Here’s Our Chance to Really See The World

The earrings placed in my hand made me stop in my tracks. I looked down at the neon pink crocheted earrings and was completely speechless. I looked up at Klaw Meh, one of our longtime students and smiled at her. This wasn’t the first time she used different yarn. We usually buy whatever we think we can sell, but for Fair Trade Friday, we are a little more selective. I called over a translator and asked why they were pink. “Does she have any neutral ones to sell?” I wasn’t sure we could sell neon earrings. I wanted to find out why Klaw Meh didn’t use the thread we gave her.

I wasn’t prepared for her answer.

The translator explained that Klaw Meh got on a bus and rode to a Walmart to buy the different thread.

She made the journey, spending her own money to purchase the neon thread so she could join the rest of the class. She chose pink because it was all she could see.

I looked into her cloudy eyes masked with cataracts and suddenly I understood.

My heart pounded in my chest as I grasped how desperate she must have been to participate, to see.

Isn’t this why we are here? This is why we come Friday after Friday to the cramped cold room, so these women who have been battered and abused and disregarded by our world–can see. So they might see hope and opportunity and mostly God’s love they cannot explain or even comprehend.

It’s a melting pot of color and countries, this apartment complex in the middle of Houston, that houses thousands of refugees from all over the world. The United Nations rescues them from refugee camps in Burma and Bhutan, Nepal and Thailand and plops them down in what we Texans know as Chinatown. But they don’t speak Chinese or English and most of the women were born in a refugee tent with open sides, a hard packed floor and a thick layer of dirt covering everything.

Governments give them refuge from genocide and religious persecution and then they wait for years in those campe-many are still waiting-to come here. To this dank apartment complex in the middle of the seventh largest city in the USA for a chance at freedom and opportunity.

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But there’s isn’t sadness on Fridays. No one complains about living in a two bedroom apartment with 18 other people. No one mentions their husband’s factory job that he works 6 days a week for minimum wage, providing barely enough to cover rent and food for the month. No one complains about reusing disposable diapers for their newborn babies because welfare checks don’t cover paper products.

No, there’s only gratitude and a lot of hope.

Click over to Ann Voskamp’s to continue reading the story (and about our BIG announcement!)

Friends, we have so much and it’s too easy to see the world through the distorted lens of our western culture. Sometimes God gives us an opportunity to see the world more clearly. Opportunities like this: For just $11.99 a month, you can get a pair of high quality earrings with our new Fair Trade Friday option: Earring of the Month.

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Each month features a different style of earring from a different country. We’ve partnered with amazing faith-based organizations who are helping women in Haiti, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Ethiopia and many more.

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And every pair of earrings come in a reusable bag that creates sustainable jobs for women in Kenya and Ethiopia. It just doesn’t get better than that.

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Sure, we probably don’t need another pair of earrings, but when our cute accessories have the power to provide a job for an impoverished woman in another country and help her see that she is not forgotten, perhaps this small way to change the world isn’t so small after all.

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If you sign up for the new affordable Earring of the Month option and come back here and leave a comment on this post, saying you did so, I will choose 25 commenters and send them this beautiful $25 paper bead necklace (color may vary) made by residents at Rehema House in Kenya in celebration of this new launch!

I Want My Daughters To Know What A Real Woman Looks Like

I waited until she came into my bathroom like she does most mornings before school.

“Here honey, let me help you,” I offered as I handed her a hair brush. “Hey, so I heard you were on a diet,” I said in a light-hearted teasing tone and I waited for a response. My friend had told me about our daughters’ conversation about dieting at school the day before. They are both second graders.

“Oh, I was just kidding, Mom,” she assured me.

I figured as much, but I pressed in, “You don’t need to be on a diet. You know that, right?” Lately, at 8 years old, I’ve noticed she cares a little more about her hair and what she’s wearing for the day.

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“I know. But I do need to eat healthy. You tell us that all the time,” she had me there.

I thought of all the eating out we’d done on our weekend getaway and the Valentine’s candy and her sweet tooth and those same words that had come out of my mouth. “Yes, but healthy eating isn’t dieting.”

We talked more about good food choices and about all our favorite desserts. It wasn’t an hour later when I read that girls as young as 5 years old are concerned about body image. And why wouldn’t they be with only perfect bodies, long thick hair, and clear complexions gracing every magazine cover at the grocery store? “I think there’s a lot of talk about teens and body image, and many parents become aware of that when kids hit puberty, but kids as young as 5 are already expressing a desire for a body that is thinner than their current self or future self,” said Seeta Pai, vice president of research for Common Sense Media and author of the report.

I thought about what I’d seen the day before at the Honor Roll Breakfast at the high school my daughter attends. Terrell leaned over and said, “No wonder our daughter changes clothes so many times before school. Look at how these girls are dressed.” He was right, it was like a fashion show. And with it comes pressure to fit in.

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“It’s crazy how we’re so inundated with these images of perfection and … we’re teaching young girls that that’s normal. So people are growing up now with these ideas of how they should look,” said Juliana Lyons, “It’s setting us up to fail because we’re not perfect. We’re not Photoshopped in real life.” Juliana is a teenager who has recently gained a lot of media attention for a song she wrote called Beautifully Flawed saying just that.

I think that’s why I gasped and clapped my hands out loud when I saw the image last week of supermodel Cindy Crawford looking well, imperfect. The viral photo was controversial because some said it was leaked while others said it was intentional. Either way, it wasn’t photoshopped. It was the body of a real woman- a mom whose body bares the marks of pregnancy and change. It wasn’t perfect and that’s what made it so beautiful.

Instantly, when I saw it, I felt better about my own soft rolls and thick middle. There’s something powerful about showing what untouched photos of real women look like and it’s exactly what our daughters need to see.

Odds are they won’t see it in their favorite movie or on the cover of the popular magazines. That’s why we have to show our daughters what a real woman’s body looks like and be okay with it. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to improve our health, but accepting and loving who we are and what we look like is a great start to improving our health.

There is a real temptation to hide our imperfections, to cover our ample areas, to talk negatively about what we don’t like in the mirror.  But when we are unhappy with our bodies and verbalize it, our little girls pick up on it. “Five- to 8-year-olds who think their moms are unhappy with their bodies are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own, according to Common Sense Media’s report.

In our culture, it’s hard for them to decipher what is real and what is computer-perfect.

I usually duck when someone tries to take my picture and my tendency is to avoid public swimming and I like to have everything “fixed” before I leave the house. My daughters pick up on all of these things and I’m determined to do better.

My husband’s favorite picture of me–it’s on his phone and computer screen saver and he’s always referring to it, is one of me in Africa with wrinkled clothes and skin, without makeup, very dirty hair, sitting in one of the poorest homes I’ve ever been in. He says it’s real beauty, the kind that goes far deeper than what I’m wearing or how I feel about what I’m wearing.

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We need to rock that swim skirt like a champ and go ahead and feel good in our skin. Our daughters need to see our imperfections and our insecurities. They need to know that real women have blemishes and bloating and that real beauty comes from within.

Because a real woman doesn’t always have the perfect spring wardrobe or all the good hair days.

She doesn’t always cook gourmet meals or pass the white glove test.

She can’t always hide the crows feet or chipped toenail polish.

Sometimes she laughs loud and cries often.

She is imperfectly beautiful.

If you ask a small child who the most beautiful woman in the world is, they will often say, “Mommy!” Their perception of perfection hasn’t been jaded by media or culture. They are looking past the tired eyes, yoga pants and three day hair-in-a-bun. They see beauty in the small acts of service-the hug, the extra cookie, the bedtime story.

We should, too.

It’s a great way to show our daughters what real women look like.

Sometimes You’ve Just Got to Get Away

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Groupon Getaways. All opinions are 100% mine.

I’d like to say this year (all six weeks of it) has been unseasonably busy. But let’s be honest, it’s been this way for the past 5 years. With job challenges and growing kids and pending book deadlines, end of the year non-profit demands, drainage issues in a very muddy backyard, oil leaks in the car, it’s been hectic.

I also wouldn’t change a minute of it.

Okay, that’s not completely true. I would change that moment yesterday when my dog punctured my large styrofoam cup of sweet tea and it emptied into my shoes during carline drop off.

In general, I love my life and I’m thankful for (almost all of) it. But I do long for a slow, calm day.

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When Terrell asked me what I wanted to do for the long Valentine’s/President’s Day weekend, I said, “I want to get away with my family.” Which should not be confused with”I want to run away from my family.”

Because how can both sound good at the same exact time?

So, it seemed sort of providential that the very next day, the good people at Groupon asked if we wanted to choose a local (and a not-so-local) Getaway of our choice.

Yeah, we will have to really think hard about that one. Give me a second.

Okay, um, yes, please.

We’ve spent some time browsing the Groupon Getaways portal and I was amazed at all the choices! We narrowed down our choice to the hill country in Texas. But do you know what’s hard? Choosing where to stay when there are so many amazing choices. It was a burden. I know you pity us.

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If you could choose a local (by car) spot to getaway to, where would you go? 

Stay tuned…. #MyGrouponGetaway

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How To Take Care of Yourself When Your Job Is Taking Care of Others

“Mom, can I have one?” I looked longingly–lovingly--at my secret chocolate stash that had just been discovered by my child.

Shoot.

It was for a rainy day. Or a sunny one. Oh, let’s be honest, the weather doesn’t matter.  I hide chocolate and eat it alone, okay?

No one would blame me for saying no. I, mean, it’s mine.

But I handed over a piece because that’s what I do.

Sharing the last bite of the perfect sandwich, a sip of my favorite drink, putting my much wanted pedicure aside to pay for an extra flute lesson for my daughter’s upcoming competition, skipping a Sunday nap so I can help my son with a school project, sitting in the carline for 45 minutes so my 2nd grader can bring home the class hamster that isn’t allowed on the bus–these are just a few of the things I do for my kids in a day.

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While they are in school, I spend the bulk of my time on writing projects or working for Mercy House. I oversee volunteers in and out of our house all week long. One day last week, I wired money to Kenya, counted product (there were 650 coin purses), had two Fair Trade Friday meetings-one on the phone and one in person, answered email, signed some books, wrote a blog post, and placed 3 wholesale orders for a Fair Trade Girls Night Out I’m hosting at my house next week. Just as I was sitting down to eat lunch at 3pm, my son walked thru the door and reminded me of his orthodontic appointment.

My yes gives me purpose and fills me in a way that nothing else does, but it’s often overwhelming and demanding. And between family and ministry, I juggle, I teeter, I drop a lot of balls.

Probably a lot like you.

I’m a wife and mom, I started a non-profit that cares for oppressed women and both depend on me a lot. It’s my job to take care of people.  Often our yes shows us that taking care of others is taking care of ourselves because it gives us purpose and fills a deep need within.

But some days we have to choose between caring for others and taking care of ourselves.

I try to balance it all.

And sometimes I get it right and sometimes I don’t.

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My sweet friend Jessica knows just what I’m talking about. She juggles a lot–motherhood, a full time job, a successful blog, and she just delivered a new baby and a new book! The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You encourages women to take care of themselves. I’ve found it to be rich with insight with meaningful ways to practice self-care. I caught myself nodding and jotting down notes throughout the book. It’s permission to rest, renew, and to really slow down.

I’ve learned some principles that I could identify with in The Fringe Hours and maybe they will  help you care for yourself while you’re also caring for others. As I get older, I’m discovering I’m getting better at living by these rules of rest. But it’s important to note that I don’t do it all. Come over and match up the gigantic pile of sock orphans if you don’t believe me. For every one thing I do well, there are two things I don’t. And I’m okay with that-as long as I pick the right ones.

1. I let a lot of things go

I typically buy store-bought Valentine’s and pre-made cookie dough. I always have piles of laundry and I sweep my floors half as much as I’d like to (I think I mentioned my obsession with sweeping before. I might need medication for it.) I watch Food Network to unwind and then I make the same five meals I’ve made for the last 5 years. I regularly turn down speaking engagements because this isn’t the right season for me to accept them. I try to let little things go that don’t matter as much so I can hold onto the bigger things that do.

2. I depend on others 

I lean on my husband a lot. We divide household and children duties as much as we can. And I have a community of people who are saying yes with me and I email, text, and beg for their help regularly. I recognize and acknowledge my weaknesses and I know what I’m capable of accomplishing. It’s not much some days. But I have learned the fine art of delegation and I’m okay with asking people to join me as I care for others.

3. I prioritize the things only I can do 

My children only have one mother. My husband only has one wife. I am the only one who can fill certain needs and voids. Anyone can cook a meal (so sometimes I say yes when a friend offers. Sometimes that friend is the pizza man). Anyone can clean my house (and that’s exactly what I asked for as a birthday gift in December). I’m the only one who can read the Mother Daughter devotional on my nightstand with my 8 year old who asks me to every night. I’m the only one who can take my son on a date when he says, “Hey Mom, can we go get coffee together?” This principal has been huge for me and sometimes I get it wrong, but if I can keep it as a guideline when I’m feeling torn between what I can do and what I should do, it’s so helpful.

4. I say no to things that are time-sucking 

I think this one is very personal because what can be draining for me could be life-giving for you. I probably watch two hours of TV/movies a week. I attend my kids class parties, but I don’t serve on PTA committees. I don’t usually attend conferences or retreats. I have discovered what fills me up and what leaves me filling empty and it helps me balance the busy places.

5. I say yes to things that are life-giving 

At the height of launching a new book this time last year before my husband became Mercy House’s CEO, I felt like I was at a breaking point. So it seemed like really bad timing for me to give up a day every week, drive an hour and serve refugees in my city…something that would eventually lead me to start Fair Trade Friday. But when we choose obedience to God (even when it seems crazy), we are choosing something that is life-giving. More than once, I told Terrell, Trust me. This is what God wants me to do.

6. I’ve discovered what recharges me

I take a lot of hot baths and drink a lot of sweet tea. I read books that inspire me or just make me laugh. I do regular girls’ nights out and sometimes I get that pedicure or even a massage. One day this past year, I did both on the same day.

So, take some time for yourself: Schedule that haircut. Buy that dress. Fill your time with something that matters. Start by ordering a copy of The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You. You’ll be glad you did.

Oh, and find a better hiding spot for that chocolate.

This post is sponsored by Revell. All thoughts, opinions and sweet tea are my own.

Raising Kids in the Age of Anything-Goes-Sex, Terror & Religious Persecution

I couldn’t turn the channel fast enough.

All five of us piled on the queen bed watching a cooking show when the commercial break brought an invitation to watch 50 Shades of Grey. My teen daughter gave me a look that told me her peers were talking about this film, too, as I fumbled for the remote. My 7th grade son asked what it was about, “Because it looks just like a love story,” he said.

That’s what they want you to think. It’s a movie about violence and sex. The world wants us to think it’s about romance and love, but it’s not. I’m shaking.

I flipped to the next channel and the latest news of terror in the middle east filled the room.

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My 8 year old looked at me with her deep brown eyes and said, “The world is scary.”

I turned the TV off and wondered how to teach my kids about real love-the kind that makes us pray for our neighbors in the war on terror while shutting out the lure of our anything-goes culture.

I want to pin recipes on Pinterest and google how to make a sliding barn door.  I want to protect them from the world. Some days I want to live in my bubble and not think about how the rest of the world lives.

Two days later 21 people were beheaded in Egypt. More death. More terror.

More Christians.

It hit close to home. And it made me long for another home. Because I can’t protect my kids from the world we live in.

It made me think about living widely obedient and what that really means.

It made me wonder at my upcoming trips with my daughter to a predominately muslim world. (Updated to add: We work with women, some who are Muslim. I certainly don’t think every Muslim is “bad” any more than I think every Christian is “good.” I’m simply being honest–these events make me pause and wonder, “Is this safe?” But I still go.)

I can’t say anything that’s not already been said in all the Internet noise this week. There are as many opinions as there are shades of gray.

And in our constantly changing world, some things don’t change:

I’m still teaching my kids right from wrong.

I am reminding them of absolute truths in a culture that decides day-to-day what is politically correct.

We still choose to follow Christ.

We think and pray for our brothers and sisters who live the same way even when it means death for them.

Experts tell us ISIS doesn’t want to rule the world, they want to end it. And as I raise my children to follow Christ, I must also teach them truth:

One day this world will end. But it will not be the end.

5 truths our kids need to hear in our world today:

1. God is in control- Our world can be a very scary place. But no matter what happens here or over there, God is in charge. It might look really bad, but He is not surprised by what happens and somehow, someway God will work things out for our good. He loves us and He is in control.

2. There is right from wrong- Domestic violence, pornography for men and women, living a life that doesn’t matter, loving and hating others-these are the right from wrong choices we make everyday. Truth does not change, no matter what society or media says.

3. The world does not live like we do-Attending church on Sunday and school on Monday, owning a Bible, going where we want, when we want, this is called freedom. But nothing about it is free. It cost something. Someone.

4. Prayer is a weapon-Sometimes we feel helpless and hopeless when we watch the news or hear how bad the world is, or we are fearful it will effect us in same way. There is something important we can do-we can pray for the world and for our own faith. We wear our bracelets to help us remember to pray for the oppressed. It feels small, but it’s not.

5. There is hope-no matter how bad it gets-and I personally believe it will get worse-from terror to shifting cultural truths, there is always hope. We call it The Blessed Hope. This world is not the end and I want my kids to know that life is temporary. Eternity is forever. And one day, Jesus will right all the wrong in the world and we will live with Him forever.

I whisper truth in their ears. I comfort them with these words. We hold onto these promises together.