Choosing Hope

Choosing Hope_Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis

This week our church had the privilege of welcoming Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis for a community event here in her home town of Greenwich, CT.

She is the is the author of Choosing Hope: Moving Forward From Life’s Darkest Hours and the Executive Director & Founder of Classes 4 Classes. https://classes4classes.org/

A local newspaper, the Greenwich Sentinel did a nice job covering event and you can watch a brief recap here:

https://www.greenwichsentinel.com/2016/02/25/former-sandy-hook-teacher-inspires-encourages-hope/

Kaitlin is a wonderful example of how a person who suffered through a horrific tragedy is able to move forward..not necessarily move on.

On December 14, 2012 gun shots sounded throughout the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  It was indeed a dark day for America and a day of unimaginable pain and loss for the parents of the innocent children whose lives were taken from them.

While my wife Lauretta and I welcomed our twin boys Jack and Blake into the world that same morning, we were simultaneously reading the reports of that attack back home.  Our faces were flooded with tears of joy (for the new life brought into the world) and tears of profound sadness (for the parents who would never hold their children again in this life).

It was a day that we will never forget, nor will Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis

Kaitlin was there that day, fulfilling her life-long goal working as a teacher.  Her heroic actions saved the lives of her 15 first-graders that day and she shared with us last evening the emotions and thoughts swirling through her mind during those life-and-death minutes between the shooter’s first fire and the SWAT team’s rescue.

I appreciated her vulnerability and honesty in sharing just how frightened and virtually crippled that day made her and how it was a long and painful process towards healing.  Through prayer and the immense support of family and friends, Kaitlin was able to move beyond that fateful day and not let that dark moment define her future.  She now seeks to help others do the same.

Through a powerful array of inspiration stories, poems, quotations and personal reflections, Kaitlin is able to offer a message of hope to all who have gone through difficult and dark times.  Each day we have an opportunity before us to choose hope.  This choice, as she states, is not always easy but is possible and helpful to bring healing. We cannot control the situations surround us, especially the choices and actions of others.  However we can choose our attitudes and actions and how we respond to situations and circumstances.  We will respond with fear and despair (which is crippling) or hope? (which is life-giving).  In her own words:  “Bad things happen to all of us, things that test us and impact us and change us, but it is not those moments that define.  It is how we choose to react to them that does.”

I believe that part of her own journey towards healing and health, was found in writing her story…as many survivors have done after tragedies.

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http://www.amazon.com/Choosing-Hope-Moving-Forward-Darkest/dp/0399174451

By going through this process, she was able to reflect on her life’s purpose and calling to be an educator and advocate for children.   Though no longer teaching in one particular school, Kaitlin now educates children, teachers and schools across the nation. Her messages are still about choosing hope, but now Kaitlin is able to leverage her influence and use her platform for another vision.  Her organization Classes 4 Classes believes that “when we teach kids empathy and tolerance there is no room for hate.”

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Classes 4 Classes provides a social network that promotes kindness and social curriculum by connecting teachers and students with other classrooms. Now in 10 states nationally, this Pay-it-Forward grass roots movement is exciting and much needed in our country and globally.  Part of Kaitlin’s vision is to see this movement of connectivity, compassion, kindness and generosity spread across the world.

Many people, such as myself, believe that education is a foundation of flourishing for any society.  Today’s children are indeed tomorrow’s leaders and Classes 4 Classes has a great opportunity of making a positive impact through developing life-long friendships that cross sociology-economic, cultural, racial and ethnic lines.   This is a beautiful and bold vision, which I am honored to bring awareness about and advocate for.

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I was honored that she was willing to speak at our church and it was a true delight to facilitate a thoughtful and inspiring Q &A session following her presentation.  I consider her a friend, partner and colleague as together we strive to bring a message of hope into our schools, churches, families and societies.

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December 14…a tale of two emotions

One year ago, on December 14 the greatest moment of my life occurred.

My wife Lauretta and I welcomed our first children into the world.

Jack Adams Haugh and Blake Charles Haugh were born in the afternoon in the city of Paris at a French hospital to the most astonished and amazed parents.

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The strongest emotions of love, joy, vulnerability, pride (and fatigued) overwhelmed us at times.

Like most parents today, within a few hours we turned on our phones and wanted to update Facebook.

Then we saw the tragic news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members in a mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the village of Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut.

The Facebook world, including all of our dear friends and family were in shock, utter disbelief and mourning that day.  For ten years, I lived within a 20-minute drive of Newtown, CT and had colleagues and friends who lived in that town.

As brand new parents, something instantly changed within us and we experienced strong empathy and grief for those parents who lost their beloved sons and daughters.

Needless to say, our joy was and the world’s pain converged that day in our own hearts.

I wondered how God felt that day.  I can imagine that throughout the course of each day people experience tremendous joy while others endure tragedy.

As a brand new parent, now celebrating our boys’ first birthday, I am taken back to Newtown and still cannot fully understand the pain those parents experienced and probably continue to experience.

While the Haugh family celebrates today with balloons and presents, parents in Newtown will use flowers to visit the graves of their babies.

Here at The American Church in Paris we have a community remembrance service as we stand in unity and solidarity over the loss experienced by that community and the world.

I pray for those families. Truly.

I pray they are able to find peace, healing and hope.  I am not too sure how I would cope, but would hope that God’s grace would be sufficient.

If you have yet to watch this short video documenting the healing process of one particular family, I strongly commend it to you.

‘Evil Did Not Win’ At Sandy Hook: Video Celebrates Life Of Emilie Parker, A 6-Year-Old Victim