Dear Washington D.C.:

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

It might be too soon in our relationship to tell you this, but I just can’t keep it in:

Our family loves you.

When Groupon  gave us the opportunity to choose a getaway destination, there were so many choices. We thought about snow-capped mountains and isolated cabins and exotic destinations.

But you did not disappoint!

(And kudos to Groupon Getaways for a straight-shot flight and adjoining rooms with a king and two double beds at a gorgeous hotel in the shadow of the nation’s Capital!)

Our hotel was in the center of the city with access to all the major tourist spots.

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We loved sleeping under the lights of the capital. And making silly faces, apparently.

v9iUHOLe7wPaofxxZt9HG-bGqc8OHRSXXvf3PVixCJgWe love your food. Within walking distance of our hotel, there were dozens of restaurants and honestly, it was hard to choose.

Who knew the family would take Asian Fusion food so seriously (it was delicious) Who knew my kids will literally try anything?

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Or that Chinatown restaurants known for their duck entrees, really have them hanging in the window. And that sort of changes your mind about what you’re going to order. Get the dumpiness, always the dumplings.

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And don’t get me started on this epic restaurant:

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(Friends of Mercy House own The Portofino, a family-owned authentic Italian restaurant, in Arlington, Virginia and sent us a gift card for our family to dine with them. I highly recommend it! How fun is that?)

We loved walking everywhere.

We loved catching taxis when we couldn’t take another step and meeting drivers from Ethiopia, Iran, Turkey and well, all over the world).

We loved your free museums. I can’t wait to tell you our favorites.

We loved your presidential bobble heads.

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We loved your cherry blossoms. Seriously, everywhere.

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Most of all, we loved your history. With 17 museums a part of the Smithsonian, that all have free entrance, how could I not?

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We loved the way the city shuts down for the presidential motorcade (okay, not really. But still, cool).

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Washington DC, you had us at hello.

We can’t wait to return. (And share more fun details about our trip with you!)

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The One Thing We All Have In Common {Giveaway}

Congrats to the random comment #25 Misty and #151 Nicki!

I’ve met women from all around the world.

Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been amazed at the differences-from the foods we eat, to the way we live.

Some walk with jugs of water on their heads, while others scoop it from a river or catch it in rain containers on their roofs.

Some cook at stoves with propane tanks sitting at their feet, while others lean over a jako and stir their pots over charcoal.

Some go to the bathroom in pit latrine, while others use a concrete hole in the ground or a bidet.

Some wear scarves covering their heads, while others wear bright traditional fabric or second hand clothes from the market.

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There are more differences than I can count.

And yet, we share important things in common: We have hopes and dreams and we would do anything for our children.

harmony bracelet-1This universal language of motherhood is breathtaking. It’s the dance of sacrifice and bravery and it’s the same in every language.

I met an Ethiopian woman a few days ago who had given birth the week before in her tiny hut. Her little 8 year old was in the sponsorship program we visited and told us her mother was very sick. When we visited her home balanced precariously on the side of a steep ledge, she was feverish and desperately sick with mastitis in her infected and swollen breasts.

And yet, in her suffering, she continued to feed her newborn baby, even when she wasn’t able to feed herself.

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Because that’s what mothers do.

We sacrifice.

We put our kids before ourselves.

We give them more than we had.

We risk our lives if it means giving our children the chance to live.

Love in any language is the same.

And that’s the one thing we all have in common.

state leather cuff webToday, The Vintage Pearl, a long time friend and supporter of Mercy House, is helping me celebrate this beautiful thing called motherhood. Join me in remembering our sisters around the globe and this precious thing we have in common.

The Vintage Pearl is giving away two $50 gift certificates. Please leave a comment mentioning a mother in your life that has inspired you.

Use code “WATF15″ for 15% off through 4/24. Today is the last day to order to receive by Mother’s Day.

The First Yes Is The Deepest

More than eight years ago we sponsored our first child through Compassion International.

We picked Bereket, a 5 year old boy in Ethiopia.

We chose him because we had a new niece from the country and because our son wanted a brother.

It was a big decision for our little family. And it turned out to be the best one.

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We spent most of our time inwardly-focused, trying to create a great childhood for our kids, a happy home and we chased the American Dream like it was our job.  So, sponsoring Bereket, sending money every month for his care and school fees, cracked open the door to compassion for others that would soon overwhelm us.

In so many ways, this was our first yes.

It led to my blogging trip in 2010 with Compassion that led to sponsoring more kids that led to meeting Maureen which led to starting Mercy House.

Yesterday, my daughter and I walked the jagged, dirty path that led to Bereket’s mud-walled home. He’s nearly 13 now, just like my son. I knew when we made our travel plans to visit some Fair Trade Friday partners is bordering Ethiopia, we would have to meet him.

His mother ran to meet us and threw her arms around my neck. Her family stood close by taking it in.

“I knew you would come some day. God told me,” Two minutes in and I was already speechless.

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We sat in their tidy home and the proudly pulled out every letter and picture we’ve sent for the past 8 years. They showed us what they’d bought with the annual family gifts we sent. Bereket’s mother never stopped smiling and his dad listened intently. As I looked at this beautiful family, I felt like I was home. Only God.

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Bereket had many questions about my son while we enjoyed the traditional coffee ceremony. The boys have shared letters for years now. They are the same age, they both love math, football and want to be engineers when they grow up. We gave him a new soccer ball and Legos. Bereket’s family has lived in their home for 15 years and the joy of knowing Jesus was palpable. I have never seen a more affection or tender looks passed between a mother and father and their children.

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(Right after I took this photo of my sponsored child’s mother, I realized I was standing in a mound of black ants. I jumped away and shook my shoes off. But about 3 minutes later, I could feel them under my jeans up and down my legs. I literally had ants in my pants.)

After our visit in their home, my daughter and I took them to their first restaurant. It was such a treat.

The family ordered traditional Ethiopian food (raw oxen and injera). Well, everyone except Bereket. He ordered this:

IMG_9138He really might be my son’s brother.

They asked many questions about Mercy House and I showed them pictures of the beautiful girls we are trying to help. They promised to pray for us.

As we said our goodbye’s, we took turns speaking from our hearts to each other. (Yes, I cried). They asked me to bring the rest of my family back to their home and they offered the most gracious thank you I’ve ever heard.

As we drove away, my 15 year old girl burst into tears.

We will hold this day in our hearts forever.

This first yes has led to countless others. Including meeting Kalkadon, our newest sponsored child through Caring for Korah (a Fair Trade Friday partner and a ministry very close to our hearts) this week. She pointed out the chairs and double bed, pillows and blankets filling her 8×8 home that our small family gift paid had purchased.

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Sometimes we wonder if the sacrifice is needed. Or appreciated.

We question our decision and our ability.

We try to squeeze a little more money out of our budget to share with others.

And sometimes we wonder if our small yes even matters.

God told me it does.

Getaway to Austin, Texas: Part Two

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

I love old things- buildings, architecture, furniture. You name it.

I was excited to explore some of the history of Austin our Groupon getaway several weeks ago. The Capital did not disappoint.

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It was grand and it was so fun seeing it through my kids eyes. They had so many questions. My husband and I were born and raised in Texas and even though we spent the first ten years of our marriage in other states, we got back here as fast as we could.

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This was the view standing in the center of the room and looking up. Spectacular.

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We spent a lot of time exploring the old buildings, the basement, antique staircases and probably a lot of places we shouldn’t have gone. Oops. My girls took my phone and did a spontaneous photo shoot.

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They are so shy and timid. It’s funny because when I tried to get a great shot of my children on these epic courthouse stairs, this is what I got.

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After we finished our mostly legal exploring, we rolled down the great green hill in the front of the state building. And by “we” I mean my husband and two of my kids. My teenager and I are way too cool for that. We ended the day at Magnolia Cafe and ate our weight in gingerbread pancakes.

We headed back to the Omni Barton Resort and spent the last few hours of getaway at the beautiful pool. It was a great weekend away!

Little Girls Aren’t Supposed to Be Mothers

The room is filled with thirteen and fourteen and several sixteen year old girls.

Little girls who should be playing dolls instead of mother.

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We sat in a circle and talked about courage. The girls took turns sharing bits and pieces of their stories. I was in awe of their bravery.

“I was in class 3 and a nasty old man raped me on the way home from school. If I didn’t live here, I would be dead by now. I don’t take life for granted,” I winced at the hard, honest words. For the last couple of days, we’ve talked about dreams and the strength it takes to say them aloud.  She took a deep breath, “I want to be a teacher one day.”

And I swallow down the knot because I know she doesn’t know how to read or write yet.

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But I’m standing in a room full of the impossible and I believe her.

The stories are filled with loneliness, but they are not alone. It’s one of the beautiful tragedies of the rescue home in Kenya that Mercy House supports. Yes, there is pain and suffering and unspeakable sorrow, but when it’s what you have in common with your sisters and their babies, you feel a little less alone.

Sometimes it’s easier to find God together.

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We live in a broken world where little girls become mothers. And if we watch the news, no place feels safe. We dodge crowded markets and avoid tourist spots when we are here because no one knows when the next terrorist attack will rock this country.

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But God is the best at redeeming the broken places.

He creates family out of misfits. He binds the wounded. He reminds us again and again we aren’t alone and that he uses the weak to accomplish His purpose. I know this part too well. These girls can’t walk this road alone. It takes a united team.

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God keeps showing me there is no “i” in team. I can’t help these girls. I can’t fund the thousands of dollars needed every month to run a maternity home in Kenya. I can’t even get all my laundry done most days. I am a part of a team of people and we are all on God’s team.

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Yeah, so there’s no “i” in team, but there is a “me.”

Teamwork requires me to sacrifice my time. It asks me to give up my resources and lay down my will. Loving and serving others demands less of me, more of Him.

Because little girls aren’t supposed to be mothers.

But they are. And that’s why we need you.

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We would love for you to join our team.

Team Mercy is our family advocacy program that invites you to join hands with Mercy House. The task at hand–reminding impoverished and oppressed women they are not forgotten–is monumental. It’s overwhelming and we cannot do it alone. We need you! Team Mercy members participate by sharing via social media, representing Mercy House at local events, hosting family-friendly fundraisers and many other fun and educational service projects to help us spread the word. We also have  a brand new reward store that allows you to earn points by advocating to shop for free. Learn more and join today!

If you join today, use this code FREEMERCY in our reward store to get 10 love mercy bracelets for FREE to share with friends and family (a $50 value).