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The Love that Jesus Taught

 “Truly, He taught us to love one another; His law is Love and His gospel is Peace; Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother And in His name all oppression shall cease”

-Oh Holy Night

I often quote John 13:35 to my children when they are going at one another with bickering—please tell me yours do that, too.

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Of course, they don’t like to hear it because it’s hard to love like Jesus.

My question to them:  If a stranger were to walk into our home would their words draw them towards God or not?”

It really IS that simple. Are we loving one another like Christ taught us to love? Or are we not?

Usually, this very motherly exhortation results in peace for a moment—maybe two—but soon the arguing ensues and then I have to pull out the big guns like taking away electronics (NOT the electronics!!!) or even worse—forcing them to hug it out. Peace is going to reign in the Middlebrook home even if it kills us!!!

A peaceful moment together at Christmas Eve service.

 Law of Love

Last night at our Christmas Eve service, the words from Oh Holy Night gripped my heart in a shockingly revealing way.

The lyrics equate the slaves as our brothers and calls an end to oppression in the name of the one who taught us to love. I thought about what this meant in my life as I shakily sang the rest of the chorus.

Sometimes, I forget the Gospel of Peace in my effort to love the way Jesus taught me to love. I get so caught up in the injustices of this world that I lose myself in it rather than resting in His law of love and gospel of peace.

This year, I’ve been frustrated by the slowness of Kingdom work and have been worn down by the never-ending needs in Haiti. I’ve felt like a failure and more often than not, have felt ill-equipped.

Gospel of Peace

Yet, last night I was reminded that what happens this side of heaven isn’t what fans the flame of our mission. Our eyes are to look beyond to a King who wants to see every human being come to know His law of love and gospel of peace. We keep our eyes on Him—learning and leaning into Him.

Two-thousand years ago, God demoted Himself to the shameful status of a peasant boy so that the chains of oppression would be broken for Us once and for all.

So I ask you this—is your love for your brothers evident? If a stranger were to come into your home—would your love for others draw her to Christ? I’m not talking about easy love—like the kind we have for our friends and family, that kind gets us feel-goods and kisses in return.  Jesus said even the world can love like that.

I’m talking about the kind of love that you have to dig deep for. The kind that leads us to sacrifice for others so that they may come to be freed from the chains of slavery. It is the grit-filled love that tenaciously pursues in spite of rejection. This is the hard love—the kind that is pretty much impossible apart from Him.

If only loving this way was as beautiful as the lyrics of this carol. Peace does not come naturally to us—as all bickering siblings can attest—it is as hard and messy as….well….as a baby Savior being born in a stable.

I’m thankful this season—for a love and peace that can only be found in the one who showed us the greatest love of all.

“Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Wishing your family the Love and Peace that Jesus us taught us. Merry Christmas!

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Flirting with Forty

I’ll be 40 in 4 months.

I kept thinking I had more time but I sat down and did the math (yes-I sat for this kind of complex thinking) and holy moly—4 months. When I look in the mirror I don’t look 40.

Granted, I must stand at least 5 five feet away and the lighting should be slightly dim. But not too shabby.  I thought for sure I’d get to 40 with a more mature sense of humor. Surely, my 30s escorted me to a higher state of matronly thinking, but I guess that happens a decade or two down the road.

But then there are the telltale signs that 40 is encroaching.

Like the hands that are typing in front of my face. What are my mother’s hands doing on my laptop? I need to remember to lather them with sun block in the morning.

I get a little giddy when I get in my kid-less car so I can sneak in a Ted Talk or redeem my Amazon Audible credit for the month. Last week, I was at the pool in Port Aransas and looked over my book and NO ONE else was reading. I was the weirdo for reading. Everyone else had their quart-sized Yetis filled with a cold beverage of choice and I was reading Poor Economics with a lukewarm bottle of water. 40.

But I’m okay with all of this. Really. Except there are 3 BIG THINGS that have eluded me these last few decades. I won’t go into the WHY they have eluded me (cough…cough…5 kids) but I’ve had to compromise, put off, maneuver some things and I feel with four months left of my third decade—I am FINALLY in a place to FOCUS.

#1-Good-Bye Flab. Hello Fab and Fit.

I’ve been putting off working out for the last…um…39 years. I always said that I’d be in full workout mode when I was 40. So, about a month ago, I started something I said I would never do (thanks to my friend Kimby). Beachbody videos. By the way, Kimby said she would jumpstart my weeks by doing these workouts with me on Mondays but I think I scared her away with all my grunting and panting.  She flawlessly burpeed and squatted while I lingered in the back pretending to be confused by the movements just so I could catch my breath! But I am still doing the videos AND running 3-4 times a week.

So what if my 21-Day Extreme has warped into 42-Day Not-So Extreme? It’s more workout than I have EVER done in my 39 years. I think I am finally working out because I am finally getting a full night’s rest!!! So don’t worry my sleepless friend–You. Will. Get. There. Don’t beat yourself up. You are burning way too many precious brain cells with babies and toddlers and little sleep to be worrying about burning extra calories.

#2-Grow a Company in a BIG Way.

HandUp Global Goods is a result of Dan and I knowing we could do our part in confronting the orphan crisis in this world. It started from a place of compassion and mercy. But I’ve had to pick up some business know-how and it’s given me a hunger to do more. I’m discovering what a powerful catalyst commerce can be and I genuinely believe business is what is going to fund our work in Haiti. More jobs for more orphans means less orphans in the future. But for most of us, success doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve had to redefine success as puzzle pieces. I’ve managed to get several pieces in place, but there is a jumbled pile of pieces still yearning to be part of the big picture.

I’ve got 4 months to rock this puzzle out, but I confess, I’ve never been good at puzzles and I need my left-brained friends to join the fun!

#3-Forty-fied Faith in Jesus.

I love Jesus. Years ago, I thought time would have naturally woven us together in a very deep and meaningful way. But I learned there is nothing natural about abiding in Him. On the contrary, we must commit and be prepared to cling to faith even when the facts don’t add up. Our relationship STILL gets a little rocky at times. But I find rest knowing that He is still my ROCK.

I constantly lay it all out before Him only to gather it all up the next day—whatever “it” is. A prayer warrior, I am not. I want deep, abiding faith in Jesus. Period.

I’m hoping that this whole having kids out of diapers and sleeping through the night will re-ignite  that pre-children time in my life where I actually had real quiet time and cathartic journaled prayers. I’m hoping my 40s will bring in a little more wisdom and a little less recklessness.

Okay! So, I didn’t include being a good wife or mother on this list. Well–I am. A wife and mother, that is. You’ll have to ask the people living in my house if I’m “good” but I suspect that they will say “yes”. They are generous that way. Perhaps it’s my commitment to them that has kept me from The Three. Perhaps it’s something else. But please know—the struggle between wife and mother and The Three is real. Anyone who says they have hit their stride and beautifully balances profession with family and faith is a liar (or at least too good to be my friend).

Life takes constant adjustments. Give and take.

What about you? Is there something you are wanting to accomplish before your’e 40 or 50 or any other decade? Let’s help each other out!

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When Buying is Not an Option, Upcycle!

I talk a lot about fair-trade on the blog and there is a reason for that, it is so very important. This week is fashion revolution week. It serves as a reminder for those lives lost during the collapse of the Bangladesh factory killing over 1000 workers. I do believe the industry has changed in the last 4 years. There is more awareness, more advocacy and more companies out there trying to make a difference in the lives of their workers.

However, there is still a lot out there that do not know about fair-trade or what exactly it is. My hope, is that through this blog, more people continue to understand the importance of fair-trade. The item that I hear the most however is that fair-trade is so expensive and making the transition over can be daunting. I totally get that. It can be very expensive. It is cheaper and easier to buy in large store that mass produces their items. A few thoughts on this:

  1. Try focusing on buying just one item fair-trade. It does not have to be everything. That is crazy unrealistic. As a wife and a mom, I understand that. By purchasing just one item though, you are still making an ENORmous impact in someone’s life.
  2. Focus on quality over quantity. We live in a culture where we like our stuff. But let’s be honest, we have too much. This is an area that I have been working on this year. In January, I started my fair-trade capsule wardrobe and it has really put a lot in perspective. I did not realize how often I run out and grab myself something. It has been quite a change, but I like how it has stretched me to think outside the box.
  3. Thrift shop! Buy used. There are so many cool options on items that we can buy used. Some items you come across have never even been used! One woman’s lost is another’s gain. I have written more on this subject here.
  4. Instead of buying, create! No collective moan here or rolling of the eyes. You can do this. So much of the items we think we need are items that we can easily create.

If you are like me, you may have grand aspirations to sew. Things to know about my sewing machine: I have one, it sits in my craft room. I walk by it. Sometimes I clean off the dust that has been collecting. But really, it is like a giant paper weight on my desk. I also have two girls who LOVE to wear dresses and skirts. These same girls, however, love to wear those dresses and skirts and then dig in my flowerbeds looking for roly-poly’s, worms, lady bugs or anything else that creeps.

I love that they are little explorers. But do I want them exploring in new dresses and skirts I buy them? No. No I do not. My type-A self kind of freaks out about this. So, I took to Pinterest and I found a simple skirt pattern (trust me, if I can do it, anyone can). What drew me to this skirt pattern is it uses old t-shirts! How cool is that? This patterned continued to amaze me because it uses the hem of the t-shirt as the hem of the skirt! No hemming?!

Old t-shirts. I got these at Goodwill
Ta-da! Super cute skirts

Cute, right? And I promise it is as simple as it looks. If you can sew a straight line, you can do this. Now my girls can play and dig in the dirt all they want in their skirts because they are old t-shirts. You can read the step-by-step of how to make these skirts here. If you do not have old t-shirts laying around, hit up yard sales and/or thrift stores. Dust that sewing machine off, upcycle some old t-shirts and let me know what you think.

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Fair-Trade Coffee Easier to Find in Local Stores

Easter was a wonderful day full of family, fun, and lots of food. I love having a house full of people and interacting with everyone. I love seeing all the kids run around and play. But as I sit here and reflect on the day, as I talked to my girls about their hi/lows, I never want to miss out on the true reason of why we celebrate Easter. I am so thankful that we have a Father that was willing to send His Son to die for our sins. But not just die for our sins, He rose again! Both man and deity. We have a loving God who sacrificed everything for us. My prayer for you is that the story of Easter never becomes old or rote and loses its flavor.

Now would be the time that I would probably post pictures of us all dressed in our Easter gear however I completely failed yesterday and did not get one picture of all four of us. Not a single picture!  But trust me, my girls were adorable and my husband handsome as ever. I also wore my fair-trade dress that I got from Nomads Clothing. You can check out more about them from my blog last week.

 

With the weekend full and my nights of sleep short, I have coffee on my brain. I know—super shocking. Green Mountain Coffee is one of my favorite K-cups to buy. Their Columbian coffee is fair-trade certified and can be found at most local grocery stores! How easy is that! You will love the flavor too, it is super smooth. I am so impressed with how far the fair-trade movement has come. We still have a long ways to go, but I love how it is becoming more accessible.

I pray everyone has a great week and if you need some coffee in your life (and you know you do), buy some Green Mountain Columbian coffee the next time you are at the store. Let me know what you think.

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Ethical and Simple Living (and Some Craft Projects too)

Can you believe it is April already? Seriously! There are times I get so caught up in the whirlwind that is LIFE and feel like there are never enough hours in the day! The next thing I know, a quarter of the year has passed and here I am…doing LIFE still. It probably did not look half as graceful as I would have liked, but I made it! And guess what? You did too! High-fives and all the praise hands.

This past Saturday, I launched my own brand called The Fair Leslie. I will continue to be working alongside HandUp and I will be here each Monday to bring you all things fair trade. The Fair Leslie can be found on Instagram and will be focusing on fair trade and American made products, green and simple living, and crafts using old items repurposed into something new and fresh. I am so excited about this new avenue and I can’t wait to share it with you.

Meet Leslie behind The Fair Leslie

With the launch of my new Instagram I wanted to re-introduce myself to you and tell you a little about what fair trade means to me. The focus of these blogs are to dive into my personal journey as I focus on fair trade products.

I am blessed to be married to a wonderful man (who has done a guest blog for me here) for 14 years now and we have two super cute and super sassy girls; a 6 year old who is in kindergarten this year (nuts) and a 4 year old who I think is secretly enjoying being the only child at home during the day. My husband is a forester and a part-time student pastor at our church and I am an adjunct professor in psychology and sociology.

In all honesty, we are a fairly average family. We work, we love each other and do our best to show that love to each other and, most importantly, we love the Lord. I am thankful for all that the Lord has blessed me with and it is because of His love that I am the person I am today. I am still VERY imperfect with a mess load of flaws but I desire to be more like Him daily.

So What is Fair Trade and Why Should You Care

Fair trade is a social movement where businesses are practicing fair working conditions for the workers and artisans as well as creating sustainable businesses for the local economy. It also means that the artisans that are creating the products are receiving credit, both financially and through recognition. Companies can become fair-trade certified through Fair Trade USA (http://fairtradeusa.org) and Fair Trade International (http://www.fairtrade.net).

Depending on what a company is selling, the fair-trade process can be different. Some companies may not necessarily be fair-trade certified but may still be approved by a fair-trade membership organization like the Fair Trade Federation (FTF 9 guiding principles are listed below). While all companies may not have the fair-trade certification, there are guiding principles that a company can abide by and still be regarded as fair-trade. These companies are going to be transparent in their line of production. If you are unsure if a company really is fair-trade—ask. 

Fair Trade Federation Principles

  1. Create opportunities for economically and socially marginalized producers
  2. Develop transparent and accountable relationships
  3. Build capacity
  4. Promote fair trade
  5. Pay promptly and fairly
  6. Support safe and empowering working conditions
  7. Ensure the rights of children
  8. Cultivate environmental stewardship
  9. Respect cultural identitywww.fairtradefederation.org

Fair trade products are becoming easier to find. There are not a lot of places to buy these products in storefronts, however that is changing. While smaller boutique-style shops tend to be the best place to find fair trade products, some larger stores are starting to recognize the importance of fair-trade. Check out Natul’s blog from last week (here) and see what she discovered. You can also do an online search for fair-trade products and can pull up a pretty good list. This is a learning process for me, so please come along for the ride.

So many products that we buy on a day-to-day basis are products that we can buy fair-trade. Clothes, accessories, purses, shoes, textiles, home décor, consumable goods and more. My hope is not to overwhelm anyone. My hope is that you commit to buying ONE item that you usually buy and move over to fair-trade product. Just one item can make such a huge difference. For me, my family’s first item was coffee. You can buy fair-trade coffee at most grocery stores now-which is awesome! If you are unsure where to start, keep coming back each Monday and check out my Instagram (@thefairleslie) for ideas on new fair-trade products to purchase. There are some amazing companies out there that are making a difference in the lives of artisans, farmers, and many other workers. This will continue to have a ripple effect—as workers benefit, so will their families, their friends and their communities.

I am so incredibly grateful that I get to be a part of a ministry like HandUp. Thank you to all that support our boys in Haiti. Because of you buying our jewelry and sharing our story, you too are a part of this ministry. You are a woven integral part of the HUGG story and we are truly thankful to each and every one of you.

To check out more on my journey to fair and simple living, check me out on my new Instagram @thefairleslie

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Why I Stopped Guilting My Kids Into Being Grateful

Mother scolding her daughter

“Just think of all the starving children in Haiti who would love to eat those peas and carrots on your plate.” Admit it. You’re familiar with these first world pleas of parental persuasion. It’s a standard in the parental handbook as a means to get our finicky kids to eat their dinner. You might mention Africa or India but regardless of the geographical location of said starving children, one thing remains constant…

This approach doesn’t really work, does it?

Does shoving a handful of guilt in our kids faces suddenly inspire them to eat their dinner with a grateful heart? Truthfully, no. How many scores of peas and carrots throughout the years ended up down the drain or in the trash? The world will never know. The guilt trip didn’t work for me and I am going to guess that it probably isn’t working for you either. Dinner aside, sowing gratitude in our children is proving difficult in this day and age. Especially using the regurgitated pleas that our own parents used on us. Certainly, we’ve managed to get a little more creative with our bargaining, haven’t we?

Before I share with you how I was forced to change my tactics, I need to let you in on a Middlebrook family dynamic. I am a feeler. Couple that with strong tendencies towards control-freakishness and you’ve got a mom who wants to control how her kids feel and react to the world around them.

To make matters worse, my kids seem to have inherited my husband’s more pragmatic approach and less feely nature. Sometimes I seriously think that they are all out to get me with their dry-wit and even-keeled responses!

After all, my kids aren’t  throwing up lemonade stands to raise money for orphans. Oh, they have lemonade stands, but they want cold-hard cash to go straight into their little pockets. They dump out half-drunk glasses of organic milk and pulp free orange juice and still act surprised when I come at them with questions like, “why do you pour more than you can drink?” or “do you know how hard Daddy had to work to buy you milk and OJ?”

My kids just don’t get it.

They don’t pray those super-sweet selfless prayers to end world hunger and establish global peace. When Dan and I announced that we were going to spend Christmas in Colombia so we could celebrate with family from Venezuela—you’d think we just told them that Santa had been shot dead, and we don’t even do the whole “Santa” thing. In other words, our kids are normal…I hope.

They certainly come with their own ideas and I realize that they think more deeply than I give them credit for. Those little eyes and ears watch and listen closely and dare to ask questions that challenge our actions. At the end of the day, if they are ungrateful, it may just be that we have taught them to be that way. If we don’t display gratitude on a daily basis, how can we expect it from our children?

There is a quote by Bill Drayton, known as the father of social entrepreneurship, that says,

“We must teach empathy as we do literacy.”

But just like you can’t teach a kid to read in a day, you can’t expect a few quickie lessons in compassion to take either. In a world of iPhones, YouVerse, Youtube and selfies—it seems like our parents’ ways of teaching gratitude may no longer work on kids. They are, after all, the center of the universe.

We are indeed forced to get creative.

So here are a few things that I have done to stir the compassion pot at our house. Take them or leave them, I warn you that all three suggestions start with changing YOU.

1. Complain-o-Meter Check

Ask your kids to keep tabs on how many times you complain in a day.  They will happily sign up for the task.  If you are in the red, you’ve complained too much.  Your goal is to get in the green.  On any given day, my kids will hear me complain about anything from bad service at a restaurant, to granny-slow drivers in front of me, our unkempt flower beds, jeans that don’t fit, ad nauseam.

So why am I surprised when they complain, too?   A few days of the complain-o-meter will give all of you clear indicators of your gratitude attitude.  For the record, I’m not crafty so my meter is purely theoretical and I prefer to make an annoying buzzer sound when my kid’s griping starts.  Although, you may flip your lid when they all start buzzing in unison at your own complaints—so a silent little spinner may be a better alternative. Here’s one that my daughter made for me.

complain-o-meter-fail
Ruby’s handmade complain-o-meter–Looks like Mama Failed

2. Say Good-Bye to Guilt-Trips!

Our guilting tactics are usually reactive based on some stupid thing that our kid did or didn’t do.  I know that when I come home from my trips to Haiti I am especially sensitive to how often my kids ask for more or how careless they are with the things they do have.  However, it isn’t fair for me to judge them more because of the things that I have seen and experienced.

I’ve tried a different approach.  The other morning, as we ate breakfast before school I asked them what mornings might look like for a typical family in Haiti. As we explored, we considered no electricity, little money and housing made up of sticks and corrugated tin.  I was surprised at the questions they asked and the solutions they proposed.

This conversation wasn’t reactive.  It was deliberate.

A few months ago, our Operations Manager from Haiti stayed with us for a few nights. During dinner, we encouraged the kids to ask Frantz anything they wanted to know about his country. Although we had to prod at first, my middle son was soon asking all sorts of questions!  We appreciated that Frantz had such a willing spirit to share both the good and bad about Haiti.  It helps to hear these stories from other people other than Mom and Dad.  I’d encourage you to invite people to your dinner table that have different life experiences and open up the table for new discussions.  Small conversations like these that are part of your everyday routine will foster ideas that don’t involve wanting or needing more.

%22whats-life-in-haiti-like-mr-frantz%22
Frantz sharing with our kids about life in Haiti.

3. Let Them Go Hungry!

I am the first to admit that I make a terrible hungry person. My head starts to spin and my already iffy brain becomes even iffier. I’m also a terrible thirsty person. The moment I realize that I’ve left my water at home, my throat closes up and my mouth becomes dry and parched.  But rest at ease, always near is a fast-food joint to top off with a snack and a bottled water.

I’m afraid I’ve transferred this onto my kids.  God forbid they should have to wait a full 20 minutes before they get a sip of  water or a snack.  So why am I surprised when my kids act like they are dying the moment their belly starts to rumble?  This would be a good time to ask them what they think mommies in impoverished communities do when their kids have rumbling bellies.

I can hear the gasps already—but mamas, your kids will be okay for 20 minutes! How many of you thought you understood and sympathized over something until it happened to you?  It wasn’t until that moment that you actually got it.   The same is true here.  Hunger pains and thirst go a long way in painting a picture for your child on how there are millions of children in the world whose hunger pains and thirsts are rarely quenched.

This isn’t a guilt-trip, it’s a time to stop and reflect because knowing what it feels like just might lead to doing something about it. Remember, we are raising future world changers here!

At the end of the day, my husband and I are doing the best we can to try to raise grateful children in spite of the society in which we live.

We have to trust the process. It is our hope that gratitude will slowly take root in their hearts and souls. As they mature, they will look back and remember the things we did and said together that (fingers crossed!!!) prompted a spirit of gratitude.

However, as my mother-in-law once shared with me, we have to hope and pray that God makes up for our insufficiency as parents! This mama is hopeful.

 

my-grateful-bunch
My grateful bunch!