Category Archives: Ministries

When a luxury item isn’t a luxury: How one organization is giving homeless women their dignity

I remember the day clearly, especially what I was wearing. I was in high school and Umbro shorts were all the rage. If you don’t remember these, they were a thin nylon/polyester short, usually in wild colors. I think they were originally made for soccer players, but seeing how I hadn’t played soccer since I was five years old, I was more concerned about the cool factor, than the practicality of these shorts.

I remember a classmate whispering in my ear  that I had a stain on my shorts and might want to go check it out. I went to the bathroom and discovered what every girl-of-a-certain-age dreads discovering: I’d started my period a few days early. At school, and without any sanitary products. My coveted Umbro shorts were ruined and I was totally embarrassed.

Looking back now, I realize I was lucky. Not only was I able to go home where I had a change of clean clothes and big box of tampons waiting, but I had a washing machine to try and salvage my favorite pair of shorts.

According to a 2016 HUD Report there are approximately 220,000 homeless women in the United States, and 50,000 of these women are between the ages of 18-24. These women do not have those same conveniences I did and while getting my period early was a nuisance, for these women it can become an issue that keeps them from being able to work, attend school, or even properly care for their personal hygiene.

Even though HUD found that 76% of homeless women were staying in temporary shelters or half-way houses, these places are often unable to provide anything but the basics for the women, and for many sanitary products are considered a “luxury”.  This is not surprising since the majority of U.S. state governments classify feminine hygiene products the same way. In 36 states these products are taxed as “luxury items”, often referred to as the “pink tax”.

This tax is on top of the already rising sticker price for these items that must be purchased monthly (a box of 50 tampons costs anywhere between $8-12 dollars and just 30 pads will run you $6-10 depending on the brand and style). As TV-show host Mike Rowe said, “A luxury?! Who’s going to treat themselves to a tampon?”

Rowe said that after learning about the “pink tax” and an organization called I Support the Girls, recently featured on his show “Returning the Favor“.

I Support the Girls is an organization that started in 2015 by a local DC-area woman named Dana Marlowe, with the core belief that “A woman shouldn’t have to choose between feeding herself and her personal health.” To-date, I Support the Girls has helped more than 320,000 girls and women retain their dignity by collecting over 1 million bras and 2,500,000 menstrual hygiene products and distributing them worldwide to 500 vetted shelters and organizations.

I first learned about I Support Girls in the fall of 2017 when I found out they were collecting bras and hygiene products for women living in communities devastated by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. I hosted a collection at the Renew & Restore Women’s Retreat that year to help provide these essentials to displaced women and girls who either lost their homes or were unable to return for many weeks due to the damage.

Yet I’m struck with the levity of the situation that 220,000 homeless women face every day. Every time I run into CVS or Walgreens to grab a box, I am reminded of how lucky I am that I don’t have to choose between feeding myself and my family or caring for the most basic of feminine hygiene needs.

I Support the Girls has approximately 50 local affiliates in 27 states, Australia, Canada, Pakistan, and the Philippines, and while that may make it sound like they are big international non-profit, the truth is they are very operationally lean and incredibly dependent on volunteers and donations. Director of Operations, Erin Persaud told me, “although we are able to attract and manage partnerships with major organizations, we do so with minimal staff and funding.” She went on to say that they “love product donations, of course, but truly being able to grow our impact in a meaningful way requires funding.”

Persaud also said that all of their local affiliates are low on hygiene products at the moment. I reached out to the contact for the local Northern Virginia Affiliate, Mia Jimenez and she shared with me that “The NoVA area is in need of more volunteers that would be willing to start local, ongoing drives. We’re also always looking for individuals to collect and sort donations and find shelters that are willing to accept these donations.”

If you live in the Northern VA area and would like to help, please message Mia via their Facebook page. If you are located elsewhere, here are four ways you can help:

  1. Contact your local affiliate and ask what they need
  2. Host a local collection or drive
  3. Order products off of the I Support the Girls Amazon wishlist.
  4. Donate financially

In the words of I Support the Girls founder, Dana Marlowe, “Sometimes when you learn something new, you get a nugget of information that you didn’t know before but it changes your mindset, your worldview…your perspective shifts.”

Now that I know about the real need to provide teens and women with their dignity, I will never look at a box of tampons or old bra the same. How about you?

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Designed by Kristen Gardiner @ drivingmomcrazy.com

This blog post was written in partnership with the Blogging for Better Supporters, a collective platform to raise awareness and money for a different charity each month. #bloggingforbetter

 

Featured image by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Don’t let your dreams breed discontent

Reach for the stars!

Hard work and sacrifice pay off!

Don’t downgrade your dream just to fit your reality!

She believed she could, and so she did!

If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it!

I think most of us have heard some or all of these motivational phrases during our lives, maybe we’ve even said a few to encourage our friends or children. Maybe we have posters hanging in our office or classroom with these or similar maxims.

{raises hand}

Chasing after super-sized goals and bold dreams is a beautiful thing. I think it connects us to our humanity. It crosses the divides of age, gender, culture, race, and religion. It’s how progress is made and change is initiated.

But there seems to be a growing wariness around the connection between dreaming big and feeling discontent. Especially among women.

Never have women had more opportunities available to us than we do today. Thanks to better access to quality education, greater opportunities for start-up businesses, and, let’s face it, social media, there’s been a rise in successful, seemingly “self-made” women cheering on the rest of us with their mantras of “lean-in”, “stop apologizing”, and just “say yes”. Women can now “brave the wilderness”, “live beyond fear”, and discover that “the universe has our back”. It all sounds so enticing doesn’t it? Wrapped up in pretty paper covered packages, it seems like success is just within our reach.

But is it?

Now please don’t misunderstand, this is not a criticism of these books or the authors, some of whom I happen to respect and admire. Admittedly, I have not read most of the mentioned books, and for all I know some of them may be chock-full of sound advice and truth. But what I do read are articles, blog posts and letters from women who feel like they are not enough. I hear friends share the overwhelming amount of anxiety and pressure they feel to do more, be more, achieve more. I see my daughters, still teenagers, combating an image of perfection that they believe they must achieve in everything they try. And I have battled my own feelings of discontent and failure — both professionally and personally.

Here’s what I don’t hear or read much of:

“I’m so happy with my life, right where it is.”

“God has blessed me with a season where I can slow down and smell the roses.”

“I am enough. Right here, right now, just as I am. I am enough.”

And it concerns me that we’ve mistaken chasing after dreams as an obligation to be more. We’ve misunderstood our goals to be a yard stick showing us just how we measure up (or don’t) based on achievement. We’ve decided our resumes are a better indication of our value and worth than our hearts.

It’s so damaging. So detrimental. So not in alignment with God’s calling for our lives.

God has no problem with us dreaming big or achieving success. Some of God’s chosen were very successful in life — just look at Job, Boaz, Joseph, and David. But God does make it clear that any success we have is to bring him glory. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

This is where I think some of the modern day mantra of chasing our dreams and striving for success falls short. So often the ones touting their own success — and their six simple steps to achieving our own — make it all about them, or me, or we. But never about He.

As long as we are dreaming big and striving for that glass ceiling as a means to bring recognition and praise to our own name, we are inevitably going to feel a sense of discontent. Even when we achieve a big milestone or goal, the feeling of satisfaction will be temporary, and we’ll already be looking at the next great thing; because when it’s all about us, it’s never enough.

When it’s all about me, having 2,000 people read my blog is not enough. When it’s all about Him, having one person touched or encouraged by something I wrote is enough.

When it’s all about me, having the same mid-level job for ten years is not enough. When it’s all about Him, working hard, demonstrating kindness and respect to my coworkers is enough.

When it’s all about me, staying home all day wiping noses, folding clothes, preparing meals, and vacuuming carpets is not enough. When it’s all about Him, loving on my children and caring for my family is enough.

When it’s all about me, pastoring a church with 75 members and never enough in the collection plate is not enough. When it’s all about Him, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and shepherding even one of those 75 is enough.

I’m not saying to throw in the towel and stop dreaming. I’ve still got big dreams for this little blog and my tiny, start-up ministry. But I also know that whatever success I have is only because of Him, and only so that I can bring Him glory. If my work leads to 10 more people knowing His name that will be a much greater success than 10,000 people knowing mine.

 

Success

Cover photo by Katrina on Unsplash

This Christmas Give More Without Spending More: Seven places to buy gifts that give back

I love everything about Christmas, but perhaps my favorite part is seeing the look on a loved-ones face when they open a special gift I’ve chosen just for them. Yet, every year it seems to get harder and harder to come up with creative gifts for the people on my list, while staying within budget. In the last few years I’ve begun to seek out gifts that offer more, without having to spend more. What I’ve discovered are companies that not only sell a beautiful, quality product, but give back in some way with each sale.

It’s a double-whammy-win for me when I can give Aunt Ida a beautiful, hand-woven scarf, while also helping a young girl in Uganda get an education. Or get one of my kids some cute Christmas pajamas while helping another kid who is battling cancer.

In the endless aisles of big box stores selling the same old stuff, why not think outside of the (big) box and give gifts that are unique and unexpected? Why not give gifts that offer hope, freedom, education, or a second chance? Because really, who needs another scented candle?

Here’s a list of seven great companies and non-profits that not only offer amazing products, but are making a real impact on the world.

Sseko designs

  1. Sseko Designs – Sseko is a fashion brand based in Uganda. They are probably best known for their customizable women’s ribbon sandals, but they also sell beautiful leather bags, scarves, baby sandals, and jewelry. Sseko began as a way to help Ugandan women of high potential attend university through employment and scholarship. All of the products they sell are hand-made by artisan groups in East Africa – primarily Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia – using locally sourced materials. You can purchase directly from the Sseko Designs website, or find a local consultant to buy through. The one bonus of buying through a consultant is they support specific women, so you can put a name and face of who you are helping send to college with your purchase. Pricing starts at $15 for some accessories and goes up from there.cuddle+kind
  2. Cuddle + Kind – Cuddle + Kind was started by the Woodgate family, with the mission of creating something beautiful and safe for kids that would also help feed children around the world. They partner with artisans in Peru to create handcrafted knit dolls. The purchase of each doll provides 10 meals to children around the world through their partnership with World Food Program USA (WFP). The prices of their dolls range from $48 – $72, with over 20 different designs to choose from. They also sell illustrated inspirational prints, which run about $20 each and provide 5 meals for children.Punjammies_54_990x660
  3. Sudara (formerly International Princess Project) – Sudara started in 2006 by partnering with a sewing center in India to provide jobs for women trying to escape sex trafficking and slavery. The company’s founder, Shannon Keith, had an idea to create a simple pattern for loungewear pants and teach the women how to sew this pattern – thus came the first pair of Punjammies®. In the last decade Sudara has expanded their products to include women’s and men’s loungewear, graphic tees, children’s clothing, and accessories. But their goal still remains the same: to empower women in India to live in freedom from sex-slavery via safe, sustainable living-wage employment. Prices for clothing range from $29-$79.Fashion & Compassion
  4. Fashion & Compassion – Fashion & Compassion was originally founded to help offer employment and a fresh start for U.S. victims of sex-trafficking. Over the years, they have expanded their mission to help women in Charlotte, NC who are in need of economic stability, as well as helping women in Kampala, Uganda create micro-businesses and small village banks. They do this by selling hand-crafted jewelry, home goods, and accessories made by the women in both Charlotte and Kampala. Fashion & Compassion is a non-profit, which helps keep the pricing of their products very reasonable, and means that 100% of their net proceeds goes back into the communities they serve. Prices start as low as $9.yuhme
  5. Yuhme – Started by a Swedish husband and wife team, Yuhme sells water bottles made from a special type of bio plastic produced from sugarcane (meaning they have a negative C02 footprint). They also partner with Water for Good – a U.S.-based organization providing clean drinking water solutions throughout Central Africa. Each water bottle you purchase provides 6 months of clean water for one person. Their bottles are dishwasher safe and hold 750 ml (approximately 25 oz). They have three designs to choose from, each costing about $33 USD and shipping to the United States is less than $7.soapbox soaps
  6. SoapBox Soaps – SoapBox Soaps was founded in 2010 with the idea of creating an everyday, quality product that would change the world. Today they sell a variety of personal care and bath products and for every product sold a bar of soap, or month of clean water, is donated to a person in need – both in the U.S. and around the world. The company also partners with organizations to provide clean water, vitamins, and hygiene education. Each product has a unique “Hope Code” which, if entered on their website, will show you which project your purchase is supporting. SoapBox products can be purchased online from the website or at major retailers, such as Walgreens, Walmart, and Target.stjude
  7. Jude Giftshop – You are likely very familiar with the name St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — well-known for both their cutting-edge cancer research and treatment, as well as their promise to never make a family pay more than they can afford for treatment. But did you know that St. Jude has an online gift shop that sells products ranging from soup mixes to soup mugs, from Christmas ornaments to Christmas pajamas? They also have a great “for him” section for all of those hard-to-buy-for men on your list. More importantly, though, 100% of the profits from each purchase goes back to St. Jude. Pricing starts as low as $6.

These are just a few of my favorite places to shop for gifts that “give back” and I know there are many, many more. I’d love to hear about some of your favorites and add a few new ones to my list.

 

{Please note that the author was in no way compensated or incentivized to mention any of the above brands or organizations. She just thinks giving back to the community and creating a better world for her children is pretty awesome.}

 

7 gifts that give back

Bold, Brave & Blessed – A free gift for you

Last year I decided to do a 90 day thanks and giving challenge, in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. The day I started this challenge just happened to be the day before my son started a new medication. What followed was four of the hardest parenting weeks I’ve had in a long time. There were many days I faced my own limitations, fear, and anxiety as I struggled to help my son, seek answers, and trust the doctor.

I believe that it was no accident that during this time I was also living in intentional gratitude because I had committed to the “Thanks and Giving Challenge”. In many ways, focusing on being thankful each day kept me tethered to Christ and certainly blessed me so much more than I expected.

I believe when we actively seek out the beauty, the joy, the blessings in our lives, we are reminded that we not only have a good Father, but we have a God who follows through on His promises. When I did this challenge last year it was impossible for me to lose hope or forget just how much God loves me and loves my family. I saw how God provided for and protected my son. And I was reassured that His ways are better than mine.

After experiencing the transformative power of living in intentional gratitude I decided to share the love and designed a journal to share with others. I first shared it with the women who attended the Renew & Restore Retreat last year. But now it’s available to all of you, too! The Bold, Brave, & Blessed Journal: A 60 day journey to overcoming fear and trusting God, will keep you aware of God’s active presence in your life. It can also help overcome fear and anxiety, enabling you to lean into God and find comfort, strength and hope in your relationship with Him, instead of pulling away and being consumed by your troubles.

 

Bold, Brave & Blessed - a free gratitude journal

Each day has an encouraging verse of scripture, as well as a place to complete the following statements:

  1. Today I am afraid of….
  2. Today I am asking God to…
  3. Today I am thankful for…

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The journal is designed to be printed front and back, and then folded in half. Below is a picture tutorial on how to print and assemble your journal. I used beautiful hand-painted artwork by The Autumn Rabbit, purchased from Creative Market, so it looks best when printed in color. But the journal works just as well in black-and-white. I also recommend printing on a slightly heavier weight paper. I used 28 pound bright white paper.

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Step 1: print page one, which includes the front and back cover.
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Step 2: print pages 2-30 EVEN on one side, then print pages 3-31 ODD on the other side of the same pages.
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Step 3: Fold each page in half and begin to assemble the book so the days appear in order.
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Step 4: Once you’ve printed and folded you can either saddle stitch (staple at the crease) or tie with thread to bind your booklet.

 

Now this beautiful journal is available to you for free. All I ask is that you subscribe to my blog first. (If you are already a subscriber, please send me an email at: jelise@neitherheightnordepth.com and I’ll send you a direct link to download.)

Feel free to print as many copies as you like and share with friends. However, I do ask you don’t load the file to your own blog or website for distribution, and instead link back to this site if you want to share online or via social media.

Click here to subscribe and download your free “Bold, Brave & Blessed” journal.

 

 

 

Who am I?

“But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?'” – Exodus 3:11

This was Moses’s response to God when He called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. It was the first of several creative excuses or arguments as to why he wasn’t qualified, ending with a raw and honest plea for God to pick another…anyone but him.

“Pardon your servant Lord, but please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13)

This past Sunday I stood up in front of our little congregation at church and taught about these verses. About God’s call to Moses; about Exodus 3:1-4:19. I went through each verse and discussed the importance of trusting God’s plan, remembering that God will use us for His purposes, even if we don’t feel qualified. We examined how Moses let his fear and self-doubt almost lead to missing his calling. I encouraged everyone who would listen not to let fear get in the way of answering God’s call. I reminded my church family that it’s not about us and our qualifications, but about God’s plan, His power, and His presence.

I have a special place in my heart for this section of scripture. And I believe every word I said.

But then Monday came. And I found myself alone in my bedroom, sobbing, feeling inadequate, less-than, and incapable. I asked God if He is really calling me into ministry; is that really His plan? And if it is, am I really equipped for that call? Who am I to stand before others and teach them Your word?

I know this routine well by now, having taught a handful of Sunday services and leading a few women’s retreats. It’s what I refer to as the “day after attack.”

When I speak or teach I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, and in that moment it feels palpable and beautiful, like God is doing something big and letting me be a part of it. But then Monday morning comes. And I return to my normal routine, working my normal job, packing normal lunches, looking at my normal reflection staring back at me in the mirror.

And the enemy whispers in my ear: who are you? What makes you think you are qualified to teach others? I recall the yawns and bored looks during my talk. I remember the surprised expression on the neighbor’s face when they found out I was teaching at church (you know the kind of surprise that says “what are they thinking?” not “isn’t that wonderful!”). I recount every person or article that’s declared women aren’t supposed to preach God’s word. I play back the recording of my message and cringe at every “ummm” and “uhhh”, seeing every flaw, hearing every flub.

And the enemy says, “See? You are not very good. You are not anything special.”

I think of all the practical reasons I cannot answer this call. I need seminary training. That costs money. I’m still paying off that Master’s Degree in Marketing and Communication, a degree I’ll never use if I go into ministry. I have a family to support, kids to put through school. We love our town, we can’t move just so I can go to school. Maybe in a few years…maybe when the kids are out of the house….maybe.

And the enemy says, “You’ll never be ready for this. You are just a middle-aged woman who wishes she was being called to serve God in some big way, but that is not your life.”

I am not equipped. Please, Lord, will you call someone else? Someone smarter, stronger, younger, older, richer, better?

And then the irony of this day-after beat-down by Satan and my own insecurities strikes me. I can’t even go 24 hours without succumbing to the very thing I just encouraged 45 other people to resist.

There is one thing that gives me hope, though. The fact that God never gave up on Moses. Even after he tried to deny his call five times, even though he was 80 years old, God still used Moses for the good of His plan. Even though Moses didn’t speak well and needed his brother’s help, even though Moses got overwhelmed when the Israelites complained and fought, God still used Moses to lead His people. Even though Moses lost his temper, even though he continued to questioned God’s plan along the way, God still spoke to Moses. He still loved Moses.

I know I’m not equipped to do anything. And, honestly? I don’t know exactly how God plans to use me. But I cling to the knowledge that He will use me in His time, according to His purpose.

He will never give up on me.