Category Archives: Ministries

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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.}

Bold, Brave & Blessed – A free gift for you

About a month ago I decided to do a 90 day thanks and giving challenge, in the 90 days leading up to Thanksgiving. I’m now 35 days into the challenge and it’s blessed me so much more than I expected.

This past weekend I shared with the ladies at the Renew & Restore Women’s Retreat how 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.

And I believe that it was no accident that during this time I was also living in intentional gratitude because I had committed to the 90 day of thanks and giving challenge. In many ways, focusing on being thankful each day has kept me centered and tethered to Christ.

You see 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. It’s been impossible for me to lose hope or forget just how much God loves me and loves my son because every day for the last month I have looked for something to be thankful for, and every day for the last month I have been able to find multiple things. I have seen how God provides for and protects my family. And I am reassured that His ways are better than mine, that He has a plan for my son, even if I can’t understand what it is.

Gratitude keeps us aware of God’s active presence in our life. It can help us overcome fear and anxiety. It enables us to lean into God and find comfort, strength and hope in our relationship with Him, instead of pulling away and being consumed by our troubles. Because of the gift this practice has been in my life, I also wanted to arm the ladies at the retreat with a tool they could use to help them practice intentional gratitude. So I designed the Bold, Brave, & Blessed Journal: A 60 day journey to overcoming fear and trusting God.

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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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I’ve been quite overwhelmed with the positive response I received at the retreat and in the days following over this journal. In fact, I’ve received numerous requests for a copy from women who weren’t at the retreat, and so I’ve decided to make it available here for anyone to download and print, for free. All I ask is that you subscribe to my blog first, if you are not already a subscriber.

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.

 

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.

I choose hope

It’s been a hard couple of weeks to be an American, to be a human, to be a Christian. Tragedy has struck families and communities in Michigan, Louisiana, and Dallas. Innocent people were terrorized in Bangladesh and nearly 300 lives lost in Baghdad at the hands of terrorists. And I know the list doesn’t end here.

It’s easy to ask “why” and “how” when we read headlines and see videos of senseless tragedy, hate, anger and death. It paints a grim picture of the world we live in and feelings of doubt and worry over the future our children will inherit.

I know many Christians who feel the world no longer offers hope for change, or they feel things can only get worse, and they have started predicting, and even praying for, the end times.

But I’m just gonna say it out loud: I hope they’re wrong.

That my fellow Christians praying for Jesus to come back tomorrow, don’t get to see it in their lifetime. And here’s why:

In the midst of the tragedy and loss, I still see hope.

At the perimeter, in the headlines, we live in a dangerous world where evil gets center stage and every morning you hold your breath waiting to hear what horrible tragedy struck overnight. It’s hard to have faith that anything will ever change, that evil will ever be destroyed or at least slowed down.

But on the inside, below the headlines, in communities and homes and hospitals and churches, there is another story. It is a story where volunteers rally around grieving families who have lost their homes, possessions, and loved ones, providing for their basic needs.

It is a story where children are selling lemonade to raise money for cancer research and teens are spending their summer vacations serving in impoverished communities to build churches, teach the Gospel, and share love.

It is a story where marriages are being restored, friendships repaired, and forgiveness is offered in abundance.

It is a story of hurting, lost people finding healing through a community that loves and supports them in the name of Jesus Christ.*

These are the real stories I see Every. Single. Day. And I am filled with hope.

They are not attention-grabbing, headline-stealing stories. They are not even stories of hundreds of lives and hearts being changed in a single week. They are about one at a time: one life given to Christ, one heart healed, one relationship restored.

 

There’s an old song that we used to sing at summer camp every year when I was kid. I’m pretty sure they still sing it.

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going.

And soon all those around can warm up from its glowing.

That’s how it is with God’s love.

Once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to everyone.

You want to pass it on.”

one at a time

On the inside, in our schools and churches, homes and communities, there is a glow, a radiating warmth. It is not extinguished in the midst of tragedy, loss, pain, and anger, but rather it becomes a beacon of light and promise.

Because a candle burns brightest in darkness.

And there are so many who are called and driven, with a sense of urgency, to spread that light, not because of their own desire or goodness, but because The Light is so brilliant it cannot be contained.

There are more lives yet to be touched, healed, warmed, welcomed, comforted and loved. There is still so much work to be done. I believe God is entrusting us, using us to do more for Him before it is all over.

And I am filled with hope for the future.

 

*The examples in this post are based on real people and events I have witnessed in just the last 6 months.

 

photo credit: candle without wind via photopin (license)

Journey to Heal: It’s time to live a better story

If you are a regular reader of my blog, then by now you probably know that I have a huge place in my heart for encouraging women who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse to speak their truth, find healing in God, and even restore broken relationships. My passion for this stems in large part from my own past, but even more so from my present. What I mean by that is the more I have shared my story, the more women who have confided in me their “me, too” story. The longer I have been involved in small group and women’s ministry, the more stories I have heard of women still battling for release from their past and healing in their present.

I long for every woman (and man) who has a story of childhood sexual abuse to know the freedom of repair that I have found in my life,through my relationship with God and the help of a wonderful counselor. It took me many years of hard work — sometimes taking one step forward, and two steps back — to realize complete healing and restoration, and I think that’s partly because for a long time I didn’t know where to go for help. There weren’t a lot of resources available to me 20 years ago when I started my journey, and I didn’t feel comfortable seeking help in the church.

Thankfully, things have changed. Today, more women are opening up about their pasts within the church and creating a safe place for others to seek help and support. There are also more resources available. One of these just hit book shelves last week, and it’s written by a friend, and fellow survivor, Crystal Sutherland. The book is called Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, and I believe with all my heart this book is going to be life-changing for millions of men and women around the world.

Now, before I go any  further, I want to say a few things. Firstly, I’m not being compensated in any way to share my thoughts on this book. Yes, Crystal is a friend of mine and I guest blog for her occasionally, but that is because I support the mission of her ministry. There are an estimated 42 million adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse today, just in the United States [source: National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse]. And that estimate is just based on reported cases, so we know there are many more. Folks, it’s going to take thousands of counselors, women’s shelters, ministers, sisters, friends, mothers, writers, etc.to come together with the same mission to end this desecration of youth and lead the victims toward a place of hope and healing. Crystal is one of the many called and equipped to help with this.

Secondly, I am sharing about this book because I’ve read it and I believe it is unlike anything else currently available to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Despite our friendship and shared ministry, I would not be writing about this book if I didn’t feel the urgent need to get it in the hands of as many women and men as possible.

Now, if you are a survivor of abuse, or know someone who is, or if you are in a position of counseling and ministering to others who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse, here’s what you need to know: only God can provide true freedom and healing. While God did not create the sin that is damaging so many young girls and boys, He can bring the men and women they’ve become out of the darkness from their past and make them whole again.

This is what Journey to Heal is really all about. It is a guide for survivors on how to allow God to come along side of them and walk them through this journey toward healing, toward freedom, and toward a new life. Because, true healing can only happen once we place our hope in Christ.

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The seven steps Crystal outlines in the book include: 1. Committing to the journey, 2. Facing the truth, 3. Sharing your story, 4. Settling the unsettled, 5. Forgiving and letting go, 6. Discovering your true identity, and 7. Establishing a new life in Christ. Crystal put these steps together based on her own personal journey, the journey of countless other women she’s ministered to, and based on insight and guidance from ministers and licensed counselors who have spent years helping abuse victims. Even though this book didn’t exist when I went through my own journey, I can tell you these seven steps are all things I had to walk through to get to the other side; and they were all essential to me eventually finding freedom and healing.

I believe we all know someone who was a victim, and chances are many of them are still suffering the effects of the abuse from their past: whether that be through depression, addiction, a need for control, mistrust of others, body issues, failed relationships, feelings of shame, fear or hopelessness, or just downright denial, these things keep us in a permanent state of victim-hood and they prevent us from realizing the life God has planned for us.

“God has bigger plans for us than we have for ourselves…[but] we tend to settle for less than God’s best for us, because we don’t recognize our own value and worth,” explains Crystal in chapter 3 of Journey to Heal.

But God’s word promises this: “Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth.” – Isaiah 54:4 (NLT).

It’s time for a movement. Time for the church to rise up and be the source of hope and healing. Time for victims to refuse to accept the lie that a piece of them will forever be missing, stolen by their abuser, and leaving a giant hole in their soul that’s led them to settle for a life of suffering, of fear, and of shame. It’s time to end the silence and take back the joy, hope, and freedom that was stolen, along with their innocence.

Because God promises So. Much. More.

Because only God has the power to heal our brokenness and lead us into a brand new life.

I know, because I have lived this story.

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If you or someone you know is still suffering from the effects of childhood sexual abuse, you can purchase Journey to Heal from Amazon.com, ChristianBooks.com or wherever books are sold.

In addition to the book, Crystal is finishing up an online, real-time study that begins June 1st.

journey to heal online study

I leave you all with this prayer:

God, bless the women and men who have suffered the unthinkable. May they know that the sin of their abusers is not theirs to carry and they no longer have to bear the weight of their past. May they admit they desire freedom and they are worth the effort it will take to get there. But most of all, let them know that they do not have to do it alone. Let them find their strength in You; let them stop believing the lies of their abusers and the lies of the enemy, and let them instead believe the truth that they do not have to be afraid anymore, “there is no more disgrace.” Instead, there is a life of healing and of freedom waiting for them, a life filled with the beauty and grace of Your love. Amen.