Foundations of Friendship

Today, I had the honor of experiencing first hand the great work and services offered at the Veterans Transition Resource Center (VTRC), a nonprofit collaborative partnership between Life After Active Duty and Veterans Care Foundation, created to help fill the gap in Veteran Services in Las Vegas.

Our Mission ~ To be a beacon, for our Military, Veterans and their families around the world, to help navigate the challenging obstacles from military life back to civilian life.

At the invitation of a friend, I accepted an opportunity to hear insights from friendship expert, Shasta Nelson, author, speaker, and founder of Girlfriendcircles.com.  Shasta shared years of research on the subject of friendships and the impacts on our health, stating ” We are experiencing an epidemic of unacknowledged loneliness.  More than anything, people desire to feel loved and supported.   Research shows that disconnection is the health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, even likened to the devastating effects suffered by those with addictions like alcohol.”  Point: loneliness, disconnection, and lack of a support network takes a toll on your mental and physical well-being.

This subject effects each and every one of us, not just veterans. Everyone needs friendships and support networks. What I appreciated most from her interactive talk with the group today, many of whom lost loved ones in active duty or are current care takers for loved ones, is that before we can learn how to be supported we must first understand what it means to be a friend.  Guys, this goes for you as well.

Three Components of Friendship

Friendship, she defined as:

Any relationship where two people feel satisfied, safe, and both people feel seen.

Shasta then drew a triangle on the white board in front of the group and shared the three most important components, requirements rather, for solid friendships to occur.

1. Positivity.

According to Shasta and her research, we should have a ratio of 5:1 for positive to negative interactions.    To be a good friend means sharing positively, impacting relationships in a healthy way.  This doesn’t mean we can’t share hurts and hangups in our lives with our friends, rather, it’s an opportunity for us to share where we are at to be truthful with our current situation and then offer something like, “I’m going through a rough time right now with work/ spouse/ (fill in the blank), but I’m so excited to be out meeting new people and building new friendships!”  Everyone likes to be around positive energy.

2. Consistency

We all know how hard it is to keep up with friends who live in different states, have different schedules, lifestyles, etc, but the key is connecting with regularity.  Even if it’s micro movements like calling each other at a set time each week or couple of weeks, or sending texts periodically, it’s keeping the contact consistent.   Shasta revealed that this is key for friendships, because consistency helps build trust between friends.  Helps instill the “safety” factor in the relationship.

She pointed out very keenly that this process of meeting people regularly happened as children when we were in school, and happens daily in the workplace.  There is a structure to the relationships, helping people bond more easily.  Things like deployments, church groups, university settings, and volunteerism place people in routines with consistent patterns, and naturally lead into the development of friendships.

3. Vulnerability

This is the component of friendship that Shasta says “makes us feel seen”.   Being vulnerable doesn’t necessarily mean we have to “vomit our vulnerability on new friends, rather, our level of vulnerability should increase incrementally with our consistency with that friend”.  As we see them more often and the friendship grows, we are able to increase our capacity to be vulnerable with them.

Vulnerability, according to Shasta, isn’t just sharing the hurting parts of our life, but can be translated as “initiating”.  When we ask someone to connect with us for a coffee, walk, or get together, we fear rejection and the very act of asking is being vulnerable.  It’s ok.  And it’s ok if we get a “no”.  That doesn’t mean we should feel rejected.

Self Assessment

At the conclusion of the session, Shasta challenged us to consider our friendships.  On a scale of 1-10, how supported do we feel in our friendships?  Are we putting too many expectations on the relationship and pushing that person away from us rather than drawing near?  What is missing in our friendships, and how can we improve ourselves to be better friends to someone else?

If positivity, consistency, and vulnerability are the three key ingredients to developing healthy friendships, what could I increase to improve the quality of my friendships?

My favorite takeaway was undoubtedly the following remark I believe hit home for every person in the audience.

Show up in beauty and light.

It’s not about finding the right person to be your friend, but fostering the right relationships you have.

Thank you Shasta Nelson for sharing your passion for friendships and connection with us today in the room.   Your heart emanates light and love.  I know I am not the only one who felt a connection with you.

To learn more about Shasta Nelson’s work, check out her published books on the subjects of friendship and connection.

What one word comes to your mind when you think of friendship?

Stand In Love,
Jennifer

 

 

 

 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 ❤️❤️❤️

Transitions in Orange

“We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. “- E.M. Forester

Transitions

Passages. Progressions. Shifts. Changes.

Developments. Alterations. Conversions. Transformations.

A beautiful bridge connecting two spaces: Here and There.  Then and Now.

The free flowing, often times grey expanse in between.  Not black, not white. No top, no bottom.  Just in the middle.  No beginning, no end.  Just Now.

Last week at a neighboring coffee shop, as I was enjoying a piping hot cup of dark roast Papua New Guinea blend swirled with enough half  & half to soften its robust flavor, in the delightful company of strangers, I realized transitions are ubiquitous; Teaching us, conditioning us that change is inevitable.   Our minds like antennas, if in tune to receive the signals, we empower ourselves to replace old, limiting beliefs with new, empowering ones. We invite change inside, to navigate a fresh, undulating path , and welcome the energy of endless possibility to manifest in our lives.  The choice is ours for the taking, and  the decision for the making.

Is your mind awake to hear this calling?   Or are you attached securely to what you know and fastened tightly to the belief that life couldn’t possibly offer rewards for you on the other side, let alone the proverbial greener grass we are taught to fear and told does not exist?  Have you dared to step out in faith, into the deep unknown, trusting your instincts and inner voice to guide you on your path towards your passions?  What do you have to lose? Better yet, what do you stand to gain?  What will it cost you in the long run if you deny your truth?  What if instead of searching for greener grass, you dream of a future in soothing shades of limitless blue skies?  Ever thought about creating your passion in vibrant, clementine hues of orange?  Maybe you decide to plan a sunshine journey in yellow intellect.  Or meditate in circles of purple, encouraging wholeness and unity with the universe.   If the stirring is inside of you, be courageous.  Be BOLD.  Trust your instincts.  Trust yourself.   Give yourself permission when no one else will.

“The journey of a thousand miles begin with one step”, as the saying goes.  What might this 1 step look like to you?   Would it unleash incredible potential, propelling you towards your passion?  Would taking a courageous step forward into the expansive world ignite a spark that would change your destiny forever?

If there is one thing I love , it’s the simple joy of discovery while on a journey.  The anticipation inherent in every adventure- namely, the people I have the pleasure of meeting along the way, sharing  circumstances, and connecting with in plain, yet profound ways.

Take for example, Charles, pictured below, whom I encountered while on a 13 mile trek to Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park, Montana during the summer of 2014.   Charles’ story is incredibly fascinating, and certainly inspiring!   I intersected Charles on a few different trails while hiking in the raw beauty this section of the park afforded.  On the 3rd encounter, I figured it time to ask his name and find out his story.  He shared that he had always wanted to hike this trail, but had fears about his ability to finish.  After losing his wife a short time prior that year, he decided in that moment, that NOW was the time to make the journey.  He stepped out into fear, the unknown, while guided by an inner light that told him to trust the process during his life transition.  May you, like Charles and like me, embrace the transition in which you find yourself.   Keep pressing onward.

IMG_4875
With Charles on Grinnel Glacier Hike Glacier National Park.

We are all on this journey of life together, interconnected.   May the lyrics of this song inspire your soul and give you a fresh reminder that we are already set free by the love of our eternal Creator!

I’m painting my life transition orange -inviting creativity and feeling in, and adding long brushstrokes of purple- connecting me to oneness with humanity, and the unifying, healing properties it embodies.  What color/s will you choose?

“Hope Now” by Addison Road.  Close your eyes and let the words penetrate your soul! You are so deeply loved! Stand in this love!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agnes and Lessons of Love

 We were together again, her dark almond shaped eyes, round dark brown cheeks and beautiful features smiling back at me….. The sight of maize growing in the fields in the distance, looking outside the window of the small brick home. The pigs tied up nearby, goats in ropes lower in the fields with their newborn babies learning to nurse. We were all together again and I could breathe.I was awakened by this dream this morning before sunrise at approximately 5:45 am. Reliving my visit with Agnes Kyarimpa in the small rural district called Lwamaggwa.
My journey to Lwamaggwa district began in the morning around 8 am when I was greeted by World Vision staff members Samuel and Barrack. I jumped into the back of the white Toyota 4 x 4 relief vehicle with a recently retired couple from New Zealand- named Malcolm and Jennifer. They were on a 10 week overland vacation through Africa and decided they would make it a priority to visit their children’s sponsored children while in Uganda and Tanzania. Jennifer, a retired 7th grade English school teacher, and her husband decided they would pack and haul over 50 kg of unused and beautiful private school uniforms to share with the two villages they planned to visit later that day. I was fortunate to have wonderful company on a good portion of this very long drive to just north of the Tanzanian border.

After a brief coffee and rest stop at the equator town of Kayabwe, we carried on to our next stop- the district of Rakai. The district was heavily impacted by the HIV and AIDS crisis in the mid 80’s, severely damaging the social fabric of the entire community. Many children are orphaned and families live in small brick homes with tin or thatched roofs. It is not uncommon to see children taking care of children in these poor rural areas. After visits with the local World Vision office and staff in Rakai, we headed off for our final destination- a tiny village in the county of Lwamaggwa. The towns grew smaller and increasingly remote, as we carried on down the red dirt pathway ahead. Looking out the passenger window, I noticed many things which made my mind race with curiosity. Questions loomed and thoughts lingered. People toting empty and heavily used plastic yellow gerry cans to bore holes to fill up with a day’s supply of water. It would be carried back home long distances at a weight of 30+ lbs to use for boiling water for beans, rice, or matoke and perhaps for a small load of washing up clothing soiled from a couple weeks worth of toiling in the sun tending a garden or other manual labor. The small brick homes and mini roadside businesses lining the streets of Lwamaggwa county along with the lush vegetation looked as though they were rendered in a sepia tone filter- the red dust applying a thick permanent copper tint.

As we drove deeper into the uneven and rolling hillside located near Lake Victoria, I became anxious to cast my eyes upon my beloved Agnes, whom Rusty and I have sponsored for a number of years through World Vision’s amazing child sponsorship program. We first approached her primary school as we climbed up on the hillside and entered her home town village. Dozens of uniformed school children carrying small plastic tubs earlier filled with the day’s serving of rice or starch, ran alongside the side of the World Vision truck waving their hands and smiling, offering the heartiest of welcome wishes!!

Running over maize fields on a bumpy forged path, we stopped in front of a small brick home about 150 yards downhill from the car. Rolling green hills dotted with banana trees in the distance, I jumped out of the truck and saw Agnes running up towards me to greet me!! We recognized each other’s faces immediately from the previous correspondences and photographs and embraced in the customary manner in this region! She is so beautiful!! “omuwala mulungi!” I exclaimed in Luganda- “beautiful girl!

She was out of breath from running and excited as she waited all day for us to arrive from Kampala! It was nearly 7 hours after our departure at this point. Her voice trembled a bit as it was a bit nerve racking meeting her sponsor for the very first time in person! I, too, was nervous and cautious not to smother her in affection- which differs in Ugandan cultures especially rural areas.

Letting Agnes take the lead, we approached her home where her petite mother in her late 40’s greeted me in the customary manner. They kneel down before guests and visitors to greet and show their sincerest appreciation for your travels and visit. This is very humbling and made me want to get down on my knees to be at the same level. I bowed down and hugged each of the family members visiting, including Agnes’s eldest sister who traveled a long distance to be part of this pre arranged special visit! I also met Agnes’ youngest sister- aged 7. Agnes, on the verge of her 13th birthday, was dressed in her special dress, as was her mother…this is the same dress reserved for special occasions like world vision photos for return correspondences, and important gatherings. I recognized the bold patterns from the previous year’s photos I received in America- it was the same dresses for the third year.

I took off my sandals at the front door and entered into this precious, most welcoming little home they had carefully and meticulously prepared for our visit. We knelt down on a dried grass covered dirt floor covered in hand woven grass mats. Two small tables covered in freshly cleaned white cloths joined us, in preparation for the feast they prepared so lovingly for me and the World Vision staff members who accompanied us from Rakai to Lwamaggwa. Daniel, and Margaret joined to translate and provide comfort for all parties- acting as intermediaries and friends. Barrack, our driver took on the role as photographer allowing me to be fully present in this exciting time with Agnes and her family.

I followed the lead of our guides and left all belongings and gifts in our truck at the top of the hill, so I would be able to receive all that this precious, deeply impoverished family desired to share with me first.

Seated on the mat, Margaret to my right, Agnes in front of me, and little sis to my immediate left, the first of many gifts began to pass through the curtain just to my left separating this recently tidied and intentionally prepared sitting room from the other mere 5 sq foot room where her mother, eldest sister, Agnes’ primary school teacher and several neighbors had gathered to prepare all the feast!

I was handed the most beautiful, perfectly arranged bouquet of wild flowers Agnes collected earlier in the day, as she stayed home from school waiting and preparing for our encounter. I loved these flowers and thought that was the end, but to my surprise- there was much, much more to come. Next through the curtain, I was handed large hand woven baskets containing the largest freshly picked avocados I have ever seen in my life!!! Rusty and I eat an avocado daily at home- and this was so lovely to receive! Another basket came through the doorway- this one containing 15 freshly picked mangoes from a tree nearby in the garden! Overwhelmed at this point, I just took a deep breath and continued to receive- something I find difficult- especially coming from a family who is literally giving me more than they have for themselves. After the mangoes, avocados, and one gigantic papaya, came another cardboard box! Out from the box, Agnes’s mother pulled out a fresh chicken- alive, legs tied together with twine, and body wrapped in a shroud of fresh banana leaves! The contrast of the chicken’s red comb with the waxy green finish of the slightly torn banana leaves made my heart melt! This is an extraordinarily generous gift. ” how can they be giving this to me, ?” I pondered. Having never been gifted a live chicken, I kept it on my lap and began to stroke its head like a pet dog. I am sure this amused the family, as much- if not more than it amused me!

Thinking the live chicken would have to be the top of the gifts, I was speechless as more gifts came funneling through the next room passing through many hands before reaching me! A lovely hand woven 2 piece basket was constructed of beautiful natural linen and dyed green colors in a typical African pattern. I lifted the top off the basket to discover nearly two dozen freshly hatched eggs! The fresh eggs here have the most subtle blush colored shells- appearing too pretty for consumption! I set the gift basket alongside the cornucopia of fresh tropical fruits, while the chicken remained in my lap still as a puppy fast asleep. The last gift to come through was an heaping sack of freshly harvested g- nuts. G nuts are a staple in Ugandan food and are the base for the infamous and savory g nut sauce often accompanying freshly steamed matoke.

Agnes’s elder sister re appeared at the front door with a basin and small water can to help us clean our hands before taking the meal they so graciously prepared with love and care. She poured water, likely pumped and fetched earlier in the day, over my hands while the trickle fell into the plastic basin below.

Our feast began with bowls of freshly cooked chicken and tomato broth into which we placed steamed matoke. As the honorary guest, I was given the liver of the chicken to enjoy as well as the drumstick. The liver and gizzards are generally served to the head of the household- or to a special guest. This was a tremendous honor. Bowls of rice, bowls of “Irish”- the Ugandan name for white potatoes- and fresh cabbage and tomato salad were also shared with all of us. It is common for this meal to be taken using the hands in lieu of silverware- hence the hand washing ritual beforehand.

Agnes was asked to pray a blessing over the food for us all. We bowed and she thanked God for all that He has blessed her and her family with. As she prayed in Luganda, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sweet, calm presence of the Holy Spirit filling this room overflowing with love, faith, generosity, and beauty.

Agnes is 12 years old, and attends P3 class- which is about 4 grades behind where a girl her age in the city would be placed. It is commonly seen in very rural areas- as the focus is often on maintaining the garden, crops, fetching water from the nearest water hole, and attending to the pigs and goats.

Goats. Oh the goats.

The barrage of surprises and bright eyed ” you’re kidding me” looks continued to come….

As a sponsor of Agnes through World Vision- her community is funded by a pool of donors in that particular area. This way, the entire community shall benefit from the donations made by others, including the family of the sponsored child. Each Christmas and various times during the year you may make a special gift for the family in particular- and the family itself will select items based on greatest need. I knew Agnes’ family purchased a couple of pigs two years ago, as well as 3 goats this past Christmas from the photos I received. Agnes’ mother had great news for us as we walked out of the house after a satisfyingly delicious meal……

One of the goats Rusty and I gifted her delivered 2 babies just hours before we arrived!!! I couldn’t believe it!!! Fresh blood still on the mama goat… And two babies- one black, one white….. Freshly cleaned by momma and nursing as we stood by in amazement at the miracle of life! We scooped up the babies, held them close to our beating hearts as they cried out with newborn life! What a joyful occasion!!

It was beginning to feel surreal at this time. I was floating in happiness. High on joy, thankful for the blessing of coming to visit and making preparations over 4 months in advance to do so. It was worth every step of the process! To share in two hours with this family and neighbors who literally gave to me all they could possibly afford and then some. This family living in extreme poverty, who sold one of their own chickens to be able to provide us with fresh bottled drinking water. This family, consisting of all women- working the land and fetching water as the father/husband lost his life to AIDS years back. Agnes, a precious, beautiful young Ugandan farm girl- taking care of her little sister with all things at home and often not able to attend school.

As I handed out my gifts just before our departure 4 hours back into Kampala- I began to realize our visit was coming to a close. Agnes loved her new school backpack- a rare commodity in this remote village. She handed out tootsie pops, ring pops, and even tried her very first piece of chocolate. She didn’t know what it was. Neither did her mother. My precious 12 year old sponsored daughter had never heard of or tried chocolate before in her life. She carefully unwrapped the tin foiled Hershey’s kiss and removed the white and blue white tag from inside. Biting down gingerly on the tiny milk chocolate tip, her tongue and taste buds came into contact with the sweetness and she began to smile – signaling to the crowd watching that it was in fact, tasty!
“Not another goodbye,” I thought to myself. “You can do this without crying,” I repeated. You can’t possibly be attached after two hours and only corresponding via letters until today’s visit”, my thoughts continued to press…

Tears began to swell up in both eyes as I fought like a warrior to hold them back and keep my composure. “Keep it together, Jen”. “This is a happy time, not a sad one”.

Thing is, I often cry tears of joy. As the family helped me load my gifts -bags at a time, baskets of fruits on top of their heads, flowers, chicken, and all…. I became deeply saddened that it was coming to an end. As the night was drawing near, and with a long night’s journey on the road ahead of us, I was encouraged to jump in the car for departure. We took our last photos and said goodbye. Hugs, and more hugs, loving embraces and looks of sincere gratitude in all of our eyes, heaviness in our hearts.
When we turned the vehicle around and began to drive away- I searched the crowd of gazing brown eyes and brightly colored clothing covered in dust to meet those of Agnes. I saw her mom, her sisters, and the neighbors…. As I held the second wildflower bouquet she gave me just before leaving, I became fixated with locating her beautiful face one last time so I could hold it in my heart forever. Unable to do so and tears flowing like a river, Margaret pointed downhill towards the house in the distance and said “Agnes has run home already…. she is deeply saddened by your departure as well. I just wept and wept.

Agnes and I exchanged very few words- as she didn’t understand English and I didn’t want to interrogate her or interview her family like I have been doing during all my other encounters through my work here with BeadforLife.

This was different. We were just together. I now fully understand what it means to be in the “beauty of someone’s presence”. I was in the beauty of her presence for two hours- silently communicating. It was peaceful, and surely blessed by the Lord’s presence as well.

I held on to that encouragement as we drive off into the distance, children lining the corn fields waving goodbye and running alongside of us all the way to the dirt road back into Rakai.

I know I may never see Agnes again, but I am comforted by the fact that she and I shared in this precious moment with each other surrounded by her loved ones. I felt loved and accepted by her family, and I certainly felt humbled by the extent of the family’s generosity. I know God was with us, and will keep us together in spirit always.

Reciprocity.

Love multiplied.

Giving and receiving.

Blessings.

Standing…. And resting……. in love.
To learn more about how you can sponsor a child in the most vulnerable stretches of the world, visit : http://www.worldvision.org