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Why Giving HUGGS is Saving Lives

Let me assure you that this is NOT a call for donations.

What I am asking is the following:

For you to consider carrying HUGG pieces in your church book stores, coffee shops, gift shops and lobbies.

For church leaders to learn more about a movement that seeks to create jobs in impoverished communities such as Haiti. We should be casting a vote to support artisans like Max by using our purchasing dollars for good. 100% of HUGG sales go back into our operations to create more jobs in Haiti. But more importantly, your purchase is saving lives. 

Let me explain HOW:

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting with the Association to Save the Children in Canaan and Onaville.

This committee was founded on the principles that all children have the right to shelter, education and access to food. Canaan is located about 10 miles outside of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. It is a post-earthquake, make-shift city settled on dry dusty hills with no plumbing nor electricity. It is a hard place for a family to carve out a living, but it is even harder for the children that drifted to this settlement without an adult to care for them.

Max, a HandUp artisan, knows just how hard it is to be an orphaned child in Haiti. He found himself a homeless teenager in Canaan. Although he loved his village, he knew that God was calling him to the city of Port-au-Prince. He didn’t know what he would find there, but he knew the answers were ahead of him.

After a few months of living on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Max was approached by a young man by the name of Patrick. Patrick had just aged out of an orphanage and was living with 6 other young men who had transitioned from the same boys’ home. Later Patrick would share with me the reason he was drawn to Max.

“I knew we needed someone like Max in the apartment. We needed someone to teach us more about the Bible and Jesus.”

After several visits with this young evangelist, Patrick invited Max into the tiny 3-room apartment he and the other young men shared. It wasn’t long before Max carved his place within this band of brothers. It would be months still before I’d show up in their apartment, asking these young men whether they wanted a job. These 8 would become the backbone of the HandUp program.

As soon as Max started receiving a steady income through HandUp, he went back to Canaan. It was simple at first. He started out by purchasing rice, beans and oil for a local lady to cook for some of the orphans there. Then it grew to him building a shanty for 16 parentless children.

Max’s shanty for 16 children.

He had very little resources and several of the other HUGG artisans started pitching in to help meet some of the children’s basic needs. Aside from taking care of the 16 most vulnerable children, he started working with other needy children in the community. Bible studies, crafts, singing and dancing all became part of a weekly program under Max’s leadership.

But it was too much for him to bear. He witnessed two little children die simply of infections that could have been prevented with antibiotics. After this incident, my Life Group in Conroe, Texas started supporting some of Max’s efforts by providing for food costs and allowing him to set aside some savings for emergencies.

These extra funds were the catalyst that Max needed to jumpstart his program. He formed a committee with HandUp artisans and local community members to bolster their efforts towards saving children from the grips of poverty.

Under Max’s leadership, the group has committed to taking care of 12 of the 16 orphans under Max’s care. The 12 boys will be living in a one-room house rented just for them. The rest of the group are girls and I will save their story for another day. We will continue to partner with the committee until we’ve placed each little girl in a loving home. But for now, this committee does the best they can to meet the needs of these children that God has entrusted in their care.

Max, Marcial and Richardson & the new home for Canaan boys.

Without HandUp Global Goods…

There would have been no job for Max and the other artisans.

Without a job, they would have been too busy surviving Haiti rather than helping Haiti survive and THRIVE.

Tools for Ministry

Max’s efforts to build a program in Canaan is a result of what he has learned under the leadership of HandUp staff. Education, spiritual discipleship, and mentoring are all things that have been poured into Max over the last three years. Without this holistic approach, Max would not have had the necessary skills to lead this ministry in Canaan.

A HandUp, Not a Handout

Because of one job, 16 orphans have their basic needs being met.

Because we give a handUp and not a handout, young men are experiencing a dignity attainable only through the work of their own hands.

Young Haitian men like Max must be employed, mentored, and trained so that they can be the ones to help their communities.

Once, these young men were destined towards the path of becoming orphan makers. Because of their jobs with HandUp, they’ve broken through systemic poverty and are being transformed into Opportunity Makers.

The Struggle is Real

Although our retail and wholesale orders are slowly gaining momentum; our donations are at an all-time low. Without these funds, we are unable to meet our operational expenses on the ground.

But I’ll be honest–it’s the sales that we need. We have beautiful pieces that tell an equally beautiful story. If we tell it right, God’s church WILL RISE to the occasion. I know God cares about the makers that make the things we wear and He desires to use the church to bless them, not to exploit them.

There are 23 young men in our program. Many who are also making an impact in the communities in which they live.  Would you allow us an opportunity to share their stories in your church?

THREE VITAL Ways to help:

  1. Host a Sunday Pop Up this Spring/Summer in your church.
  2. Invite us to come share the HUGG story at your next Event.
  3. Carry HUGG products in your church.
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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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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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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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Adorn a Child with Hope and Love: Home Décor

It always amazes me how God works in all of us separately but at the same time can ignite the same passion and vision in us. Today’s organization is both fair-trade and missional-minded whose passion is for sharing the love of Christ with orphanages in Kenya. Similar to the vision of Hand Up, Pamba Toto came into existence because of the heart God gave them for orphans. Pamba Toto sells beautifully hand-crafted pieces to raise money for 2 orphanages in Kenya called Sanctuary of Hope #1 and #2 through Hope’s Promise Orphan Ministries.

When you go to Pamba Toto’s website, you can meet all the artisans that make each piece of their beautifully hand-crafted items. They range from scarves and other accessories to home décor and kitchen ware plus much more. They have so many items to choose from that it was hard to decide what to buy. If you are looking for a beautiful piece of home décor, you need to check them out.

I did fall in love with their beautifully hand-carved and hand-painted wooden bird mobile (Please forgive my amateur picture taking skills). My girls had a hand at helping me pick out this piece as well. They love birds and this mobile has several types of birds that are super colorful. They were as excited about it as I was. I also love their aprons and placemats. As we are nearing summer, it is fun to bring some color in to the house. I say play with some fun textiles and look at their home décor and kitchen ware.

Check out Pamba Toto and let me know what you think. What was one of your favorite pieces you found in their online store?

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Why Good Advice Is Not Always Good

I remember, back in my late teens, when well-meaning people counseled me on improving my circumstances. I’d sift through their kind words looking for applicable wisdom but their advice was often oversimplified and unadaptable. Before me stood towering obstacles built over years of living in poverty under the rule of an abusive father. I’d wonder, “What would they say if I told them the uncut version of my story?”  Most of the time, I didn’t dare and I’d just smile and nod my head. Little did they know that their clean and simple formulas were foreign to my daily struggles.

But I wasn’t going to tell THEM that. Why bother spoiling their good efforts?

 

I think about these experiences in my work today. I try to resist giving well-meaning advice to young men who have experienced more horrors than my heart could handle. Sometimes I wonder if the words I choose to share with them is like a blind person trying to give physical directions to someone who is lost. How will I know when to tell them to turn left or right if I’m unaware of the pylons and potholes in the road?

Instill a Them a Moral Compass

Yet, as former street children, it is clear they need guidance. They need someone to help them find their way just as I did 20 years ago. So if you’re in a position of serving the marginilized, acknowledge that you will NOT get their whole, explicit story and therefore can’t apply blanket statements to cover their problems. Give them the means to discover their own truth and empower them to create their own map towards success. No one knows the pylons and potholes better than they—

If you want to build solidarity with the people you are serving; you MUST be relevant–not in some dorky poser way–but a connection must be pursued on a deep and meaningful level. Below are FIVE THINGS I’ve learned over the years of working with marginalized people.

  1. Listen.

Don’t be afraid to ask for details if you are not understanding a person’s predicament. You need to make it clear that the details are important to you. If they don’t want to share, that’s okay. But try to set your preconceived ideas aside and listen to them as if you were living in their home or community. Try to see life through their perspective.

  1. Emphasize the Process.

Often, the boys in our program think that money will solve their problems. If Jesus had intended for money to be the fixer of all things, he would have nailed hundred dollar bills to the cross. Instead He gave us His life. There are no quick fixes to most problems because He intended for us to learn through the process of following Him. Whether it is to cultivate faith, learn problem-solving skills, attain wisdom, live out experiences or give opportunities —God works His good through all circumstances, but we must be open to allowing the circumstances to teach us.

It may sound naïve to say this—but I have been in situations that made NO sense outside of clinging to the process for the sake of spiritual growth. I always try to stay open to what God is trying to teach me, but it’s hard to say this to others who are suffering. Instead, I ask questions that might lead them to understanding the “whys” and “hows” of their circumstances.

  1. Be Vulnerable. Be Real.

I don’t have all the answers and don’t pretend that I do. Sometimes I just listen and lament alongside the stories I hear. Sometimes I am reminded of a story that I lived through that could possibly be of encouragement to the listener. There is a solidarity built among leaders and the people they serve when we allow our humanity to show.

Paul Woodward, from Impact Houston, an inner-city missions church, was the first to teach me the beauty in vulnerability. I had always seen my vulnerability as a weakness but he taught me how to use it as a tool for ministry. I was on staff with him for a few years and was struck by the way he empowered the people he helped. He mitigated their “neediness” by punctuating his efforts with an “you would do the same for me if I needed it.” Such simple words but significant for people needing a handup.

  1. Search God’s Word for Applicable Wisdom.

Someone recently told me that they wished there was a third biblical testament to address so many issues that we have in modern times. While I understood the sentiment, the relevance of God’s word never ceases to surprise me. Your search engine is great for looking for applicable verses if you put in the key words. Take some time and research relevant scripture and set up a follow up conversation to share the insights gleaned. For example, this past week at HandUp Haiti, we learned about the importance of planning and prayer before launching new ministries.

Several of our young men want to give back but I realize that they haven’t been given the tools to minister effectively. In the midst of explaining this concept, one of them stood up and read Ecclesiastes 7:8. This verse alone opened up conversations in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own. It impacted them deeply as they realized, some for the first time, that a ministry mustn’t be started if there are no steps in place to see it through.

http://livingfree.aubreecherie.com/2014/04/thoughtful-thursday-ecclesiastes-78/
  1. Take a Risk

I realize you can’t take a risk for everyone if you are in a leadership position in ministry, but you CAN let people know you care by doing one thing apart from praying and encouraging. There is so much TRUTH to the cliché; “Actions are louder than words.” My life changed radically the moment a ministry leader jumped into my messy life and helped me with specific obstacles that I couldn’t fight alone. That single “yes” on his part, opened up doors that allowed me to heal and grow.

I think about the measured risks that I can take for these young men not because I have something to prove, but because God’s love has already been proven to all.

The last thing I want is for these young men to smile and nod and politely wait for me to finish giving them the “wealth of my knowledge”. Perhaps I’ve done a little of this and they walk away wondering what in the world I just said. So sorry!!!!

It’s only when they see the relevance of ministry in their lives that they will become DOERS. They are the ones who will fill the potholes and tear down the pylons that stand in the way of progress. Your job is to help them etch out the road map.

How do you make your ministry effective and meaningful to the people you are serving?

 

 

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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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Pour Some Mercy on Me!

Lately, “doing church” has become a little bit stale to me. Stagnant. Sameness.

It has become the thing to do on Sunday mornings rather than the thing that takes hold of me. There is something about the routine that robs me of renewing faith. You know, the kind of faith that asks to be renewed, refreshed, restored. Don’t get me wrong, I believe gathering on Sundays is an essential element of my faith. But lately I find myself craving the kind of faith that David longed for in Psalm 51-

“Create me in a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Maybe it’s me. But again, maybe it’s the routine. Blah.

I think these routines were some of the things that bothered Jesus the most about the synagogues of his day. The religious leaders relied on routines to attain holiness rather than recognizing their need for renewal. They were ripe with a righteousness derived from acts that seemed religious like fasting, tithing and offering animal sacrifices. So ripe in fact, that they rotted the souls of the very men who SHOULD have known better.

Jesus challenged these loveless acts not only with his words but by choosing to befriend those who contradicted the religious expectations of the day.

Before his appointment with apostleship, Matthew had been a money-grabbing tax collector. He was despised and rejected by his own people. Yet, Jesus penetrated his soul with two words. “Follow me.” Done.

Moments later, they would find themselves enjoying dinner together along with other less reputable people: Matthew 9:9-13

“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

What compelled this celestial God-man to keep company with the irreverent and destitute?” Did he identify with the poor and unrefined? Did he indulge himself with feasting and drink?

I don’t think this is it at all.

From what we know of Jesus, he would have never found pleasure in the crass talk of the “tax collectors and sinners”. He was, after all, perfect and holy. I think he hung out with them because they didn’t try to hide their sins with sacrifices and religious order. Their reputation was already ruined so they had no need for pretense.

Jesus searched for opportunities to pour out mercy on those who needed mercy most. His pleasure was rooted in his desire to heal their brokenness. He sought to mend their gaping sins even if it meant hearing unholy speech and seeing the ugliness of humanity. He wasn’t a fragile untouchable leader easily rattled by uncouth women and greedy tax collectors.

 He set aside his reputation so that he could redeem the souls of those whose spirits were sick.

So why aren’t we doing the same? Why do statistics show that the longer a person is a Christian, the less likely she is to hang out with a non-believer? Why aren’t we drawn to the “sick” the same way Jesus was? I bet you he hugged hard and laughed much and wasn’t afraid to cry in front of his friends. He was REAL.

Ask yourself—Would Jesus feel comfortable in your church looking the way he did? Would he relish our Sunday morning routines or would he stir our souls with the unexpected?

I think he would challenge us to redefine our version of “church”. He would lead the way by pouring mercy over the poor in spirit. We will never know the beauty of believing if we aren’t willing to embrace the ugliness of OUR humanity for the sake of redeeming it.

This may mean going to a bar, visiting a local veterans hospital, inviting “those” neighbors to dinner, speaking truth in love, visiting a prison, crossing the tracks, publicly praying for people-if it makes you uncomfortable, then you are probably “doing church”.

My Sunday mornings have become stale perhaps because I’ve stopped looking for opportunities to pour mercy over people within the church walls. Perhaps I’ve forgotten that it isn’t those Sunday mornings that have had the biggest influence on my spiritual growth and I’m expecting too much. While good sermons and fellowship are important, they are not what has given me a refreshing faith that sticks. I’ll tell you what has:

Becoming a foster mom produced in me an “on-my-knees” reliance on Jesus.

Being at my mom’s side as she fights cancer has developed in me deep-rooted confidence that all will be well in the end.

Traveling to Haiti has led me to see another face of my God that I didn’t know existed.

Working with incredible women at HandUp has humbled me and allowed me a judge-free time for confession. Believe me, it ain’t pretty.

The Pharisees didn’t get any of this. They were too busy doing their religious thing. Jesus told them to GO and LEARN what it means to show mercy. So I make the same challenge to you (and to me). Don’t expect church to sustain your faith because it will only let you down. Become a receiver and giver of mercy  and let it run through you and straight into the hearts of people. We might just all be refreshed and renewed TOGETHER.