The Incredible 10-year-old Advocate I Met at the Sprayground

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(Description of top image: A young boy with brown hair and a smile on his face leaning his head lovingly against his mom, who has awesome purple hair and is wearing a “Panic! At the Disco” shirt.)

This is what advocacy looks like. I recently had the privilege to meet this exceptional young man who is going to change the world. Actually, he is already changing the world.

It was a hot summer day so I took my two children to a local sprayground. We brought some toys to play with in the water, including a bright beach ball. My youngest son and I tried several times to get the bach ball to float on top of the water jets that came out of the ground, but we weren’t having much luck. Another little boy came over and started trying to help, striking up a conversation with me in the process. His name was Xander. My own son got bored and walked away, but my new friend and I kept trying, laughing at each failed attempt. Finally, after several tries, we accomplished our goal and let out a cheer.

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Image description: An orange and white beach ball that is being held above the ground by the jets of water beneath it.

Soon after we were able to get the ball in the air, however, Xander’s little brother knocked it down. He obviously enjoyed manipulating the water flow and watching the ball fall to the ground. Again. And again. And again. His fun was different from the one we had in mind, but he was still having fun.

His repetitive, single-minded behavior seemed familiar to me. What was even more familiar was the fact that he was so focused on what he was doing that he didn’t seem to his hear his older brother when he protested, “Stop!”

“Sorry about that,” Xander apologized, “He’s ADHD.”

I braced myself for what was going to come next, because I mistakenly thought that he was about to disparage his brother and his behavior. As the mother of an autistic child, and as a neurodivergent individual myself, I get sad when I hear family members talking down to or about their loved one.

I shouldn’t have worried.

Xander continued talking, “He’s not a bad kid, he’s just ADHD. He doesn’t hear me when I talk to him. Well, he can sometimes hear me, but he processes differently. He’s, like, a Windows phone in an Android world.”

“I get it!” I replied.

“You do?” Xander asked, incredulously. “I’m glad you get it. Some people don’t understand. They think he’s a bad kid, but he’s just different. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. But one time some people called the police on us. They don’t get it.”

Other people may not “get it,” but it was obvious that young Xander did. It was also obvious that he was being raised in a household where acceptance was actively taught. I stood there listening to him wishing I had a photographic memory. I wanted to remember exactly every word this remarkable young man said to me. His way of speaking about his brother was so incredibly heartfelt and supportive that it made my heart and my eyes swell. I was amazed that he had the bravery to talk to an adult to explain and support his brother. He cared very much about making sure that I understood his brother and didn’t judge him unfairly.  Continue reading

The Healing Hands of our Children Can Save This Broken World

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Far too many frightening things happen in our world, and recent violent events weigh heavy on my heart. These events cause concern about what the future will bring for not just the world but for my own children. It also makes me wonder what, if anything, I should tell them about the harsh stories in the news.

One afternoon I was out running errands with my oldest son, and checked my phone after pulling into a parking space. I saw a news alert that the number of dead from a horrifying attack had just been raised. Without thinking about it, an “OH NO!” escaped my lips. Then I sat in stunned silence, overwhelmed with worry about the state of our broken world. The world my children will inherit.

From the backseat I heard a small, concerned voice. “What is it, Mommy?”

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I had a choice to make. Part of me wanted him to stay innocent and pure. To keep believing in the goodness of his fellow human beings. The other part of me wanted him to know that there is evil out there and he must be on guard against it. Should I keep protecting him from the harsh realities of this world we live in, or was he old enough to understand?

I took a deep breath, and began speaking with a shaky voice, Continue reading

Letters to Mr. Goss: Acts of Kindness Week

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Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to just be about romantic love, it can be a time to reach out and perform an act of kindness to brighten someone’s day. There is even a whole WEEK dedicated to it every year around February 14. For many years I have tried to find someone to reach out to in a positive way around this time. Sometimes it is by lending a helping hand, and other times it is in order to say “Thank you!” to someone who had a positive influence on others. Six years ago I helped classmates contact a former High School teacher, who was also very ill, because we wanted him to know that he had made a difference in the lives of countless students. Turns out it was just in timeContinue reading

Can Our Children Heal This Broken World?

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There have been a lot of frightening things happening in the world the past few weeks. Recent events like those in Beirut, Paris, Mali, and the ongoing situation in Syria all weigh heavy on my heart. They cause me to worry about what the future will bring for my children. It also makes me wonder what, if anything, I should tell them about the harsh stories in the news.

One recent afternoon I was out running errands with my oldest son, and checked my phone after pulling into a parking space. I saw a news alert that the number of dead from a horrifying attack had just been raised. Without thinking about it, an “OH NO!” escaped my lips. Then I sat in stunned silence, overwhelmed with worry about the state of our broken world. The world my children will inherit.

From the backseat I heard a small, concerned voice. “What is it, Mommy?”

I had a choice to make. Part of me wanted him to stay innocent and pure. To keep believing in the goodness of his fellow human beings. The other part of me wanted him to know that there is evil out there and he must be on guard against it. Should I keep protecting him from the harsh realities of this world we live in, or is he old enough to understand? Continue reading

Firsthand Look at Syrian Migrant Camp in Slavonski Brod: Stories and pictures shared by humanitarian workers

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They arrived hungry and cold asking ‘where am I’ and wondering how long they would be in this camp… They were the face of humanity, longing to be treated as humans. Their faces were streaked with tears, whether from the cold or something far greater, I do not know. All I know is our tears came from overwhelming love, breathtaking grief and bottomless compassion.”

Those words were written by a friend who is currently serving in the Slavonski Brod camp at the Serbian/Croatian border. She and a team from First Baptist, Richmond are doing what they can to meet the needs of the scores of people (approximately 6,000 per day) who arrive there in a desperate search for refuge, help and hope. Some of the team members have been posting updates and they have given me permission to share them with you. It depicts real people in the midst of great hardship. Please take a moment to look. What is happening there is important. These people are all of us. I urge you to not turn away. ~Jennifer

Posted by Ann Whitfield Carter at Washington Dulles International Airport, Sunday, November 1, 10;30pm  •

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A week ago I had no idea I would be on a plane headed to Istanbul tonight. But opportunity knocks and I can’t say no. I will be spending a week on the Serbia/Croatia border working in a Syrian refugee camp. 5,000 people steam through there a day looking for some food, some rest, and medical attention before they continue their journey. Grateful for a church that cares about the world and sends people to help meet the most basic human needs: safety, food, rest.

 

Posted by Ann, November 3 at 1:37am • Osijek, Croatia •
No sleep yet. My mind is racing. Elvis, a Bosnian born seminary student, along with his cohorts Evan and Miki picked us up from the airport. Because I tend toward car sickness, I rode shotgun and heard the most amazing story on our three hour drive (the one benefit to motion sickness!) This summer, Elvis and his friends had been gathering supplies through their local church for some community service project or other. The Syrian refugee crisis happened before they put their supplies to use. So Elvis and his friends went down to the Serbian border with their supplies and began handing out supplies. Local police who were trying to manage the flow of humanity began to work along side these young men to serve the refugees. Pretty soon, local government, UNICEF, the Red Cross and the Catholic Church were pooling their resources together, and a camp was formed. (They are opening a second camp this week) That was 90 days ago. Today’s trip to Budapest to pick us up was their first time away from the camps since then.

THAT, my friends, IS WHAT THE CHURCH IS CALLED TO DO. To be the hands and feet of Christ, seeing needs, being the first to generously share their resources, and welcome partners into the process of meeting those needs.

I am amazed by these young men – they are courageous leaders. Our world is a better place because Elvis and Miki and Evan are in it.

 

Posted by Ann, Tuesday, November 3 in Osijek •

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Elvis calls this is the Croatian Ferrari. One time all the farmers drove to Zagreb to protest a government policy – on their tractors. It took them 2 days.

 

Posted by Ann, November 3 at 6:57pm • Oriovac, Croatia •

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Tomorrow morning, a new camp is opening in Slavonsky Brod. Today, a train filled with refugees came for a trial run before the real thing tomorrow. Tonight, Steve Blanchard, Jeff Dortch (Jeannie), Lisa Tuck and I will work from 10-7 helping the camp put the final preparations in place. They will begin to receive refugees first thing in the morning. This camp will be better equipped for the winter months. The refugees don’t have to walk to get here, they can take a train. They can wait to register in the warmth of a train car rather than outside in the cold. There are a few winterized tents that will not only protect from the elements, but will keep them warmer than the summer tents at the other camp. This is a major endeavor, yet the organization is impressive. Volunteers from Caritas, Jesuite Refugee Services, the Red Cross, UNICEF, Samaritan’s Purse, local police, and the Croatia Baptist Aid are working together to warmly welcome the 5,000 plus refugees who stream through here each day.

Elvis story of the day: He said something at dinner about “failing forward.” I asked him what that meant and he said that when something needs to be done and you don’t know how to do it, you have to start somewhere and just keep adapting and adjusting until it works. When you try to do something this big, you can’t be afraid to fail – because you are going to fail. You just have to keep failing until you succeed. Truth.

So now I am going to sleep before I pull an all nighter!

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Posted by Ann, Wednesday, November 4, 4:40am, • Lovas, Croatia•

A 4am train filled with 1200 precious humans. Next stop Zagreb.

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Comment by Steve: “Such an eerie representation of human suffering as refugees debark from trains at Croatian camp”  Continue reading