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


"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 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.