9 Ways Families Can Impact The World Right Where They Are

It only takes a couple of minutes of watching the nightly news to recognize our world is a scary place.

I was on my way home from Ethiopia with my daughter when 20 Ethiopian men lost their lives on a beach in Libya. Their crime? The same as mine. They were Christians.

I have to point out the elephant in the room and ask: Do we really care?

I loved walking the streets of Ethiopia and visiting groups of women we are partnering with through Fair Trade Friday. It feels safer than Kenya. It’s not as heavy or oppressive, I whispered to my daughter as we stood in a dump as tall as a mountain and held hands with children who were digging for food.

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Now, I’m sitting in my home safe and sound and one country I visited is in mourning and the other one is burying hundreds of college students massacred by terrorists.

And honestly, I don’t ever want to leave home again.

I’m finding my rhythm, catching up on hot baths, laundry and sweet tea. It’s easy to slip back into the comfort of easy living.

I know God is not safe. He asks us to go further than we think we can go and do things we think we cannot and believe in the impossible.

Sometimes following Jesus is scary as hell, even when God asks us to stay right where we are.

I find staying is as hard as going some days. I’m lulled into thinking I’m safe. I’m sucked into the culture of more stuff, bigger and better and I find it’s actually easy to forget how the rest of the world is living.

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Or dying.

And then some days, I’m haunted by the suffering of people around the globe. They aren’t really different from my family. There are moms wondering what’s for dinner. And dads who travel to look for work to take care of their families.  But what can my family really do to help the poor and oppressed, to remember the persecuted church suffering when my own government mostly ignores it?

And how in the world can I raise kids who are grateful for what they have when they don’t even realize the freedom they enjoy?

It’s a question we have to ask ourselves in our entitled culture.

Because while Christians are losing their heads in Libya, it’s too easy to turn off the news and pretend the most important thing on our list is shopping for summer clothes or deciding which Vacation Bible School to attend.

This week, Glen Beck (like him or not), said this and I agree, “So often we cry out for justice. We raise our hands on Sunday. We call for the enemy to be crushed, but then we retreat into our humble abodes, castles by global standards, and go about our daily lives. And we get busy, honestly busy, wrapped up in our own day and our own chaos, honestly busy, and we forget that the second part of justice is mercy and compassion. That’s our job, to show mercy, to have compassion, to kindle it in our heart and the hearts of others…. [Why do we do nothing?] We feel helpless and we don’t know what to do, so we do nothing.”

9 Ways Families Can Impact The World Right Where They Are

Some believers are called to go. Some are called to stay. But we are all called to do something. Nothing is not an option for my family or yours.  And there are many things we can do with our families to actively become a part of this story God is writing in our tumultuous world.

1. We Can Pray For The World :: Prayer is generally first on our list, but last on our lips. When we get up in the morning or lay down at night, when we eat or worship, walk or workout, prayer is the most powerful thing we can do. For years, off and on, this book has educated our family on how to pray for the world.

2. We Can Hang a World Map :: It may sound simplistic, but when my son was a baby, we wallpapered his room with an enormous world map. What started out as decor, turned into a resource. For years, we congregated in his room and searched the life-size map for countries we learned or talked about. And before I traveled across the ocean the first time in 2010, we all put our fingers on the word Kenya and prayed together. I have a globe collection and maps hang all over my house now. Hang a map in a high traffic spot in your house and refer to it. Pick a country and pray for it. You never know where it will lead you (without even leaving your home).

3. We Can Host a Global Party In Our Home :: One of the reasons I love Fair Trade Friday so much is because it is empowering and employing around 1000 women in 16 countries–all in the name of Jesus through on-the-ground faith-based non-profits. And now, Mercy House is expanding our home party line and taking applications to host a free global Fair Trade Friday party in your home, so you can see and touch and buy products made by women all around the world. I hugged and loved on women in two of those countries this week and with tears in their eyes, they thanked me for a job that is providing food and rent. This is a beautiful way to see the world and change it. Learn more about hosting a party today.

4. We Can Talk About World Events :: Our first inclination is to protect our kids from the bad in the world, but this doesn’t always mean we should shield them from current world events, especially if they are old enough to read, overhear the news or attend school. Silence can breed fear and ignorance. Educating them is different than scaring them. When we prayed for Ethiopia last night at dinner, we talked about recent events and cleared up misconceptions. I’d rather my kids hear the truth from me than be afraid of what they overhear from someone else.

5. We Can Eat a Meal to Remember :: Whether it’s rice or beans on Mondays, a visit to a global food market in your town or an attempt at a new recipe for something you can’t pronounce, we can remember the world (and experience it), through food. Last week, my daughter and I sat in homes of women and ate our fill of injera and shiro. Yesterday, we attempted our first coffee ceremony and just the smell of the coffee I brought home, took me back to the small home where I was served with great love. I dare you to expose your kids to the world through their dinner plate.

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6. We Can Complete a Family Service Project :: Last year, Mercy House mailed out 20,000 prayer bracelets as a reminder to pray for the most oppressed people group in the world: women. Your family can do something to support them! Order a kit for $10 today and share the bracelets with your family and friends. 100% of the proceeds go to help us reach women all around the globe.

7. We Can Redeem Consumerism :: Shopping is as much a part of our culture as tea is a part of Kenya. A couple of years ago, I would cringe when people referred to our consumerism.  Just look at the empty Lilly Pulitzer racks at Target. I can’t stop people from buying. I won’t even try. Instead, I want to challenge people to buy something that changes a life. Give a gift twice. Support a woman with a purchase. Teach your children that cheap things aren’t always free.

8. We Can Practice Compassion and Mercy :: When our family prayed for Ethiopian Christians this week, my husband reminded us we should also pray for the Islamic persecutors. We are tempted to ignore or be prejudiced against what we don’t understand. But we can show compassion and mercy to everyone. Especially those who are different than we are. Is there a better way for our family to shine Jesus than this? Child sponsorship is a beautiful place to start.

9. We Can’t Pretend For Another Minute That Our Freedom is Free :: Without a doubt, I believe perspective is the greatest gift we can give our children. If their only view is an entitled world where they get everything they want, we will most likely end up with entitled children. But if we are going to compare ourselves to those around us who have what we want, we also have to balance our view by comparing ourselves to those with less than us. This shift is eye-opening for our families. It’s where gratitude is born.

Do we really care? Can we really do something?

The answer is yes.

The Beauty of Unwrapping Christmas Every Day (Even the Ugly Ones)

I had grand plans for the first night of Advent.

Just imagine the setting with me: Holy Christmas music in the background, my family breaking bread together over a lovely home cooked meal, while we politely asked about each other’s day and write down a long list of our blessings. We would listen intently to the daily reading, reflect quietly as we pondered the truth and then gather around our Jesse tree to place the first ornament on it together.

But somehow on the first night of Advent, we ended up eating overpriced sandwiches at Schlotzsky’s across from our church because our kids were running late for youth group. We had a lovely family fight (complete with teen eye rolls, tween grumbling and whining from the whole lot) for good measure.  By the time I remembered the new Advent book I tucked into my purse at the last minute, I felt like a failure.

I’m pretty sure everyone sighed loudly when they saw it, too. Because failure is good at convincing us it’s too late, even before we even start.

Terrell pushed through and read Ann’s words aloud in that sandwich shop: “There was this family-Jesse’s family. A family that was like yours…a family that loved each other and hurt each other and forgave each other and failed each other. A family that failed God….They failed and fell and were like a fallen tree.”

I smiled at him as he read on about the miraculous shoot springing up from that hopeless family stump…”out of the stump came one tender branch that would grow right into a crown of thorns, right into a rugged cross, right into a ladder back to God….”

I swallowed down my frustration and in the first few sentences of this book, I didn’t remember my failure.

I remembered what God can do with it.

When we got home, I asked my baby to place the first Jesse tree ornament on the tree. There was no music and it was far from holy. And she reminded me twice she wasn’t a baby.

But even without the perfect setting, it was still important.

We can’t quit, even on the ugly days.

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Because it’s not the gifts under the tree our children will remember–the must-have electronics, the hottest toys–it’s the traditions.

This week, she wanted the stockings hung in order, just so. She asked for loud Christmas music while we decorated the tree and she arranged and rearranged  Baby Jesus as the Star of Season- just like last year and the one before.

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Traditions are more than hot chocolate while looking at Christmas lights or opening new matching pajamas on Christmas Eve while listening to Dad read The Night Before Christmas.

And that’s why we push through our failed plans and our own failures. Because traditions are the act of passing down what we believe to our children.

It’s not just a great idea; it’s a gift we give our kids. We practice and retell truth and it works it’s way into their hearts.

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And there is no better opportunity to teach these important truths this time of year.

Because the Gift has come.

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Christmas is for The Unwrapping.

More than anything, I long to slow down the rush of the Season, to linger, to focus on the meaning behind the traditions. I want to remember why we remember and I want to pass the Truth to my children.

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Counting down the days to Christmas isn’t just a fun family activity. It’s not just another thing to add to our list. Celebrating Advent makes us reflect on the meaning behind the grand tree and gifts we give to each other. It makes us pause in the craziness of the season and remember the reason for it.

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Advent is the best tradition to unwrap Christmas with our family because it’s the best way to pass down Truth.

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It’s the retelling of the Greatest Story. And it’s not just for the first 24 days of December.

It’s the intentional, meaningful, day-by-day unwrapping of the Greatest Gift ever given.

Even on the ugly days.

Especially then.

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The book: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas
The ornaments pictured above. Or download ornaments.

[This post is sponsored by Tyndale Publishers. All opinions and ideas are mine.]

25 Intentional Ways to Enjoy Fall With Your Family

Fall is my favorite time of the year. I love everything about the changing colors, the cooler weather, the comfort food, and any excuse to wear boots. Oh, and I enjoy being outdoors with my family. The days are long, but the years are short. Let’s make them count. Here are 25 meaningful ways to enjoy them (some affiliate links included):

25 Intentional ways to enjoy fall with your family

  1. Our number one favorite fall activity for one-on-one time? We lay in this together. Oh my goodness. Every family needs a giant hammock. But an old blanket in the yard will work too. It’s the perfect place to whisper and read books and be together.
  2. Go on a walk, hunt for leaves, acorns and fall flare
  3. Get outside-toss a football or chase each other. We gave this very fun outdoor game to my husband for his birthday. It’s a favorite for all ages!
  4. Create this [framed leaf art] or make a nature garland with your finds.
  5. Have each family member write down what they are thankful for every night of November and put the secret notes in a jar on your table. Read them on Thanksgiving.
  6. Make applesauce or something apple-y. Apple crisp, bob for apples, This little toolmakes it easy.
  7. Read outside. (I love catching my kids doing this!) IMG_7322
  8. This activity is a huge Thanksgiving memory-maker.
  9. Visit a local farmer’s market. Eat fresh and choose a new veggie (our latest: Spaghetti squash. This healthy recipe.)
  10. Invite friends over for s’mores. I love this s’mores in a jar idea!
  11. Have your family devotion outside. (I love these printable family gratitude devotions for November) Anytime we can read a few scriptures or an inspiring story away from our normal routine, we engage so much more with our kids. Some days we lay on the trampoline or just take a long walk and talk.
  12. Rake the leaves just to jump in them.
  13. Go camping. I’m not much of a “happy camper.” I love my bed too much. But we try and go at least once a year and I’m never sorry when we do.
  14. Bake bread. Make bread bowl soup (kids love it!)
  15. Create a family tree (get messy) fall hand tree art.
  16. Go on a family bike ride.
  17. Make and play the Gratitude Game
  18. Collect acorns, put them in a simple jar and call it a centerpiece. Lovely.
  19. Create a thankful tree.
  20. Write in your Gratitude: A Journal
  21. Pick something from this list to do this season.
  22. Visit an orchard and pick apples.
  23. Bake a pie from scratch.
  24. Take a family picture (I just told my husband I want to keep the tripod in the trunk for impromptu photos on some of our fall hikes)
  25. Don’t feel pressure or guilt to DO anything on this list. Just be together and be grateful.

edited post from the archives

I’m Still Not Brave

I have lists for my lists, a stocked pantry, a few meals in the freezer and a detailed schedule to help my hubby juggle the kids, home and school in-between working, while I’m in Kenya working at Mercy House.

I’ve had a lump in my throat for days.

This morning before I head to the airport, I’m hiding love notes for my family.

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We just added 3 new pregnant girls in the house, so that makes 11 girls, 8 babies and 3 on the way (one of the girls is 38 weeks pregnant!) It’s rainy season and traffic is at an all-time high and there hasn’t been power at the maternity home in 3 days. I have a layover in Turkey (the country) and will be missing 2 nights of sleep.

This is the 4th time I’ve traveled across the ocean to Africa and I still don’t feel brave.

[I’m about to get vulnerable. I hope that’s okay.]

As I went over a list with my husband yesterday morning, I stopped and I gave a voice to the struggle, “Will this ever get easier? In 5 years, will it still be this hard to go there, to stay here and do this work? Will my heart always be half-as-willing to follow God?”

Because y’all. I’m still just that little mom who said yes to a big dream.

Then he said something I didn’t expect, “Last night, I felt the same way.” He’s in the middle of gathering tax info for our accountant, being stretched paper thin, frustrated with computer issues, overwhelmed. “I want to help rescue girls, I want babies to be born, I want that good part, but the rest…”

His words, although raw, were comforting, because I want that part, too. But we both know as we’ve counted the cost these past 3 years, the good part doesn’t happen without the hard.

I carry anxiety pills in my pocket for traveling and I feel unqualified and overwhelmed at the task. I miss my family with every breath and sometimes I’m so scared I can’t stop shaking inside.

I’m good at organizing my family, carline pickup, making dinner (well, sort of). I’m good at mothering and helping moms, but running Mercy House continually stretches me further than I’ve ever been. As my husband held me, I whispered, “I just wish I was more brave.”

He said, “Maybe that’s why God called you, us. Because we’re not. But he is everything we’re not and everything we need.”

If I have learned anything in this journey, it’s this: the good  makes the hard worth it.

Meet our three newest girls at Mercy House:

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I’m thankful I’m not alone. Neither are you.

“What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” Gen. 28:15

I’m taking you with me. I pray you’re brave enough to go.

Your Family’s Greatest Mission

“I love what your family is doing, but we could never do that. We are just too _______ [insert one of 1000 reasons].

I cringe every time I hear the words.

I also understand them.

I feel the same way about 364 days a year. “I can’t do this mission. Our family is too human. We don’t know what we’re doing, I can’t even keep up with laundry. I yell at my kids. We are argue and live this grace thing out in ugly ways some days…”

My list of “I can’t and I shouldn’t” is endless.

But living on a mission doesn’t start with doing something for God. It begins with what he has done for us.

“We serve a missionary God. He is all about the sending. We are a missionary people. We are about the going.” -*Jason Johnson.

By nature we are a sent people. That’s our identity. It’s the why of our lives.

The question isn’t Is my family called to a mission? That question has already been answered.

We are called to GO.

Do you wonder what his will is for your family? It’s to go fulfill his mission. We wonder where, what, when… and often get bogged down in the unknown details.

Where are you going today? The grocery store. The school. The neighbor’s house. Wherever you go, fulfill your mission and shine Jesus. Your small step of obedience might lead you to great destinations or it might just lead you to the dog food aisle. Either way, going is half the victory. Because that is your family’s greatest mission.

“If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music … Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

He isn’t waiting for us to be perfect or get our acts together, so we can change the world; He specializes in  using the less-than-perfect places in our lives for His glory.

It’s your mission if you choose to accept it.

*Thanks to my pastor for inspiring this post.