Monday, November 05, 2012

Election Recommendations

Long time, no see. :)

Whenever election season rolls around many of my friends ask me my thoughts, especially on constitutional amendments, which can be quite confusing. Now, I recommend that everyone make up their own mind, and there are some great resources out there, like the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, otherwise known as PAR. They do a great job of outlining the amendments and give the arguments for and against each one. Their "Guide to the 2012 Constitutional Amendments" is a great to help you understand the issues.

GeauxVote.comAnother great resource is the Louisiana Secretary of State's GeauxVote web portal. It's a "clearinghouse for all elections-related information, from elections and voter registration information to statistics and educational materials." One of the best things to look at is the link in the middle of the page that says Sample Ballot. That will take you to a page where you can find out exactly what's on your ballot for your precinct. This will include any local issues in your area, not just the state-wide or parish-wide matters. I highly recommend it.

Now with that being said, here are my recommendations, based on the ballot for my precinct:

Presidential Electors - Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan - While I'm not a Republican (I'm actually registered as "No Party"), I am solidly a conservative and the Romney/Ryan ticket comes the closest to representing the values that are important to me. I'm proud that our country was color-blind four years ago in selecting a president, but values matter, and I believe we need smaller-government and a return to Judeo-Christian values on issues like life and marriage. And we must stand by Israel, which I am not convinced our current president is willing to do. So I recommend a vote for Mitt Romney for President and Palu Ryan for Vice-President.

U.S. Representative, 5th Cong. District - Rodney Alexander - Rep. Alexander has been very responsive to me as an individual and to our beloved City of Pineville. His experience and seniority will serve him well in future terms.I strongly recommend we return him to office.


1. Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly - YES
This would give constitutional protection to this particular fund, preventing it from being used for any other purpose. In a perfect world this should not be necessary, but there are already so many other "protected" funds that this one needs to be protected as well.

2. Strict Scrutiny Review for Gun Laws - YES
This would make it harder for the legislature to pass laws restricting gun ownership, thus ensuring the right to keep and bear arms is known as a fundamental right.

3. Earlier Notice of Public Retirement Bills - NO
This would require bills affecting the state's public retirement systems to be filed a month earlier than other bills. This is unnecessary and burdensome.

4. Homestead Exemption for Veterans’ Spouses - YES
This ammendment cleans up an unfortunate loophole from a 2010 amendment that allows LA veterans with 100% service-connected disabilities to claim a higher homestead exemption. There were a few cases where the veteran died before the amendment went into effect, thus not allowing the spouse to receive the benefit that LA voters overwhelmingly approved. This amendment grandfathers in those few situations.

5. Forfeiture of Public Retirement Benefits - YES
This amendment would allow the courts to require any public servant convicted of a felony associated with his office to forfeit some or all of his public retirement benefits. While most public corruption cases are handled at the federal court level, this sends a strong message that LA will not tolerate corruption.

6. Property Tax Exemption Authority for New Iberia - NO
This amendment would allow New Iberia to grant property tax exemptions to owners of property annexed into the city after Jan. 1, 2013. While it is a good idea in theory, this economic development tool should be offered to all cities or none, not just one.

7. Membership of Certain Boards and Commissions - YES
Many of our state boards and commissions have their members selected based on the number of congressional districts. Since the 2010 census stripped us of a congressional district, we need to change the way we select members to these boards. This is a necessary housekeeping amendment. (It really should be a revised statue and not a constitutional amendment issue, but that's just the way it is.)

8. Non-Manufacturing Tax Exemption Program - YES
This amendment would give us another economic development tool in attracting new businesses to our state. It would help make LA more attractive to certain non-manufacturing businesses (corporate headquarters, distribution centers, data services centers, etc) that have typically gone to other states.

9. More Notice for Crime Prevention District Bills - NO
This amendment would require extra notice before elections are held to create "crime prevention districts" throughout the state. Any time you add "special notice" requirements to any issue you simply confuse matters, no matter how well-intentioned the effort may have been.

LOCAL OPTION - Term Limits for Local School Board Members - YES
This would limit school-board members to serving 3 consecutive terms (beginning in 2014). Term-limits are a two-edged sword in that they also keep good elected officials from continuing to serve. But they also keep fresh points of view coming onto the boards which should be good for students.

Parishwide Proposition (Library Millage Renewal) - YES
Our library is an incredibly important resource on so many levels. This is a renewal of an existing tax and should receive our strong support.

Parishwide Proposition, Bond and Millage, Coliseum - YES
This is the proposal to essentially rebuild the Rapides Parish Coliseum and make it a state-of-the-art facility for hosting events that otherwise would go to Shreveport, Lafayette or Baton Rouge. This is a "quality of life issue" in my opinion that will have a positive effect on our area for many years. I understand some may oppose any new taxes, but I think this one is worthwhile.

Rigolette School District Number 11 Proposition (Tax Renewal) - YES
This may not be on your ballot unless you live in my area, but I typically vote to renew school district taxes. We have excellent schools and to keep them excellent we've got to keep their funding in place.

So there you have it, these are my recommendations. You might not agree and that's ok. That's the American way. But whether you agree or not, please remember to go vote on Tuesday, November 6 from 6:00AM-8:00PM. God will use YOU to chart the future of our nation!


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Our Adoption Story ... Part 3

Hello again, friends, It's been a little longer between updates than I intended, but I am getting better! February simply flew by and before I knew it March was half way gone. I just got back from another amazing trip to Mexico and our church's Jubilee is this coming weekend, so I thought I'd better sit down right now and get another update out before summer gets here! ;)

My last update left off with us beginning the official adoption process through Carolina Adoption Services, the only adoption agency certified by Mexico (at that time). We were assigned to Angela J. who oversees CAS's Mexico, Peru and Waiting Child programs. She explained the (lengthy) process to us and made sure we understood that adopting from Mexico was considered a "pilot program." Mexico is still in the process of conforming to the Hague Convention and the process is subject to being clarified, adapted, updated, changed, etc. But we felt peace about it and decided to press on.

Part of the application process is to put together a complete dossier on our family, including the following information (plus some):
  • Home study by a licensed agency
  • Medical Certificate for each adoptive parent
  • Psychological Evaluation
  • Financial Statement
  • Criminal background check
  • Photographs of home and family
There's a whole lot more to it, but this gives you an idea of the types of information requested. Some of these steps are quite extensive. For example, the Home Study required multiple interviews, some in our home, some with our children. We also had to go through some specialized education to understand children who have gone through trauma (including living in institutionalized settings, such as orphanages). We actually enjoyed the classes and reading - I wish I had had this kind of access a long time ago. The background checks were extensive, including every area we had lived in since the age of 18.

Because there was so much information needed, Lori actually resigned her job to devote full-time attention to completing the dossier. And she did a magnificent job! Every item had to be checked and rechecked for accuracy, notarized and finally sent to the Secretary of State to receive an "apostille" from their office, certifying the notary. When it was all said and done it was a very thick 3-ring binder that Lori organized with color-coded section dividers. I'm so proud of her! We got the dossier sent off to CAS in mid-February, 2011 and after reviewing it they forwarded it on to the translator. About a month later it was submitted to the Department of Exterior Relations in Mexico City, and in mid-April it arrived in Puebla for consideration by the DIF (acronym for the "Full Development of the Family" agency that oversees orphanages, adoptions and other family-related matters).

We had been told it could take quite awhile for Puebla to approve our application as they are very thorough in reviewing all applicants, as they should be, since the well-being of children is at stake. Sometime in September Lori had the idea of us going to Puebla to meet the officials in person so they could get to know us and hear our hearts. It's one thing to read an application, it's another thing to look someone in the eye and understand their motive for wanting to adopt a child. We also thought it would be good for them to know we are fluent in Spanish and want to raise our son with full knowledge and appreciation of his Mexican heritage. We contacted CAS to ask about the possibility, they contacted the Puebla officials who extended the invitation, and we made plans to go to Puebla at the end of a previously planned trip to southern Mexico in November.

After participating in the final leadership seminar (out of 6) in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Lori and I took a bus to Puebla on Sunday, November 27, 2011 for our meeting the next morning. We absolutely LOVED Puebla! It's a city full of amazing history, architecture and great food! And our meeting with the DIF officials went very well. They gave us a letter telling us they had approved our application and we were officially on the waiting list for international families!!! This was GREAT news! Of course there are a lot of other families ahead of us, but we know God has the perfect little boy waiting for our hearts and home.

So now we wait. There are ongoing activities. For example, we had to renew our USCIS approval to adopt internationally, and to do that we had to update our homestudy and get new background checks done. After our homestudy update was completed we had to travel down to New Orleans to update our "biometrics" (a fancy name for fingerprints). We got our approval letter last week letting us know we're good through May of 2013. Hopefully the adoption will be completed by then, or we'll have to do all this again for another 15-month extension. But God is in charge of the time-frame.

One last update - Mexico is consolidating the adoption process through the national DIF in Mexico City. So the files for all children from all the states who are eligible to be adopted will sent to DIF/Mexico City to first attempt to have them adopted in Mexico, and then placed for international adoption. This is obviously best for the children to be adopted within their country, culture and language. But as I stated before, we know God has this process in His hands and we continue to pray for the Mexican officials as they work in the best interest of the children they are protecting and serving.

Hopefully that gets you all up to date and I'll post further updates as things happen. Thanks for your prayers and interest.

Nathan & Lori

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Our Adoption Story ... Part 2

Hello friends,

In my previous post I shared with you how Lori and I came to the decision to explore international adoption in response to the Haiti earthquake. The night after our decision I posted an entry on this blog entitled "Do Something" in which I urged everyone to find something they could do in response to the earthquake. For example, I had given platelets that morning - not that it would solve the crisis, but it was something. And I mentioned in that post that Lori was on the computer next to me researching options for international adoption.

As we began researching how to adopt from Haiti it wasn't very long before we discovered that it would be a long time before the Haitian government was ready to allow new adoptions. Although adoptions that were already in the pipeline could be fast-tracked, there was so much work to be done to determine if a child truly was an orphan, if there were extended family that a child could be placed with, etc, that new adoptions were being placed on hold indefinitely. (See this USA Today story for a further explanation.) So we began to investigate other countries. We looked at Nepal, India, the Philippines, and China, among others, and discovered that each country has their own regulations for prospective adoptive parents, including things such as age, height, weight, income, number of children in the home, etc. Nothing seemed to fit.

One day my mom asked me why we weren't adopting from Mexico, since we had lived there for several years as missionaries, spoke the language, knew the culture and had a deep love for the people (evidenced by our continual working there over the years, including our regular trips to the Benito Juarez Children's Home in Reynosa). My response was simply that we had looked into it and discovered that Mexico required a 2-3 month stay for adoptive parents to finalize the adoption and I didn't feel I could be gone that long. She asked why not and I responded with the obvious (to me) explanation of who could be gone that long and pastor a church at the same time. Her response was that we had capable ministers in place and that she was sure they would support our decision to do this, covering for me while we were out of the country.

Well that just floored me! I had not seriously considered Mexico as a viable option, due to the extended stay requirement. But as I talked with our church board and the ministers we have in place, they unanimously affirmed their support of this option, encouraging me to move in that direction. Their support was the final confirmation. So we decided to step out by faith and commit to adoption from Mexico. And it was a step of faith! We had no idea what the journey ahead held for us.

One of the things we quickly discovered is a little thing called "Hague Convention." In 2008 the United States had entered into an international agreement called the Hague Adoption Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption. This totally changed the landscape of international adoptions for countries who signed on to make a level playing field for international adoptions. It created uniform standards for international adoptions, partly to prevent the abduction, sale of, or traffic in children, and it works to ensure that inter-country adoptions are in the best interests of children. This is a very good thing for children. But it also slows things way down!

One of the interesting side-notes of the US entering in the Hague Convention is that there was only one agency certified by the Mexican government to handle international adoptions by US citizens. We were blessed to discover it was the agency we had already begun having talks with, the Carolina Adoption Services. God had been guiding us without us even realizing it! Since the Mexico program was so new, they were limiting the number of applicants to adopt from Mexico. After quite a bit of dialog back and forth they agreed to accept us into their limited pilot program of non-relative cases and then it was time to kick things into high gear. Or to paraphrase a well-known saying, we had to hurry up so we could wait. :) My next blog entry will talk about the hurrying up part, so stay tuned for that. And thanks for reading this far.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Our Adoption Story ... so far

Hello friends,

How many times have I started a blog with a statement like "I can't believe it's been so long since my last post"? Too many. So let me get the apologies out of the way (I'm sorry!) and jump straight to fulfilling my promise from last year of telling you our adoption story.

Lori and I have been very blessed with three lovely daughters who are even more amazing than their names, Joy, Faith and Hope. Over the years, however, we had discussed adopting a boy to round out the family, but I had generally shot down the idea because I wasn't concerned about the "empty nest" creeping up on us. So although we had discussed it, it really wasn't something that was on the forefront of our thoughts.

Then two years ago this month, on January 12, 2010, Haiti was hit by one of the most catastrophic earthquakes in modern history. Lori and I sat transfixed to the television watching coverage of attempts to save lives and marveling at each success story. And crying together over the tremendous devastation and loss of life. Over 300,000 lives were lost and over 1,000,000 people were homeless, without hope. It was a horrific situation. We felt hopeless to help from so far away.

On Monday, January 18, our church joined with many others in participating in the online prayer service hosted by Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge that was being broadcast over the Internet. It was an amazing time of worship and prayer as Healing Place was able to connect with many national leaders and begin a systematic approach to providing tangible help for Haiti, including boots on the ground opportunities as well as strategic giving opportunities.

During our prayer time I was reminded of the story of the little boy and the starfish. It tells of a man seeing a boy throwing starfish back into the ocean that had been washed up during the high tide, believing they would die if not returned to the water. The man comments on the many miles of beach, the size of the ocean, the countless number of starfish and the smallness of the boy, essentially telling him he can't make a difference to such a big problem. In response, the boy picks up one more starfish, throws it back into the ocean and says, "I made a difference for that one." (I later found out this story was adapted from an original story by Loren Eiseley called The Star Thrower.)

That story struck a chord in me as I prayed about the countless victims of the Haiti earthquake. There was no way we could make a difference to so many. I pastor a small church in a small town in a small state. What difference could I make? But then again, was there a difference I could make to one? The faces of the many orphans flashed through my mind as I prayed through my tears to a decision.

I went to Lori and told her that if she still wanted to adopt internationally, I was in. Little did I know that during this same prayer time she had surrendered her desire to adopt on the altar. Seeing all the children in the news had rekindled her longing to adopt, but she knew I had been opposed in the past. So she told the Lord she would die to that dream and wouldn't bring it up to me again - that if the Lord wanted us to adopt, He would have to put it on my heart. We wept together as we committed to the Lord to explore the journey of adopting internationally. Little did we know how long that journey would be!

to be continued...