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Why My Last Visit to Haiti Made me Hunger

The first week of January I hosted a small team from Champion Forest Baptist Church in Haiti. The following entry was written after a beach excursion with the 3 newest children from Max’s Ministry.

What Hunger Looks Like

His tiny arm methodically lifted the large spoon to his mouth. It was slow but steady and with every heaping bite of food you could see him quietly whisper words to himself. Looking at his 20 pound, 4 year-old body, there was no way he could get all that food into his bloated belly—but he did. Every single methodical bite.

One of the girls from Champions leaned in and asked one of the older kids from Max’s home what he was saying. “Mesi Jezi.” After every bite, Jouri whispered “Thank you, Jesus.” Every single grateful bite.

I thought about the rawness and depth of his gratitude. It was a gratitude that oozed out of the hungry belly of a four-year old boy in Haiti.

He wasn’t TRYING to be thankful. This wasn’t some rote one-liner that he was instructed to recite. This little boy possessed a hunger and thirst of the purest kind and I was watching him be filled.

I was reminded of Matthew 18:2—”Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I’m not going to write about how we’re going to help Joure and the other two children who suffer from chronic hunger.  We’re helping Max get the help these sweet babies need—I’ll be sharing more about Joure’s journey to food safety over the coming weeks.

What I am going to write to you is a CONFESSION:

I WANT that kind of gratitude—the kind of gratitude that flows out of a hungry heart. Joure made an impact on me on so many levels. It wrecked me but it also got me thinking about my own chronic hunger or, if I’m honest, the lack thereof.

I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be hungry. I can try to generate a superficial gratitude but the truth is I don’t know what it feels like to be without. Those of us who are saved have forgotten what it feels like to be lost. Those of us who are full have forgotten what it feels to be empty.

We are over-saturated, over stimulated, over done and yet—we are so emaciated. We need to get to that place where we recognize our emptiness and take in heapfuls of God’s goodness and thank Him after every  single morsel.

Like a child showing pure gratitude.

Like sweet little Joure thanking Jesus after ever bite of food.

My 21-Day Fast

My last day in Haiti was the first of a 21-Day fast that we are encountering at Restoration Church. Joure was fresh on my mind that day and my prayer was that I would experience a hunger for God that got me to a place where every sweet encounter, I would say “Thank you Jesus.”

We were on Day FOUR of our church-wide fast when I wrote this and here is the verse for that day:

Deuteronomy 8:2-3—

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart,whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna,which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Our hearts yearn to experience that same hunger that Joure felt that day— and we long to have it satisfied in some radical way. The problem is we try to stuff it with junk rather than the pure things that it really craves. G.K Chesterton said it best when he said, “A man that knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

Our hunger manifests itself in so many ways—for me it’s becoming too comfortable reaching for a second glass of wine at the end of a hard day.

For you it may be too much chocolate cake or shopping, for him it may be sneaking in some pornography late at night. What if we hungered for God like Joure hungered for that plate of food? What if we mimicked the pureness of his hunger? I think then we could experience that raw and open gratitude I saw that day on the beach.

Let’s pray that God causes us to hunger for Him like He did for the Israelites in the desert. Let’s pray that He teaches us to feast on His Word.

Stepping into a Life of MORE

Fasting helps us channel our physical hunger towards a hunger for Him. We experience pangs of need that get so strong that we either break down and eat food or we eat of His Word. We willfully create an environment where we are empty and deny satisfaction with things that will easily fill the emptiness. Dan and I aren’t hard—core fasters (is that what they are called?) and we certainly aren’t gurus on spiritual disciplines, but we are commiting to this 21-Day fast by skipping breakfast and lunch and eating a light dinner after sunset. It is hard, but not impossible.

Maybe you read this and feel like you want to join us the rest of the way—there is power in numbers and I think God is yearning to rain down manna into our communities, our homes, our hearts. You can click here to follow Restoration’s Facebook page and learn about the fast.

I don’t know about you, but I want to get to that place where I can’t help but say “Thank you Jesus.”—not because I know I should, but because every heaping spoonful of Him means LIFE. Like the manna that sustained the Jews, like the feast the famished Joure experienced, spoonfuls of Him is the difference between LIFE or death.

 

 

 

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Why the THREE P’s are Vital for Success

HandUp Global Goods was birthed in passion and desire.

It was all at once…

whimsy and whirlwind,

deeply spiritual and taxing

hectic but steady

From the time that the idea was conceived to the time of our production launch was NINE MONTHS.

I had delivered a baby social enterprise. But just like delivering baby humans, the pangs of childbirth came quickly and fiercely. But THIS was the easy part.

This, my friend, is the hairy nature of a social enterprise. Social enterprise you say? What is it?

social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being.

In other words, we function like a business but have the heart of a ministry. Managing both facets is tough and for this reason, I call HandUp my ever-hungry twin babies!!!

Have you ever thought about a more sustainable way of bringing relief to a need you’ve encountered? Maybe it’s a local social issue or perhaps you’ve gone on a mission trip and were left shaken over the poverty you saw.

I want to MOTIVATE you to DREAM & DO your part when it comes to promoting social change. But I also want you to know that there are THREE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS you must have in order to launch and maintain a social enterprise. Without these, your twin babies will be doomed from the start.

Passion

That’s right, Mama—the same passion that fueled the making of those babies will need to carry you through the initial hustle of getting this thing off the ground. HandUp was fueled by the novelty of the project and the dream that job creation and spiritual discipleship would change the lives of young orphaned men in Haiti.

I was obsessed. I read everything that I could and researched similar models working in Haiti. I was designing jewelry, fundraising, creating a website, sourcing raw materials, pricing, researching some more, traveling to Haiti AND managing my family of 7.

I wasn’t afraid to reach out to people out in the field and set up times to talk to them about their work. I was super nerdy about the approach, asking lots of questions, taking copious notes and giddily making my own plans based off the interviews. My initial passion for this project threw any semblance of balance out the window but it was sink or swim!

Prayer

I remember one all-nighter as I counted beads, typed up instructions and packed up supplies a couple of nights before heading out on my second trip to Haiti. I lacked the knowledge and experience to properly execute this grandiose idea that I had but because of this—I found myself praying A LOT. I didn’t have a clue how to successfully build a company whose backbone would consist of former street boys. So I prayed some more.

I had my first rude awakening when I learned that the boys weren’t used to the concept of measuring. They hadn’t been taught how to use measuring tools to calculate length. It took 3 days to figure out how to convey to them what measuring was and why it was critical to learn. I clung to my notes and tried to keep it together as the guys barraged me with questions

…in a language I didn’t understand

…as I pounded away at the brand new managers

…who were trying desperately to grasp my shallow knowledge of jewelry making.

I tried to stay strong on the production line, but in the evenings, I’d get on my knees begging God for intervention. To make matters worse, there were bouts of vomiting and diarrhea on those early trips. I’d visit the bathroom, lay down for five minutes to recover and then head back out and face the HandUp mayhem. It wasn’t pretty, but I prayed like a mother of HUNGRY BABY TWINS.

Persistence

Eventually, people with more experience and knowledge stepped in to help (hallelujah Jesus!), but I don’t believe that would have happened without the first two ingredients. People saw my stickwithitness and began believing the power of the story. They were inspired by this idea that a small social enterprise had the potential to radically change the lives of former street boys.

They believed that life was BIGGER than the daily grind and that GOD created them to change the world—in deep small ways and in MONSTER SIZE ways.

This is YOU reader! You are reading this because you know there is something MORE for you to do. Maybe you’re afraid of the ever hungry twins crying to be fed! Maybe the dreamer inside of you has drowned in a sea of to-do lists. The truth is God will use your hands and feet to bring hope to those who have no hope.

PASSION, PRAYER and PERSISTENCE are not just vital for social enterprises, they are required ingredients for transforming your dreams into DOs. 

I KNOW you are going to make it, sister. Know where you are going and don’t be afraid of the pylons and potholes. Before you know it, those babies will be walking and talking and you’ll have a deep gratitude in your heart that you got to be part of who they are. That’s how I feel about HandUp Global Goods–forever thankful that I get to be part of this amazing story.

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Imperfectly Beautiful

Perfection is boring.

Yes—it’s beautiful and we can “ooh and ahh” over it, but there’s not much you can say about it. It’s perfect already so adding to it will only muddle its perfection. You can’t add numbers to an already perfect equation, you can’t add another stroke to a canvas with a soulful painting, an entrée seasoned and cooked to perfection gets devoured—not discussed.

It’s kind of like that “perfect” friend of yours. Yes—she’s beautiful and has it all put together but she’s not super interesting when you think about it.

There’s something about our oddities, our eccentricities, our “skeletons” that draw us to one another. It may have a little to do with sick curiosity or our need to have friends who love you no matter what (or a combo of both)! I read one of those clever picture frames that said a good friend is one that will bail you out of jail—a great friend is the one sitting next to you in the cell. Ha! Which friend are you?

Inside all of us there is this need to relate to others but the problem is that we tend to compare our inner self—the ugly thoughts, vulnerabilities, judgements, self-loathing, smugness with the outer self of others—the put togetherness, beauty, good deeds, ambition, clean house, positive attitude.

We’re comparing apples to wrenches and its keeping us at an arm’s length!!!

My 20s…

I say this because I think I spent my 20s trying to prove to people that I was a stellar Christian in spite of my upbringing. I had a split personality, too. My Christian friends got one version of me, not necessarily the better one, and my secular friends got another. It was so natural that it didn’t occur to me that I wasn’t being authentic but in my defense, I was in my 20s. The dust from my childhood hadn’t settled yet and I didn’t know who the heck I was. I spent a lot of time trying to reconcile my past with my new married life.

I felt like I had to live up to the name I had married into. I went from being a hot-blooded Latina Ramirez from a long line of drama-mamas to a cool-headed Middlebrook from a long line of thick-skinned Texans. The two cultures didn’t exactly synthesize within me nor in my marriage, but that is another story for another day.

 My 30s…

The first half of my 30s are a blur mainly because I was either pregnant, having babies and lactating on and off. Throw in foster care, adoptions, surprise baby #5 and a non-profit start up and you understand why I now get to the point quickly, prefer dry cabernets and talk to people like they either work for me or once slept in my womb. I have to remind myself to be casual. I try hard to be leisurely.

Almost 40…

I’m learning to kick that make believe finger-pointer in the teeth. So, my friend, I share this with you: Stop aiming for perfection and stop comparing apples to wrenches. Let’s grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and be real. I think Jesus can work with ugly-real more than he can with fake-beautiful.  Don’t you think?

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Dusting Off The Sewing Machine

I did it y’all. I dusted off the old sewing machine and I made something.

Not just any something. I made myself a dress. And I can actually wear it! I am sew excited! (See what I did there)

Now, for some this is not a big deal. For me, this is huge. I have always had an envious bone for those that can just whip something together. I am still sooooo far from this, but I am patting myself on the back for this one.

On this journey into fair-trade, I have also looked at the amount of excess I have in my life. Is everything I have a need or are most of my items wants? Having wants is not necessarily bad, but I was determined this year to really focus on not having too much stuff for the sake of having stuff. Reusing and recycling have become a part of my life this year.

I really wanted a new dress for an upcoming wedding but I was determined not to buy anything else. I am not sure if you follow Miranda Anderson from Live Free Miranda but I basically want to be her. She was the emcee at a conference I was at in February and I loved her. Her blog is amazing and filled with all kinds of crafty and beautiful items. She recently posted about a Kimono dress she made and I thought, “Yeah, let’s make this Leslie!”

The patterned looked pretty straight forward and with my mom at my side talking me through it all, I made this super cute and pretty simple Criss-Cross Kimono.

Cute right?! Here is the link to Miranda’s blog post (here) that takes you through each step. The only thing I changed was where it says you need 1.5 yards, I bumped it up to 2.5 yards to help with the length of the dress (I like mind right at my knees—this, of course, is your own personal preference).

It took a little more effort than going to the store, but I now have a one-of-a-kind dress that cost little and utilized items I already had.

Tell me what you think.

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When you Want to Buy the Trend: Confessions of a Capsule Wardrobe

Back in January, I made a commitment to create a fair-trade capsule wardrobe. Here I am, over halfway through the year and I have discovered a few pitfalls. Some of these pitfalls are purely psychological–I want to shop! Others are from a lack of planning; diving straight in to this idea. However, I have learned a lot about this process over the last 7 months. Here are a few things I wrestled with and how I am working on overcoming them:

  1. Never Buy the New Trend–Ugh! This has probably been the hardest. There are so many cute trends that are out there. What can make this more difficult is the fact that so many of these trends are available through fair-trade companies. It is amazing how far the fashion industry has come. We still have a long way to go but it is encouraging to see it moving in the right direction. But the purpose of my resolution is not to only buy fair-trade but to create a capsule wardrobe. This demands of me to be intentional in my purchasing. A trend will come and go, but a capsule wardrobe will last.
  2. Moving Away from Buying the Same Thing–I must be careful with this one. I have chosen a color pallet and tried to be intentional in what I need to search for when purchasing. But suddenly, I find myself looking at only black and white t-shirts, or jeans, or moving away from patterns. This does not have to be the case with a capsule wardrobe, but I just gravitate there now. I love patterns and textures and I need to learn to embrace that even in my capsule wardrobe. I can still look like me while being thoughtful in my purchases.
  3. Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More–There are great options on where to start building a capsule wardrobe. Just search for a capsule wardrobe checklist and hundreds will pop up. I downloaded one, checked off boxes of what I had, wrote in items I wanted rather than what was on the list and had a good plan of attack. Then, I stopped. This can’t happen. When the planning stops, you lose sight of why you started. So, as fall approaches, I am working on putting more planning in place as I add pieces. I will be posting about that process later.
  4. Give Yourself Some Grace–If you are a fellow Type-A individual like myself, this can be difficult. I have learned that this process is messy. I have messed up. I get lured like everyone else by cheap prices and trendy outfits that will only last a season. But it is ok. Mistakes will be made. I have learned so much through this process that I will be sharing on another post. What I have loved: When I am giving myself a hard-time, when it is not going smooth, my tribe around me has supported and encouraged. I love it and I am thankful for it.

If you are thinking of creating a fair-trade capsule wardrobe or maybe you are thinking about starting something completely different, know that the process is messy. Embrace that mess and push on. I am rooting for you.

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Fair-Trade and Giving Back All in One Purchase

July is in full swing. This weekend brought with it lots of family time, lake, swimming and fried fish! For so many reasons, I love 4th of July weekend. It is on holidays like this that remind me that I live in a place that allows me the freedom to help others around me. The items I buy fall into this category.

At HandUp, we are continuing to feature one of our own and the company they wish to highlight. Last week, Natul showed us the beautifully hand-crafted items from Serrv. This week, Gretchen has purchased cute shorts from Patagonia.

Patagonia is well known for their athletic wear. Growing from a small company that made tools for climbers, Patagonia now sells gear and clothing for all “silent sports”–from fishing, to running, to skiing and more. Their mission is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” They are Fair Trade Certified, give back a portion of their profit towards many different environmental groups and they use recycled polyester and organic cotton in their clothes. And, best of all, they have products for the whole family!

Check out these cute shorts on Gretchen. They are perfect for the summer and I love the sunny yellow. She is also rocking our beautiful new triple wrap from our beachy keen collection. Let me know what you think!

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Our Clothes Can Serrv The Community

Since January, I have been creating a fair-trade capsule wardrobe. It has been going well and it has made me really think before I buy. At times this has been challenging but also freeing at the same time. This concept has caught on in my HandUp Global Goods family. While not everyone is ready to dive in to the capsule wardrobe, for the month of June, each member of the HandUp Global Goods team has purchased a fair-trade item to wear.

Last week, I kicked us off with a cute top from Girl Set Free. This week, our fearless leader, Natul is sporting a cute top from Serrv (see what I did there in the title)! This bright, lightweight tunic is 100% cotton and is perfect for these very warm summer months. Serrv has a variety of tunics, dresses and breathable sweaters that is sure to match any style. Right now, you can take an extra 40% off your clothing purchases! Just typing the word sale makes me super happy!

Serrv is unique in that they are an online store that sells a little bit of everything and each of those items that they sell are fairly made by artisans around the world. Think of it like an online fair-trade utopia! It has everything from home décor, to food, to clothing and more.

Going all the way back to 1949, Serrv is one of the first companies to sell fair-trade products in the United States. They are a founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization and the Fair Trade Federation. Their mission statement is simple and clear, Serrv is a nonprofit organization with a mission to eradicate poverty wherever it resides by providing opportunity and support to artisans and farmers worldwide.

With 55 partnerships worldwide with various artisans, farmers and co-ops, there is something for everyone. Don’t be sad you missed a sale! Give Serrv a try today and you can sport a pretty top like Natul.

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How One Shirt can Make a Difference

Over the last year and half of blogging for HandUp Global Goods, I have come across so many amazing companies. The fashion industry, while it still has a long way to go, has made significant strides to protect their artisans. What I really love, however, is a company that not only focuses on fair and ethical sourcing but also gives back.

Girl Set Free focuses on fighting against human trafficking by working alongside many reputable human trafficking advocates. Human trafficking is just a new name for slavery, an issue that is still very much alive within all societies. With an estimated 27 million individuals in slavery today, human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes. Each purchase you make with Girl Set Free goes to stop human trafficking.

I bought this cute shirt to add to my fair-trade capsule wardrobe (read more about that here) from Girl Set Free. This super cute and soft shirt has been perfect this summer. I love the wider cap on the shoulder and the simple but beautifully stated “By Grace” on the front. The Grace Tee is perfect for a capsule wardrobe because you can easily add layers as the seasons change. It will be summer here until November, but I am looking forward to pairing it with some cute fall outfits once the weather starts to change. It is also a perfect backdrop for all my HandUp Global Goods jewelry!

Summer casual
Dress it up with a skirt and cute shoes
My favorite way is to pair it with my go-to jeans

Girl Set Free just launched a new website where they are offering all kinds of super cute and ethically made products. They have beautifully hand-woven cross-body bags, hand turned pens, and t-shirts with a message I can stand behind. I have fallen in love with the heart of this company.

Simply stated, I trusted and obeyed and have the most amazing tribe that believed in me but believed in God more and they never let me lose sight of that. Girl Set Free started with my personal redemption story. Little did I know, saying yes to hard and holy things would lead to so much freedom and healing for others. Not only for our artisan partners but for me personally. God called me to rest this year after a long season of healing and years of striving. You see, I felt my worth came from my work because I held onto lies from the enemy. It was time for me to lay that all down. I’m humbled and have cried many tears since we started this journey but the growth has been beautifully hard and I’m counting the fruit now. Ephesians 3:20 – “Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to his power that is at work within us.”  -CEO Amy Kratzer

Check out their new website, purchase some amazing items and let me know what you think.

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My Trip to Haiti: Part 1

Short-term mission trips to different countries have a way of causing us to glamorize every experience we come across.  We go expecting every experience to be exotic, unfamiliar and exhilarating.  This can cause us to romanticize even the mundane parts of our trip.  From the transportation methods, the language, the pace and the food, we tend to put too much emphasis on experience. 

One example: while in Belize a few years ago, we were eating at the hotel restaurant and drinking some very fine coffee. If you know me you know I have a deep love affair with coffee.  Several of us were lamenting how great the coffee was and wondering if we could find this coffee locally.  We asked the server what the brand of coffee was and where we could find it.  He wasn’t sure of the brand but said it was easy to find as it was in a bright blue container.  We looked everywhere for this coffee over the next few days to no avail, so we begged him to show us the container so we could finally see where this finest of coffees could be found.  The server went searching for the container as we waited excitedly.  He emerged from the kitchen looking half confused and annoyed carrying a bright blue plastic container of…Maxwell House coffee. Our server proceeded to tell us we could find it anywhere, including in the states.  That wasn’t what we were expecting. It was this moment that allowed me to re-evaluate how I was approaching the trip and each experience I came across.

The International Mission Board (IMB) posted a blog on their Facebook page recently titled “5 Ways Not to Return Home From a Mission Trip.”  In it the author, Elliot Clark, looks at ways Christians can return from a mission trip and have the wrong attitude and outlook as they are asked to reflect on their trip.  The author defines the wrong ways as; the Expert, the Called, the Critic, the Exaggerator and the Enthusiastic.  I believe how we come home from these trips can be heavily determined by how we prepare beforehand.

As I prepared to go to Haiti, my second trip there, I thought about this blog post. I thought about how might I prepare myself before I left so I stay grounded in what we’re going to do.  I wanted everything I saw to be through the eyes of God, so I could see what He has been doing in Haiti way before I even thought about going there.  I reminded myself God has not been waiting around for me to go back to Haiti so He could finally get to work. No, I needed to see where God has already been working and join Him in that work for the short period I am there.  I needed to allow Him to show me, “This is what I am doing, will you join Me?”  Also, I needed to listen and respect those that spend many weeks a year there, those that live there and have been called into a life of ministry to the people in Haiti.

Beach day with the HUGG boys

Two of those groups that have been working in Haiti for some time now: Hand Up Global Goods and Grangou.  They are who we went to support in the ministries they already have established in Haiti.  Come back next week to hear specifically what these organizations are doing in Haiti, how God is using them to not only minister to orphans but how those they are ministering to are starting their own ministries.  What an amazing concept…minister to some of the neediest people in Haiti, disciple them into Godly young men and then support them as they begin to minister to their own people.  It is one of the most beautiful, touching things witnessed.  Oh, what God can do when we simply allow Him to take control.

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Edible Coffee: Have Your Coffee and Eat It Too

Coffee Thins

I have discovered something pretty amazing. Something that combines two things that I love the most. Chocolate and coffee!

I know, the marriage of chocolate and coffee is nothing new. I love a good Mocha every now and then. But today I am talking about something a little different. This new chocolate and coffee combination is something new entirely, at least to me. This is morsel that has packed an entire cup of coffee into one delicious chocolate/coffee square. An edible coffee that is easy to pack away in your purse or your desk and eat when the caffeine slump starts to pull you under.

Coffee Thins are USA made and have been developed by Eight O’Clock Coffee Company and Krispy Kreme. Their chocolate bars consist of 3 squares and each square is equal to one cup of coffee.  There are 6 enjoyable flavors to choose from with my favorite being Latte. What is crazy is that they really do taste like a cup of coffee! It is like biting into your favorite cup of joe. The nutrition is equal to an amount of coffee as well.

I am not saying these have taken place of my morning coffee. But they are super easy to pack away and pull out when on the run. Each square is individually wrapped to make it wonderfully convenient. You can order online here or you can find them at your local grocery store.

Pick up a bar today and let me know what you think.