Monday, June 28, 2010

Do Not Be Afraid

Many people in my life are concerned about me taking a trip to Haiti. The person who has been most concerned is my mom. Being a mother myself, I think I understand why she's concerned. We have these babies to care for and no matter how old they get, they are still our babies. As I'm typing this my 8 year old baby is sitting next to me reading what I type. We keep adding candles to her cake every year, but she's still my baby.

Quite a few weeks ago my mom emailed me one of those panic emails. It was about a warning the State Department had issued regarding traveling to Haiti. Following the link brought me to a page that listed all sorts of warnings about unrest, lack of infrastructure, kidnapping, even murder. I'll admit - I had an intense amount of worry, panic, doubt. There was still time to ignore the postcard. I hadn't bought my plane tickets yet. I wasn't out any money.

After exactly 24 hours came this unbelievable peace. I can't explain it. "A peace that passes all understanding..." Even the understanding of a very worried mother.

Whatever the reason is, I'm being called to Haiti. No big bug, little bug, or State Department warning will keep me from going. It's a God thing. Maybe you understand me when I say that, and maybe you think I'm nuts. I'll smile either way.

Each work day morning I get an email with scripture. Today's was perfect:

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
~ John 14:27

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Something to Complain About

I have loved Starbucks since my AIDS Ride days. Any organization that's going to follow me for 6 days while I bike to Chicago and brew my coffee at 4am is going to keep my business for years to come.

The other morning I stopped by Starbucks to get a coffee before heading to work. Since there were no other cars in the drive-thru I was able to talk to my favorite person there. I've always looked at her job as one of the happiest on the planet. You get to serve coffee to people and make their day. Every time I've been there, no matter what time of day, no matter what state I'm in, they are ALWAYS the most wonderful, cheery people. I love the place!

She shared with me that not everyone she serves is, shall I say, very delightful to deal with. My response? "How can anyone possibly rude?! This is Starbucks!!" I guess my glasses are a different color.

A few days later I was walking into the store so I could pick up the free used grounds they give away. (I use them in my gardens.) There was a guy in the drive-thru, screaming his high maintenance order to the barista. "I said TWO packets of Splenda!!"

It's coffee. How can people be so rude about coffee?

It really got me thinking. What are we really complaining about? Do we feel we have such rights that if someone doesn't serve us our grande-sugar-free-vanilla-half-caff-half-decaf-no-foam-extra-hot-latte we can scream at the employee? I don't get it. Mr. Man in the SUV - life's too short.

How about the people in Haiti. What do they have to complain about?

We don't understand how good we've got it here. From toilets, to roads, to Target, to Starbucks. We have so much.

My favorite quote of all times and words to live by:

"We are here to add what we can to life, not to get what we can from it."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Think Like Mother Teresa

"I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love."

~ Mother Teresa

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A few years back I was volunteering as a cook at an AIDS Hospice. I got really close to one of the guys there - Carl. I'd stay long after my volunteer shift was over, just to listen to his stories. He'd slowly stir a cup of coffee, never really drinking it, while giving me the details of his life.

Carl started to get very sick, and it was apparent that he was going to pass soon. It was hard for me to watch my friend deteriorate but I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. He didn't have family in town. His family was the staff and volunteers at Agape.

One evening a friend asked me to go out. I was reluctant. I just didn't feel like socializing. She could tell how broken hearted I was and she asked, "Why do you volunteer there when you know you're going to get attached to them and they're just going to die?"

I don't remember what my response was at the time. She was right. I got attached to this wonderful man from New York. And he was dying.

Carl brought more joy to my life than you could imagine. He gave me purpose - trying to find the next meal that he'd enjoy. Passing the time, loving listening to his stories. And after he died, giving me purpose to get in shape so I could bike from Minneapolis to Chicago in his honor. I swear I could hear him clapping for me as I biked past the corn fields in Wisconsin.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There are pictures of the babies at Children of the Promise posted on my office wall. I look at them every day, all day long. I see Theo's sweet little face. Wilson, Elijah, Gavin, Odelande. While my heart aches because I want to do more for them, it's also bursting with love for children I've never met.

I can't shy away from a situation just because I know my heart might get broken. I know that, along with the break, will come much love, joy, and happiness.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The other day I was reading an article in the Star Tribune about a 3 year old boy who was orphaned by the quake. A woman from the states became very attached to him and wishes to adopt him. Adoptions out of Haiti took years before the quake, and now they're on hold. As I read the article, I could understand both sides, yet my heart breaks for a child who has found the warmth of a mother's arms.

Haiti Article

My heart breaks for little Sonson and for Tamara. As I look at my 2 year old, I can't think too much about what would happen to him if we were gone. It fills me with sadness and anxiety. I'm thankful every day that he has an amazing father who stays home with him. Kisses him, hugs away his boo-boos, and is a constant in his life.

On this Father's Day, I pray that all children around the world who are without a father know they have one father who is always with them. A father who will never leave them and who is constantly wrapping his loving arms around them. Abba - Father - God.

I ask that today and all days you pray for the little ones in the world who are without a family. Pray that they will be safe, cared for, loved. Pray that they will always feel the love of their constant Father.

I close out this post with tears in my eyes. Since I've accepted the postcard, tears seem to be a constant for me. My heart wants to save them all.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Intern

The first bags have arrived for Handbags for Hope! As a result, we've had to hire our first employee. I'd like to introduce - Summer Intern Sofia - SIS. (Also known as Sissy by her brother.)

Summer Intern Sofia will be opening all of the boxes of hope that arrive. She'll work on sorting and placing toiletries inside each bag. Her contract was a tough one and we spent hours negotiating her pay. Given that she's such a hard worker, and so cute, we met her full list of demands. Summer Intern Sofia will be paid in baked goods, lots of hugs and kisses, and will be allowed extra time to play her favorite game on the Wii - Star Wars. She's got a big heart and we're excited to have her on our team.

A big THANK YOU to Cheryle for being the first to donate to such a worthy cause. I'll make sure they make their way to the very deserving women of Haiti.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

GIve til it Hurts a Little

I always wonder where we got it. My sisters and me. Was there one event in our childhood that made us this way? Is it something our mother did?

This weekend my sister Kris is on the MS150 with my super cool niece Lou. They biked 75 miles today, the last 10 in the rain. Tomorrow they'll get up and do another 75. My sister Becky is currently in LA and just finished crewing the CA AIDS Ride. Her team had 6 days of schlepping water and poodle skirts to feed and entertain the riders who biked from San Fran to LA.

All four of us have given money, raised money, walked, biked, baked, organized, asked, and sweat. Adult, child, animal. If there's a need, the Opland girls will step in and take care of it the best we can. We're fundraisers, advocates, and some of the hardest working volunteers you'll ever meet. (We're pretty darn good at being lazy too.)

During one of Becky's fundraising events, she had the greatest quote on her ask letter: "Give til it hurts a little, for those who hurt a lot". It made me think about the story in the Bible about the widow's mite. All she had left to her name were two coins, and she donated them. (Mark 12:41-44)

Last Sunday I was talking to a gentleman at church who's a pilot. He flies into Haiti on a regular basis and gave me some pointers on what to expect when I get there. He said the first thing I'll notice is the smell. But no worries, I'll get used to it. He said the good news is that I'll lose lots of weight due to the stomach ailment most people who visit there get. He also talked about the poverty and said we truly don't understand what that means. We worry about losing our cars, where the people of Haiti worry about their next meal, which might be days away.

I'm sure many things will shock and sadden me what I land in Cap-Haitien. Third world. Having lived my entire life in the US, I truly have no concept of what that means.

It costs $300 per month to care for each baby. Clothing, diapers, formula, medical attention, and more. Will you please consider giving to help the babies? Give for Wilson, Odelande, Daniel, Robert, Rachel, and sweet little Theo who I cannot wait to snuggle and kiss.

Give til it hurts a little - for those who hurt a lot.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Handbags for Hope - Update

To all my Handbags for Hope friends - you can send your donations here:

Handbags for Hope
attn: Karen
1426 - 133rd Ave.
New Richmond, WI 54017

We even have an email addy:

Bags need to arrive by August 1st to make it down during my trip. However, I have secured a cargo option, and will be working to find an organization to receive shipments after my trip. No matter what you send, I will ensure it gets distributed.

Thanks for all of the offers to send money for shipping. As with my commitment to pay all of my expenses, I'm also committing to pay the fees for anything over the maximum lbs I'm allowed to check on my flight into Cap-Haitien. If you do wish to contribute, please click on the link above for Children of the Promise and donate directly to them.

Feel free to post your questions here, or send an email. Thanks to you ALL for the hope you are spreading to Haiti. I'll make sure everything gets distributed and post many pictures.

Monday, June 7, 2010

#1 Question

When I tell people I'm going to Haiti, the very first thing they ask me is, "Are you going to bring any kids home?" Anyone who knows me knows my answer. I'd bring home as many as I could. Just fill up the plane. Our house is very modest by US standards. By tent camp standards, it's a palace. I'm sure we could comfortably fit 50 kids in here.

Adoptions out of Haiti were closed soon after the quake. The adoptions that were already in process were expedited and they got those kids out of there as soon as they could. But when it comes to new adoptions, it's not possible right now. Even getting a child out on a medical visa is difficult. And we've all seen the news. You can't just take kids out of Haiti, even with the best of intentions.

Kittens and kids.
We started out with one cat - Phoebe. She's a fat, happy calico. A few winters ago, the neighbor kicked their kitten outside in the cold. My husband told me to not let him in. What do you think I did? He was just a tiny kitten and he didn't eat much. Just two cats. It's a good number.

My daughter and I started volunteering at a rescue program. There was a 13 year old cat. He so needed a forever home to spend his final years. "Three cats, please? I'll clean all of the litter boxes and never complain."

We were at the rescue the day a kitten named Squeaks was brought back by his adopted mom. He was having seizures and she wasn't able to deal with it. He temporarily lost his vision and would back himself into a corner and just sit there. "I'll only take him until he's better. Once he's healthy again, we'll bring him back to the rescue."

We now have four cats. You can understand my husband's concern about me traveling to Haiti.

When I see my two children playing, I see another little boy in the mix. I can see him - whoever he is - standing by my children. If it's meant to be, some day we'll have another member of our family.

But I more cats.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I'm in love

OK blog friends - I need you to keep a secret for me. I'm in love and can't let my husband know. His name is Theo. He's got beautiful brown eyes that just draw me in. I look at his picture every day and I'm constantly thinking about him.

You've guessed it - he's one of the babies at Children of the Promise. My heart fell for him the first time I saw his picture. You can check him out here:

Theo has severe hydrocephalus. (Google it if you've never heard of it) The first picture that was posted of him showed a baby in terrible pain. He hadn't had shunt surgery. The pressure of the spinal fluid in his head must have been terrible. After the earthquake, American doctors who were in Haiti operated on him and he got his shunt. The picture that was posted after his surgery brought tears to my eyes. Finally - relief.

Theo touched my heart because my 17 year old nephew has hydrocephalus. I wonder what would have happened to my sister if she lived in Haiti. Most likely she and her son would not have lived through the delivery. I've seen all of the surgeries, therapy, treatments and challenges my nephew has endured over his 17 years. It makes me wonder about Theo and how he'll fare long-term. It also amazes me that he's made it this far. Theo has a purpose here on earth.

When I arrive at Children of the Promise on August 16th, I hope Theo is the first baby I get to hold. I'm saving up a lot of snuggles and kisses just for him.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Handbags for Hope

Ever since I accepted the postcard, I've been amazed at what has followed. After giving the sermon at church I walked away with over $400. Later that week a check for $1,000 arrived in the mail. There have been on-line donations, additional checks, cash. All without asking for money.

Let me get this out before I go on any further. From the very start I made the commitment to pay for 100% of my own expenses for this trip. Airfare, personal supplies, vaccinations. That means that every penny that people are giving me will be helping the children. When God opens a door...

As most of you know, I've adopted a vegan diet. I'm an animal nut, and it was a natural transition for me. I've done a lot of searching for vegan businesses. One that caught my eye is Susan Nichole. You can find them here: I LOVE their bags. They post sales on Facebook, and many nights I load up a cart with a bag or two. When I get to checkout, a little voice goes off in my head. "Where else could you be using that money, Karen?" I linger a bit longer on the page, then close out without making a purchase.

The other evening I was on Facebook, reading one of their posts. It had pictures of two adorable bags. Wish list bags for me. I'm not sure why, but I decided to post a comment. Here's part of my post: " I keep getting close to buying one then hesitate. Traveling to Haiti this summer. A bag for for the kids. The kids win out. :-)"

What followed is another one of those things that brings me to tears. The company contact me. They want to donate some of their bags to women in Haiti. Not only that, but they are asking their Facebook and Twitter followers to donate bags as well.

Now, you might be wondering about sending super cute vegan handbags to a third world country. After all, many of these people don't know where their next meal will come from. Why handbags? Read on.

Earlier in the day I read an article on CNN about a middle class Haitian woman who lost everything in the quake. Her home, her job, all of her belongings. She was forced to live in one of the tent camps. The article went on to describe how she purchased a handbag - one to store the only personal belongings she had: shampoo, a change of clothes, and two pictures. It is something she could keep with her and hold onto. One last piece of home.

These handbags symbolize hope. And love. They will let the women know they are not forgotten. We care. And we want them to know that.

Some day I'll indulge and buy a bag for myself. For now, I'll take joy in knowing that in August I get to hand them out to very deserving Haitian women. A little bag of hope.

My Postcard Arrived - excerpt from a sermon

I often joke with my friends that prayer would be so much easier if God just sent postcards. You say a prayer, ask a question or have a request, and a few days later a postcard shows up in the mail. Wouldn’t that be beautiful?

Picture the scene: After getting home from work, I grab the mail. As I flip past all the bills, I come upon a beautiful postcard. There’s a picture with a blue sky, a couple of wispy clouds, a rainbow streaking across it. The card reads:

Dear Karen:

You know that animal rescue you keep thinking about opening up? I want you to do that. Buy the hobby farm down the road. I will provide.



I run into the living room to tell my husband. “Jason! We HAVE to buy the hobby farm down the road!”

Jason’s response? “Are you crazy? That place is half a million dollars. We can’t possibly afford that!”

“But I got the postcard!”

“Ooooh…well then…”

You can’t possibly argue with a postcard from God.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Many weeks after the earthquake in Haiti, my postcard arrived. It came in the form of a whisper. A thought that never left my mind. A voice that kept saying:

“I need you to help the children of Haiti.”

Since it wasn’t an actual postcard, doubt crept in. Maybe I’ve just been watching too much CNN. He can’t possibly be asking me to travel to Haiti. I’ve got my own children. Has He SEEN how big the tarantulas are there? And what about the LITTLE bugs? Malaria, Typhoid Fever, Hepatitis.

“I need you to help the children of Haiti.”

But God, this isn’t what I’ve been asking for. I’ve actually been asking about my JOB. What do you want me to do for work? You know, I really want to buy that hobby farm down the road and save a bunch of animals. All God’s creatures. Get it?

“I need you to help the children of Haiti.”

What followed was something that will still bring me to tears. A series of what I call ‘divine coincidences’. An orphanage presented itself. The money to cover the travel expenses came in the way of an unexpected bonus at work. My boss actually approved the vacation time.

I will be traveling to Haiti the early hours of August 16th where I will be volunteering at an orphanage called Children of the Promise. My days and nights will be spent caring for little ones, primarily ages birth to 2 years old. Changing diapers, bathing, feeding, providing therapy. There will be big bugs, and there will be little bugs. But I got the postcard, and I have to go.