the Haitian government picked up and began processing adoption paperwork and approximately 4 months after the coup, we went and brought our two kids home because their paperwork was finished.

What about the other two? While they are somewhat intangible and hard to measure, I would say that those were successful. Throughout all of that, I ended up on a first name basis with a lady named Michelle Bernier-Toth in the State Department. She was very in touch with us and was an excellent person to work with. She assured me that the State Department would be watching out for our kids and that she wanted me to keep in touch with her if we heard anything that might be even close to resembling a problem.

I just did a quick Google search on Michelle and she is now the Director at the State department who runs the department that is in charge of emergency services. In other words, when there is a crisis over seas and there are Americans who need help, her department helps. That was what she was doing in working with us back in 2004 and now she’s running the department. Thanks, Michelle!

Overall, the Bear-a-Van and the meetings in Washington were, I believe a success. The ultimate goal wasn’t achieved but the other “steps” were and it also generated positive publicity and gave us, the helpless parents at home, something to do where we felt like we could at least try to make a difference.

It turns out that about 6 years later, a lot of what we learned after the coup would become very useful in helping adoptive families after the earthquake in 2010. But that’s a story for another day (actually more than one day).

Tom

Of Teddy Bears and Travel

(In “What do you do, after a coup?” I told you about some of the wrestling that adoptive parents were doing with what was going on and the desire to do something because we felt so helpless.  The story continues….)

So, last time, I told you about how we, as a collective group of concerned parents, had an overwhelming desire to do “something.” And I told you how we had three goals – mainly focused around creating awareness of our children and the fact that they were “stuck” in Haiti because of the coup. But how do we do that?

I don’t remember whose idea it was (wasn’t mine) and I don’t remember how we came to it but, as a group, we decided that what we’d do is three things:
1. Collect teddy bears to represent as many of the kids in Haiti who have adoptions in process and are stuck because of the coup.
2. Get their stories not only out in the local press but in front of people in the government.
3. Talk to people in the government to express our concerns about the status of our children and their adoptions.

So we initiated Project Bear-a-van. (I know, corny name) –  Starting in Washington State, we began a relay/collection of teddy bears – each one representing a child. It was a joint effort and it wasn’t a matter of someone going all the way to Washington DC. We worked in shifts and kept picking up more and more teddy bears.

My family and I joined up with the Bear-a-van in Indiana and we went with others and took them all to Washington DC. Do I remember how many bears we had? No, I don’t. At that point, we were too busy coordinating everything and trying to make a difference, that we didn’t pay attention to counting how many. All I know is there were a LOT of them.

And every single one of them had a picture of a Haitian child tied around its neck or arm or somewhere. The name of that Haitian child was written on the back of the picture.

The bears represented a child. Every single one of them.

The bears also represented a family. A family that was missing a child. A family that was worried about a child.

What did we do when we got to Washington? We had three things we wanted to accomplish while we were there:
1. We held a peaceful gathering of all of the teddy bears at the foot of one of the smaller statues around the Capital. Which one, to be honest with you, I don’t remember. But I do know that members of both the House and Senate who had families in their district who were impacted by the coup were invited to come to meet us and talk to us.
2. We set up meetings with a number of elected officials staff where we could meet with them and talk personally about the situation, our concerns and what we wanted them to support. I know there were other meetings going on as well, but I was involved in meetings with Sen. Arlen Specter’s staff, Sen. Rick Santorum’s staff, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin from Michigan, Representative Pete Hoekstra’s staff as well. We weren’t able to actually meet with the Senators due to scheduling issues and the short time schedule we were on.
3. We had the opportunity to make a formal presentation of our “case” for humanitarian parole in one of the Senate Briefing rooms. We brought all of the teddy bears into the Senate Briefing room – so it was quite literally a standing room only crowd. There were some media people there, there were quite a few staffers there. I think we even had a couple of Senators there.

The Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption was a very big help in setting all of this up. She helped reserve the room, used her network to communicate the details to the Congress members. She even helped proofread and adjust the presentation that we gave to the attendees.

I will never forget what she said to me after the event was over, “Tom, I attend a lot of briefings and meetings in these type of rooms. Some of them are even about some very emotional subjects. But nothing, nothing I’ve been at prepared me for the emotional impact of coming into this Senate briefing room and seeing it overflowing with teddy bears. On the spare chairs, lining the walls, on the tables, they were everywhere! And each one of them not only represented a child but had the picture of a child, a face, a name to go with it. I lost it and just started bawling.”

And I still get choked up 14 years later when I think of what Kerri told me.

So our moment in Washington, was it successful?

This post has gone on long enough – I’ll tell you next time.

Tom

The Thing About Having Kids

Well, it’s not really THE thing.

It’s more like, no wait, it’s not even A thing.

But it is a thing. It’s a thing that is fun. A thing that can be really enjoyable.

A thing that can help them learn and frankly, help the parents learn too.

I’m talking about bedtime stories. Reading bedtime stories to your kids, with your kids.

Acting out “Ten in the Bed” with two little girls and 9 stuffed animals.

Reading the entire 7 books of the Harry Potter series with one kid on each side of me over a 2 year time span.

And then there’s Doctor Seuss. I miss reading Dr. Seuss. “Oh the Places You’ll Go…..” (I’ve often thought that’s could be a good speech for a graduation ceremony).

Who can forget “Thing 1 and Thing 2?”

And the Cat in the Hat who always picks up his playthings? (Hint hint….)

But the story by Dr. Seuss that stuck with me most is the story of the Lorax.

The Lorax is a sad story. It’s a story of nature ruined by greed. It’s a story of manipulations and misunderstandings. It’s a story that parallels much of our world.

The story ends with nature in trouble. Pollution is contaminating everything.

And there’s this one old “guy.” He was there since the beginning. He protested the growth of the factories. He complained about the sick animals and the animals that had to leave to find a place to eat and water to drink.

When there was nothing left, he levitated through the clouds and left a marker behind with one word on it……

“Unless”
The story ends with the Onceler telling the Lorax’s story to two kids and he ends with “Unless.”

But this time he completes the sentence……

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s Not.”

Someone like you.

Someone like me.

Cares – not a little but a lot.

Unless – if we don’t care, things won’t get better. If we do care, things will get better.

A call for action from Dr. Seuss. A call for social justice. For caring.

That’s one of the things that I’ve learned and seen time and time again. It’s not the big companies that are going to make the world a better place (even though Coca Cola would like you to think they can). It’s the people.

You and me.

I don’t like the way things are right now. Too much pain, too many people struggling, too many people angry and hurting.

Whether it’s immigration or education or racism or taxes or politics or abuse or trauma or….. or………, find something that matters to you. Find something that you care about that isn’t the way you think it should be and care about it.

Do something. Make things better.

It’s the Lorax Iniative.

And we can all learn from a children’s story about how to make the world a better place.

TJV

P.S. Does anyone else remember the thing that they found in the park and what they named him?

Really? Are you?

Isaiah 25:1-5 (portions – highlighting is mine)

God, you are my God.

I celebrate you. I praise you.

You’ve done your share of miracle-wonders,

……Superpowers will see it and honor you,

brutal oppressors bow in worshipful reverence
.

They’ll see that you take care of the poor,

that you take care of poor people in trouble,

Provide a warm, dry place in bad weather,

provide a cool place when it’s hot.

Brutal oppressors are like a winter blizzard

and vicious foreigners like high noon in the desert.

But you, shelter from the storm and shade from the sun,

shut the mouths of the big-mouthed bullies.

Isaiah 25:1-5 The Message

A couple of things that stick out from what the Prophet Isaiah said in this section:

  • God, you are MY God – He isn’t praying to some God somewhere in hopes that maybe he will get an answer.  He’s talking to someone he has a deep personal relationship with.
  • The dictators and evil ones, the terrorists and the drug lords (I could go on and on) are going to get what’s coming to them.
  • You (God) take care of the poor people – providing them safety and shelter.

Now a couple of thoughts that I’m pondering this morning…..

Do you think that Isaiah is saying that providing lodging is all that God is saying needs to be done for those who are less fortunate than us? 

No, I don’t think so either.  I think Isaiah is using those as examples of providing for the daily needs of the poor. not listing the only things that the poor need us to do.

Do you think he’s going to do it through one great big miracle?  “Bam!” Suddenly all of Africa is lush green farmable land and no one in Africa is ever hungry again.

Could he?  Will he?  Yes he can but I doubt he will however, anything is possible.

Jesus and Social Justice – I attended the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference in Chicago a few weeks back.  I plan on writing more about it, so I’m not going to say much right now.   But one thing that I knew but I learned again and again and again.

If you look at what Jesus was about, he was about social justice.

If you look at what he did, it was about social justice.

If you look at the people he had in his inner circle of friends, they were fishermen, an IRS auditor, an embezzler  (and that was just in the inner circle.)

Isaiah, in this passage, lays down the framework for Jesus ministry here on earth.  Jesus ministry here on earth is about healing the sick, feeding the hungry and saving the lost.

If you ever sang the song by Fernando Ortega,  “Lord I Want to be Like Jesus in My Heart, or you wore one of those rubber wrist bracelets with WWJD on them, ask yourself a question….

Really? 

Are you really ready to be like Jesus?

  • – because Jesus is about caring for the “less thans.”  
  • Jesus is about caring about the caravan that is soon to reach the Mexico/California border. 
  • Jesus is about attending Kent County meetings protesting their contract with ICE to turn over under documented people.  Kalamazoo did it, Grand Rapids should be able to do it too.

Being like Jesus takes a lot of work.  It’s not easy.  There’s a lot of time when it’s not fun.   But it’s good.

Because He is our God.

And He is good.

TJV

It’s been everywhere lately…..

Twitter…..

The White House…..

The White House on Twitter…..

All news sources whether “fake” or “real”

Facebook – personal stories that would break your heart.

Facebook – personal attacks that brought friends of mine to tears.

The local coffee shop

Sexual abuse hotlines were inundated with people seeking help.

Instagram and I’m sure there were even people on SnapChat talking about it.

Oh and there were “big wigs” (supposedly important) people in various religious organizations and denominations who had to add their voice to the noise.

Who knew what? What said what? Who did What?

Who threatened what? Who had to take their family into hiding? Who had bad memories, horrible memories brought up again that they had tried to move past?

I am not even going to mention names, because while the issue is about a Supreme Court Judicial Nominee and his accuser, the issue is much bigger than that…..
• The issue is about our society’s treatment of women.
• The issue is about the church’s failure to stand up for the rights of the abused, no matter what color, what gender, what age they are.
• The issue is about why “adult” (and I use that term loosely) white men seem to think they can get away with anything – and why they have for so many years.
• I could go on and on and on, but I think you get the point……

“….If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you.”
John 15:18-19 MSG
http://bible.com/97/jhn.15.18-19.msg

How many of the people who currently run the United States government claim to be “Christian?”

Do they live on the world’s terms or on God’s terms?

How many people who spoke up this past week trying to either minimize, downplay or explain what might or might not have happened, how many of them claim to be Christians?

Do they live on the world’s terms or on God’s terms?

How many people who currently run Christian organizations honestly believe that the people in the current administration run their personal lives and their actions in the government according to God’s terms?

If the leaders of churches, the people that every week we turn to for leadership and direction and encouragement, if they are openly supporting someone who doesn’t support life on God’s terms, what sort of message does that say about the church?

And we wonder why people are leaving the church?

Really?

Do we really wonder why people are leaving the church?

Or are we just afraid to face the answer to that question?

People are leaving the church because the church is leaving God.

Let me repeat that.

People are leaving the church

Because

The church is leaving God.

The church is spending more time focusing on being popular and being liked and being welcoming and being this and that and less time focusing on what Jesus said it needs to be about:

The first and great commandment is this – Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul and strength.

And a second commandment is like it – Love your neighbor like you love yourself.

Now I think we should all go figure out what that means for our own people and our own world and make this coming week a better week.

TJV