what’s next?

what comes next? that’s what I’ve been asking myself.

10for52 has been an amazing outlet in so many ways. for writing – putting words to the thoughts that swirl around in my brain and keep me up at night, composing yet-to-be-written blogs in my head. for giving to causes I care personally and passionately about. for sharing opportunities to give and be a blessing with people who may not know about them.

I was in the grocery store the other day, and I had a 10for52 moment. the blog has ended, but the desire to act on my $10 a week giving impulses have not subsided. {and I am so thankful for that.} I was in the store buying a balloon and poster paper to make a “welcome to america” sign for a refugee family I was going to meet at the airport that evening. I noticed the store was partnering with a charity and I thought – “there it is!” there’s my prompt to donate $10 and write about it… half composing the blog post in my head already before I stopped myself and really gave some thought to what I was doing – the task at hand – welcome a refugee family to america. I had in my hands well over $10 worth of items to “give” to them. for me, when it brings me such joy to do it, it just never feels like enough.

but, oh goodness, that is what satan would have us believe, isn’t it? in the midst of doing good we are burdened that we are not doing enough. there is a healthy level of this guilt that I think we should all carry within us – a compassion that burns to help people and doesn’t stop scouring our lives until we’re being used up for God’s glory, to help people in the times and places he’s called us to.

and God’s word tells us we will find joy in giving.

last night I was at a party. like a legit, throw down, dancing, laughing, loud, late party – with my small group from church and some others. the theme was a “mustache bash” – adorable right? it was such a fun time of cutting loose and loving every minute of it, surrounded by people who love me for just the way I am.

at one point in the party, a girl leaned over to me and said something like “this must seem really weird for you, right?” – I responded – huh? why? “because of all the places you’ve traveled and things you’ve seen, like asia, africa, and south america. and then there’s this…”

I loved and hated that she said that. I loved it because it shows how much she knows me and my heart. to know the things I care about mos. I hated it because she doesn’t know yet that I’ve found peace with it, and I should do better to show that part of me as well.

it’s not always peaceful in my head and my heart. you better believe that when {on the rare occasion} I am getting a manicure, all I can think about are the impoverished conditions that my manicurist must have grown up in, and wonder how they got to america, and get all feisty about the immigration system, and hope that they make enough money, and then leave them a massive tip…

but that’s why I love my outlet. my blog. I love to write. and I love social media. it helps me bridge a mental gap between what I have seen and what I {and so many others} can do about it. here I can be me.

I can tell you that I love these shoes, and this scarf, this wine, and these sunglasses – and when you buy them, children are helped: TOMS, fashionABLE, WTW, & TOMS eyewear

I can ask you to watch this video, because people are dying in sudan – and no one seems to be listening – and oh, by the way, donate to his kickstarter campaign, too: NYT Video & kickstarter

I can post this article, and ask you to pray for the people of syria, and especially the family I know and love who lives there: Syria

I can send you to this blog, not only because she offers amazing fried chicken recipes and is the nicest southern belle  you’ll ever meet, but also she also cares about kids: Christy in Ecuador

I can say – look! something I wrote got published! Reject Apathy

so thank you for letting me continue to write. because I need to do it, to tell about what I’ve seen – the stories, the places, the faces.

and I need to tell you that you can help. you can.

parties with cupcakes, dancing, and friends make life sweet, but there is so much more. so much I want you to know about. and you can be part of it all.

so let’s find out what’s next…

#52 ruby and wesley

“for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” {matthew 25.35}

I’ve known for a while now what my last post would be about. I knew as soon as it happened that I would write about this, because its been a long time since an encounter made me feel the way this one did.

feel. that’s the key thing.

I started this blog in january of 2011. I was laying in bed at my parents house over  christmas vacation last year, thinking about the year behind me, dreaming about what was to come. never in a million years do we anticipate accurately do we? we can never, at the start of a new year, plan or suspect how things may end up. we set goals and dream dreams. some of them go well, some of them don’t go anywhere.

but a blog – that’s something I could count on. that’s something I could commit to.  I had been wanting more accountability and direction in continuing my personal writing, and god gave that to me. this idea, planted in my heart, simply to give. luckily, well within my means. $10 a week to a different organization or cause I am interested in. it’s been 365 days, 52 weeks, of god-ordained “work” for these things I care a lot about. some of them I did justice to in the stories I shared and donations I made, some of them I did not. but, nevertheless, this is post 52 and I am just a few days shy of completing it by the end of 2011. I feel like I did ok.

shew.

I usually only like to write when I WANT to. when I am inspired to. if you’re privy to my personal blog, you know that I get a lot more writing done when I am in love. either with a person or an adventure – those are the 2 incidences that usually spur my brain into stringing together coherent thoughts. and when I enjoy it most.

I do not enjoy writing when I am feeling brokenhearted and stagnant. and I have spent much of 2011 that way. and that’s why it’s good not to know what a year holds when you commit to a weekly blog… beautiful things, hard things, both at the same time. god knew every step that lay ahead of me, and still tasked me to write this blog anyway. he does not let me get off very easily.

regardless of when I wanted to write, I did.

regardless of my feelings.

and that’s becoming a new goal for 2012 for me – simply that phrase “regardless of my feelings.”

this past year, I turned 30. I love being 30, it doesn’t bother me in the cliché way that it does some people. I do feel a little like I am getting old, but that’s ok. I also feel a shift in responsibility in my life. no more excuses. I am a legitimate grown up.

it’s time for me to figure out how to do life well. finances, career, love, friends, church, family, eating healthy, working out, loving people well, helping others enjoy this one short life we have.

no. more. excuses. which means that regardless of how I feel about things, I’ve got to keep it together. 2011 taught me that I’m still not good at that. and that’s something I want to improve upon.

in my previous post I spoke about how this year I have a goal to engage more with what is local to me. the people, in particular, who surround me.

I moved into a new house on a lovely street about 7 months ago. I quickly met and got to know my sweet next door neighbors, ruby and wesley. they are a couple in their late 70’s who have only been married a few years. they live in the little white cottage beside me, and they are keenly interested in my comings and goings.

wesley started mowing my lawn in the summer, and always kept me up-to-date on the latest lawn news. I usually have no idea what he’s talking about. he comes over and pounds on the door until I open it. he gives me the scoop about the neighborhood and about ruby.

sometime in the summer or fall I started noticing that wesley was waiting for me. he would wait for me to get home, and then pop out of the house to pretend that he was going to get the mail at the exact time that I get home from work. I’m usually tired and ornery at the end of the day, and was annoyed that he did that. I didn’t want anyone waiting on me. that’s why I don’t have a pet, or a kid, or probably deep down – a husband! I don’t want to let people down. I don’t want them relying on me for support – physical or emotional – that I am not able to give.

but through our interactions, my heart softened. he remembers every single thing I tell him. he told me he thought I was the “hardworkingest girl he knows”. they gave me apples from the amish country. they called the city to get me a new trash can when they saw that mine was broken on top – and for that matter, they take out my trash for me every week. they pick up my newspaper. they watch out for me.

this was all unsolicited attention, but care, all the same. and the thing is, they really don’t know that much about me. they don’t really know if I am a good person, or what my job is, or if I am nice to people, or trustworthy. they like me anyway.

just before christmas I was out at the store and saw these lovely, huge white poinsettias – and something struck me that ruby would like that. so I spent $10 and bought her a plant. then I made them some homemade cookies – because they seem like the kind of people who give a lot of homemade goodies, but rarely get any. I stopped by their house one sunday after church. that was the first time I had been inside. it was like I was transported back to the 60’s! their house was warm and overflowing with pictures of family. they seem to care for a lot of people.

the looks on their faces when I gave them the little gifts were priceless. I wished I had a camera. something so incredibly small meant something quite a lot to them. they made me feel wonderful. they made me feel loved. they were so grateful that I would think of them.

ruby and wesley reminded me, again, that love is all around. it rarely looks like how I think it will, though, and that’s when I get sidetracked. that’s when I stop believing that caring and giving of myself is worth it.

I’ve given a lot in 2011. we all did. we all do. money, love, time, hard work – to accomplish these things takes something out of us. it takes sacrifice. sometimes we get to see the fruit now. sometimes never. sometimes we have to wait a long time. so I’m learning and trying to be thankful for even the slightest glimmer when god allows me to see that when I  give, it’s worth it.

I want to end the blog there, with the above thought, and let that be it. but there’s one more thing I want to be sure to say, somehow. and that is that I know all good gifts come from above. all I have to give has been given to me to start with. and its for no gain or glory of my own that I give. its great when god allows us to feel good – like we’ve made a difference, that we’ve blessed someone, that he’s using us to further his work on this earth – but the glory belongs to him and him alone.

how are you going to give this year?

#51 is it local?

“love your neighbor as yourself.” {mark 12.31}

I write a lot about giving to causes that help people overseas… far far away in these lands that I’ve traveled to. where the world looks very different. where I have seen and met people living in conditions that you might deem unimaginable until your eyes see it and your senses tell you – this is actually real.

over there – that is what makes my heart ache.

for a recent donation I wrote about, I posted on facebook and asked my friends to suggest where I give a small micro-finance loan to. which country and person did they think I should donate to. the first response was “the united states of america”. many people “liked” that response. I smiled and totally understand this sentiment. for years when I worked at a large non-profit we would get letters and emails every day asking us why we didn’t do more for the kids in need “right here in our own backyard”.

the answer then and the answer now remains the same – it’s about relevant help, and relevant giving.

had we sent shoe boxes of pencils to kids in new orleans who suffered and lost everything after hurricane katrina, we would have been easily discounted. companies with a lot of money and capacity were giving those kids things that you would never dream to put in a shoe box. those kids needed a new backpack, not a piece of hard candy in a shoe box.

similarly with the loan I made to kiva, I could make a $25 donation to help an entrepreneur in central asia start a lucrative cow business. what would $25 do to help a struggling entrepreneur in the U.S.? perhaps buy a meal or some copy paper for their office, but certainly I could not help start or save a business with that loan.

so with the limited resources I have, I give to what inspires me, and where I know that I can make as significant a difference as possible.

for me, it’s not about NOT choosing to give in the united states, it’s examining the need and responding in the way God’s called me to respond. in a relevant way that doesn’t undermine the gift or the recipient.

that said, I want to write now about giving local.

my friends and I have recently become addicted to the show portlandia. it’s a silly spoof on hipster culture in portland, oregon. one of the first skits in the show is a couple who are out to dinner and want to order the chicken, but first they have a lot of questions. they want to be sure it’s local. was it raised locally? was it fed local food? hilarity over their intense interest in it being “local” ensues. if you haven’t seen it, you should watch it on youtube!

doing things local is the trend. I buy local granola. I visit my local farmer’s market. I buy christmas presents at the local small stores to help keep them in business.

I have a desire in this new year to focus more on those around me. not only those who might need my help or who I can give to… but things like – my church, my family, my friends, my neighbors, my coworkers. the things that are closest to us sometimes are the most easily overlooked. so, it’s one of my new year’s resolutions to be more mindful of the local.

as I was thinking and praying about this, and how I wanted to make one of the last 10for52 donations related to this, starbucks popped into my head.

I go to the same starbucks nearly every morning. the one on the corner in my little town. it doesn’t even have a drive through, people. I have to get out of my car to get that coffee. that’s kind of a big deal… every morning, the same people are there. the same workers and the same clientele. I want to get to know them all better this year.

a few weeks ago, I was starbucks blessed. I was standing in a long line and when I finally got to the front to order, already late for work, already a little annoyed, the guy behind the counter handed me my drink. grande americano with room.

he remembered.

for 7 years I lived in a small town and went to the same coffee shop and ordered the same drink – and they always acted like they had never seen me before in their life.

but this guy remembered. I know it may be a small thing, and he probably does that for a lot of people, but when he handed me my already-made drink that he had started when he saw me walk in the door, I felt the local love.

this is a neighbor. this is a neighborhood that I love.

so, I’m making a donation to them, the starbucks staffers. I’m throwing $10 in the tip jar and hope the little boost makes them smile at the end of a long work day.

I encourage you to look around you at the mundane and ordinary things you see all the time, and try to see them in a new light. try to find a need or even just a place where you can interject an unexpected blessing. that, also, is a great gift.

one small starbucks-related way to do this – or really, any drive through – is when you are paying for your order at the drive through, go ahead and pay for the person behind you as well. that’s always an energizing way to start out your day!

#50 proclaim freedom for the captives

“he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our god, to comfort all who mourn…to bestow on them a crown of beauty, instead of ashes, the oil of joy, instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. they will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the lord for the display of his splendor.” {isaiah 61.1-3}

I might have used this blog post title before… this is another post about sex trafficking.

one thing I have really enjoyed about writing this blog this year is seeing how god has moved my heart to what to write about. trends have developed that mirror the causes I am passionate about. sex trafficking is one of them.

this bible verse in isaiah has always been one of my favorites. I love it because it’s all about making things new. the band gungor wrote a song based on this verse that says this:

“you make beautiful things out of dust.”

that’s what god is really good at. restoring value. redeeming love.

I first heard about somaly mam a few years ago when my friend doc hendley was nominated to be a CNN hero. somaly was one of his fellow nominees and her story has stuck with all this time.

somaly mam was sold into sexual slavery in cambodia when she was a young girl. her story started out full of pain and darkness, but she has turned her experience into a life-giving passion to spare young girls the same fate that she had.

from her foundation’s web site:

Born to a tribal minority family in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia, Somaly Mam began life in extreme poverty. With limited options as a severely marginalized ethnic group, and living in unimaginable despair, her family often resorted to desperate means to survive. This confluence of dire circumstances led to the unspeakable horrors that would mark Somaly’s early years. Somaly was sold into sexual slavery by a man who posed as her grandfather. To this day, due to the passing of time and the unreliability of a wounded memory, Somaly still does not know who this man was to her. Yet his actions set her on an unimaginable path fraught with danger, desperation, and ultimately triumph.

Forced to work in a brothel along with other children, Somaly was brutally tortured and raped on a daily basis. One night, she was made to watch as her best friend was viciously murdered. Fearing she would meet that same fate, Somaly heroically escaped her captors and set about building a new life for herself. She vowed never to forget those left behind and has since dedicated her life to saving victims and empowering survivors.

I donated $10 for 10for52 to the somaly mam foundation. having traveled to cambodia and seen the sex trade in person, in action, this is a cause that is vividly real and close to my heart, and one that I will continue to support for a long while.

#49 I wish “fattening up” was in my job description…

“for all the animals of the forest are mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” {psalm 50.10}

I donated to kiva as one of my first 10for52 loans, but since each and every project on kiva is so different, I made a second donation that I wanted to write about.

last week I made a micro-finance loan through kiva to dilovar. I had some money in my kiva account, and so I asked my facebook friends to help me find someone to donate to. one friend recommended dilovar, and as soon as I saw him I knew he was the one – for 2 reasons: his beard and because he worked with cattle. {I think a man with a beard seems more trustworthy.}

I’ve been learning a lot this year about the value of cattle. I was fascinated by the stories I heard in africa about the masai culture’s reverence for cattle. in their culture, and many others, cattle represent wealth. that was such a paradigm shifting thought for me to grasp, coming from our culture that is so obsessed with money. my thoughts on my personal wealth center so powerfully around my bank account balance, to think about my wealth being defined by anything else – especially animals – seems so entirely foreign.

in africa this summer I was able to see first-hand how cattle and other livestock projects can transform communities. something as seemingly ordinary dairy cow can single-handedly turn around a family’s fortune from despair to hope.

so, when I saw that dilovar was asking for a loan to help grow his cattle business – I knew that was something I can really get behind. I think he must be wise to know how to work with the cattle, as well as to invest his time and energy into a livelihood that he knows can support his family and community well.

dilovar’s profile on kiva says this:

Dilovar is a smart and goal-oriented person. He is married and is a loving father of one child. His wife is a homemaker. Dilovar has been involved in fattening up cattle for over three years. He buys livestock from local markets, then fattens it up over a set period of time and then sells it at a profitable price. He wants to expand his business and make a good profit. Dilovar wants to obtain a loan in the sum of $1250 for the purchase of cattle.

just after I made my loan to dilovar, I received a notification that his request has been fully-funded by kiva loaners. I’m excited to get updates on how his business is growing and how the life of his family and community is transforming.

I love giving to kiva because once the loan is paid back, you’re notified and you can re-loan the same money to someone else. if you’re skeptical about how micro-finance works and if it really helps, I recommend reading banker to the poor. I read it a few years ago and its very informative.

to view profiles of people seeking loans and to donate, check out kiva.

 

 

#48 don’t take a picture

“for you formed my inward parts. you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” {psalm 139.13}

I get asked a lot how someone can get into non-profit work. ministry, outreach, missions – helping people. one of the key things I tell people is to acquire a skill that you can use to help people with. having a heart to serve coupled with a skill to serve with is a powerful combination.

that’s one of the things I like best about help portrait. the movement/organization was founded by jeremy cowart, a celebrity photographer who wanted to use his talents to serve people. his gift for photography offered a unique way to be able to serve others – to simply take their photo.

but their motto is this: don’t take a picture, give it.

“This is about GIVING the pictures, not taking them. These portraits are not for your portfolio, website, or for sale. Money isn’t involved here. This holiday season, you have the chance to give a family something they may have never had before—a portrait together.” {from their web site}

cowart started help portrait in franklin, tennessee and it’s since grown into a nationwide and global movement. the concept is for photographers to offer their services to photograph portraits for people who may have never had their picture taken professionally before. people who never had either the money or opportunity to do so.

in early december, the 2012 help portrait event day was held across the country. in my church this past sunday, some members who participated shared their story of the day and how profoundly impacted they were by people.

apparently, at the local event, they had stylists, make up artists, and a fancy set up to really glam up the event. they invited local homeless to come to take their photos.

one guy stood up in church and shared his perspective. he said he was retired and is always looking for hobbies and something to do to help out. so he went as a photographer’s assistant to the event. he said that one woman was having her photo taken and she just started to cry. they asked her what was wrong and she said she was crying happy tears. she said no one had ever made her feel beautiful before that day. having her portrait taken, getting attention and love from the people there to serve, made her feel like the beautiful woman she is.

I have a bit of a tender heart for that particular feeling. so, this story really touched me. I donated $10 to help portrait to support their unique and special cause. I think $10 should just about cover the printing of one of those portraits that a deserving person receives.

for more information and to make a donation, visit them here.