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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Not on my watch

Everyday, things are happening all around us.  We have a choice. Do we play ostrich? Throw our heads in the sand and refuse to see? Do we notice, then do mental gymnastics to try to un-know what we've just been told? Or do we do something about it?

My husband says I'm a "connector." He says I'm incapable of separating a product from its origins. For example, when I learned that most of our chocolate comes from the efforts of child slaves, I was immediately incapable of eating anything but fair-trade chocolate.  Ditto for coffee. I can't un-know.

And when I hear about women all over the world struggling to make ends meet, I can't stand idly by. I've been to third-world countries and held the hands of women who, just like me, want their children to grow up to be strong and healthy. Women who, just like me, want to put healthy dinners on the table every night. Mamas who, just like me, kiss their children good night and pray over them. Sisters who, just like me, want to stand on their own two feet.

And here I stand, in the world's richest country. A woman with resources at my fingertips.  I have a choice. I can ignore, close my eyes and pretend I haven't seen.  Or I can say "Not on my watch" and do something about it.

While charitable donations are helpful, handouts don't impact generations. Employment. Sustainable incomes. Empowerment.  Those things, however, do.

I've blogged about The Noonday Collection before. I love their jewelry. It's beautiful.  But honestly, jewelry doesn't make me excited.  I'm not even really a jewelry person.  I love that the Noonday Artisans earn sustainable wages. Their employment crafting jewelry enables them to feed their families, purchase medication, educate their children. You know... just like me. That brings tears to my eyes. And when I wear my Noonday jewelry, I get to continue to share the story. When someone says, "I love that bracelet." I can say, "thanks! It was made by an HIV+ woman in Ethiopia. Her connection with Noonday helped her gain access to medication and make a new life for herself, free of stigma" You know, so she can stay alive. That's heck of a lot cooler than "thanks, I got it at Target."

This isn't to ease my conscience. It's not because I want to "do good" in the world. It's because Jesus has showed me how to be great. He has told us how to lead joy-filled, abundant lives: by being broken, by serving the forgotten and oppressed, by loving others, by putting the needs of others above my own. Those are the things that draw me closer to God, that make my life amazing. God loves me so much that I can't stop that love from flowing out onto others.



And one of my dearest friends has just become a Noonday Ambassador. I am thrilled to host her first trunk show.  Want to stand with us? Join us as we say:

Not on my watch will mothers be unable to feed their children.
Not on my watch will I enjoy my comforts while my sisters struggle.
Not on my watch will fellow humans go without life-saving medication because they don't have the resources to pay for them.

Are you local? Come to my house on February 28th at 7 pm. We'll drink some wine, enjoy some dessert, and learn more about Noonday. You can purchase some jewelry while you're at it. Wear their stories, then share their stories.

Are you faraway? Check out my friend's Noonday page and purchase some jewelry that makes a difference! Make sure her name is selected as Ambassador and please write in my name under "Trunk Show!"

http://jennyates.noondaycollection.com/

Monday, February 10, 2014

Free to Shine

Confession:

Sometimes I judge you and decide that I am more enlightened, more noble, and certainly on the right track.

And most other times I judge you and come away feeling like I'm not enough: not beautiful, not as good of a mom, not intelligent, not as knowledgeable about the Bible, not doing enough, not organized.

Just. not. enough.

Isn't that ridiculous?

I measure myself against y'all and manage to hurt both you and me.

I live in a constant state of unbalance. I don't want to fall into the depths of despair so I try not to think too much about all my weaknesses and my failures and all the ways I'm not enough.  But I don't want to be arrogant and prideful so I shy away from sharing the ways God is using me.  Sometimes I don't blog when God gives me something to say because I fear that y'all will start to think I'm full of myself.  I am a master deflector of compliments. If you know me, you've seen my artistry at work.  Give me a compliment and I can somehow manage to turn it back around to how great someone else is. I can twist your words and ignore you to avoid your acknowledgment.  I'm afraid of your compliments.  I am afraid to acknowledge the beauty that is God in me.

This weekend I had the privilege to lead an IF:Local Gathering.  It was a honor and a joy to watch God speak to the women around me. We broke down barriers and were honest with God and with each other, confessing to one another, sharing our burdens.  We discussed our dreams, how we long to live lives that are broken and poured out for others. I watched my friends capture their callings, saw them discover how God wants to use them, watched them wrestle with what that means.

And for me, I got permission to shine.

Because when I embrace the beauty that God places in me, it shines light on the beauty he has placed in you.  When I share the ways in which he has freed me from despair and depression, it loosens your chains. When I delight in how God uses me, it allows you to delight in how he works in you.

Do you know what I do? This is a really vulnerable confession, so just please still love me when you read this: When my kids want to invite yours over for a playdate, I look up your address and if you live in a big fancy house, I hesitate.  I'm afraid to invite your children over because of the moment you pull up in the driveway of our small house to pick them up. I fear you will think less of me.

I doubt the resources God has given me. Me, who is loved beyond measure by the God who created the universe. Me, who God allowed the honor of walking through the journey of adoption that is hell-turned-redemption and has blessed me with joy and three amazing children.  Me, to whom God has given his broken heart for the oppressed and a yearning for justice.  Me, who God called to help plant a church in Greensboro that is radically loving people like Jesus.  Me, to whom God has given an amazing husband who follows Jesus with abandon.  Me, who has followed Jesus to Swaziland and been used to show his love to those who are suffering. Me, who gets to love on the homeless people of my city and be part of the team planning the Crisis Shelters. God has given me all I need and more.  My life is amazing because of Jesus. And I worry that you won't think my house is nice enough.  And at the same time I fear all those words I just wrote because now I fear you'll think that I think I'm awesome.

In the words of Anna of Arendelle, "Wait, what?" (I bet you didn't know that I love Frozen. ahem.)

This weekend God reminded me that I am free to shine. He loves me and it has nothing to do with what I can or cannot do for him. My life is beautiful because he works in it. He gives me words to say that can heal and encourage and lift up others.  He uses me to start to heal the broken, to love the unlovable, to fight for justice. My shining is not a measure of my worth. I'm worthy because of him. My shining is just what happens when he works in my life.  You shine too when he works in you.

So today, I choose to shine.  What God has done in my life is full of light and life and joy. I shine so that you can see the ways in which you shine too. My shine just makes yours brighter. My prayer today is that you see your shine and let it show. Be beautiful, be talented, be fabulous. God made you that way. Shine on, my friends.