Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Moved with Compassion

Something has been heavy on my heart tonight, and I just have to put it out there, get it off my chest.  It is not meant to offend anyone, it's just coming from my heart, from my experience, and from my perspective.

I occasionally see posts on social media or news articles about welfare and the poor in our country. It's mostly related to politics, which I understand. We're certainly in the midst of a turbulent time politically in our country. It's difficult for working class or middle class person to be frustrated that their tax dollars are going to support someone else, who maybe isn't working or hasn't made the wisest decisions in their life. I get it. Our economy sucks right now, people are struggling. There are many people who have never worried about paying their bills who have now faced foreclosure, bankruptcy, and extreme hardship. My husband was laid of in January, so I get it. It's hard to live on a Social Worker's salary and unemployment. We did, but just barely. I'm thankful that God has provided me with a new position that will help us financially and that Brent is close to starting a new job, but I constantly remind myself that we are blessed.
"Helping the Homeless" - Ed Yourdon (Creative Commons)

Most of my readers are suburban, middle class individuals. Most of us have never received public benefits or have actually gone hungry. Not "oh I haven't eaten since breakfast" hungry, but "I haven't had a full meal in several days" hungry. I've never felt that, and I imagine you haven't either. Maybe you have, but most of us haven't. I couldn't even imagine how it feels as a young child to go without food, how difficult it is as a parent to struggle to provide for your children, or how scary it is to be homeless and not know who may come to help you with food on any given day.

I've met many people who are struggling like this. I'm currently working very closely with a local DFCS (Georgia's public assistance office for you out of state readers) office through my current position, so I've spent time in the waiting room in several locations. The mood inside these public benefits offices is somber. People don't make eye contact. They look sad, depressed, and discouraged. They are humbled down to asking the government for help. They are struggling. Yes, I imagine fraud exists, but for most of us, asking for help is the last resort.  I've worked with refugees for several years. All refugees (legal immigrants) are given public benefits for the first couple of months. Many of them receive food stamps for several years after that time. They cannot find jobs that pay more than minimum wage, so this food supplement keeps them going as they make a new life in our country.

I don't want to get into the health care debate, but I worked at a charity medical clinic for a year during grad school. I was a counselor and spent my days providing therapy to patients at the clinic. Most of our patients were working class individuals who either lost their jobs or their health insurance. Many struggled with chronic health disorders and were not able to pay for their own insurance. I don't know how many times I sat next to a middle aged woman, trying to help her come up with options to pay her bills or find a job. It felt hopeless, and there were a lot of tears, but we still tried.

Before you throw stones or turn public benefits into a purely political conversation, remember the faces of the children who are able to see a doctor because of Medicaid. Remember the new residents of our country who are able to eat as they work to create a new life here. And remember the people in the DFCS office who are lined up to see if anyone can help them. Public benefits do not fully sustain people by any means. TANF benefits max out at 5 years of an adult's life, no more. You can't have more children to extend your benefits, and if you miss a TANF class or do not fulfill the requirements, your benefits get cut. The average Food Stamp benefit is $208 dollars per month for an average sized family of three. Brent and I spend twice that on food per month. Very few adults have medicaid, most medicaid recipients are children, and the benefits are severely limited. I spent three hours one day trying to find a specialist who would see a medicaid client, and the result was a two month waiting list. Section 8 housing vouchers are essentially non existent now, there isn't even a waiting list. Private organizations are essentially tapped out right now, its almost impossible to find a church or organization with the funds to help someone keep their lights on or put food on the table. Its a vicious, painful cycle for so many people. Its a cycle that brings tears to my eyes, because I've seen it, I can give names and faces to this struggle. I'm going on my fourth year of vocational social work and my sixth year in the non profit world, and I have yet to meet someone who enjoys their situation or who is abusing the system. I'm not naive, I know it happens, but I don't think its as prevalent as the media would like us to believe.

I could go on to talk about cycles of poverty and how insecurity in childhood can perpetuate poverty, mental health issues, or substance abuse later in life. But I try to limit my post lengths, so I'll refrain. Ultimately my prayer is that much like Jesus was, we will be moved with compassion towards the people around us. People are watching us online and out in our communities, especially if we claim to be Christians. Let's put aside assumptions about welfare recipients and try to imagine life in their shoes. I would love to see the day when the private sector can care for everyone in our communities, deserving or not. But in the meantime, I hope I can extend grace and love, and do my best to help those in need around me. As Mother Teresa so eloquently put it:

 “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

***
 
I try to make things positive and give us ways to make a difference through my posts, so if you want to help people in your community and around the world, check out two innovative organizations I've recently learned about. 


Hungry for a Day www.h4ad.com


HopeMob www.hopemob.org

Sunday, July 8, 2012

{SCS} Is it legit?

A question I often get asked is "How do you know if the company you are supporting is actually fair trade?" This is an excellent question, so I thought I'd share with you a few ways that I check into the products I buy.

1. Check the Label: This is pretty self explanatory. If there is a fair trade certification label on the product, then the company has invested time and money into being certified. Third party groups verify these companies' policies and practices.

2. Read the policies: I was in Ireland and went into a store called "Penny's". The store had a sign by the register stating their ethical policies and that they were committed to providing a fair wage and good working conditions to the people who made their products. It made me feel better about shopping there. And I was able to go back and read, in detail, their policies. And call me naive, but I tend to believe that if a company goes to all that effort to display their ethics and makes it a priority, they're trying to make things better. I certainly think its better than a company having NO ethical policy.

3. Ask them about the people who make the products. If the organization is invested in the people who make their products, they'll have stories, examples, and even names of the artisans. I used to work at a shop called "Go Fish" on the Marietta Square. We had pictures, names, and stories of artisans all around our shop, and could explain how our model worked to curious customers.

4. Do some research. If you come across some companies, research them online. Many times you can find news articles, reviews and opinions about the company or organization. That takes a bit of time but information is fairly easy to find.

5. Write a letter: If you're still curious and haven't been able to find information, write a letter to the customer service section of the store or company. My new friend Kristi recently did this with the grocery stores she shops at. Check out her blog to read the responses.

6. Check their grade. I posted about Free2Work last week. Check out Free2Work to see if the company has a grade. They've done a bunch of the legwork for you. And if the company doesn't have a grade, tweet Free2Work to see if they know anything. 

So there you have it. Six simple ways to do some investigating. And this summer, I'm going to do some of the investigating for you. I'll be using these methods before I post any organization on this blog. I've found some great organizations, and I'm excited to share them with you. Lots of good stuff coming soon!

Monday, July 2, 2012

{SCS} Free2Work

Good evening friends! I hope you are having a fantastic start to your fourth of July holiday week. I love this week, its an incredible reminder of how blessed and lucky we are to live in the United States. We are free to do so many different things. Freedom is one of the key values of our country. We are free to eat what we want, go where we want, do what we want. We are free to travel, free to make choices, and free to work to make a living.

Some people in our world, however, are not free to work. They are trapped in debt bondage or forced labor to make the products we use every day. Forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but this is the foundational reason for the {SCS} series this summer. People are in bondage, and we indirectly perpetuate that with our purchases. But we can do something to end it. We can do numerous things to end it.We have power in our purchasing. We have the choice, the freedom, to choose where we shop. And it is a lot easier to make positive choices that help end slavery than you may think.
Photo credit: www.free2work.org

Do you have an iPhone? Android phone? Then you can end slavery with your purchases by downloading an app:

Free2Work

Free2Work is a program from Not for Sale that grades companies based on four ethical principles. Its a way to reward companies who are attempting eradicate slavery from their supply chains and products. It also provides a way for us to know what companies don't pay attention to or don't care about the people who make the products. You can read in detail how the organization rates companies on their website, but they have a thorough, detailed process to get the most accurate information possible in order to provide the grades. Just like the awesome people at Slavery Map, the people at Free2Work are really smart.

I've been able to make purchasing decisions based on Free2Work that have been easy and practical. I feel pretty good about shopping at Gap or Old Navy now, because they earned a B. I also saw a tweet from Not for Sale (NFS) the other day that Gap has been meeting with NFS to discuss supply chains, so I know Gap working hard to be ethical. I know that Adidas and Champion are great companies to buy my running gear from, because they scored a B+ and A-, respectively. And I know that if I'm going to buy chocolate, Hershey's probably isn't the way to go, they got a D.

There are many more brands on Free2Work, I'd encourage you to check it out. You can search for brands, scan products at the store, or browse via category. They have been expanding it to include more brands as well, so its becoming an even better tool. And ultimately, it is another small way you can make a big difference.

Friday, June 29, 2012

{SCS} Getting Started: The Book

I probably should have started the whole {SCS} series with this post, but instead it'll be the last post of the first full week. I've been hearing so much negativity lately on Facebook and other social media. There is so much anger in the area of politics and theology, it can be a major turn off. And I know I can be guilty of being negative or coming across as an angry activist, shaking my fist at the sky. So I thought today it would be beneficial for all of us to just take a deep breath and reflect on what "The Book" tells us about Justice.

"A righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern" - Proverbs 29:7

"I know the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy." - Psalm 140:12

"Learn to do right; seek justice, defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow" - Issiah 1:17

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4:18-19

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Romans 12:15-18

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Incase (Flikr)
I could keep going. This is just a snapshot of all the verses in the Bible about caring for the poor and proclaiming justice. There are hundreds of verses like these. Its a cornerstone of the faith and life of the follower of Jesus. My prayer is we set aside the negativity and focus on what we can do together. Buying 'slave free' isn't about being altruistic or trendy, its about justice. We can make a difference, but we have to work together. And for those of you who follow Jesus or have a moderate amount of respect of the Bible, there's a plethora of verses to spur you on towards justice. And there are millions of people waiting for us to proclaim justice.  Read them, reflect on them, and then act on them. It doesn't get much simpler than that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

{SCS} Getting Started: Community Trade

The picture above is of my favorite spot in Atlanta. Its one of the city's best kept secrets, in my humble opinion. I took this picture on the porch of Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Shop. Its just inside the perimeter, nestled on the Chattahoochee River inside an apartment complex. Its my favorite place to write, dream, and socialize. I was just there planning strategy for an awareness event on Monday night. I've already been there twice this month with plans to go at least two more times.... so I guess you could say I'm a frequent patron.

www.drinkcoffeedogood.com
But Land of a Thousand Hills on the Chattahoochee is more than a coffee shop with good coffee and a great view. It is a place you can go to take part in changing the world. This company, founded by a local Atlana guy Jonathan, is changing the way we drink coffee, one cup at a time. Land of a Thousand Hills and their three coffee shops (Cumming, Roswell and Atlanta/Vinings) start their coffee process from the moment the beans are harvested through a model they call "Community Trade". They work directly with the coffee farmers, ensuring they receive a fair wage and that their community is taken care of. This company's hope is that through this business model, people will be taken care of and communities can build peace. You can read all about them on their website. (And you can order coffee too!)

www.shopgofish.com
There are other organizations that participate in models like Land of a Thousand Hills. The Go Fish Clothing and Jewelry Company was created out of its founder's frequent mission trips around the world. They work directly with artisans to ensure there is a fair price being paid for all products the company sells. I met the founders of Kanzi Crafts last year at a festival. They work with East African artisans to provide sustainable employment, and even give back an additional portion of the proceeds to support ministries in the region.
There are many more organizations who participate in direct trade or community type trading as a business model. Many of these organizations are faith based or attached to a ministry. They may not be fair trade certified (I have been told certification can be expensive for a small business) but they are working to end poverty through sustainable business models. And in many ways, these models work deeper than some fair trade models. They are about direct partnership, truly building a lasting relationship that hollistically helps the community. It's about relationships, which can be a lost art in modern business practices in the western world. And they are driven by people whose passions are for the people they serve, which is a mission I can get behind one hundred percent.

Monday, June 25, 2012

{SCS} Getting Started: Fair Trade Basics

You probably have heard the term 'fair trade'. (not to be confused with 'Free trade' which I hear a lot) If you spend any time with me you probably have heard the term so many times you're sick of it. (I apologize for that.... my only excuse is that I'm a talker and I'm passionate)

But what does 'Fair Trade' really mean? What are the basics of this interesting business sector that is growing exponentially in our nation? I wasn't fully able to explain it myself, so I did some research.

Photo credit: Fair Trade USA
At its core, the definition of fair trade is pretty self explanatory: it means that the product has been traded fairly. The producers, suppliers and companies all were active participants in the product's journey to the store shelf. For example, the coffee grower in Rwanda that harvested the beans for your Green Mountain fair trade coffee was included in the trading process and was paid a fair price for his beans. The little logo you see on some products (note the picture) at the grocery store is regulated by Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade USA is a third party entity that certifies companies' products and ethics. Fair Trade USA has nine guiding principles that help them determine if a product is, in fact, traded fairly. You can check out their website for the nine principles.


Another organization that certifies fair trade companies is The World Fair Trade Organization. They are similar to Fair Trade USA, but are a global entity and have been around a lot longer. The awesome Fair Trade store Ten Thousand Villages is one of the founding members of this organization. All participants agree to adhere to ten principles of fair trade, which are the following (commentary is mine):

1. Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers: ie: identify people who are in poverty, create opportunity for them.
2. Transparency and Honesty: tell the truth about your supplies
3. Fair Trading practices: don't increase your profit at the expense of the actual producers of the product. Don't take advantage. 
4. Payment of a fair price: don't cheat people. Pay a living wage price for the products.
5. Ensuring no child labor or forced labor: This one is really self explanatory. Don't use children or slaves to make your products. 
6. Commitment to non discrimination, gender equality and freedom of association: also self explanatory. Don't discriminate. Treat everyone equally. 
7. Ensure good working conditions: No sweatshops. No unsanitary conditions. Adhere to local and international laws relating to safety in working environments. 
8. Promote capacity building: give your workers opportunities, see that they grow professionally. Help them succeed. 
9. Promote Fair Trade: use your business as a platform to encourage others to participate in fair trade practices. 
10. Respect for the environment: Don't intentionally and knowingly deplete our world of natural resources. Conserve when you can. 

The funny thing to me after reading all these principles is that they are common sense. Most people I know would agree that they would want those principles applied to their workplace. The sad thing is that this is not the case in US owned companies around the world. Fair Trade has risen from the desire to include all participants in trade. Its designed to avoid exploitation of the vulnerable. Its a great model. It's not perfect, but a third party regulation helps consumers feel confident that they are purchasing products that help people.

When you purchase fair trade coffee, that extra couple dollars you spend helps send that coffee farmer's child to school. When you put down the Hershey's and spend an extra 75 cents on a fair trade chocolate bar, you could be helping a single mom buy medicine for her children. It certainly makes my chocolate taste much sweeter.

Do you know of a fair trade company or supplier? I'm making a list of fair trade products and companies and would love your input. Leave your comments below, I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

To be continued...

So, last week I posted about my 'prayer problems'. You can read the original post here for the background. To summarize, I was challenged by my terrible prayer life and decided to use my long commute to really focus on prayer. I specifically asked for two things throughout the week: a job for Brent and then an 'unspoken' that I can't write about on the blog. So I did it. I prayed daily, crying out to the Lord, asking Him to come through for us. And guess what?

Nothing happened. 

By Wednesday, I was discouraged. I was heading to a meeting and I found myself feeling extremely sad. What was going on? Why hadn't anything happened? I didn't want to give up on God, and to lose faith that He would come through for us, but it was discouraging. I had hoped that this week would be 'the week' that God swept through and 'fixed' everything for us.

I finished off my week focusing on prayer with church this morning and evening. I was listening to Louie talk about the last night of Jesus' life and the events that occurred after he prayed to the Lord before his arrest and death. Louie re-caped the chapter before and said something that hit me like a ton of bricks. He reminded us that Jesus prayed to His Father: 'Not my will, but your will be done'.

Whoa. Jesus, the creator of the universe, turned over his desires and plans to God, his Father, and surrendered his will. 

Jesus, who commands the Angels, and is seated at the right hand of God, gave up his will. He begged God to take the cup from him, but he surrendered his desires. Jesus took on our sin, our shame. All the intense pain I have ever experienced, every nasty word I have said about someone else- He took it.  All the murders, lies, cheating and scandals that caused pain- Jesus took it all on. And He did it without complaining. Louie went on to say that praying for something "if it's God's will" is not a cop out. I think that was a hang up of mine, that maybe my faith wasn't strong enough if I was always leaning on God's will. But if Jesus said it, it certainly can't be a cop out. He is God, after all.

Jesus painted this sunset, but humbled himself to die for our sins.
I was immediately humbled as the reality of those words sank in. I had devoted my week to being in God's presence as much as possible. I prayed a lot, I focused on God a lot. But even though in my prayers I half heartedly said "Your will God, of course", I don't think I really meant it. And because I was so fixated on asking God for specific things, I didn't notice the little ways God provided and answered prayer. Throughout this past week, my conversations about Jesus quadrupled over previous weeks. God extended me a 'deadline' of sorts on something that I was dreading. And Brent got several job leads.

So my prayer week is evolving into a prayer journey. My prayer focus is "to be continued" as this week, I'm praying some more, every morning on my way to work, and the theme is "Your will, not mine". I have so little faith, so I think I need to repeat to God constantly that I want His will. Hopefully the consistency will allow me to better live it out.

 Most of you reading this probably don't struggle with faith and prayer like I do. But maybe you do, and I hope I can encourage you. You are not alone, you are never alone. God is listening to us, even when we can't feel it. He loves us so much that He died a horrific and humiliating death for our sins. And He just wants us to trust Him and walk with Him. Nothing you can say is too much for God. He already knows what you're feeling, so just tell Him. Even if there are tears or anger, just tell Him. He knows, and He cares. Its way easier said than done, but I'm going to do my best to live out the grace I don't deserve, one prayer and one action at a time.

Friday, June 22, 2012

{SCS} Getting started: Leaving a footprint

I love long walks on the beach. I've found that a solitary walk down a quiet shoreline is therapeutic and good for my soul. I live five hours away from a beach, but I typically am able to get away about once a year and can enjoy those long walks. I really enjoy looking at the footprints I leave behind on the sand. Its amazing to think that much like our fingerprints, no two footprints are alike. God made each of us unique, down to our feet. Sometimes, I stare at my footprints until the waves come and wash them away. The water erases the marks left on the sand by my feet, removing evidence that I was there.

Photocredit: freedigitalphotos.net
 Footprints in the sand aren't the only kind of footprints we leave on this Earth. We also have a slavery footprint. The awesome people at Slavery Footprint have developed a fantastic interactive website that allows you to figure out roughly how many slaves work for you. They have an algorithm and methodology to determine your result, based on hard facts they retrieved from reputable sources. I'm telling you, the masterminds of Slavery Footprint are smart. I haven't met them personally, but I'm pretty sure I'd like them.

I'm a problem solver. When I learn of a problem, the first thing I do is start brainstorming solutions.  I'm sure it annoys people sometimes. But before I attempt to solve a problem, I have to know where to start. I need to have the facts. So to get started on our socially conscious summer, I think its important to know what we're working with, and Slavery Footprint is a simple way to get things started.

I have 52 slaves working for me. I'm working to reduce that number.  Go here to find out your slavery footprint and to see what you can do to reduce your number. Feel free to leave your number in the comments box. We can work together to end this. Because just like the waves in the sand, our slavery footprints can be washed away too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

{SCS} Getting started: Slaves, really?

Happy Summer everyone! I hope you enjoyed the longest day of the year! We're kicking off the {SCS} series today on this lovely summer evening. So let's get started. Let's talk about slaves.

Really, slaves? That's not a happy topic for this pretty summer evening.

Yes, slaves.

We can call them sweatshop workers, we can call them prostitutes. Maybe street kids, runaways, or illegal immigrants. Maybe even migrant workers, housekeepers, or waitresses. We give all sorts of names to the people who are enslaved in our world. Slavery is ugly and we'd like to think it doesn't happen anymore, especially in our country. Because we all know that the United States in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The free, right? Everyone is free in our country.

Unfortunately, everyone is not free in our country.

Yes, slavery does exist. It is a huge social problem. This social problem is what is driving me to write this Socially Conscious summer series. Each of us has the opportunity to help end slavery. It's as involved as volunteering with abolitionist organizations, or as simple as buying fair trade coffee instead of Folgers. You can download an app to your phone to check companies' ethics policies. You can lobby your elected officials. We're going to explore all of this, but we need to start at the basics. And what is more basic than the facts?

- There are about 27 million slaves in our world today.

- Of these, 12.3 million are in forced labor

- Half of those enslaved are children

- There are between 100,000 - 300,000 children trapped in prostitution in the United States. They come from all walks of life and backgrounds.

- There are around 17,000 people trafficked into the United States each year. I'd venture to say less than 1,000 get rescued each year (my own conjecture, not cited) So we can all do the math, there could be over 100,000 enslaved individuals in our country.

I'd invite you to check out the statistics from the Polaris Project for more detailed information. This is just a snapshot of the information that is out there. You can also check out Not for Sale, The Freedom Center, Wellspring Living, Seattle Against Slavery, or GEMS.

That's all for today. I just wanted to give you some statistics and resources. I don't mean to be a downer, I just wanted to get started with the facts. We'll move into a lot more positive and interesting stuff soon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Welcome the Stranger


"The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God." Lev 19:34
Kiddos in Southern Sudan

Displacement.

Camps.

Trauma. 
 
Hunger.

Persecution. 

Fear.

Tomorrow is World Refugee Day. Groups and organizations around the world will gather to remember the plight of the refugee. Refugees are those who have fled from their home country as a result of violence, persecution, or natural disaster. The words listed above are everyday realities for so many refugees in our world. 

I've met many refugees in my years of traveling, working, and volunteering. Their stories have touched me and inspired me. From Tibetan women weaving purses on looms to young Sudanese girls finding restoration through sports, I've been amazed. I've stood on hills in Southern Sudan with a former refugee and attempted to imagine the world through her eyes. I've listened to the story of a 16 year old girl as she detailed the day she witnessed her mother's murder. I've driven by 'tent cities' filled with people who were displaced by disaster or poverty. Refugees often are a picture of tragedy and loss in our world. 

Kiddos in Clarkston

But through my years of work with this population, a new picture has emerged for me. I've met incredible people who have found new life in the United States and in other countries. I have met business owners, college graduates, and healthy families. I feel privileged to have been able to 'welcome the stranger' into the United States through several different organizations. I remind myself that the Bible commands us to welcome the stranger into our land. Refugees come here searching for a fresh start, and I feel honored to have been able to help them meet their needs as they adjust to their new life. I'd like to add some new words to the picture of refugees.

Hope

Perseverance

Restoration

Faith

Resiliency. 

I hope you take a moment tomorrow to think about the refugees in our country and around the world. Say a prayer for those in danger and the families starting fresh in new countries. And maybe take a moment to look up a great organization serving refugees like World Relief, or the International Rescue Committee. We can each do our part to welcome these future Americans into our home, in the spirit of our country's tradition. It's a rewarding and humbling experience. 

Happy World Refugee Day!



Monday, June 18, 2012

prayer problems

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus". - Phil. 4:6-7

"Pray without ceasing" - 1 Thes 5:17

I don't pray nearly enough. My prayer life is pretty terrible. I mean, God and I have conversations and discussions, and goodness I complain enough to him, but I don't pray enough. I don't spend time meditating on His goodness, promises and Word. I don't speak to Him enough about the big stuff and the little stuff. People ask me to pray for things, or I volunteer to pray for someone, and unless I do it right then and there, I usually forget. And in the name of transparency, I just forget about God. I go about my day, trying to solve my problems on my own, and I simply forget that I'm supposed to be running stuff by the Creator of the Universe. I go to church on Sunday, where usually I'm moved to tears during worship where I'm reminded of the beauty of just being in the presence of the Lord. I feel guilty, and I promise to do better.

But then I go back to my old ways.

I've found that when I don't pray enough, my stress level rises. When I don't pray enough, my attitude is bad and I usually have to apologize to my husband, friends or co workers. There are more tears, frustrations and confusions when I don't pray enough. I question God a lot more, even though in essence I'm supposed to be trusting in Him. I am impatient and peace is gone from my heart.

When I'm hit with the realization that my prayer life is seriously lacking, I usually reflect on why. Why is this such a recurrent issue for me? What is causing this. And ultimately, I think my struggle is due to a lack of faith. I think deep down, I question that God can and will do great things in my life. I've always struggled with faith, probably due to my strong independent nature and problem solver mentality. But the times I've had the most faith were when I spent the most time in prayer. Its interesting, isn't it? The thing I'm lacking is keeping me from praying consistently, but when I pray consistently I grow in my areas of weakness. God is incredible in that way, isn't he?

So I'm making a commitment. I have a 45 minute commute to work every morning. Usually I listen to talk radio and the news, and am flooded with bad news right when I start my day. For the rest of this week, I'm going to pray on my way to work. No talk radio, maybe some worship music, but a lot of prayer. And I'm praying for two specific things this week. My husband needs a job. I'm praying that the Lord provides a new step in that direction for him. I'm going to ask for Brent a job this week, but I'll accept if that's not what God wants. The other is a personal desire in my heart that I don't feel  like I should broadcast on the Internet. But I'm going to ask specifically for this too. I don't think it is possible, but then I remind myself that all things are possible with the Lord. And even if it isn't possible for me right now, maybe its something that will happen in the future. And who knows, maybe a miracle will happen. God can do it, I just have to remind myself of that a lot.

I wonder if I'm the only one who has 'prayer problems'. Do you have things you aren't praying for because you're afraid of disappointment? Or do you just not pray sometimes like me, even though you know you should? Or do you forget? I hope my musings have helped you realize that you're not alone. I hope we can all share these shortfalls more often so we can help each other along this journey with Jesus.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lessons from a broken keychain

I was meeting with a colleague yesterday about a fantastic new outreach initiative our organization is tackling. It was a meeting filled with dreams, good ideas, and innovation. After we wrapped up, I reached in my purse and pulled out my keys.
My broken key chain

And broke my key-chain.

No big deal, right? It's just a key-chain.

Wrong.

This was not just a key-chain. It was a symbol of one of the greatest adventures of my life. This key chain was given to me by a friend while I served in Aceh, Indonesia, in 2005. It was crafted by a woman, a survivor of the deadly tsunami. She lived in an IDP (internally displaced people) camp on the outskirts of Banda Aceh. A community organization had taught the women in this camp how to make beaded key-chains, jewelry, etc as an income generating activity.

When I picked up these keys, I was reminded of my great adventure in Indonesia. I remembered my friends there, the impact the trip had on my life, and the long term difference I was able to make among groups who had experienced one of the most horrific traumas imaginable. I remember fiddling with the key-chain  on numerous occasions, wondering how it had survived the years of abuse at my hands.  It has been attached to keys for five different vehicles, three different offices, and three different homes. It's been thrown around purses and has traveled around the world. Pretty impressive resume for a key-chain, huh?
Banda Aceh days

I was sad when it broke, but I was also reminded of how I'm getting old! Next week will mark seven years from the day I set foot on Indonesian soil for that life altering trip. I grew tremendously as a person during those six months. You can read more about my growth time in Indonesia here if you are interested.

After the key chain broke, I reflected on my life over the past seven years and was reminded of three valuable lessons related to this small trinket on my keys:


Growth sometimes comes through trials. My time in Indonesia was difficult and trying, but I grew emotionally, and spiritually. I've been going through a trial recently, and the key chain reminded me that if I let it, this trial will result in growth as well. James 1:2 reminds us that trials lead to perseverance, which helps to sharpen and perfect us.

Maturity comes through time. I remember things I did and said at the age of 20. It's embarrassing to think about. But maturity comes through time. We can't jump from milk to sushi in the matter of a day. (Yes, sushi. I love sushi) The last seven years have been a time of maturing, and I'm so thankful for that. (I'm sure some of you are rolling your eyes at my reflections of being 27 vs 20, but hey, it feels like a LONG Time to me)

God is constant. Things break. People leave us. Jobs get lost. But God is constant. My key-chain broke after seven years, but God has been around through this whole time. I'm not close with some people I considered my best friends seven years ago, but God has seen me through interpersonal pain and the advent of new friendships. My husband lost his job in January, but God is where our family's true value lies.

If you're experiencing loss, trials, or pain right now, I hope you remember that God is constant and that these things take time. I'd love to hear about any trinkets you have that remind you of a different time in your life. And I'd love to pray for you if you're going through a tough time of testing or waiting.



Monday, June 4, 2012

{SCS2012} Preview

School is not free in India, not all can afford it
In 2007 I spent six weeks in Mumbai, India for a school internship/humanitarian trip. I spent those six weeks serving in two slum communities in the city. Much of our time was spent in the organization's school, but I also spent time in different homes, drinking tea and spending time with the amazing women in the community. One day, a young boy came to the door of one of the small huts. Our interpreter explained that he was 11 years old and worked at the factory down the street. He had come to the hut to collect some shoe straps the woman had woven for the factory. Our interpreter went on to explain that the boy had worked at the factory for several years and had recently been given the new task of collecting the shoe straps. There were dozens of children who worked in the factory.

The idea of child labor was appalling to me. I felt that the boy should have been in school. But I soon learned that for many children in India, school was not an option. They spent their days in factories, making pennies an hour. Some made no money at all, as they were trapped in debt bondage with no end. These children are robbed of their childhood, of the opportunity to go to school, to play, and to develop into adults naturally. And they are making our clothes, shoes, and accessories. They are picking our produce, harvesting our coffee and cocoa beans.

As a Christian, I believe that all people are created equal in the eyes of God. He loves each of us the same. So if personally would not want my own (future) children and the children in my life right now to work in factories, why should I stand back in silence while other children are forced to do so? It didn't seem right to me, so I began to explore the concept of socially conscious goods after my time in India. And for several years, it was extremely difficult to live a lifestyle free of slave or child labor. It was discouraging to know that I could not guarantee that I wasn't inadvertently contributing to slavery with the products I bought. I did what I could, but I felt that it was not enough.
All children should be able to go to school

But things are changing. Organizations are popping up that fight slavery and sweatshop labor. Companies are creating ethics departments to ensure they are keeping slave produced products off their shelves. There is more public outcry and media attention now. Fair trade products are easier to find and they cost less than they did when I first started purchasing them. People are paying attention, and more consumers want to live a socially conscious lifestyle.

I'm beginning to realize that a socially conscious lifestyle is more than what clothes I buy and what coffee I drink. I believe there are many creative ways we can contribute to our economy without contributing to slavery. So this summer, I'm going to explore what it means to live a socially conscious lifestyle. There will be guest bloggers, news stories,  and companies featured. I hope to keep things as positive and uplifting as possible. Its easy to get bogged down by the bad news in our world. Slavery is bad news, but there are so many people and groups contributing to the solution to this problem. I want to feature them, and to feature practical ways we can all work together to use our money to end exploitation.

I'm excited about this feature. I've put a lot of time into the research and plan for this summer, I want it to be educational and fun. The first post should be coming in a couple weeks. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you. Constructive criticism, feedback of all types, and suggestions are welcome. I'm looking at this series from one frame of reference, but each of you bring a different frame to the table, and I want to see things from your eyes as well.  I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, June 1, 2012

{archives} We live in a world...

Author's note: This post was written on June 24, 2009

We live in a world where one 5 year old gets a birthday party worth hundreds of dollars, and another 5 year old doesn't get to eat everyday. We live in a world where one 26 year old lobbies and protests and participates in freedom's process, and another gets gunned down for walking down the street during a protest. We live in a world where one 9 month old gets held and kissed and loved every waking moment of their day, while another never feels the loving touch of another. Some 16 year olds spend their days in a safe classroom environment, while others spend their days worrying if the latest man who raped them had HIV.

Some 8 year old children play and learn and grow, while others labor in sweatshops as modern day slaves. Some mothers get to worry if their child's private school is the perfect fit, while others worry that their child's complete lack of education will continue a vicious poverty cycle. Some womens fashion concerns are to make sure their outfits match and are in season, while others worry that if their wrist shows they will be stoned in the street. Some children have bedrooms, bathrooms and playrooms all to themselves, while others sleep on street corners each night. Some little girls have daddy's who love and value and cherish their daughters, while some little girls feel unwanted because their birth as a girl brought shame to their family.

We live in a world where some people sin by killing and enslaving, and where others sin equally by turning a blind eye to painful realities. We live in a world where some take and deplete and steal blatantly, and where others selfishly gain and hoard in the name of capitalism. Our world is home to those who kill because of religion and stereotype because of skin color. It houses the materialistic, the chauvanistic, and the legalistic. It is home to the privileged and wealthy, as well as a home to the poor and forgotten.

Many of our world's residents have no voice, but you and I have voices that can change reality for the voiceless. Millions in our world feel unloved, but the Christ Follower has an abundance of love to share. Our God, our Savior desires to pour out HIS mercy and love onto the sinner, the forgotten, the privileged, and the enslaved. He desires selfless deeds from His children to cry out for the voiceless, to care for the orphan, to comfort the grieving, and to free the slave.

My prayer for myself, and for the rest of us, is that we will forget the notion that we are powerless and cannot make a difference. I pray that our hearts do not forget the painful afflictions of our worlds residents that we hear about everyday. I pray that we boldly go and proclaim the name of Jesus AS WE SERVE. I pray for supernatural and physical freedom to be claimed by the captive, and for supernatural and physical healing to envelop the sick. I pray for homes for the oprhaned, and for freedom to the oppressed. I pray for blinded eyes to see, and for deaf ears to hear who is Faithful and True. That is my prayer for our world.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

I need your help.

I have a few questions for you, it would help me tremendously if you'd answer them. You can comment on the facebook post, tweet me, or comment anonymously on this post: (Disclaimer: There are no right or wrong answers, and there is no judgement from me based on your answers)

1. Do you try to shop for products that are ethical? (slave free, 'green', sweatshop labor free, fair trade, no animal testing, etc).

2. If you do, what products specifically? (ie coffee, clothes, chocolate)

3. If you don't, what do you think is keeping you from shopping for ethical products?

4. Do you typically think about slavery when you shop?

5. If it was easier to shop ethically and the prices weren't too much more, would you purchase those products over mainstream products?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Masks

"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" - Galatians 1:10, ESV

I've seen a lot of references to being 'true to yourself' over the past couple of days. My pastor, Louie Giglio, tweeted yesterday "If you're always worried about what your friends might think then maybe they aren't your friends after all..... make your ambition to please Jesus. He'll take care of everything else." Those tweets convicted me. I feel I've expelled extensive energy on pleasing people for much of my adolescent and adult life. I worry too much by nature, but my concern for what others 'think' is too frequent and too consuming.

I grew up in the suburbs, and realized pretty quickly in adulthood that my ambitions, dreams, political beliefs and even personality didn't always 'fit in' with other women of my age in my community. I was raised to vote Republican, adhere to Southern Baptist theology, and stick with a list of dos and don'ts. I was surrounded by people who considered being a stay at home mother the ideal situation for themselves and didn't meet very many female leaders in my faith community. Drinking alcohol was a  sin, and homosexuality seemed to be the worst sin on the planet. Now, don't take this the wrong way, I don't think Republicans, Southern Baptists, and stay at home moms are bad. I love my mom, and she stayed at home with us. I think we all have view points and dreams, and these are all good view points and dreams, I'm just offering an illustration of the community I grew up in.

In 2005 I spent six months in Indonesia after the Tsunami. This was a period of tremendous growth and learning for me. I was confronted with more diversity in six months of my life than I had experienced in twenty years of life in Woodstock, Georgia. I met Christians who spoke in tongues, drank beer, and considered themselves Democrats. I met authentic, Godly people who didn't have the exact same beliefs and convictions as me. It was challenging and I struggled to reconcile my beliefs with theirs. But the Lord ultimately brought peace to this struggle and I came to recognize that Jesus was the center and that I had no right to judge someone's walk with Christ. The Christians I met in Indonesia had faith that put my own to shame. They were soul winners, passionate disciples who were changing the world. I realized that I had much to learn from them, as I had been living in a white suburban American Christian bubble.

The ultimate result of that trip was that my own opinions ultimately changed and I found myself not quite fitting into that bubble I had grown up in. I didn't consider all those values I had been raised to adhere to as important as I had in the past. I had friends tell me I had abandoned my beliefs. I had people criticize my desire to help others.  My comments were frequently met with blank stares and uncomfortable silences. There were a few women I connected with and I have so many wonderful friends, but I often felt out of place and awkward. I was that weird girl who would bring up uncomfortable topics at dinner parties and dragged my friends to see foreign films. My passion for social justice consumed me, and I guess it annoyed other people. It didn't annoy everyone, and fortunately my now husband was more fascinated by my weirdness than turned off by it, resulting in him asking me on that first date.  I developed some close friendships during this time and I'm so thankful for my friends. I know that most of my friends have accepted me for who I am, and I have accepted them for who they are.

But I have started to realize that I've not been true to who I am. Its no one's fault but my own. I frequently put on a mask because I don't want to be judged. I don't want people's opinions of me to change. I don't want to be seen as weak or a 'bad Christian'. I disconnected myself from a small group because I felt different, instead of reaching out and being myself. I developed resentment towards close friends because I felt that I had been judged. Was I judged? Probably not. These were my own issues, my own struggles with wanting to be accepted. I've even masked myself on this blog. I've held back and only written about stuff that I thought I was 'supposed' to write about. But, in the last couple of months God has really been working on me. Through this, God has been helping me to peel off these masks. He's been showing me that it's okay to not be okay. Its okay to be myself. He made me the way I am for a reason. He's thrown opportunities my way and allowed me and Brent to begin to reconnect into Christian community.

Its exhausting to wear a mask every day. I'm challenging myself to peel them off and be who God made me to be. I'm attempting to not worry about what my friends think or how I'm culturally 'supposed' to act. I'm going to focus on Jesus and allow Him to guide me. He's been providing and guiding the Laney's in tremendous ways this year. It has been painful at times, but ultimately so beautiful and victorious. He's reshaping us to be more like Him and I think He has redirected our paths that will change our lives. If I'm spending time with Jesus and searching His Word and listening for His voice, He will be pleased. And that's all that matters.

I wonder if I'm alone with my 'mask' issues. If you struggle with masks too, know that I'm praying for you. I pray everyone can throw off their masks and we can all embrace each other in our differences. Jesus has big plans for each of us, and all He wants us to do is please Him, trust Him, and allow Him to mold and shape us to His image.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gawking or Giving

Yesterday I stumbled upon this article by CNN about so called 'Poverty tours' in slum communities of India. I spent two months volunteering in Mumbai, India back in 2007, so I found the article fascinating. You can read the article for details, but the author essentially was describing and evaluating these tours and reflecting on the tour he went on with Salaam Baalak in New Dehli, India. The tour was led by a former 'street boy' who had been helped by the non profit organization and now led tours through his old community.
The idea of a 'Poverty Tour' makes me uncomfortable. I work hard to advocate for the exploited and adhere to the belief that we are all equal, no one is better than anyone else. I have spent years writing, reflecting, praying and working to overcome my own prejudices. Our country is wonderful, but we have instilled the concept in our citizens that we are somehow better than everyone else in the world. Even on a micro level, more powerful races and groups act as if they are more valuable as people than groups with less power. Its a sad part of the human condition. So at first glance, poverty tours seem to perpetuate that belief. It reduces whole groups of people to zoo animals. Wealthy Westerners with resources and time spend a day walking through deplorable conditions, wearing their shiny tennis shoes and designer sunglasses. The full attire of some of the participants of such poverty tours probably costs more than what many of the people in the slums make in one years time. It seems tacky and extremely disconcerting for the families who live in these communities. They already live in fear of exploitation due to the caste system and other social ills of their country, so to also deal with gawking from perfect strangers seems to rub salt on an open wound of low self worth.

Many of these 'slum tours' likely have nothing but financial motivation from conducting these tours. They pay no respect towards the residents of these communities. However, what this Salaam Baalak organization is striving to do seems quite noble. They provide income and rehabilitation for children who were previously living on the streets. Street kids in India are subject to great exploitation, from labor trafficking to prostitution. Life for these children is extremely dangerous, and this organization is attempting an innovative approach to providing income for these kids. Their website describes the tour as a way for you and I to hear about the stories of the guides and to experience life through their eyes. It seems like something that I would enjoy, to be quite honest. I have met and grown to love street kids in several countries and have advocated on their behalf. But no story I could tell you would compare to hearing it straight from that child. Empathy is frequently evokes through the senses, not just through a story told by a third party.

I often grow frustrated with my own excess and materialism. I also grow frustrated at the complacency I see in the church and in our society as a whole. I can be quoted on numerous occasions saying "Well I'd like to take that person and drop them off in the middle of Mankurd Slum in India, let them see what it feels like to be forgotten by the world and to suffer". That comment is usually met by agreeing nods. As I read the news article, I heard myself saying that. How is my comment any different than what this organization is trying to accomplish? They are trying to raise awareness about social issues through the five senses. They may be able to reach large groups of people who come to India for tourism purposes and provide them opportunities to use their future trips for good and volunteerism. If one tourist devotes a day to a walking tour through a low income area of India and they leave inspired to make a difference, was it worth it? Or is it not worth the social stigma that residents of these communities face when they see outsiders touring their neighborhood? Could these residents feel violated and uncomfortable upon seeing tourists in their community? Would it hurt the overall community more than it would help? Is there a way to execute such a program with the support of a community and with holistic, beneficial results to all involved parties?  I'm not sure if I've found an answer to this question. It has raised questions in my mind regarding short term missions, which I will talk about in another post at a later date.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts as I explore this issue.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Emerging Generation

A couple weeks ago my husband and I went over to our neighbors' apartment for dessert and games. During an epic game of Phase 10 (of which I won for the first time ever) we had some fascinating converations about culture, life and generation gaps.

At one point we were talking about the millennial generation and I made the comment "I know I'm a millennial, but sometimes I don't really know HOW I'm a millennial". We went on to discuss the common characteristics of our generation and what makes us so unique compared to our parents and generation Xers.

Turns out I'm a pretty stereotypical millennial: I want to change the world, I'm idealistic, want to do work that 'matters', highly social, very connected via technology, comfortable with diversity. I value socially conscious products and companies, volunteer, etc. I want to challenge the status quo and am ready to lead even though I'm still young. A couple articles about millennials can be found here and here. I'm currently reading the book 'Un-Christian' (David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, 2007) which discusses millennials (called 'mosaics' by the authors) and x-ers (called 'busters') and the importance of engaging them in the church body. My generation is leaving the church in droves and not many are coming back. I'd highly recommend this book if you are a church leader and are having trouble engaging teens and twenty somethings.

After that initial conversation with my neighbors, I started reading more articles about characteristics of and outreach to my generation. It seems like the non profti world and the business world is starting to take notice. One of the more interesting blogs/articles I found about my generation was on Katya's non profit blog. She posted a diagram further categorizing millennials into six categories: hip- elinnials, gadget gurus, millennial moms, ant-milliennials, clean and green millenial, and old school millennials. I was going to post detailed descriptions but I figured you could check out the diagram here to see where you fit and where your kids/family/friends fit.

There's all sorts of information out there for engaging millennials, much of which comes from writers and professionals from other generations. I applaud them for thinking about generation gaps and how to engage the upcoming generation. Its extremely important for Churches, non profits, and other businesses to understand twenty somethings and how to reach them. Here are seven thoughts on engaging my generation:

Take us seriously. We can detect when you're being patronizing. For me, I can tell when I'm getting the 'cute little idealistic girl' proverbial pat on the head. If you don't take us seriously, we will never forget it, and we may never take you seriously either.

Be true to yourself. Millennials are okay with older generations, but they want you to be 'you'. I've heard countless jabs at older church leaders or Christian leaders who are trying too hard to be 'hip'. Don't wear skinny jeans or leather pants if you're over the age of 40. We are okay with old people, we have respect for them (case in point: Betty White). But only when the respect is reciprocated and if they're being true to themselves.

Understand the post modern brain Many millenials are okay with gray areas. We are more likely to believe something "isn't wrong, but different". It seems like some older generations are not as comfortable with this concept, at least from my experience. Do some research, have some conversations.

Observe sucesses. There are plenty of organizations and churches who are effectively reaching millenials. Observe them, talk to their leaders. Don't try to copy them (see number 2) but observing people who are reaching millenials or organizations that are led by millenials is a great place to start. You don't have to be in your twenty's to effectively engage my generation. I can think of dozens of older leaders I highly respect. But most, if not all of them are attempting to engage my generation effectively.

Try to change the world with them: I'll never forget a conversation I had with a church leader about fair trade coffee. I suggested that the church start serving a Faith based, missional coffee brand that wasn't harvested by slaves. His response "I would, but people here don't care about that stuff". That one comment stuck with me and caused me to feel disconnected from that particular group. If leaders aren't interested in engaging with millennial's social causes, their followers won't be either. And they'll lose the millennials they want to engage. Even the smallest organization or business can have policy on socially conscious products, causes, volunteerism, etc. Make that part of your organizational culture and the millennials will come.

Technology, technology, technology: If I go to a website and its complicated, messy and full of word art and clip art from the early 2000s, I won't stay there for very long. An organization's website tells a millennial everything they think they need to know. If its not relevant to what's popular at that current time, it won't engage us. Hint on websites: keep it simple and clean. Blogs are good ways to dissemenate detailed information. And if you don't have a twitter account, get one.

Be innovative: Millennials have the world at their fingertips. They know how its always been done, and are extremely attracted to new, innovative approaches to solving problems and running business. 'Social Innovation' and 'Social Entrepreneurship' are big buzz terms right now. Find out what they are and how your organization can encorporate innovation into your everyday practice.

Don't count us out. Millennials are highly educated, motivated, and at times naive. If we think we can do it, we're going to try, and we won't give up until we suceed. If you are part of an older generation, read up about how you can engage us. If you are a millennial like me, learn more about yourself and how culture has influenced who you are. It'll help with frustrations you have as you strive towards your dreams, trust me. Millennials want to change the world, and in true millennial fashion, I say that we WILL change the world. We just need everyone's help to meet that goal.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Unthinkable things

My friend Steve just wrote a blog post, and I just had to share it.

Check out The Patch Our Planet Blog, its excellent. Steve shared some information he learned about at the Christian Alliance for Orphans conference in southern California. The post is entitled 'The Unthinkable is happening again', and the title drew me in. He started by reminding us about the horrendous Rwandan Genocide of 1994. When I began reading the post, I immediately thought that he was about to go into a discussion of another genocide or gross human rights violation of our time. There are many to choose from, unfortunately.

But Steve went on to detail what is going on Rwanda today. Rwanda has dramatically decreased the number of orphans and orphanages in their country. They are pioneering a groundbreaking plan to involve communities, churches and individuals to holistically care for their orphans. The western involvement has been collaborative and not controlling. Its an incredible testimony of what happens when people work together to solve a social problem and to care for a vulnerable population. Rwanda's history has been tainted by the genocide, but this is a beautiful reflection of progress, grace, and new beginnings.

Patch Our Planet and the Gillis family are very close to my heart. Steve felt called to start Patch Our Planet after he saw the picture below of a few of my 'babies' in Sudan. These precious children may never know how their image will change the lives of thousands of children around the world. Patch Our Planet is working to find a sustainable, Christ-honoring, and collaborative solution to caring for Orphans around the world. I'd encourage you to check out their website to read more about their mission, vision, and plan. I think it's revolutionary and will change the way the Church and the World cares for the orphan.


Steve's post was also very humbling to me. It is so easy for me to condemn injustice and to not spend as much time heralding success stories. I try to be positive and uplifting, but the injustices in our world are very urgent to me. But even though there are many bad things going on in our world, there are tons of good things going on as well. Many social entrepreneurs have great ideas on how to fix problems, but we don't always hear about how problems are being fixed. The example in Rwanda is one of many, and I'm so grateful that Steve has shared it with all of us. I hope you'll find time to read Steve's blog and check out the Patch our Planet Website- it's good stuff and they're looking for churches and individuals who want to address the needs of orphans around our world.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Giving Hope

This week I stumbled upon one of the most amazing giving platforms I’ve ever seen.

Seriously, this is brilliant.

Don’t believe me? Go to www.hopemob.org and see for yourself.

I'm going to go ahead and tell you all the reasons why they're brilliant though, because that's what I do on my blog. I need to write something about HopeMob to tell you why they're brilliant, even though one visit to their website would probably suffice in showing you their brilliance.

This is straight from the HopeMob website:
"HopeMob is exactly what it sounds like - a mob of people bringing hope. Just as Flash Mobs dance and bring spontaneous joy and laughter, HopeMob will bring caring strangers together to create sudden, yet organized relief and hope all over the world! We see a need and swarm it! Together...we are POWERFUL"

Essentially HopeMob  provides everyone the opportunity to be generous givers and to contribute to meeting a need that may often be overlooked. The platforms seem to range from monetary donations, to material donations, to job interviews, to assistance from specialized professionals. HopeMob members can contribute points to elligible causes to 'vote' them into a top spot to be the featured story. You earn points by contributing to a HopeMob featured story, and they'll have new ways to earn 'points' soon.

I found out about HopeMob through my favorite social media platform, Twitter. I follow Wellspring Living on Twitter and Brent and I have supported them periodically through events and donations. We love what they do for girls and women in the city of Atlanta, it's awesome. Wellspring tweeted about HopeMob this week, their Amazon wish list for a new transitional house was the featured story on the website. Brent and I were excited to be able to purchase something for Wellspring. I browsed through other stories and was touched by the amount of need represented on the site. I also was awestruck by amount of HOPE that exudes from HopeMob. Needs have been met, people have been helped, lives have been changed. I would strongly recommend you check this website out and see how you can be a part of this generous mob of world changers. Donating a toaster to a transitional house or giving ten dollars to help someone receive essential surgery may seem small to you, but its life changing to the person you are helping.

I think my favorite part about the HopeMob platform is that it gives me and you the opportunity to feel like we're part of something bigger than ourselves. We are bombarded with needs every day and it's easy to become discouraged and resign ourselves to thinking that we can do nothing to truly meet needs. This gives us the opportunity to invest in lives and come together with strangers to change the world. I love it!

This afternoon, Brent and I went online to the Amazon wish list for Wellspring and were able to purchase an item from the list. We can't do a lot right now, but we can do something. So we did our small part to meet the needs listed. We will probably continue to do so, we were really impressed with HopeMob. Last I checked, there were a few items left on the list. Maybe you're like us and can't do much, but we can all do something. I hope you'll join the HopeMob with us so we can change the world together. 


Monday, April 30, 2012

Puzzles

My boss brought a puzzle into our office the other day. We haven’t had a whole lot going on in our office lately, we’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern, so she thought it would be a fun thing to complete during breaks and lunch time.  The puzzle is a beautiful Van Gough painting of a terra cotta vase with flowers. The entire thing is in muted orange, green, gray and red tones. So, as you can imagine, it was really hard to put together!

We’ve spent hours piecing together the intricate design of the puzzle. Its been frustrating and I’ve wanted to give up several times. I’d find myself trying to force pieces of the puzzle into places they didn’t fit. I’d convince myself that they fit, only to have to take apart that section later when the picture would not come together. I even joked with my boss that I wanted to go buy an easier puzzle at Wal-mart and put it together instead. That way I didn’t ‘give up’ on the first puzzle, I just moved on to the next project. But, even though the puzzle was frustrating and confusing, the futher along we got in piecing it together, the more beautiful it became. Each individual flower, the delicate strokes of the vase, and the mint green background of the painting all came together to form a beautiful piece of art in puzzle form.
The puzzle reminds me of our lives as Christians. Walking with the Lord is easily compared to a puzzle. Each small piece goes together perfectly to form the big picture of our lives.  God made the puzzle and knows the big picture. He knows where each small piece goes.  I know God can put each person’s life puzzle together without our help, but I think ‘active waiting’ is what He desires for us. My Pastor, Louie Giglio, talked about this two Sundays ago. He made reference to Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart”. Louie went on to talk more about the context of this verse. Verse 3 says “Trust in the Lord, and do good.” Verse 7 says “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him”. This passage in context is essentially saying ‘wait with God’, do good while waiting. Don’t sit in the arm chair of life, staring at the pieces of the puzzle, asking God to come in and save the day. But we also can’t snatch away the pieces of our puzzle and try to piece them together. We must wait with God, work with God, and He will come through.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not good at the waiting game.  I often get frustrated and confused at the direction of my life. I struggle with having faith in God’s plan and timing and frequently find myself looking for the next thing to come. 2012 has been an especially difficult year in the terms of my life ‘puzzle’. My husband and I have faced spiritual struggles, job loss, financial insecurity, and broken vehicles- just to name a few of the stressors. We’ve questioned God’s plans for our lives both separately and together. My prayer has often been pretty whiny  “Lord, if you have big plans, why are you letting this happen? We were going to pay off half our debt this year. We were planning on serving you in bigger ways. Why did you mess up our plans?”
The key word there is ‘OUR’. I had a plan, I had it all figured out. I wanted to put my life puzzle together without God’s help. It would be comparable to trying to put together a 1000 piece puzzle without having the picture on the box. The Lord said “I know the plans I have for you….plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). He made our life puzzle and wants to put it together with us. I just have to relinquish control and allow Him to guide the process. He knows the big picture, He has the master plan.
So the next time you sit down to put together a complicated puzzle, think about Jesus. Think about the big plans He has for you and the fantastic adventures He has in store. If two pieces fit together perfectly, think about the times that God has revealed to you a piece of the big picture of your life or when His provision has come through in incredible ways. When you try to force a piece in the wrong place, think about the lessons you’ve learned when you’ve tried to do things your own way. And as the big picture of the puzzle you’re building comes together, it’ll make you smile to think about how God is putting together the puzzle of your life each and every day.

Friday, April 27, 2012

{features} Who are you?

Who are you? A student, business owner, social worker, teacher, wife, mother? Are you a pastor, community leader? A medical professional or a lawyer? Do you identify yourself as a person of faith? We all have multiple roles and groups that we identify with. We may think that we have influence or power within our groups, or we may think that we are powerless to affect our surroundings.

Not for Sale's message is built around the premise that you CAN do something. If you care even a little bit about ending slavery in our lifetime, this organization wants to use you to make a difference. They want to get you connected through their Community Abolitionist Network (CAN) so you can make a difference within your sphere of influence and beyond.

I have felt crippled in the past by what I lacked. I felt like I didn't have the experience or education to make a difference. I felt that the people around me did not take me seriously and did not want to hear what I had to say. I grew up in a pretty conservative environment, so I frequently felt like being a young female with an opinion was looked down upon. I got the proverbial 'sweet little idealistic girl' pat on the head a lot. I heard "Oh to be young and to think you can change the world" more times than I can count.  It was a lonely place to be. I'll admit that I can be over the top, and people don't really want to hear about slavery, poverty, or famine over dinner. I get that. I've been working on a balance, making sure I'm respectful in my causes (see my post "Everyday Sales").  But regardless, I wanted to do more, I just didn't know how.

Well, Not for Sale is mobilizing DOERS. They don't care who you are, they believe that you- that's right, YOU can make a difference. Whether you have a high school diploma or a PHD, you can make a difference. Stay at home mom, business owner? You can make a difference. Student or teacher? You can make a difference too. I heard on several occasions at the Backyard Academy that Not for Sale's founder, David Batstone, was notorious for hearing people's ideas and telling them to go do them. One couple, Brad and Lanie Beth Sinclair, shared with us their experiences working with David and developing a line of fair trade denim. I'll be sure to post the info about their jeans after they are available. Lanie Beth's blog is The Grateful Girl's guide to style, I'd highly recommend it. She and her husband are awesome and Brent and I really enjoyed meeting and talking with them. Their story is a great example of how anyone can make a difference. They've jumped right into tackling modern day slavery in a way that is unique to them. I met two girls at the conference, Casey Carroll and Amy Jo Syck who have been designing and making jewelry to fight slavery. Their website is Saving Grace, and they have an Etsy shop to sell their products. Their products are beautiful and I know they're going to do some cool stuff in the movement.

You don't have to come up with a fair trade line of jeans (although if you did, I'd probably buy a pair), and you have to travel around the world to fight slavery (it's fun though, I'd recommend it). You can use your gifts and your talents. Not for Sale's Community Abolitionist Network wants YOU to join the fight and to work alongside them. Jill Morris leads the Community Abolitionist Network in Not for Sale's main office and she is awesome. She's great at mobilizing people to action and is extremely passionate and encouraging. I loved a quote from her at the conference. "Look closer and love deeper". Examine where you are, what's going on around you, and how you can get involved. There's a great Community Abolitionist Network chapter in Georgia and there are chapters in other states as well. Check out the Action section of Not for Sale's website and see the many ways you can get involved.

A quote from the conference sums up this post quite nicely. I probably could have spared you all my words and just given you this quote, but I'll just end with it:

Whatever you do, you can do it in the direction of freedom. - Jono Hirt, Not for Sale

Thursday, April 26, 2012

{features} Keep your eyes open

If you could soldier on, headstrong into the storm
I'll be here waiting on the other side don't
Look back the road is long, the first days of the war are gone
Take back your former throne and turn the tide

'Cus if you never leave home, never let go
You'll never make it to the great unknown
Till you keep your eyes... open my love

So tell me you're strong, tell me you see
I need to hear it, can you promise me
To keep your eyes... open my love

Just past the circumstance, the first light a second chance
No child could ever dance the way you do oh
Tear down the prison walls, don't stop the curtain calls
Your chains will never fall until you do

'Cus if you never leave home, never let go
You'll never make it to the great unknown
Till you keep your eyes... open my love

So show me your fire, show me your heart
You know I'll never let you fall apart
If you keep your eyes... open my love - Needtobreathe
This song kept running through my head as I research and drafted this post. Needtobreathe is one of my favorite bands. This is a pretty inspiring song, you can watch the official music video on youtube here. It reminds me of bravery, the importance of keeping our eyes open and pressing on towards our goals.

My hope is that we can all work together to keep our eyes open in our community. These atrocities could be happening on your street, behind the scenes of your favorite restaurant. I wrote about the restaurant in Woodstock, Georgia that was allegedly using slave labor. I was messing with SlaveryMap at the end of our mapping session at the Backyard Academy and showed the listing in Woodstock to a friend of mine sitting next to me. She gasped and said that she and her mother (in law? I can't remember) used to dine at that restaurant pretty regularly. It's pretty sobering to think about the times you came into contact with people who were likely being held against their will. I know its happened to me before. I went to Haiti in 2010 after the earthquake to participate in a relief project. Our host had three young girls and one older woman living in his home. His wife didn't live in the home, just him, a few men, and the women. They cleaned, cooked, didn't say much. I didn't think much of it because the norm in parts of the developing world is to hire housekeepers to help with tasks. In a lot of cases its a good way to earn income.

One year after completing my trip to Haiti I read a book by E. Benjamin Skinner called 'A Crime so Monstrous'. In this book he details the plight of restaveks, young children who are enslaved in domestic servitude. This practice is common and culturally accepted, even by clergy and other prominent moral figures. You can read a CNN article about restaveks here, or read Skinner's book.  My heart sank when I realized that it was very possible that I came into contact with young victims. I want to be clear, I do not KNOW that our host was perpetuating this social ill and owned slaves, the clues just seemed to add up in my head. I would hate for someone to think I was accusing him of doing something so atrocious, the situation just felt 'off' while I was there.

David Batstone, the founder of Not for Sale, had an instance of slavery in his community shocked him into action. Here's the direct quote from the Not for Sale website
"I read in a local paper that one of my favorite Indian restaurants in the Bay Area had been trafficking women from India to wash dishes, cook meals and other tasks. The story came out when a young woman, Chianti Pratipatta died of a gas leak in an unventilated apartment owned by the proprietor of the restaurant, who forced Chianti and others into slavery under threat of reporting their illegal presence to the authorities.
This was happening in my country at a restaurant I frequented. My shock turned into a consuming passion that took me around the world to learn more about how slavery flourishes in the shadows.
I also learned about the solutions. I met heroes. Modern-day abolitionists fighting trafficking and slavery on the front lines. And I knew I had to do something. Not for Sale combines technology, intellectual capital, abolitionist groups and a growing network of individuals like yourself – joined together to end slavery in our lifetime.
Welcome to the movement."
My memory of my time in Haiti, the accounts of slavery cases in my own community, and stories like David Batstone's remind me of the need for us to, like the song, 'keep our eyes open'. Be brave, be smart. Do research, understand the situation. Then, look around. Take note of what is happening in your community. There are a ton of resources for how you could potentially identify situations that aren't quite right. You don't have to do the investigating, you can just call a hotline number. The Polaris project has a great fact sheet with a hotline you can view to learn how you can play your part in identifying potential slavery situations. We can all play our part in ending these heinous crimes, and sending a message to traffickers that this is NOT okay and we will NOT tolerate it. Let's work together to keep our eyes open so we can discover and shine light into the darkness of slavery in our communities.