Poverty and Social Exclusion

On Monday,  October 17th, the world will honor the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, a day marked in Parisian history at the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.   A day in history when living in extreme poverty was not only considered intolerable, but a violation of basic human rights.

This year’s theme as outlined by UN.org:

“Moving from humiliation and exclusion to participation: Ending poverty in all its forms”

What does it mean to live in poverty?

For a broad explanation of poverty click here  and learn the differences between absolute and relative poverty in the world.  For statistical information check out this link from the United Nations about poverty reduction accomplishments since the 1990’s and the current  17 Sustainable Development Goals, the first of which is to eradicate extreme poverty by the year 2030.   (extreme poverty defined as living on less than  $1.25 a day in developing countries.)

“By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance.”

When the word poverty arises, the mind is wired to think of financial hardship.  But the definition of poverty reaches far wider, and includes any insufficiency or lack.  Poverty of imagination, poverty of spirit, and poverty of purpose and passion are examples of poverty that less frequently surface when the mind is prompted.

Last summer, while living in Uganda, I vividly recall incredibly spirited women going about day to day routines, so grateful for life, for opportunities to succeed, opportunities to earn a living, opportunities to become integrated into the community’s social fabric.

Here is a thought-provoking excerpt on the subject of humiliation and shame that people living in poverty face, and the interrelated issues that arise as a consequence.    I may be dating myself, but when I read this excerpt, I thought about the movie Pretty in Pink with Molly Ringwald, and her handmade prom dress.  She suffered humiliation at school because she couldn’t afford things that her classmates enjoyed, like new clothing.

The author continues to write about humiliation and shame leading to social exclusion, and that is a profound realization.   How painful and mentally defeating to live in those circumstances, wanting desperately to escape, but too ashamed to ask for the necessary help fearful of disdain and disapproval.  We can and must do better than that.

Importance of Social Connection

As humans, we are wired for connection.  Togetherness. Community.

A sense of belonging.

The reality facing many people living in extreme poverty in the world is social isolation.  The world can become incredibly small, and power entirely out of reach when living a marginalized life.  Poverty, through it’s complicated and interconnected web of causes, forces victims into a cycle of isolation, disempowerment, and withdrawal.

How do we make a difference when the the numbers seem so large? How do we reconcile our efforts in the face of the staggering statistic that over 1 billion people live in poverty?  We remember the quote by Mother Theresa and we choose action.

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.  But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Monday, on October 17th from 6-7pm,  I welcome you to my home to join hands in the poverty eradication efforts underway by nonprofit BeadforLife.  I will have tables full of handmade recycled paper jewelry  from Uganda to appreciate or purchase, with all proceeds funding their incredible work.   I look forward to sharing photographs of the women enrolled in the programs so you will feel a personal connection and understand the tremendous impact your support has in their lives.    We will #standinlove and ignite potential around the world!

This will be a special day of exchange, honoring those living in poverty, and connecting with their beautifully rich spirits.

Let’s be drops in the ocean together.

Remember to wear your beads on Monday!  Use hashtag #standinlove and #beadforlife to show your support!

xo Jen

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 Using Talents for Great Purpose: Reflections from the Heart of Cajun Country.

What a great way to start a new week here in Lafayette, Louisiana: learning what it means to be a “bringer“.

Inspired by his love for golden retrievers, natural bringers, local Crossroads Church lead pastor Pastor Jeff Ables delivered the final part of a compelling series on “Bringers” to his congregation yesterday.

What is a bringer?

Someone who uses their God-given gifts and talents in service to others.   In a nutshell: being a Bringer is being useful.

In a crowded church auditorium, the air heavy with silent prayers and unanswered questions, the local Lafayette congregation shared seats and smiles with Samaritan’s Purse volunteers joining in joyful singing and praise.

Singing the chorus , “God is on the move, on the move, hallelujah!  God is on the move is many mighty ways..” folks raised their hands in joint surrender with grateful hearts, remembering that their mighty maker has not forgotten their needs.

We are asked to bring not only  our offerings to God, but also our praises.  We are created to praise.  In good times and bad.  And our praise, reminded Pastor Jeff,  is to “be sincere, sacrificial, and sanctioned”. 

It’s day 8 on the ground and I have seen people “bringing it” to southern Louisiana.

Welcome Alert Academy Volunteers

To date, over 200 dedicated volunteers from all over the US have passed through Crossroads Church to serve with Samaritan’s Purse, accumulating over 3,000 volunteer hours in the Lafayette community. Yesterday, I spoke with a young man part of  a 14-member team from Alert Academy– an organization started by a home school father in 1994.  A cross between a military boot camp and Christian diaster response training,  ALERT (Air, Land, Emergency Response Team) young men arrived ready to bring it.  He shared his passion for serving and wants to model behaviors he hopes others will want to emulate.

7 members of the 14 person A.L.E.R.T team serving in Lafayette, La.

 

Redemption Bringers

Krystal McKee, a 31 year old daughter of Lafayette residents Kathy and Greg McKee, decided to bring it after she discovered her parents home flooded the weekend of August 13th.  Greg, an active lineman for the electric company, traveled to Missouri to work on downed power lines from severe storms in the area.  Wanting to surprise him on his birthday, the family piled into a car and drove north the morning the rains began to fall.

Krystal and her husband were the first responders to the single story home inundated Saturday by the rising flood waters.  Now program directors for Teen Challenge, an 18 month program ministering to teens with life interrupting  addictions, they bear witness to the power of redemption and recovery.

In 2013, the young couple had hit their lowest point. Rampant drug and alcohol abuse ripped their marriage apart and resulted in the custody loss of their two children. Mom Kathy, after Krystal’s 6th arrest and incarceration for prescription drug use and possession, heard about Teen Challenge on the local SOS radio station and pleaded with her daughter to enroll.

Fast forward to December 2015, the couple reunites as graduates of the program and regain custody of their two children in addition to restoring their broken marriage.  Most impressively, Krystal and her husband featured below now head programs for troubled teens at the local Lafayette branch of Teen Challenge.

In efforts to quickly respond to her parent’s devastated home, Krystal rounded up a team of  Teen Challenge volunteers to help salvage belongings from the home,  paying forward the kindness and unconditional parental love she received for so many years during her years of addiction .

As Mom Kathy proudly shared this powerful testimony, her two boxers remained by her side .  Trixie, 6, and Zeke, 4.  A week before the flood hit Zeke was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It has taken over his lymph nodes- giving him 6 months to live.

Trixie on the left, and Zeke on the right watch as Samaritan’s Purse volunteers join for prayer in the garage after work completed.

Family members Kari, Kyler, and Kaleb joined mom Kathy and the volunteers in a customary prayer circle that concludes each and every  clean up mission with Samaritan’s Purse.


Hope was brought to the McKee family, and Kathy hopes her story will bring hope to those suffering with family members with addictions.

What do you have to bring?

Have you identified your spiritual Gifts? How may these gifts be used in conjunction with your talents to bring hope into your community and personal spheres of influence?

Join us in today’s prayer circle:


Stand in Love,

Ephesians 6:10-20

Jennifer ❤️❤️❤️

Releasing the Grip of Perfectionism.

Greetings friends!

Inspired by this Olympic headline of Michael Phelps’ record breaking 20th and 21st gold medals on Tuesday, I reflected back to this weekend’s powerfully delivered message on sloth by Shawn Williams, part of series entitled The Seven Deadly Sins.  Riding the rhythmic waves of Maurice Ravel’s orchestral movement “Bolero”  this morning, watching a hummingbird perched on a treetop while sipping coffee from my favorite Cafe Du Monde mug out back, I pondered the following question:  What, if any, is the connection between perfectionism, performance, and sloth?   Are there areas in my life where I let these dispositions get out of balance? Let’s discover together.

Perfectionism.

Every couple of years, we have the opportunity to be heartened  by the world’s top performing athletes in a variety of disciplines, competing in the game of their lives for a chance to earn the coveted symbol of recognition, the gold medal.  Or maybe they compete for competition’s sake.  The way a bird sings because it has a song, and the way writers share stories because their internal experiences beg for cathartic release.   The amount of  pre-televised event blood, sweat, and  training tears pass largely unnoticed by the viewing public.  I have a deep sense of appreciation for the athletes, and the level of dedication it required to get to the Olympic arena in the first place.   What does it take to perform at this kind of level?  What is inside of them compelling this passionate drive? 

Webster’s dictionary defines perfectionism as: ” A predilection for setting extremely high standards and being displeased with anything less; an instance of excellence”.    Are Olympic athletes perfectionists by nature or just high performers?  Perfectionism is a highly researched topic and the overwhelming majority of evidence presents it in a negative light.  Perfectionism  creates an impenetrable, hard-edged shadow around its victims , like an insect trapped in a spider web, leading to anxiety and depression.

There is strong evidence suggesting a deep, shared desire by  Olympic athletes torwards achieving excellence, as well as a presumption of willingly  sacrificing a sense of normalcy  for a life characterized by disciplined eating, training, and sleeping schedules.   Do athletes have feelings of isolation?  Do they wonder if it’s all worth it in the end, despite the results on the scoreboard?  Do we suffer from perfectionism at times,  hindering our ability to move forward, preventing the innate joy and freedom in taking chances and falling softly on the clouds of grace, carried by wings of courage?   Is it perfectionism or performance that has brought us to our current place? Are we content in this place?

Performance.

Performance mentality, rather than perfectionist mentality, writes Sharon Gilmour-Glover, co-founder of Light-Core allows for self-growth, and recognizes a job well done by others.  Having a performance mentality means we continually strive to do a better job, while being inspired by others.  Failure, and fear of it, inhibits our growth at high levels of competition, Sharon writes.  It may serve in low levels of competition, encouraging us onward,  but becomes an adversary when we are surrounded by a tougher, higher-caliber playing field.   Olympic athletes must adopt performance mentalities in order to compete at the highest levels.  Embracing a performance mentality means we are actively learning, and allowing grace to fill the steps or missteps along our path like shining stars illuminating the universe.

One the polar opposite side of the spectrum of perfectionism is our two or three-toed friend, Sloth.

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While the sloth looks cute and cuddly, his characteristicly slow nature lures us in like a sticky trap catching us if we are not on guard. Sloth, viewed through the life application lens, means choosing the easiest route, rather than fighting for what is best.  Sloth breeds inactivity.  It clings to complacency.   Sloth is the nemesis of performance and  antithesis of perfection.

I loved Shawn’s points on Sunday:

Sloth is about playing it easy, versus accepting the invitation towards greatness.

Sloth is inaction towards the most important thing God wants us to do. It causes us to pass over needs, avoid reconciling relationships, and keeps us from vulnerability.

Sloth leaves us with feelings of emptiness, a dullness of heart, rendering us spiritually apathetic.  Spiritual growth is not found in our comfort zones.  It happens in the places where we take risks, stepping out of our comfort and becoming wholly dependent on God.  This is when He does the greatest work in us and our journey.”

See the connection?  If perfectionism prevents progress, performance moves us in a forward direction guided by our positive inspirations, and sloth locks us in chains of contentment with status quo, what is the thread tying these three together?

COURAGE.

It takes courage to find the landing-place of grace.   Courage to have faith. We must have courage to release perfection’s vice-like grip, courage to positively support others while trusting in our own rising talent, and courage to check in with ourselves occasionally to assure we are not falling into sloth’s unproductive, non fruit-bearing way of life.

We have the opportunity to perform daily, to carry out great acts of kindness, and risk taking steps of incredible courage.   Performance can be as easy as giving your smile unconditionally to strangers, offering two armed hugs to everyone you meet, or making the best darn bowl of spaghetti you know how to for your family.  Our performance, less it be doomed from the start,  should not be measured against the ultra elite or ideal standard, sending us into a sloth-like state when we don’t measure up.

Our performance, rather,  is to be embraced in the present moment, in what Dan Sullivan, founder of the Strategic Coach refers to as the Reverse Gap Concept – looking at where we are now, compared to where we were, enjoying the progress we have already made rather than looking ahead at what we have not yet accomplished.

Rather than allowing ourselves to go through life, let’s allow life to go through us!

Has watching the Olympics impacted your thought process?  Have a thought you would like to share, please leave in the comments! I would love to hear form you!

Jen xoxo

 

 

Embracing your inner child

Hello friends!

I write to you this afternoon balancing on a brightly colored green stability ball… desiring a playful, mobile seat, as well as a fresh perspective from which to share with you today!  I think the temps in Las Vegas have been in the 115-117 degrees the past few days- sure to  challenge even the most committed of positive thinkers.  If I were to use Tony Robbins’ “Transformational Vocabulary”, I’d call it ” just a tad bit warm out today!”

(Rolling on my green ball laughing enthusiastically).

As some of you know, I thoroughly enjoy reading… especially non-fiction, psychology and self development themed books.  I honestly believe there are not enough hours in our lifetime to read all the greatness that exists!  I love sharing this info with you, as I trust there are some of you who can relate or share with a friend or family member that may benefit from the message.

There has been a reoccurring theme in the pages of a few books I’ve recently finished encouraging me to discover a bit more of the child within.    Seems life, if we lose awareness,  has a tendency to become routine, drab, and downright uninspiring, holding us and our creativity prisoner behind locked bars of cast-iron rigidity.   We have fallen into  auto-pilot making decisions and behaving in a manner controlled by our thinking mind instead of operating from a place of conscious awareness– the present moment- our essence.  This  co-mingling of our minds with our identity, easily clouds our thinking and will gladly assume control over us rather than aiding us on our journey towards freedom from suffering.

In the opening chapters of Eckhart Tolle’s  The Power of Now, he shares this insight on observing thoughts and emotions in our mind:

One of the main tasks of the mind is to fight or remove that emotional pain, which is one of the reasons for its incessant activity, but all it can ever achieve is to cover it up temporarily. In fact, the harder the mind struggles to get rid of the pain, the greater the pain.  The mind can never find the solution, nor can if afford to allow you to find the solution, because it is itself an intrinsic part of the ‘problem’.

This is very interesting to ponder.  Stop and think about that for a second.

He goes on to suggest we may delight in being aware of this thought process in our mind, and act merely as an “observer” of these thoughts.  Recognizing that we are not our thoughts.   Ego is a distinct persona- separate from our true selves.   In other words, we are not our minds.

So how do we disidentify with this mind that seeks to dominate our thinking, propelling  us continually into the  false realities of the future or reeling us backwards into the antagonizing imagery and pain of our pasts?   Tolle continues to say,

“That by learning to rest in states of being- Love, Joy, and Peace, rather than emotional states (happy, angry, anxious, irritated, etc. ) we are able to avoid being part of the dualistic mind, which are subject to the law of opposites- and usually are short lived pleasures, perpetuating the pain/pleasure cycle. “

In summary, we focus on the NOW.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, if any of you suffer from an over active mind contemplating everything that may be, (future projections) along with everything that ever was (past grievances), you will undoubtedly find yourself in a state of mental and physical exhaustion.  I speak from experience.  This brain has an ingrained habit of recycling emotions, overanalyzing situations,  and causing unnecessary stress to the physical body.

Guilty as charged.

Time for a little self-check.  What is your mind doing to you? Serving you or using you like a wheel on a Tour-de-France cyclists’ bicycle-spinning and undulating hundreds of revolutions per minute along with the same recurring thoughts.

Time to interrupt the pattern.

You can decide to make new ones. All it takes is a decision, and what marvelous power there is in decision-making!  (thank you Tony Robbins for emphasizing this distinction!)

I’ve been blessed to spend time with a couple of friends lately, one of whom had a baby just 10 weeks ago.   We agreed  ( read – DECIDED) an overnight , girls-only slumber party involving deep connection would awaken our inner child and remind us how incredibly grateful we are to enjoy the abundant pleasure of each others’ company.    With Hannah-endearingly nicknamed Jumping Bean thanks to her world-traveling, adventurous parents- we giggled and embraced the grounding effects that a newborn baby brings.

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We prepared and feasted on a palate pleasing dinner of baked eggplant and zucchini lasagna layered with a richly textured northern bean and spinach filling.  Angela Liddon at www.ohsheglows.com, you continue to amaze me! Love your recipes and thank you for sharing with the world! (your really have to try this, it’s simply de-LISH!)

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How might you embrace your inner child this week?  What does letting go a little look like to you?  Is there something new you have always wanted to try, but felt silly or too embarrassed to start?  A new way of cooking? A dance or exercise class?  Trying your hand at a musical instrument, maybe volunteering in a child-friendly environment…. Calling a friend, or downloading a chic-flick and having a good old-fashioned slumber party- and yes, I’m talking with blankets and pillows on the floor!! Old school-  It is AWESOME, and I promise the deep engagement will make the lack of sleep well worth it!  Give yourself permission to create NEW habits!  Interrupt the patterns keeping you tied in a knot of monotony!  It feels so good!

Take this thought with you:

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Here’s to all the connections that happen!

Please share how you let your inner child loose in the comments!  We learn best from each other!

Standing in love with you all!!

xoxo Jennifer

 

 

 

 

Salutations Summer Solstice

Thanks to a story shared by Ph.D Melissa Carver on LinkedIn this morning via chopra.com I arrived at a deeper understanding of this radiant and illuminating time of year.  The word Solstice means “to stand still“, loosely translated.  Sol, Latin for “sun“, and sto– meaning       “stand” from sisto, “I stand still“, both from Proto-Indo-European roots.

Defined by Webster’s as “either of the two times when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator”, this day of lengthly sunlight and energy brings us to an introspective place of standing in awareness of our surroundings.  “Observance and Awareness bring us closer to gratitude, and closer to self”, writes Dr. Carver, and gives us a chance to develop new intentions through these observations at a deeper level than before.

It’s an absolute gift to appreciate your surroundings.  Noticing subtle movements all around as you stand in the center of them.  These moments of contemplation provide a vast space for us to tap into our tightly held, almost automatic belief systems and ask ourselves “Why do we believe the things we believe?”  “From where did these references come?  “Are my beliefs empowering, or disempowering?  If disempowering, have courage to ask yourself how these beliefs formed, and how you would like to change these beliefs.

Harness the masculine energy and duration of the sun’s immense heat and light today and let it guide you into a warming thought process.  Allow this  penetrating process to open your mind to infinite possibilities.  Choose to decide you are the creator of your destiny by the choices you make.  Embrace this inner strength, let it reach deep into the core of your being.

Want to learn more about expanding the POWER of your brain and unleashing the bridled thoughts of your mind?  These two books give you permission to draw on your inner strength and question what may be holding you back on your journey of bliss:

“The Code of the Extraordinary Mind” by Vishen Lakhiani  and “Awaken the Giant Within” by Tony Robbins.

What intentions will you set today for yourself and the world?

Share in the comments, as this is an open forum for learning from one another!

 

Pedestrian Observations

“Our main business is not to see what lies dimly ahead, but to do what lies clearly at hand”- Thomas Carlyle

There is something euphoric about arriving at a destination by foot.

 Why?  

The richness of experience and revelations that exist between two points….

Case in point, today’s urban hike into town for a piping-hot cup of dark roast coffee and eventual jaunt to REI to research sleeping bags for the next big adventure.  (hiking Macchu Pichu’s Inca Trail-  a wish-list destination, at which, I prefer to arrive by foot. )

Urban hiking.. a freshly added “no fees attached” recreational activity  … loosely defined as get out of your house and walk somewhere interesting…see what you discover .  This may not sound like a new phenomenon.   You may be thinking to yourself, “… people live in cities, bustling to and from by foot, bus, taxi, and all other sorts of public transport.”  While that’s true, I think the percentage of Las Vegans living on my side of town commuting this way remains quite small.   And while hiking is popular here, it’s generally directed west, towards the Red Rock conservation area.

Today’s suburban expedition led me to the discovery of the RTC’s city bus timetable, and piqued an interest into commuting to work via public transport  for a change.  Feels like traveling for some reason, rather than commuting.  Traveling on a journey takes many forms.   As I passed a bus stop on my left, I looked down and noticed 3 poinsettias and 3 prayer candles in a mini vigil  presumably to a lost loved one.   The wicks were burning brightly, suggesting I may have just missed intersecting someone sorrowfully ruminating their loss.    On another part of today’s journey, I was able to stop and smell the roses outside a cast iron gate entrance to a perfectly manicured golf course I pass by in my car daily.  Smelling fresh ivory and magenta colored roses growing wildly in the desert in January counts as simple abundance in my book.  I tucked that experience in my mental backpack along with unanswered questions such as ” I wonder how many people ride the public bus here for work?  How much does it cost to ride the bus these days?  Could I try to get to the strip on this route? ”  Carrying on, I reminisced about  those impressionable  junior high days I relied on the public bus for transport to school while my parents worked hard morning to night to provide for my brother and me.    I then contemplated if  I had ever noticed these roses while in my car at that familiar intersection stoplight.

Ever notice on a walk in your neighborhood how the bushes will stretch their limbs north-facing in order to catch a glimpse and bathe in the afternoon sun passing overhead mid-late morning?   So beautiful to behold nature’s silent conversations and it’s ceaseless intricacies.

After a 9 mile round trip trek around town today, I am particularly interested in exploring with you the differences in the experience of consuming a cup of coffee at a Starbucks, versus a McDonalds.  Understandably, geography plays a part.  I am speaking about these two particular shops near my home.

Today I chose to unpack my day-off arsenal of books, sharpies, index cards, and spiral notebook on the outdoor terrace area at Starbucks.  Having just schlepped into town on a cold morning, my body temperature was up, and I profited by sitting in the direct sunlight at an empty patio table for two.  Meanwhile, inside the bustling ,iconic coffee house,  I was struck by the multitude of business people, cyclists, computers, I-pads/phones/pods, and the energy circulating all around me.    I listened to two men conversing in French, their words like music in my ears,  behind me as I stood in line, a line much shorter than the one full of cars in the drive through.  Hip music playing, fresh coffee brewing, employees buzzing, guests working, typing, and talking… it was a complete 180  in terms of experience from the day prior at Mc D’s.

There,  as I sat in an old formica pebble stone topped booth, I was confronted with the realities and prevalence of poverty.   A homeless man I see routinely was seated across from me,  with his bicycle parked outside the front sliding screen doors.  Reading and journaling, I have grown accustomed to tuning out the noise of his video games or songs that blare haphazardly.   We both don knit caps over our heads to keep warm, and are both sipping a cup of freshly brewed and rather affordable cup of coffee, comparatively speaking.  What I love about the McDonald’s experience is that each time I choose to have coffee there, I am able to bear witness to all of God’s wonderfully unique creations.   The woman and her husband having breakfast turning to the other homeless man and regular visitor behind them asking , “are you hungry?  Would you like something to eat? Would you like hotcakes?”    Or the man in his warm ups that shows up for breakfast at the same time each morning, who gives a sack of food to the homeless man sitting in front of me.   Sometimes, they talk, and the stranger takes a seat with the homeless man and engages in conversation with him about how to use the phone or whatever else he may have in his possession at the time.   My heart feels FULL when I see the young hourly paid employees coming over to ask guests, including the homeless, if they need refills on water or coffee.  After all, they are paying guests too.

I love to sit and partake of this shared human experience.   Listening to the old folks newspaper crinkling as they turn it’s black and white pages while discussing loudly their closest friend’s most recent doctor’s appointment results.   Or ….witnessing acts of generosity.  Reminded me of the “pay it forward” movement that takes place in drive through lines at Starbucks… when you randomly pay for the order of the person behind you.  While this is a great demonstration of sharing and giving, it is not likely that the person behind you who drove in their car to pay $4.00 or more  for a coffee is in need financially of the gift.    The person who is in financial need, is the homeless man or woman with his own two feet as his sole mode of transport.  The man or woman who falls asleep in the booth after a  hot and filling meal of hotcakes, sausages, and eggs… getting rest, warmth, and replenishment after a long, cold night outside.   The socially rejected and avoided men and women who, being human, crave interaction with others too…. say hello, offer to buy a coffee or a meal inside.. or just give a bag of food.    It is all about perspective…  the big breakfast that “has so many calories” for one, may be  a life -sustaining meal for another.  Let’s pay that forward.

The beauty of today’s journey lies in the pulsating, penetrating heart of man.   Bearing witness to the love inside of each us… and the cravings we all have to share that love with others.    May your feet guide you always on the path toward love.  May you continuously choose love for others, and experience the richest spiritual rewards.

Have you witnessed amazing acts of love?  Please share, I’d love to hear your story!

*pardon the lack of the accent over the “a”… my keyboard is speaking without french accents at the moment… *


Roadside vigil


Homeless man receives meal
 

Grace, Generosity, and forGIVEness

…..try not to let your circumstances define who you are, rather let God define who you are in those circumstances.”  – Pastor Jud Wilhite 

Welcome 2016.

Thank you 2015.

Thank you for all the reminders, the trials, the unforgettable opportunities to learn from the smorgasbord of events taking place in the past 365 days.

January 1st, a new beginning.   I delighted in an awakening walk into town for a hot,creamy cup of coffee at McDonalds to start the new year.  They have the best .99 cent cup of coffee around, not to mention the free entertainment of people watching… especially teenage boys the morning after a long New Year’s Eve night celebrating.  The vibrant and penetrating sun shining on my sun-screened  and sunglasses- protected face… gloves, hat, scarf, and vest all fastened snugly providing a warm and intimate barrier against the 34 degree desert chill, I walked leisurely  a few miles to the neighborhood golden arches.  Walking outdoors is natural therapy, and provides great opportunity for insight and contemplation.   As cars bustled past on a busy 6 -laned street, I stole hellos from strangers on the sidewalk, heading to unknown destinations.  “Happy New Year!”, I greeted each passerby with a sincere smile.

It is easy to fall prey to the limiting belief that we are our circumstances in life, rather than understanding that we are humans, striving for connection.  We are lovers of people.  We crave community, and we delight in unity.   We are imperfect creations living in a world of complicated circumstances, but we are LOVE.  We are light.  We are meant to shine, to share, to seek out the lost and brokenhearted.   Our souls define beauty, not our surroundings, and contrary to mainstream media,  certainly not our facades.

I was reminded of a valuable lesson about the glories of pain at the close of 2015.  Lessons, as Dale Carnegie shares in his  book “Stop Worrying, and Start Living” are rarely new, merely reminders of that which we already know.   He goes on to write, ” you won’t find anything new in it (this book), but you will find much that is generally not applied. …  We already know enough to lead perfect lives…. our trouble is not ignorance, but inaction.”   Having to undergo an emergency root canal a week before Christmas while continuing to work during the busiest retail time of the year reassured me of a few things:

Pain and suffering are not indefinite.  Relief is on the way.

Pain and suffering are disguised gifts, and often result in the reminders  of life’s simplest pleasures.

Pain and suffering, while seemingly impossible to endure, have the power to deliver us to places of peace and present numerous gifts of gratitude.    All you have to do is CHOOSE to receive these gifts.

Stand still in love.  Love’s beauty abounds.

The bird whose love, a song,  it is to sing.

The poet whose love it is to find his words engraved in the hearts of lovers.

The woman, whose love she discovers, is to seek connection and find purpose in the mundane interactions in life.

Sing your song, write  or relish in romantic refrains, and discover your essence and beauty in the eyes of God.

 

Art in the Park raises thousands for BeadforLife

It’s a cool, dark morning and the desert rain is falling swiftly as I sit on my rocking chair on my patio.  The smell of desert rain is so refreshing.  Satisfying, and awakening.  Summer has finally decided to depart from the valley, and this quiet storm is proof that fall has come to stay.  As I sip a cup of  dark roast hot coffee lightened slightly with fresh cream, in my pajamas, I recall the flash rain storms in Uganda towards the end of my visit this summer.   A certain hush fell over the city during the rain, as the tropical heat was replaced with cooler temps.  A welcome reprieve for farmers- nourishing the lush vegetation of the fertile land; a nuisance for the many living in mud homes or corrugated tin shelters dotted with openings just large enough to wreak havoc on the once dry interior.

Rain brings refreshment.  Renewal.  Reminders.

This weekend, my folks and I had the opportunity to share the story of BeadforLife with thousands of people attending the largest juried arts festival in the southwest, aptly named Art in the Park, as tents dot the green parks of downtown Boulder City like sheep in a pasture.  Our quaint 10x 10 foot white walled tent the perfect canvas for an African marketplace transformation!  It’s no coincidence that this is the same size of the average Ugandan home- reminding me of the relative nature of ” necessity”.

There is something magical about BeadforLife jewelry, and the spirit filling the space inside and around our tent.  Colorful,  hand made works of recycled paper art crafted by women so desperately seeking an end to their cycle of generational poverty provided our landscape for 48 hours.  I recalled lessons learned in Mutungo’s Street Business School about being resourceful and using available possessions- the most important being your own creativity.  I turned plastic buckets into stools, and tree branches from my front yard into decorative garland breathing life into our space.   I delighted in slip covering two ordinary folding chairs with brightly colored and characteristically patterned  dresses from Malawi donated by BeadforLife supporter and  friend Lynn.   Mom and I agreed we didn’t need to buy anything for our event and used items from home in creative ways, just like the enterprising women of Uganda.

We hung Annet’s palm branch mat ( her story from Bulogo women’s group a previous post) as a natural frame for Beamdforlife’s banner on the tent’s rear wall,  reminding us all that hard work and determination mixed with repeated measures of faith and discipline produce unimaginable results.

Thanks to the many first time visitors to BeadforLife as well as the friends and supporters who attended last year, we raised over $3,700 this weekend!  I’m grateful to my parents- both 70 years young, for helping me set up and account for all the sales!  This event is truly a blessing on many levels!

Every day 22,000 children around the world living in extreme poverty die of hunger.  Children grow up in homes and do not have access to education- including public schools for lack of school fees and basic supplies like shoes and pencils.   Orphans wander the streets and slums dreaming of a place to call home.   These are a few of the things I witnessed first hand while working in Uganda , and they remain the motivating realities which drive my advocacy.

Seven months ago, I joined a small committee to help BeadforLife  expand the Street Business School program.  This 6 month mobile classroom places entrepreneurial training and skills into the hands of the poorest, most vulnerable women in Uganda.   The goal is to replicate this training module worldwide- empowering 1 million women with the tools of self- sufficiency.   I believe in the promise of this program, and I support the program’s co-founder and leader- Devin Hibbard.

I invite you to join in the “Ignite One Million” campaign and consider the impact your donation will have on the lives of it’s participants.   You may donate directly at vegas.ignite1million.org

One month from today on November 4th from 6-8 pm MJ Christensen diamonds will host its 6th annual Runway for Life event benefiting BeadforLife.  Come meet Devin- cofounder, and join us as we embrace the dream of Igniting One Million women worldwide out of extreme poverty.     Rsvp@mjcdiamonds.com

“Nothing changes if nothing changes. ”

I have a young boy with autism at Art in the Park this weekend selling buttons to remind me of this fact.

Trifecta of Inspiration

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Mutungo women in SBS 12 team up in preparation for group presentations.

I have always loved the number 3.   As a professional in the fine jewelry industry, symbolism is everything.   Deeper meaning to be found with every number, every color, and each and every aspect of an object- tangible or intangible.

As I reflect back on my insightful first two days in the village of Mutungo with BeadforLife’s 12th Street Business School cohort, I am amazed at the fundamental principles and the manner in which they are taught to women at the base of the economic pyramid.   Women whose daily earnings average between $.60- $1.25 a day before the 6 month entrepreneurial training sessions.   As I sat at the side of the make-shift classroom of over 75 women , I observed so many things that grabbed my attention- causing me to pause, and take a mental snapshot in my mind.   Things like the number of children, some showing signs of Kwashiokor- a common type of protein deficiency seen in children living in third world countries- sitting on their mother’s lap quietly while she focuses on absorbing the life-lifting content from Rachel, Clare, and Joanita- the dedicated, hardworking, and compassionate trainers of the Street Business School program.   I noticed that this mobile classroom was in effect a local village church, which seemed the most appropriate setting for the trainings which began with some combination of a dance circle followed by the most lovely group song of praise, which I have listened to over and over on a recorded video since experiencing the joy in the room that day.   The spirit just filled the air after the women thanked God for the day, and for the blessings He has bestowed on each and every one of them.  I could just feel the shift in the air, a peace swirling around with the heavenliest of scents.

The first session I attended focused on the concept of finding capital and starting small.   For homework the previous session,  the women were asked to bring in an item they could use for capital to launch their small business.   This was like a show and tell of sorts, and really changed my perspective on what it takes to get a small business off the ground.  As the women were being encouraged to think of themselves as the fundamental capital generator- not the capital itself, I thought about the challenge this poses to women who are so desperately lacking in self- confidence- a result of living in extreme poverty and the interwoven web of difficulty this encompasses for their entire lives.    Imagine asking a middle aged woman with no more than a primary school education,  with 3-6 children in tow to believe that she is the most important factor in starting her own business and changing her life forever.  She, not the money, will be the starting point.  Her idea, her belief in her business and belief in herself.   This was incredibly awe-inspiring to witness this level of teaching, engagement, and the level of belief  BeadforLife has in the implementation of it’s proven, tailored entrepreneurial training model.   Thanks to my kind-hearted and lovable Luganda translator and BeadforLife colleague, Coach Clare, I quickly copied into one of my spiral bound notebooks the powerful message given by Coach Rachel to the group.  “I want you to be different, to start a change in your family today.  You are not poor.  Your head is poor.  Unless you understand that capital is you, you will not succeed!”  Coach Rachel stands about an inch over five feet tall, petite as can be, beautiful braids in her hair with fuchsia colored tips dressed in an ankle length skirt and cardigan set carefully chosen that morning to present her best self in the most professional light to the group.   Her strength maintaining the attention of such a robust congregation is a fine example of the phrase, ” where there’s a will, there’s a way.”   The fortitude in her voice, compassion in her heart, and life-force in her aura captured my heart, compelling me to share it with you all.    These three coaches working together as a team to improve the lives of women who would otherwise be written off will forever stay with me, and it is truly an honor  to share with you how dedicated they truly are, not to mention the stamina they possess to go into the field and repeat this work day in and day out.   It is not easy.  My hat goes off to each and every field-worker in the world.  Having walked a few weeks in their shoes, they are now my unsung heroes.

As stated by BeadforLife:

“We believe strongly that entrepreneurship; particularly female entrepreneurship, has a critical role to play in driving economic growth, reducing poverty, creating self-sufficiency and solving some of the the large scale development problems we are facing.  Our Street Business School is designed to reduce poverty by supporting female entrepreneurs in their development of self-sustaining micro enterprises and enabling them to become agents of their own change.”

Adapted from the proven 18 month “Beads to Business” model which focuses on income generating opportunities through the creation of and sale of recycled paper beaded jewelry sold in international markets, the Street Business School was born.  The school has 3 core components- taken from the Beads to Business program- including a rigorous selection process, tailored business content adapted for small-scale start ups in developing nations, and a focus on relationship building and mentoring.   The beauty of the Street Business School model is it’s scalability.  It is not dependent on outside markets for growth, and allows for an increased enrollment of women at a lower cost per participant.   These two holistic programs envision the poorest of women empowered and enabled to start sustainable business ventures rooted in the local economy.

I appreciated each aspect for different reasons, but something about the mentoring stood out to me.   There is a beautiful, mutual respect between trainers and participants in the Street Business Program as is evidenced by the use of the appellation “coach”.   Each woman believing she has something valuable to learn from the other.  What a lovely sign of respect, and shared humanity.   I found myself humbled- as I , too, was learning about business training.  It felt like I was a participant in the class, not an observer.  I was a participant.

To end the 3 hour session, a previous Street Business School graduate with thriving businesses shares her story in front of the group- reinforcing the efficacy of the teaching, as well as creating buy-in by current enrollees.   I listened as Hadijah Kirombe stood up in front of the class and gave a detailed account how she was able to lift herself from poverty as a direct result of the trainings she received- offered at no charge by BeadforLife.    Hadijah shared how her life had been transformed.  She began by selling off 30,000 UGS worth of unused, discarded items she had been holding on to, and invested that money into materials allowing her to weave beautiful Nubian style mats.   Moving from door to door and within various markets, a skill referred to as ” kutembeya”, Hadijah began to have a steady stream of income.  She stressed, ” as a single mother, I  didn’t undermine any job. Each time the trainers spoke to me they spoke to my heart, to me directly… as if I needed to hear it in order to change.”   Addija continued to impress upon the class with her detailed explanations of exactly how she managed to turn the tides of poverty away from her.  She now sells mushrooms, makes her own briquettes, weaves intricate “katinge” mats, and has taught her children to knit- so they can help create products for her to sell which will in turn be used to fund their school fees!  Addija then shared how she travels to local prisons and purchases hand made bags made by the incarcerated women, and resells them along with her other wares.  How impressive to see her willingness to give back after all she has been through.

As the session concluded, Hadijah left with the group with a nugget to consider,

Try to keep your emotions balanced.  When bad things take place, be happy- and keep on going…..  and be sure to use them [your children] as often as possible to help you- teach them your skills.”  

May you be inspired by Hadija, the coaches, and yourself to begin a venture you never dreamed possible.   Remember:  Start Small.   Start with you.

To see a photo of Hadijah and learn how you can invest in a member of the Street Business School for as little as $46, please click here:  http://vegas.ignite1million.org

Harsh Realities of Life in the Developing World.

Greetings from plot 96 on Bunyoni Rd, Kataza district Kampala, Uganda! Finished up a load of hand washing as the morning rain finally ceased and the sun will shine for exactly 4 and a half more hours- just long enough to take the heavy dampness off my two boldly printed, safety pinned waistband maxi skirts and pair of light weight cotton pajamas drying on the rusted metal clothes line we share with the neighboring apartment housing two brilliant young sisters- both university graduates still seeking employment opportunities after two years.  Seems the complexities of my first three weeks in Uganda- and first time in sub Saharan Africa have finally brought me to a moment of deep contemplation, even fearful realizations I had to address. I am writing from the comfort of my humble abode today, recognizing the need to hit the “pause and process” button on my African adventure transistor radio. Monday’s completed field visit to Bulogo women’s group was the pinnacle of this “Awakening” – an expression I borrow from shame researcher and author, Brenee Brown. I returned late that evening after a difficult return trip stuck in hours of typical rush hour “jams” as they are called here. The nights can grow so dim, literally no street lights, only the burning flames of small kerosene lamps aglow lighting small tables of smoked fish, unrefrigerated meats, fruit and vegetable stands, and the scent of burning piles of rubbish in the air thick and heavy with the darkness of night. The traffic in Kampala hits a head in the am for three hours and at night for at least 3 hours. The city streets are literally gridlocked- with cars, matatus, bodas, cyclists, and people scrambling for a place to inch forward. I liken crossing one of these streets to a human game of “Frogger” – without the slightest bit of exaggeration in the analogy.

It was bound to hit me- the wall. And so yesterday morning brought me to a halt. I landed in Uganda and have remained a human funnel – wide at the top desiring to take in as many fluid experiences as I possibly could these first 3 weeks that I was like a cheerfully colored latex birthday party balloon gorging down air filling to the widest stretches of itself before bursting in excess – in my case – emotional overload. I sat paralyzed at my desk in the inventory room shared by a young American named Steve, and began to think I may not be able to handle any more. My arms and neck stayed stiff like boards, hands felt like jittery fingers in the middle of a cold winter’s day. The “clip clip clip ” of the gardener’s shears on the bushes outside my office were literally fraying my nerves. I grabbed my phone, plugged in the little white earbuds and attempted to drown out the surfacing feelings with some orchestral Italian harp music I downloaded in the early hours the morning of my departure from home- unable to sleep. Recognizing the signs of anxiety- I reached for two things- my phone and two calming homeopathic sleep tablets called Calms Forte. Unsuccessfully skyping my husband and parents with whom I had not communicated in two days – for lack of wifi access- I had to follow the normal self- soothing protocol and realize this time was bound to come and was totally normal.

Today’s working from “home” has allowed me to experience tremendous insight into my work here, as well as space to process the varied experiences so far. I think I arrived in Uganda with my ” wow this is all novel! ” lenses, then transitioned to ” hmmm, that’s odd but I understand its part of life here”, to ” oh my word, life is just so difficult here, and I am totally overwhelmed by the daily realities for so many Ugandans” lenses. Humans don’t share much in common with these transition lenses outside of the different cast of light they let in your frame of view. I am learning and experiencing the time- consuming tasks of hand washing, line drying, and ironing every piece to be sure to singe any trace of mango fly eggs that were hatched on your damp clothing – lest you forget and it buries itself and hatches underneath your skin like it did to our neighbor Lee the week we arrived- requiring a small incision to be made to remove the worm under her skin that had grown.

I am learning to allow myself to feel the raw feelings of fear – as they relate to embracing change and accepting discomfort. Living with roaches, armies of ants, geckos on the walls, mosquitoes everywhere, all while viewing the injustices all around of people living in abject poverty will take it’s toll. Each day for the past 3 weeks as I leave the iron gate of my compound in Kataza and walk down Bunyoni road to begin my Teva- sandaled trek to work, I am confronted with the horrible realities of life in the developing world. I have lived and worked abroad in Israel, and various places in Europe for extended periods of time, but none of those trips would be able to properly prepare me for the sights I would witness in sub-Saharan Africa. I’d love to be able to insert more specific and startling statistics on things like the lack of indoor plumbing and running water data,or the rates of incidence of untreated bronchial infections in women and children due to daily cooking over and inhaling charcoal fumes, in the country- which I know would be astounding, however I very quickly became used to the fact that I do not have instant access to wifi when and wherever I want.

Today’s quiet day allowed me to reflect and write stories on the members of Bulogo Womens group. Space to process. Space to pause and to revisit my commitment of coming here in the first place. Humanity is a shared experience- this is proven to me over and over again as I make it through another day on the ground.
I love the write up by Tara Sophia Mohr called, “10 Rules for Brilliant Women”.  
Rule #1: Make a pact. 
She writes, ” No one else is going to build the life you want for you. No one else will even be able to completely understand it. The most amazing souls will show up to cheer you on along the way, but this is your game. Make a pact to be in it with yourself for the long haul, as your own supportive friend at every step of the way.” 
This piece of advice aligns with the core messaging of the Street Business School training I attended in Mutungo last week with the 12th enrolled class of over 75 women and some of their children. YOU are the business. YOU are the capital. YOU must believe in the power YOU have in YOU and make a commitment, a pact, with yourself and trust in it’s potential.
I challenge you to think about a pact you would like to make with yourself. What would it look like? What would it say? What would be the impact of this self commitment? Know it may be scary along the way, but in retrospect, an adventure worth the risk it took to get there!
Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to be transparent and real with my thoughts- we don’t help anyone by acting like we have it all together all of the time- vulnerability and truth lead to connectivity!
Make a pact to implement a small change and share with someone you love!