Pillar 6 of Brain Health: Medical Health

“Every time you learn a new fact or skill, you change your brain; This is called neuroplasticity”- Lara Boyd, Ph.D

Welcome back Stand In Lovers!  It’s a gorgeous overcast morning in Las Vegas, and I am writing to you from a chic, local coffee shop in Las Vegas called Sambalatte enjoying a decaf espresso with a toothpick swirl of Italian-sourced lemon essential oil on the rim, European style! (One of many fringe benefits of running an essential oil business!).  The owner of the shop is Brazilian, and has incredible passion for coffee!   Enjoying some Balance essential oil on my wrists to keep me focused, grounded, and ready for the day!  My friend and memory expert Jim Kwik always reminds me: “When you win the morning, you win the day!”  

Congratulations for making it to the 6th Pillar of Brain Health!  Your brain is an amazing supercomputer, and my goal of sharing this 6-part series with you is to inspire you to think differently, challenge you to question the origin of your thoughts, encourage you to replace a habit that is no longer serving you, and to open up your mind to the endless possibilities this life has to offer right now if you simply allow your mind to accept the invitation.

Subconscious Mind

Did you know your subconscious mind controls nearly 90% of your thoughts?  I recently attended a mind-challenging Breakthrough Belief Training with master NLP practitioner Roger Webb  and this point stuck in my head:  Your subconscious mind is a genie who says, “Your wish is my command” to every thought we feed it.  Translation:  Be mindful of your thoughts, because your subconscious mind will happily and automatically capture them and respond with “Your wish is my command!”.  Make your thoughts work for you, not against you!  #yes #youcan.

If you are joining Stand In Love for the first time, welcome!  We are SO glad you joined the community!  Over the past 5 weeks we have been exploring the Cleveland Clinic’s 6 Pillars of Brain Health learning tools to support our 3 pound universe.  While today is the final post in this particular series, I challenge you to go back and commit to considering a tiny behavior change in any one of the pillars!

Risk Factors

According to the Cleveland Clinic, a variety of medical conditions are strongly linked to the decline of brain function.   Below is an overview of the 7 Risks to be managed for increased vitality and overall  health and wellness:

( For my essential oil tips, please note: The official FDA disclaimer states: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.” )

Hypertension

• Cut down on salt (less than one teaspoon a day).
• Check your blood pressure regularly.
• Keep active.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Take your medication.
• Aim to keep blood pressure under 120/80 mmHg.

  • Stand In Love tip:  Try using essential oils like Ylang Ylang to help reduce the affects of daily stress and provide antioxidant support. * Massage a few drops onto the back of your neck or rub directly over the heart.  Bonus: this intense and incredibly complicated oil is part of a co-impact sourcing initiative helping create capacity for farmers and distillers in Madagascar! My husband enjoys this oil daily!

Diabetes/Obesity

• Avoid white sugar, white flour and hydrogenated fat.
• Eat more fiber.
• Eat some protein with every meal.
• Control portion size.
• Exercise for at least 30 minutes 5 times a week.
• Include aerobic, strength, flexibility and balance

  • Stand In Love tip: Try Slim & Sassy- the Metabolic Blend to help you manage hunger cravings, promote healthy digestion, and calm your stomach.*  I like to place a few drops in water daily to help manage undesirable cravings.  (I am an emotional eater, so this is SUPER helpful for me, and I think you will find the same to be true if you or someone you know struggles with this.) More on this topic in future posts, I can’t wait!

High Cholesterol

• Take cholesterol lowering medications when prescribed.
• Control other risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity as advised by your doctor.

  • Stand In Love tip:  Consider supplementing to get the proper nutrition, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and antioxidant support commonly missing in the standard diet–even one that is based primarily on whole foods.   My husband and I have been using the Life Long Vitality program for over a month now and are enjoying the multitude of health benefits including increased energy, and an overall sense of wellbeing.   Truly amazing how supporting your body from the inside-out effects everything you do!

Head Injury

• Protect yourself from falls.
• Prevent injury from vehicle crashes by wearing your seat belt.
• Wear a helmet when biking or playing sports.

  • Stand In Love tip: Roll on some In Tune- Focus Blend before a hobby or activity that may have inherent risk.  The mix of Amyris, Patchouli, Frankincense, Lime, Ylang Ylang, Hawaiian Sandalwood, and Roman Chamomile help sustain a sense of focus, and supports those who have difficulty paying attention and staying on task.  (confession: This is me 150%- I should really consider showering in In Tune- ha!)

Depression

• Stay socially connected.
• Seek medical treatment.

  • Stand In Love tip:  Try one of the Emotional Aromatherapy oils. I absolutely ADORE these oils as they contain proprietary blends that target emotional health benefits.  Safe for the entire family and daily applications.  The best part of these oils is that they help balance and brighten your mood and help you change your state of mind.  Available in a convenient roll-ons diluted with fractionated coconut oil for easy on the go application, or in pure essential oil 5ml bottles.  I like to wear Peace- the Reassuring Blend daily as perfume.  Once you try these oils, you will have a hard time returning to perfumes or artificial scents.  They are truly gifts of nature for our enjoyment! The collection contains Cheer, Motivate, Peace, Console, Forgive, and Passion: They are expertly combined blends to support specific emotional needs. (Did I stress how much I LOVE these oils?).

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Smoking

• Quit.
• Cut down with a goal of quitting.
• Seek medical treatment or group support.

  • Stand In Love tip:  try a drop of Black Pepper essential oil under your tongue daily.  Not only can this oil be used in cooking applications, it contains important antioxidants, helps maintain healthy circulation, and soothes anxious feelings when diffused or inhaled directly. *
    *The official FDA disclaimer states: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.”

Neuroplasticity Defined

Did you know that your brain actually changes when you learn something new or try something different?  Watch this super short 11 second video below to see for yourself!  This is neuroplasticity in action! How cool is that?  Simply changing a habit or finding a new way of thinking actually creates new neural pathways in your brain and is GOOD for you! Please allow me to repeat this:  Switching the way you think, the way you work, the way you eat, the habits you have allowed – can all be changed, AND are good for your brain!  Behavior change is a SKILL and you can acquire it!  Want to know your brain health, take this quiz to find out!

 

Thanks for joining the conversation Stand In Lovers!  It’s so great having this community available for all to connect around the world!   #standinlove #share #love #together

 

Jennifer Miller is a Las Vegas based writer, doTERRA wellness advocate, and business coach for global NGO BeadforLife.  Her passions include: serving people, inspiring ideas, and helping others live their purpose.  For more inspiration on beginning your essential oil journey, click here

3 Tips for Whole-Hearted Living

“The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” – Julia Cameron

Hello friends of StandinLove!  If this is your first visit to the blog, I would like to welcome you!  So glad you popped in!
This is a creative place where people from around the world gather in connection.  It is about People | Ideas | Purpose.    StandinLove represents  3 words and 1 purpose.  The S from Stand is for Serving People.  The I from in is for Inspiring and Inviting Ideas.  The L from Love is Living your Purpose.    How do we SIL?  Connection, Engagement, and Encouragement.   On that note, I am beyond grateful for the group success of this weekend’s Share the Love connection event!

The purpose?  Invite friends new and old into the BeadforLife circle to share our hearts over good old-fashioned cups of hot Ugandan black tea.  The ambience was just right.  The rains descended from a cloudy desert sky, providing a much-needed shower to the dry and dusty landscape.  We filled our cups, and together, imagined we sat alongside the makers of the beautifully rolled recycled paper jewelry that brought us all together Saturday afternoon.   What I appreciated most about this particular small-group gathering is the realization that the women came together not just for the BeadforLife jewelry, but to connect with one another out of a deep desire to be a part of something larger than themselves.  It was beautiful to behold.  We collectively raised over $900 for BeadforLife, which will send 3.28 deeply impoverished women to the Street Business School– a 6 month entrepreneurial training program taught in mobile classroom environments in Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, and Kenya!

Sharing thoughts and viewpoints on subjects we currently enjoy, we practiced something friendship expert and author Shasta Nelson refers to as frientimacy.  I offered a few insights from inspiring writers who have influenced my passion for living each day with whole-hearted intention.

What does it mean to live with your whole heart? Let’s discover 3 simple ways we can start connecting with our whole hearts today, in honor of February 13th: Self-Love Day!

Live Passionately.

What makes your heart sing?  What makes it difficult to go to bed at night and makes you jump out of bed first thing in the morning?  Enjoying a favorite variety of coffee?  Spending time with friends and loved ones?   Refurbishing a well-loved piece of furniture? Organizing your ideas for a new business venture?  Checking a life goal off the bucket list?  Creating visions for future opportunities? Overcoming life challenges with bravery and courage? Learning something new? Influencing others with your creativity?

To live passionately is to live life creatively:  To unlock, unblock, and unleash your creative genius.    Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has been a staple in learning environments around the world.  One of her many tips to rediscovering passion and creativity in your life is enjoying what she refers to as an Artist’s Date.  This solo rendezvous is designed to replenish your creativity bucket as well as connect you to the things you appreciate most in life.  A walk in the park admiring nature, a trip to your favorite shop, or maybe a drive to a remote location to experience peace and tranquility.  Cameron recommends choosing activities involving all the senses to maximize the creative potential.  Intentionally focusing on what you smell, hear, touch, see, and taste feels incredibly invigorating!

Love Compassionately.

Best-selling author Richard Bolles discusses more than just career transitions in            What Color is Your Parachute.   Whether you are embarking on a new career, entering retirement, or in the middle of a life transition, he takes you on a journey of self discovery, helping you identify your unique talents and gifts with the goal of sharing them with people at home, in the workplace, and in the world.   After completing the detailed, self-reflective  7-petal exercise he concludes with this thought-provoking observation, ” The more you ponder the mystery of you, the more you must ponder the mystery of all those you encounter; every loved one, every friend, every acquaintance, every stranger.” 

Incredibly profound if you stop to consider the implications.  The more we come to understand ourselves at our core, the better we will come to understand and appreciate others.   Why? Because if we truly honor and explore our unique preferences and creative talents, we will then create the opportunity to love others more deeply recognizing their specific talents and gifts.   This understanding of ourselves and others leads to increased compassion and allows our hearts to be full.   There is a reason this book has been a best-seller for over 45 years!

Give Generously.

In Rising Strong,  renowned author and shame researcher Brené Brown explores the concept of giving generous assumptions.  She looks at giving in terms of intangibles like forgiveness, empathy, and giving someone the benefit of the doubt.   The theory presumes  people are giving their very best at any given moment.  She says when we give someone the most generous assumption possible, we invite opportunities to connect on a deeper level.   I believe this plays a fundamental role in whole-hearted living, as it creates space for people to be human.  It grants permission to make mistakes.  It allows grace a seat at the table.  Giving generous assumptions about others helps quiet our own nagging, critical voice telling us to be perfect and releases others from expectations we have placed upon them.

When dealing with relational conflict she says, “What is the hypothesis of generosity? What is the most generous assumption you can make about this person’s intentions or what this person said?”

This notion of giving generous assumptions requires a little strength and a lot of courage.  It means we first have accept ourselves, so we understand how to practice with others.   It is difficult to give from a place of lack. When we give generous assumptions to ourselves, we silence the inner voice, we learn to trust ourselves, and we make room in our hearts.  Making room in your heart is a key component of whole-hearted living.  Creating space to love others.

Please share your thoughts in the comments on any of the reading selections, as well offer books you love that explore living and leading with your whole heart.  We all learn from each other in this beautiful circle of exchange!

Have a terrific week, and I look forward to connecting with you all again soon!

StandinLove,  Jennifer

PS.  BeadforLife is 50% off through the month of February.. if you have an idea or an event at which you would like to share BeadforLife, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to support you! 

 

 

 

 

Ragnarian Rapport Floods the Mohave Desert

What’s the best way to get to know someone?

Endure 24-36  hours temporarily crammed in a passenger van with 5 others, run 3-11 miles on adrenaline, sleep-maybe- and repeat twice.

What brings together road and trail warriors, often complete strangers, in one of the toughest overnight challenges offered in 19 of the most scenic locations across the United States?

Reebok’s Ragnar Relay.   A veritable test of endurance, collaboration, and will.

And what, pray tell, are the motivating factors that stir the hearts and soles of these participants known in Ragnar lingo as Ragnarians?  After spending an enthusiastic 3 days following teams PimpMyStride and SupaFupaTroopers, it was abundantly clear: Camaraderie, Challenge, and Conviction. 

I had heard of the wildly decorated team vans, the clanging of cheering cowbells, the colors of warrior-like painted faces, and the creativity of costumed runners, but admit I never explored the relational depths of such an undertaking.   A Ragnar Relay team consists of 12 runners divided into 2 vans with approximately 200 miles to cover in the span of 2 days and 1 night.  Each runner completes 3 of the 36 varying course segments accumulating a minimum of 12-13 miles.    6 people and 1 van is considered an ultra team, with each runner performing double duty and 26+ miles.   Intrigued by challenges involving endurance and mental fortitude, I decided to venture into the welcoming community of Ragnarians.  Thanks to a volunteer opportunity with the local police department and a gracious invitation on social media, I was afforded an insider’s glimpse.

Camraderie

Eager to share the Ragnar experience from the runner’s perspective, I met team captain and repeat Ragnarian Annie Pham of San Diego at her team’s strategic location, a rented Vegas mansion, for some pre-race interviews Thursday night.   Together with team Unsupervised Adults, we lounged on the back patio, under the glowing light of a low-hanging desert moon as teammates proffered their resolves for accepting this rigorous endeavor.   Christy, Kelly, and Claire expressed their appreciation of fostering new friendships within this united tribe of spirited adventurers.  “Running is usually a solo sport, ” said 13 time marathoner Claire, “but Ragnar gives you the opportunity to share your love of running in community.”  “It’s the togetherness, the friendships that form, the bonding that happens during an event like this that keeps me coming back, ” shared Kelly. “I’m a first timer,” said Christy, “and I am glad Kelly invited me for this amazing challenge .”  Annie’s impact as team leader was self-evident.  The meticulously planned and printed running time tables, scheduled wake-up calls, and the abundantly stocked kitchen mere hints of her exceptional leadership abilities.

Challenge

“I decided that before my 55th birthday in March of 2017, I would run a 1/2 marathon and compete in a Ragnar Relay,” said team member Rowan, a Dosimetrist from CA when I asked him why he chose to accept the call to run.   Rowan graciously admitted his status as a novice runner, highlighting his commitments to stay in shape and connect with others in a satisfying team environment.

Over 350 teams took the Ragnar Relay challenge in Vegas this year including groups from Central Christian Church, Hakkasan Group, and a local high school team from Henderson called the Coronado Sole Runners.   Some teams combined challenge with philanthropy, opting to add a fundraising component for their favorite charities.

In addition to the inherent course challenges (uphill climbs, knee-stressing descents,  fatigue, fear, and inescapable desert sun) was the relational challenge.   An interruption of all things comfortable:  space, sleeping arrangements, and status quo.  Teams carried the task of motivating each other, lifting spirits, and continuing to encourage weary and worn-out minds and legs that yes, they could finish the race set out before them.  They had to believe, even when the pain and struggles seemed impossible to overcome.

Conviction

Enter team 1: SupaFupaTroopers.   I met van 1 of team 1 at Exchange 3 of 36 in the middle of Lee Canyon Road, approximately 12 miles downhill from Mt. Charleston Snowboard and Ski Resort,  just off US95.   It was the first runner witnessed at our exchange that afternoon.  I grabbed my brass bell, dashed into the street cheering with ebullient enthusiasm as teammates Mark and Mark exchanged the slap bracelet– the Ragnar version of a relay baton.  Ranging in age from 17-41, this team not only lucked out getting their team number to be 1, they actually finished in first place!   Mark Bennett, a collegiate runner for Southern Utah University and 15:06 5k runner took the relay’s longest leg, an 11.1 mile run through the desert’s Joshua trees and thorn bushes on a trail of rocky gravel, the last 5 miles of which he said were an uphill battle .

I learned at the finish line late Saturday morning talking with the wife of one runner, that the team set a specific goal of finishing in under 24 hours.   As seasoned participants, this team held fast to the belief that they could and would accomplish this quest.   Together, they did.

Better Together

As a relational and community bonding event, Ragnar Relay rallies dreamers and conquerors to bring their best selves to a team to accomplish the goal.   With social media tags like #bettertogether, #innerWild, # chasethesun,  and #chasethemoon, it was clear that this experience had implications reaching far beyond the scope of running.  Thank you Ragnarians for sharing your culture and inspiring the notion that everything is achievable when you are in it together.    The impossible becomes possible, the unrealized turns to reality through the power and strength of togetherness.

 

 

 

Many parts, one body.

 “To love is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will become untreatable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable.”                      – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves 

At 7:40 am on Tuesday morning, I felt my own heart’s vulnerability as I clasped hands for the last pray out time with Suzanne, a Billy Graham chaplain from California, and Julietta, a beautiful, young, traveling nurse turned full-time office manager volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse, in a tightly knit circle of prayer.  Tears streamed down my face as I encountered the heartbreak that comes with leaving new friends behind and the joy of new beginnings unfolding amidst times of uncertainty.  I have never been great at goodbyes. Goodbyes are like litmus tests gauging the quality of an experience.  The deeper the connections and the more profound the interaction with others,  the harder the goodbye.  This was no easy goodbye.

I landed overwhelmed with gratitude, quieted by exhaustion, and spiritually renewed as I returned to life back home, life before witnessing the daily routines in an ongoing disaster area affecting over 100,000 southern Louisiana residents.  Undoubtedly, the experience varies from person to person; however, I believe one thing remains the same for each of us involved, and it is best summarized by the concise, poignant words of C.S. Lewis:

“You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.”

Wow, let that marinate for a minute.

After several hours in my favorite local coffee shop this morning unpacking my thoughts and fond memories, I returned home and retreated to the comfort and safety of my bedroom, shades pulled, bulldog and pug snoring on the dry floor beside me, with spiral notebooks, hard covered journals, colored index cards, an open student Bible given to me during a spiritually life-changing experience in France 17 years ago, highlighters, and all sorts of writing tools with which I attempt to catch passing thoughts and release to paper,  I paused to give praise, by way of tears of gladness, to the One who authored this experience.   I humbly realized that I did not decide to go to Louisiana, rather, God chose Louisiana to be a healing ground for me and for all the others who joined in the relief efforts.  God’s plans are immensely wider and His love runs profoundly deeper than our human minds will ever comprehend.  He chose this experience for each of us, knowing how to satisfy the longings of our souls.  This distinction keeps me in awe and wonder of our Maker.

Spiritual Gifts

Having spent several days a passenger in the backseat of Drew and Pat Alexander’s Subaru Outback to and from work sites each day, I gained a unique vantage point for witnessing their genuine love for each other as well as their deeply rooted passion for serving people in disaster situations.  Drew currently serves as pastor of Folcroft Union Church in addition to his volunteer work as chaplain of the local police and fire departments in Folcroft, Pennsylvania.  He and Pat, his amazingly strong and inspiring wife of 26 years, respond to both Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse deployments, and in the late nineties, they spent two years overseeing boarding school children of missionaries in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.  I asked them both what drives their volunteerism on a ride home from Abbeville, La. that Saturday afternoon.

“I believe we were given the gift of service“, he replied from behind the steering wheel in a low-toned voice likened to Tony Dungee’s by one fellow SP volunteer.   Drew went on to share the importance of using spiritual gifts, and emphasized the distinction between spiritual gifts and talents.  “Talents can frustrate“, said Drew, “but [using] gifts is refilling.  When we are not using our gifts, we feel stifled, stuck, and tend to stagnate.” 

As we returned back to our home-away-from- home, Crossroads Church– the welcoming  lighthouse location providing long-term shelter and much appreciated provisions for several dozens of overnight volunteers, I contemplated the masterful design of this Samaritan’s Purse (SP) team and all the gifts it had to offer to the residents of Louisiana, and to each other.

There were no coincidences on this trip.

God masterfully and purposefully painted the smallest details into this Lafayette team canvas with variegated brush strokes, each volunteer a vivid prism of color combined to form a rainbow palette of spiritual gifts to share.  As the apostle Paul states in his analogy of the church to a human body in 1 Corinthians 12:12 :

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” 

I likened the rest of this passage (vv 12-27) to the joint effort of volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse and Crossroads Church.   Today I jotted down a list of all the extraordinarily talented volunteers who made the experience possible, as well as the number of things that happened behind the scenes to keep such a large, long-term disaster relief operation running  smoothly.  I cannot say enough about the incredible stories of those with whom I had the privilege of serving.

While this list isn’t exhaustive, it allows the formation of a mental picture to accompany the “many parts, all one body” illustration.  Furthermore, it is intended to thank all of those who shared, knowingly or unknowingly, their spiritual gifts for the benefit the entire group.

Number of blessings

There’s a sales adage that goes, “the proof’s in the numbers“.

Let us, therefore, consider the numbers:

# of miles flown, # of miles driven , # of prayers lifted, # of circles gathered.  # of Bibles signed and gifted, # meals prepared, served, and shared, # of dishes washed, trips to the grocery store, and # of alarms going off at 3am.

# smiles, hugs, greetings to one another and to homeowners, # tools used, # hands hammering, pulling, lifting, # of sweat beads and tears shed, # dirty orange t-shirts washed each day, # devotions, chaplain prayers, and nightly debriefings. # of welcome visits, new orientation videos, and facilities tours, # squeegeed shower stall walls, lights out at 10, and after hours conversations in the hallways outside the sleeping quarters.

The # of times your body wanted you to rest, but your heart begged you to join one more conversation, stay up just one more hour.

# soaked drywall fragments removed, corners meticulously brushed and scraped, mold infested areas sprayed, and the # of personal effects carried to the curb.  # of lives intersected, laughs shared,  and songs sung.  # of stories told, pasts untold, hurts brought into the light, lives redeemed.  # false beliefs shattered, emotional and physical walls surrendered, # times mere strangers became close friends, and the # of encouragements that helped you make it through another day after difficult night of sleep. # of opportunities to share, to help, to give, and to learn, # of times we had to love our neighbor as ourselves and stand as living testimonies, and the # of times we had the chance to respond to the Gospel’s call to action.

Above all this, the # of times we humbly, without merit, received God’s grace and mercy, and felt his unending love fill our lungs with every breath. 

Thank you God, for providing this gift to us all.

Click here for serving opportunities in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, or Gonzales, Louisiana.  Samaritan’s Purse will be on the ground through the end of October at the earliest, serving the flood victims and their families until the need no longer remains.

Please enjoy this video tribute of my experience with this highly organized, thoughtful, and incredibly nurturing group of volunteers, leaders, and staff of Samaritan’s Purse.  I look forward to the next deployment, and throwing on my favorite orange t-shirt.

Stand in Love,

Jen

 

 

 

 

 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 ❤️❤️❤️

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
 

The Face of Micro Enterprise: Becka Babwairani

Becka Babwairani in front of produce stand
Becka Babwairani in front of produce stand

Have you ever wondered what it looks like to have a small business in a developing nation?  Please allow me to introduce you to Becka Babwairani, a 45 year old mother of 5 girls in Uganda.  Her husband left her 3 years ago because she was unable to produce a boy for him.  Left to her own devices to support a growing and needy family, she worked as a digger on a nearby farm.    After attending BeadforLife’s Street Business School training in Bulogo with the Bulogo Women’s Group, Becka learned she had the potential to be one savvy entrepreneur!  Pictured above with her sweet snacking bananas, eggs from chickens she rears, as well as cooking oil she sells for as little as a tablespoons at a time (100-200 UGS about .05$).   Becka started her business selling cooking oil, a Ugandan staple, bit by bit.  Gradually, she reinvested profits to grow and expand her businesses that also include a small retail shop in the front room of her home, where she sells g-nuts (local nut similar to a peanut, used to make a delicious sauce poured over cooked beans)  biscuits, laundry soap, sugar, and other small commodities.   While we were talking, a young boy stopped to buy some bananas and she instructed one of her beautiful daughters to “be sure to put that money in the banana business compartment”.   Becka keeps track of her businesses separately, a result of the bookkeeping training session.  She understands the fundamental business principles of ROI, and is now empowered to monitor the individual successes of her small businesses.   Seated on a simple hand hewn wooden bench with 3 of her girls, Left to right: Lovinsa 18, Sylvia 15, Gloria 7, and her grandson Jeffrey on her lap, she shared with us ripple effect her training is having on her community, in particular her faith community.  According to Becka, she has started a “hunger” for education and business training in her church community, and feels fortunate to be a testimony of change and access to training and opportunity.

“Faith plays a very important role in business,”  shared Becka, ” you do not cheat your business, you must be honest and fair about pricing, and you will reap the benefits.”

It didn’t stop there, Becka later on shared in her story that her goal is to move to the larger town of Nmendwa in order to further expand her businesses.   As the leader in her home, and a leader in her church, Becka seeks to provide the best for her families, modeling a hard work ethic for her 4 girls whom she hopes to keep in school and continue to provide for their school fees- a right reserved for those with income capacity.

I am drawing near the end of Maya Angelou’s autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings“, and have been contemplating the power of education.   Through her incredibly descriptive account of her life’s hardships, I have been afforded a glimpse into the history of racial discrimination, been exposed to a wealth of rich vocabulary, and have pondered the transformational impacts of educating women.   Each causing me to reflect, research, and mull them over in my relentlessly analytical mind.  Maya, like Becka, displayed a level of determination in life that is driven from within, from a place of deep-rooted injustices caused to her, and makes the choice to overcome.

” Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently”- Maya Angelou

Becka holding grandson Jeffrey,  with daughters Lovinsa, Sylvia, and Gloria
Becka holding grandson Jeffrey, with daughters Lovinsa, Sylvia, and Gloria
Becka's small retail shop
Becka’s small retail shop
selling to neighborhood client
selling to neighborhood client

Never underestimate your own or another’s potential.

For more information on how you can help deliver the promise of opportunity to a woman living in extreme poverty in Uganda, please click the link below!

Tomorrow the “Ignite One Million” campaign will go public!

http://vegas.ignite1million.org

http://www.beadforlife.org

Street Business School Insight: A Trip to Mutungo Village. 

Obwavu Bye Bye!  “Goodbye poverty!” in Luganda.

Over the course of the past two days I have witnessed the heart and soul of BeadforLife’s holistic poverty eradication model here in Uganda.  Yesterday, ” Standard Group” arrived one by one, having traveled great distances on overcrowded roadways to meet the 9:30 am sale start time. At the call of ” circle”… ( drumbeat- dum dum dum dum…) circle…. Da dum , dum dum… Circle!” The women mobilize for a short time of refreshing, and a chance to sing, dance, and clear their minds of all their troubles and worries for just a short while. Babies resting on hand woven mats in the humid equatorial sun, while their mommas experience an uplifting and engaging social group activity. Each of the 35 women belonging to Standard Group has a unique and captivating story to tell. While time didn’t permit me to speak with them all, their smiles and expressions told so much. The truth is easy to find in the gaze of one’s eyes. I’ve come to appreciate this silent communication.

I liken BeadforLife’s role in the communities to that of a shepherd, gathering the flock who have gone astray, left behind, and in need of guidance and leadership backed by love and genuine concern. Each group of women are hand selected to participate in the 18 month Beads to Business program or the shorter- condensed 6 month Street Business School program.

Today I visited the village of Mutungo- transport to which required a ride in a matatu as well as a Boda Boda in the interior of the village. Today’s session lead by 3 of BeadforLife’s entrepreneurial training staff ( Rachael, Clare, and Joanita) took place inside of the local church. I peeked into the boarded up space with simple roof and saw rows and rows of plastic white chairs, and one easel at the front of the class. On the wall hung three tear sheets reviewing yesterday’s lesson on the 4 P’s – in addition to the notes from session #1. Women arrived with supplies in hand, babies on their hips, and hope in their hearts! In the customary manner, we formed a circle and moved around singing and dancing like school children. I took my seat next to coach Clare, located at the front left side of the classroom, who acted as my Luganda- English translator and immediately started taking detailed notes. This highly customized and researched curriculum is based on core components which serve to engage, empower, and substantially improve the economic independence of these women holding no more than a 5th grade education.

On average, Street Business School members earn less than $0.60 per day and many earn 1/2 of that. This means they are unable to afford school fees for their children, they may not understand the rights to land ownership, nor are they aware of how they deserve to be treated as accepted members of the community.

Beatrice is one of these women. Both Beatrice and her 17 year old daughter Maureen attended today’s session with hopes of transformation. Maureen sat in the front row, so eager to learn and write down each and every word from the trainer’s mouth. Maureen, you see,  stopped going to school at the age of 12-13 at the conclusion of primary school. In order to continue to secondary school, fees are required for supplies and exams- fees her widowed mother of 15 years, Beatrice, could not afford. Having merely a primary school education herself, Beatrice makes her living selling raw sugar cane stalks to local children. Once a week, she walks about an hour to collect over 23kilograms of raw stalks and transports it on the top of her head all the way back to her village. She nets approximately 1,000 Ugandan schillings a week profit- or about $0.29 – a WEEK.

Following the training, I was invited into Beatrice’s home, along with her daughter Maureen and we talked about her dreams for her new business and how she could realize the potential inside of her. Reminded by the training earlier that day, she scanned through ideas while Joanita patiently and so precisely translated for me. We all giggled in this 10 x10 sq foot home with only a thin sheet hung as a front door. Naturally, we purchased a sugar cane stick from her and I sampled what I like to refer to as a “Ugandan lollipop”! Biting down on the coarse, fibrous stalk – you have to slurp out the little bit of sugary sweet liquid that is extracted when squeezed.
Maureen sat closely to me on the couch, her head curled up snugly on my left shoulder the entire visit. By the end of our visit, a crowd of neighbors and village children arrived at the front door peering in to see what all the commotion was! We were praising God and praying for blessings to come to Mutungo village. Laughing heartily, we moved outside of the dark, cooler interior of her home and outside into the bright sunshine.

Two doors down, we were invited into Rose’s home- a much smaller, less structured little home built of timber. Squatting down to enter her tiny front door, my eyes were greeted by two small beds, a dirt floor covered in blankets, and a small sitting chair. Rose has 4 children, and they all live with her in this space. Mosquito nets hung from the low tin roof, and we took a seat and listened as she shared her business with us. Unlike Beatrice, Rose has a steady stream of income selling cold sodas and waters in public gathering places such as matatu stops. I noticed in the corner of one of the beds, a heaping pile of belongings behind a sheet draped 1/2 way from the rear- forming a little partition. This was the extent of her belongings- her children’s few pieces of torn and tattered clothing, a cleaning rag or two, and a water can. Rose walks to fetch clean water. Her youngest daughter named JenRose- thin as a rail- introduced herself to me in English and caused the entire room to roar in laughter! In hysterics laughing, they were so impressed with her courage and inhibition. I am sure this moment created memories we will all cherish for a lifetime.
BeadforLife is the shepherd.

Destitute, down trodden women the sheep.
As this day draws to an end, I am reminded of the message in this week’s church bulletin on Faith, Hope, and Love.

       ” Those who know they don’t know it all, find it easy to believe. People who can’t control tomorrow find it easy to hope. People who have nothing to give but themselves, find it easy to love.”

This last sentence helped me understand why Maureen nestled so closely to me during our home visit. Love is what she has to offer to me, and how sweet the feeling!
To engage and help ignite 1 million women out of poverty through entrepreneurial training and mentoring, please prayerfully consider a donation by clicking here:  vegas.ignite1million.org

Love and blessings to you all!

From Kibiri to Mbuya

Greetings on a cloudy cool day of rest in Kampala!  Yesterday’s boda boda expedition was loads of fun! Riding sideways on the back of a motorcycle in a skirt while squeezing in between cars, matatus, and other boda drivers making their way through congested, uncontrolled streets proved nothing short of an amusement park ride!   What a blast!  For approximately 1.50$,  I made my way through town, sun hat blowing in the wind, backpack in tow.   I had planned to visit the two local malls in the downtown area, however after a quick walk through one, I craved a bit of a “local connection”.  I saw the Kibuli – pronounced chibuli – mosque atop of one of the many hills in Kampala.  As locals are very friendly, I asked how I could walk there for a visit.  They suggested I take another boda- as it was quite far and up a series of steep hills.  Perfect, I thought to myself, just what I love! A long walk! Ask my husband- he will tell you I will walk all day every day from morning till night!

I started up the winding red path past many beautiful locals gathering groceries from small fruit and vegetable stands.   The sights and smells of Kampala were all around me….. Women washing up laundry in small plastic basins bent over in front of their humble homes.  Young girls ages 7-9 with babies strapped to their backs helping out while mom was tending to cooking or fetching water.   I inhaled the comforting smell of matoke ( local plantains) steaming in banana leaves and water in a pot over charcoals.   As houses are so small and confined families are outside all day!  Kibuli village was bustling with people heading to and fro.  It is so lovely to see communities outside talking to each other every day!

After a visit to Kibuli mosque, and a climb up one of the minarets for a birds eye view of Kampala, I made my way back down the hill through town.  To my left was the most beautiful market where women were selling large bundles of matoke- as well as chickens and heaping piles of coal.  I hesitated to enter, knowing it was not my intention to buy 25lbs of the freshly chopped tree.   I followed my gut and entered into this little space to have a look and met the loveliest woman named Zaina, with her mother Naigaga.   They had just purchased a bundle for less than the price of .80$ – this would feed her family of 5 for four days if consumed for lunch and supper.  We exchanged pleasantries, and Zaina insisted I walk back up the hill to her home.  “It’s just across from Shell Kibuli”, she said.   See, in Uganda, as there are no street signs, people use landmarks like a petrol station or food stall to mark a location.  Hesitant to accept her offer, I politely declined.  She continued to insist, “please come to my home for just a short visit! “. I remembered my pre- departure promise to say “yes” to any reasonable invitation before me while on this journey.   Zaina and I walked hand in hand around the bend past roaming goats and pecking chickens with chicklets in tow.   The matoke was strapped to a bicycle seat and a man pushed the bicycle up the hill to her home to complete the purchase.

Upon arrival, she welcomed me on her front step, pulled out a chair and said “you are most welcome here!”  Soon, I was joined by her sister Namaganda- Amina, her daughter Sarah, as well as Zaina’s son Mosa.  Both children were nibbling on a pancake made from simple mashed matoke and maize flour- fried with the most inexpensive oil available.   Our experience was deeply engaged, and I promised I would return to share a meal with her at her home one day soon.    I left feeling so refreshed, and renewed, making this new connection in the Muslim quarter that is called Kibuli.  What a blessing it was to have this experience!  God is so amazing!

…… Today I celebrated in a mass in a neighborhood called Mbuya.   The service was in English, and I praised and worshipped with such a full and grateful heart!  I was the only Muzungu in the parish with the exception of a couple of nuns.  I loved how the choir was integrated into the congregation- all facing same direction as the focus was not to be on them, but rather on God- as reminded by the  priest.   We sang jubilantly in English and at times in Luganda.  We clapped after the gospel, and clapped again after one prayer- so thankful! I can’t wait to visit in other churches while I am here.  It’s such a raw, truly heartfelt experience to sit inside of this place, steaming hot, and see people dressed in their finest attire.  I noticed a young girl aged 4-5 walking in her mothers high heeled shoes, or maybe they were just hers- and the only shoes available at the market for her mother to buy for her.  She teetered in those oversized shoes, but was presenting her very best to God that day.   The need is so great everywhere, all you have to do is be present and look around.  I am asked daily when walking around where I am working and if I am able to find him or her a job.  Last night on the way to dinner, I was asked by a young woman if she could wash my clothes or clean my house in exchange for a little money as she has two children and her husband has just left her.    There are too many more stories to share on this subject and my experience in the past 4 days since I’ve been here.

Attached is a photo of me with Zaina (left), Mosa her son on my lap, and Namaganda Amina- her sister on my right.  This was taken on her front step.

Muslim quarter to Catholic Church —Kibuli to Mbuya— God has shown great love and acceptance!

Tomorrow is Bead sale #1 at the office! Will share the happenings soon!

To help ignite 1 million women out of extreme poverty, please donate to my goal at vegas.ignite1million.org

The funds will help scale BeadforLife’s Street Business School program here in Uganda and will be multiplied in countries worldwide!

With love and gratitude,  Jennifer