The Life-Changing Price of Gratitude

The musty room was stifling, a mixture of sweaty bodies and uncirculated air. I could hardly breathe.

The women were waiting their turn patiently, but the line was out the door. They pressed in closely towards the back of the room where we were buying.

It was Friday.

We were purchasing (super cute) items for our upcoming December Fair Trade Friday boxes (we provide the supplies for free for those who attend classes). My friend Taylor and I always carefully calculate how much money to bring so we can buy something from every lady in the room. There are now 65 ladies in our class, so it’s a lot of math. And even more money.

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Once we get thru the line, the room fills up again and the women hold up their creations and Taylor buys items for the The Refugee Project Store. And no matter how well we plan, we always run out of money. The women bring bags of beautiful items and are eager to sell so they can buy necessities like diapers and toilet paper for their families since most of their factory incomes go towards government housing.

I finally opened a window to let the breeze in and I took a deep breath. The money bag was nearly empty and there were still more than ten ladies in line, mostly women from Burma. I quickly did some figuring and realized for the first time since we started this class almost a year ago, we would run out of money before we were able to buy something from everyone. There is a lot of racial division in the class among the different people groups and I knew this wouldn’t help. Taylor and I looked at each other and tried to figure out what went wrong with our calculations. We asked the remaining women to wait on one side of the room, while the other side filled up with women who wanted to sell extra things they had brought.

The language barrier is huge and it’s hard to explain that you have enough for some and not for others.

We didn’t have time to get to a bank and we still needed $220 to buy from those still in line.

It was tense.

We asked the volunteers with us if they had money and we collected $222 from those serving in the room. I took a deep sigh of relief when we paid the last lady –with $2 to spare.

Taylor wouldn’t be able to buy extra items and so we told the group of ladies with all their gorgeous scarves and practical dish cloths we were out of money and encouraged them to bring their stuff back to the next class.  By that point, I had a splitting headache and Taylor was crying.

Because changing the world for another person is a hard kind of beautiful. And some days the burden is overwhelming.

This is an Art Business Class. It’s an opportunity for refugee women to learn a skill for free and earn a little extra money. It’s education and business.

It’s also community. And most importantly, it’s an entry point for The Gospel. And we are beginning to see some beautiful testimonies of that.

But something unexpected happened in that stuffy room last Friday.

Usually at the end of the class, when we are out of money, everyone says their goodbyes.

But many of the refugee ladies sensed our stress, saw our tears, and watched us borrow money from our friends. And they responded. Not as customers or students, but as sisters.

One by one, the women took the beautiful scarves out of their bags and walked up to each of us–and placed them around our necks and hugged us, faces shining.

They had purchased the yarn and supplies with their own money and instead of waiting the next week to sell their creations, they turned them into gifts.

Multiple language barriers, racism, economic divides and am empty bank bag can’t stop gratitude.

Taylor asked me later, “Do you think the women know that my husband and I spend hours each week winding yarn balls and selling their products? Do you think the young moms in Kenya and all the women empowered through Fair Trade Friday know how hard you and your volunteerswork?”

Probably not, I said.  God knows and that’s what matters.

But with a lovely new scarf around my neck, I think I will change my answer.

Serving cost us something.

But the life-changing price of gratitude is worth it.

And even though none of us left with extra money that day, we were all a little richer.

A Promise to My Teenagers

It happened. Just like that.

My oldest is a teenager in high school and her brother is just months away from being a teen.

I love this season that has brought independence and humor, late nights and grown-up conversations. Its also ushered in an exhaustion that reminds me of the newborn days filled with worry and uncertainty.

When kids are little, we exert our authority over them. We can assert our will or at least put them in time out. But at some point, our authority decreases and our influence increases. It’s shifts from telling them to do the right thing in front of you to trusting they will do the right thing away from you.

It’s hard.

After a particularly rough parenting conversation the other day, Terrell and I were talking about this next phase– about the good we see and the challenges we will face.  I miss them being little, he said. And one day, we will miss this, I said.

Our kids are changing. And I can see that I need to change along with them. Every day our children move one step away from us and by this point in the journey, they feel like leaps towards adulthood.

Change is uncomfortable, but it’s normal. And I can hold them too tightly and kick and scream to keep things the same or I can grow with them.

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And so, I make this promise to my teens:

I will not beg, yell or force you to see things my way.

I will try to see things your way.

I won’t ask you to do something I won’t do.

I won’t pick a battle over things that don’t matter.

I will cry with you, even when you don’t see my tears.

I will wait up when I long to sleep.

I will pray when I want to worry.

I will give you privacy, when I want to intrude.

I will let you sleep until noon (occasionally).

I will hush when I want to talk.

I will apologize when I am wrong.

I will trust you.

I will get in your business if you’re in danger or if you make bad decisions.

I will ask questions that make you uncomfortable.

I will let you ask me questions that make me uncomfortable.

I will listen.

I will try to fight for you and not with you.

When the world expects you to fail, to fall away, to forget your roots, I will expect more.

And when you do fail, I will be the first one at your side.

I will love you no matter what.

Most of all, when I mess up and forget or break these promises, I will try again. We will try again.

No matter how tall you grow or how far you go, I am your mother.

I will be here.

What We Eat On Mondays and Why It Matters

We eat the same meal at home on Monday nights for dinner.

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We aren’t in a rut. It’s not gourmet and there aren’t any secret ingredients.

We are being intentional.

Most of the world doesn’t have the luxury of having a pantry and refrigerator full of food with dozens of options. Meat is for the wealthy and fruit is a delicacy.

What better way to remind our kids how much we have than through their bellies?

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We eat rice and beans every Monday, so we can remember how the rest of the world lives and eats.

Sometimes the best way to introduce a different perspective is by doing something different. And then repeating it often.

Recipe:

Cook brown rice, lightly salt, add fresh cilantro

Top with generous amount of black beans, seasoned with cumin.

Add fresh avocado.

It’s what we eat on Mondays. And it matters.

So. This Happened Today.

I thought I was just picking up ONE special person from the airport.

But she surprised me.

She brought a baby bump with her!

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Mercy House keeps growing.

Maureen arrived from Kenya for meetings, training and our first Mercy House Gala this weekend. I can’t wait to share how you can be a part of this very special event that will enable us to help girls all over the world.

 

How To Live a 2-Star Life in a 5-Star World

So. There are some things that go along with writing a book.

You know besides all the fame and truck loads of money. Heh.

Four months out and I still get weekly questions like, “How’s the book doing so far?” “How many copies have you sold?” “Has it been reviewed in a journal?” “How do you feel about it releasing the same time as five other blogger’s books?” And then suggestions “Maybe you should try to push it here… or Guest post there…”

These are not my favorite.

Because with every question comes a comparison of my book (which sometimes feels a lot like a comparison of me) lined up next to another book (which sometimes feels a lot like a comparison to another author). Although I know it’s my insecurities and not your questions.

And then there are reviews. Words people write about what you’ve written. It can be a lot of noise.

Most days, I waive off the questions and I forget to read the reviews. I handle questions like “So, is your book a success? ” with answers like “I wrote it out of obedience to God.” Because it’s true.

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With daily Mercy House tasks, writing obligations, overseeing Fair Trade Friday, and managing the massive amounts of laundry my family produces, I don’t have time to worry about it. I’ve said from the beginning, this book will do what it’s supposed to do (glorify God, I hope). I don’t have to sell my soul to sell books.

But then there are days I give into the pressure to compare book sales and mostly myself, to others.

These moments are also not my favorite.

Recently, I got my first 2- star review on Amazon. Sales on Amazon are a good general gauge for how your book is doing.  It was sandwiched between two very kind 5-star reviews, but guess which one was loudest?

It said something to the effect of “The 1st part of this book was very interesting and good to read. Then it turned into at least to me an infomercial on the needs of 3rd world countries…”

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I shared the review on my Facebook page, perhaps to satisfy my own need for approval, but I also found encouragement.

But it was words from a missionary friend living in Costa Rica that hit the mark:

She unwittingly gave you one of the best reviews ever. Lord, please let me live a two star life that turns into an infomercial for the needs of others on this earth so I can live a five star life with you forever. #twostars

And it has become my prayer too.

If I’m too busy listening to who the world says I am, I might miss the great I AM speaking.

Because if my goal in this life is to be known, how can I make Him known? 

It’s hard to look at Him when we’re busy looking at ourselves.

For me, success is easily wrapped up in writing and there are plenty of meters to let me know how I’m doing, I mean, how my books are doing. But the same truth applies in every career and situation. If we are comparing our parenting, our homes, our kids, our jobs to other people, we always end up feeling like we don’t measure up.

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How to live a 2-star life in a 5-star world: 

1. Keep our eyes on Him- we can only focus on one thing at a time

2. Don’t compare yourself to others-it skews our perception of truth

3. Live upside down-embrace the small

I’m learning that in this upside Kingdom where small is big and least is more-

Two stars is more than I thought.