Category Archives: Hope

Band-Aid Charity.

DSC_0149“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” – Isaiah 58:6-7   

When my husband was in business school, one of his professors told him a story that has marinated in my mind ever since it was relayed to me. The story takes place in an African village near a river. One day, a village woman noticed a baby floating down the river towards her. Horrified, she ran into the swirling waters, and rescued the baby. The very next day, a man passing by noticed yet another baby floating downstream. Horrified, he dashed into the river, and rescued the baby. The same thing happened the next day, and the next day and the next until multiple babies were being rescued out of the rushing waters every day by stricken villagers.

This horrific pattern continued for years, until at long last, one of the villagers decided to walk up stream to find where the babies were coming from.

As the American church, I fear that in our approach to poverty we have so consumed ourselves with the babies in the river, that we have forgotten to walk up stream to the source of the problem.

We’re well intentioned, aren’t we? We see pictures of hungry children rifling through mountains of trash for scraps, of mothers with hopeless eyes and outstretched hands begging for help and fathers cradling tired heads in withered hands, unable to provide—and we are broken. We are broken, and rightly so; brokenness is a correct first response to a world crumbling from the decay of sin. Our God-given thirst for justice leaps to the surface, and we cry ME! I will provide what you do not have. You matter to God and you matter to me, I will give you what you need.

And so we box up our old clothes and ship them to developing countries where families can’t afford to buy their own. We throw a pair of TOMS into our shopping carts and happily picture a matching pair on a little African child. We send backpacks and cans of food and bars of soap—and we are so well intentioned.

But what if?

What if in our well intentioned displays of compassion, we actually did more harm than good? What if the message that we unintentionally and unmistakably communicated to those parents is that they are not enough? That they are incapable of fulfilling the God-given role as provider that they have been entrusted with? What if our boxes of hand-me-downs and shoes put the local shoemakers and dress makers out of business? And what if the temporary Band-Aid of charity eased the sting of lack for a time, but weeks or months later when the shoes had worn out and the dull ache of hunger had returned, that family found themselves right back where they started?

What if there were a better way?

Please understand that I am not denouncing charity. There is a time and a place for it. But if there were a way to provide for that family in a sustainable manner that offered them dignity and respect, and changed the course of their family for generations to come, wouldn’t we all be for that?

Enter microfinance. The beauty of microfinance is that it allows that family the dignity of providing for themselves. Through loans as small as $100.00, men and women that desperately want to work hard are offered the opportunity to do just that! HOPE has seen families that have been trapped under the crushing weight of poverty for generations break free, and become small business owners that go on to employ others in their community. What a thrilling picture of redemption!

Church, God Himself has tasked us with the thrilling work of displaying the gospel throughout the world. Our good works put shape to an invisible God that desperately cares about every single one of His children. Let’s examine our methodology, and partner with our brothers and sisters trapped in poverty to fight poverty well.

For more information, visit www.uncharity.org. 

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Filed under Hope, Microfinance, Poverty

New Mercy.

Kellan and I celebrated my job offer by going to buy new running shoes.

I’m cheap about the strangest things, and even though I run every day, I hadn’t splurged on a new pair of running shoes since the day after I moved back from Africa.

Circa, oh, I don’t know, two and a half years ago.

Afterwards, we called his parents to fill them in. Unbeknownst to us, they were out of town and so our call went straight to their voice mail machine, at which point Kellan decided that an appropriate voice mail to leave sounded something like this:

Hey Mom and Dad! Call us back, Ash and I have some BIG NEWS to tell you!

Cue Ashley flying across the living room in a cold sweat, screeching I’M NOT PREGNANT!!!!! into the phone.

If there’s one thing that my in-laws are thankful for, I’m betting it’s their demure, emotionally stable daughter-in-law.

I had been perfectly astonished to receive an offer, partly because I cried in my interview [I know. I KNOW.], and mostly because almost everyone evaluating me had read this blog. That little nugget of information made me desperately wish I hadn’t written about wanting a Tea Cup Pig named Paula Deen.

Or, you know, 98% of the other gems that I’ve slapped up on the internets.

Back to the tears. Would it surprise you at all if I told you that this wasn’t the first time I’ve cried in an interview? When I interviewed for my last job, I had been back in the US for approximately NO TIME AT ALL. I was mind-numbingly jet-lagged, and thought gas station bathrooms were paragons of cleanliness. My prospective boss had the gall to ask me what God had taught me in Africa, and tears started rolling down my face as I thought about all of the precious Muslim women I’d just left an ocean away.

Now, I was interviewing at a Southern Baptist church, and so crying about things like that, while not exactly encouraged in an interview, was also perfectly acceptable. Almost holy, even. However, several hours later my new smart phone and I accidentally butt-dialed my prospective Southern Baptist pastor boss. Which might have been fine, had I been singing Amazing Grace or praying for the nations. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, I hadn’t the foggiest idea what was going on given that I was much too busy passionately belting out “Save a horse, ride a cowboy” as I sped down the interstate.

Awe. Some. Do you want proof that God exists? I got the job.

As I sat in my final interview with HOPE, a question arose that mandated that I talk about what I’ve been up to since my wedding. It’s impossible for me to talk about that without mentioning Ian, and as I briefly talked about my little brother tears, crocodile tears welled up in my eyes and I had to stop. Everyone graciously allowed me to rally, and we carried on. It was hours later on my five hour drive back to Albany, that I began to think about the past six months of quiet that the Lord has given me in New York. These months since Ian died have not been what I would have chosen, but God’s good gift to me was time. Time to read about grief and Kim Kardashian’s hiney. [Depending on the day.] Time to cook my way through my Pinterest board, and go on long runs. Time to run home to North Carolina [over. and over. and over.], and time to ache and process the heart wrenching reality that my curly-haired little brother isn’t coming back. And more than anything, time to learn that there really is new mercy for each new morning.

Today, I am thankful for new mercy.

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Filed under First World Problems, Grief, Hope, Ian, Life at the Frat House, Senegal

The End of Unemployment. [HOPE.]

“I wondered if the American church was like well-mannered nice-talkers, sitting in a living room sipping coffee, talking about choir practice, while the world burns down outside our windows. While the richest people on earth pray to get richer, the rest of the world begs for intervention with their faces pressed to the window, watching us drink our coffee, unruffled by their suffering.” –Jen Hatmaker

My Albany job search started with a whiteboard, a LinkedIn profile [still can’t talk about it] and one very large glass of Spanish white wine. My darkest days were spent perusing want ads on CraigsList, and channeling my inner Nancy Drew in an effort to determine if the alleged jobs I was looking at would result in actual employment, or me getting chopped up into a thousand tiny pieces and scattered about the woods.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. [But let’s be real: mostly the worst.]

As I considered what sort of thing I wanted to invest my life in, one of my favorite challenges from Paul David Tripp resounded over and over again in my heart:

“We are called to put flesh and bones on who Christ is, and what he came to do.” 

The common thread of Jesus’ miracles during his time on earth was that they were all restorative. Jesus walked into the midst of a really broken world, and it broke him. He looked at a world where people were hungry and sick—and it wasn’t at all what he’d intended. And so, Jesus began to restore pieces of the brokenness. Our compassionate God looked at hungry people, and fed them. He saw a lame man helplessly lying on a mat, and he told him to get up and walk. He walked by a blind man anxiously holding his hand out for a small coin, and healed his eyes. And as Jesus restored what had been broken, he put the gospel on brilliant, irrefutable display.

The idea of putting the gospel on display for the world’s most broken makes my heart beat faster. In places where poverty crushes and hunger gnaws, the idea of a good God can become muddied. It’s why I wrote this a couple of months ago:

“To whom much has been given, much is required. Those who are free must advocate for those who are not, or I fear that we will look nothing like the Jesus that we claim to follow. Those who have been given a voice must speak for those who have none, because freedom rings hollow when the bell tolls for a precious, privileged few. It is our solemn responsibility and sacred privilege to intercede for the broken, and to beg God to move for the orphan, the trafficked, the homeless, the hungry.  We must beg God for justice and then fight for it with our lives. Over the past several months, God has been breaking my heart with the idea that we do not get to call a world full of hurting people our “brothers and sisters” as long as we do nothing. Not when we’d never allow our biological brothers and sisters to go hungry…” –Let Freedom [Really] Ring

In a world where 1.3 billion people are desperately trying to survive on less than a dollar a day, it’s easy to see how so much of the brokenness that we see stems from the bitter roots of rampant poverty. If these are the people that break God’s heart, they must break ours as well.

Enter HOPE. HOPE is a Christian microfinance organization that goes into the world’s very hardest countries—places where generations of poverty have trapped families in a cycle that feels unbreakable—and they offer hard working people a chance to lift themselves out of poverty. Through loans as small as $100.00, people that want to work hard are given a chance to build a business that will allow them the dignity of  providing for themselves and their families. Check this out:

Yes. YES YES YES.

I am unspeakably thrilled  to share that starting October 1rst, I’m going to be joining HOPE as a regional representative in the New England area! Y’all, I get to spend my time telling stories like the one you just saw, and giving people in the US a chance to be a part of ending global poverty by investing in the dreams of the poor. Did you know you could get paid to be a storyteller? It was never a good thing when my Mama called me a storyteller when I was a little girl, and all I have to say now is THIS SURE SHOWS HER.

I’m deeply thankful for the chance to get to be a part of this. What a gracious gift!

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Filed under Hope, Microfinance, Poverty

Permission to Breathe.

This song is on repeat in my kitchen for a solid 48 hours.

I know, another song. But y’all, I just CAN’T STOP because it’s exactly how my heart feels! Nine thirty tonight is going to find me HOME IN NORTH CAROLINA. The weary world rejoices.

It was spur of the moment, really. My sweet husband got back from his business trip last Thursday, and everything was heaven until he announced that he’d be leaving again on Tuesday.

For over a week.

It was the combination of a business trip and a North Carolina beach vacation with his family and their posse of college friends—something that we’d decided I would stay back in NY for given my frequent flier status over the past few months. It had been the mature decision to make, but suddenly very the idea of putting my husband on a plane one more time, and then sitting at home by myself for a solid week AGAIN made my heart crumble.

There wasn’t even an ounce of bravery left in me to fake. In fact, the very best that I could muster was a watery half-smile that wasn’t fooling anybody. Y’all go buy stock in waterproof mascara NOW, because I am singlehandedly keeping the entire industry afloat. In totally unrelated news, Kellan could use a beer.

There are a lot of things about marriage you don’t expect. For instance, Kellan had no idea that both books and avocados would need to be separate line items in our monthly budget. [Am I the only one? Holler back.] Neither of us expected to get married the way that we did. Neither of us expected it to be this hard in Albany. Neither of us expected for me to still be sifting through jobs four months after our wedding–…finding little to nothing that I have the slightest interest in doing. [I would be steaming lattes at a local coffee shop by now if not for my husband urging me to be patient for once.] This might come as quite a shock, but I love people. You want to make my day? Drink a caramel latte with me for an hour or twelve. Alone time all day every day and sometimes for weeks on end? Not healthy for this girl. And as of Friday night, my heart was DONE. I could not stomach one more week of alone.

Cue my husband–the man who deeply, deeply feels so much of what I feel. Marriage means that you don’t hurt alone—something for which I am unspeakably grateful. Kellan walked through our front door with pink flowers happily hidden behind his back [be still my beating heart!], pulled me onto his lap and very calmly told me that I needed a break. We need to get you to North Carolina. 

I fought, because something in me feels like I need to channel Tim Gunn and just make it work. The problem is, living in New York feels very much like being asked to hold my breath indefinitely—and I’m afraid I’ve turned a rather startling shade of blue. Touching down in Raleigh feels like finally being given permission to exhale. Of course Kellan was right when he told me I was being bull-headed and prideful—it was time to breathe again. It was time to breathe in long drives without ever once glancing at my GPS. It was time to breathe in twelve hour coffees with my people, sunshine and bare feet, toes in the sand and country radio. It was so. past. time.

Serendipitously, my favorite time of year besides Christmas [Togetherfest, my Africa team’s annual beach reunion] is happening in just a couple of weeks, and given Kellan’s travel schedule and MY family’s upcoming beach vacation, we decided it made the most sense for me to stay in North Carolina until Togetherfest. Kellan will join me twice.

An hour after the decision was finalized, my schedule for the first few days before Kellan and I leave for the beach was already PACKED. Which made my heart sing because FRIENDS!

Breathe in, breathe out. I’m going home. :)

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Filed under First World Problems, God's faithfulness, Home, Hope, Marriage

Hollandaise for President!

photo (7)Y’all. I had the BEST day.

My sweet friend Allyson came to visit! Allyson is from North Carolina. She believes in sweet tea, temperate winters and big hair, and attends my church back home which is how we met. She’s currently dating a man that lives in Pennsylvania [read: another part of the arctic north to which I have been exiled] and in the midst of visiting him, decided that she [WE] needed some girl time.

These men of ours are dreams-come-true, but let’s be real: you can’t take them to get a pedicure. I laughed out loud when Allyson mentioned that when Scott asked her what our plans were, she looked at him like he was a blithering idiot she’d just caught rummaging through the recyclables. “UM, we’re going to TALK.”

And that is why girls need girls.

Three hours and one, “The South is about to rise again!” text later, there were TWO fiery brunettes in New York disdainfully complaining about “these rude Yankee drivers!”

I adore Allyson, because she wholeheartedly loves Jesus and is trashy enough to day drink with me all at the same time, and thus 2:30 in the afternoon found us sitting on my couch with rum and coconut water, elatedly chattering away like we were in some sort of competition. I swear we didn’t take a breath for the first three hours! There was something about it that was like coming up for air. God created us for community, and I am going on month four of slowly, slowly beginning to build a new one here in Albany. There’s not a price tag in the world that you can stick on friends like that, and I’m not kidding when I say that I would return every single beautiful wedding gift that Kellan and I were given if I could just have an Allyson next door. Sitting on my couch with someone that GETS ME was a relaxing, calming elixir that I wanted to bottle and store forever.

We cooked while Frank Sinatra crooned in the background. We talked very seriously about how those shoes are an investment. We rented a chick flick and laughed so hysterically that Kellan became mildly concerned. We glanced at our yoga mats and ate THIS instead, passionately declaring HOLLANDAISE FOR PRESIDENT between each blissful, rather unladylike bite. We took our lives into our hands and went to get the cheapest pedicure in town [is anyone else scarred after watching Oprah’s deadliest pedicures? Anybody?], and allowed Asian men with thinly veiled anger issues to beat us within an inch of our sanity as we died laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. [I kid you not, while my coral toes were drying, mine gave me a back massage that can only be described as some sort of medieval torture device.]

Allyson was a sweet reminder to me that Jesus gives us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. Not a second early, or a second late. I think that’s part of why He told us not to worry about tomorrow—because we don’t yet have what we need for tomorrow. We won’t until we wake up. It’s a promise that I’m clinging to today, because tomorrow is July 12th.

And Ian would have been turning 22.

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Hope, Ian, My favorite people

Let Freedom [Really] Ring.

With my little sister, who is about Lakshimi's age.

With my little sister, who is about Lakshimi’s age.

As I watched red, white and blue sparks rain down across the night sky on July 4th, my heart felt like it might burst right along with the fireworks. I am grateful to have been born in a country with as much freedom as we enjoy in these United States, but I find it difficult to stomach the sheer privilege of it all when millions of people can’t begin to imagine what freedom tastes like. An agonized world begging for intervention presses their noses to the window while I watch fireworks and revel in my comfortable, free life. It feels ugly. It demands an unflinchingly honest examination of the way that I spend the days and dollars that I have been given.

Several weeks ago, I read a book called “Sold” by Patricia McCormick. It’s the story of a thirteen year old girl named Lakshimi living with her family in a small village in Nepal. As finances grow tighter and meals become smaller, her stepfather forces her to take a job to support her family. Believing that she is to be hired as a maid in the city, Lakshimi journeys to India where that little girl is hastily sold into the horrific world of prostitution. Her story is searing, heart wrenchingly impossible to read and still, impossible to set aside. I read the book in one sitting, unable to tear my eyes away.

At the end of the book, the author leaves us with this chilling note:

“Each year, nearly 12,000 Nepali girls are sold by their families, intentionally or unwittingly, into a life of sexual slavery in the brothels of India. Worldwide, the U.S. State Department estimates that nearly half a million children are trafficked into the sex trade annually.

As part of my research for Sold, I traced the path that many Nepalese girls have taken—from remote villages to the red light districts of Calcutta. I also interviewed aid workers who rescue girls from brothels, provide them with medical care and job training, and who work to reintegrate them into society.

But most touching and inspiring was interviewing survivors themselves. These young women have experienced what many people would describe as unspeakable horrors. But they are speaking out—with great dignity.

Some go door to door in the country’s most isolated villages to explain what really happens to girls who leave home with strangers promising good jobs. Some of them—even women who are ill with HIV—patrol the border between Nepal and India on the lookout for young girls traveling without their parents. And some are facing their traffickers in court—where it is often their word against the fathers and brothers, husbands and uncles who sold them for as little as three hundred dollars.”

To whom much has been given, much is required. Those who are free must advocate for those who are not, or I fear that we will look nothing like the Jesus that we claim to follow. Those who have given a voice must speak for those who have none, because freedom rings hollow when the bell tolls for a precious, privileged few. It is our solemn responsibility and sacred privilege to intercede for the broken, and to beg God to move for the orphan, the trafficked, the homeless, the hungry.  We must beg God for justice and then fight for it with our lives. Over the past several months, God has been breaking my heart with the idea that we do not get to call a world full of hurting people our “brothers and sisters” as long as we do nothing. Not when we’d never allow our biological brothers and sisters to go hungry or sleep on the street or be imprisoned in a brothel in India.

Jen Hatmaker wrote a book called Seven [RUN to buy it. It’s ruined my life in the best possible way, and now I’ve got Kellan reading it so it can ruin his too.] and in it, she echoes this tension. She wonders with me,

“What would the early church think if they walked into some of our buildings today, looked through our church Web sites, talked to an average attender? Would they be so confused? Would they wonder why we all had empty bedrooms and uneaten food in our trash cans? Would they regard our hoarded wealth with shock? Would they observe orphan statistics with disbelief since Christians outnumber orphans 7 to 1? Would they be stunned most of us don’t feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care for the sick or protect the window? Would they see the spending on church builds and ourselves as extravagantly wasteful while twenty-five thousand people die every day from starvation?”

It’s Monday. The sparklers have died, fireworks have fizzled and the grills have been turned off. At the end of this holiday weekend, I am left with the indelible impression that our freedom is cheap if it is hoarded. Jesus entered right into the very heart of our pain and took it from us to set us free. It cost Him everything. How will this change the way that we live?

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Filed under Holidays other than Christmas, Hope, Justice

Ryah’s Miracle.

My friends Aaron and Stephanie are adopting a little girl from Ethiopia. Y’all. LOOK.

Ryah

For legal reasons, we’re not allowed to show you Ryah’s face until her adoption process is complete.

Her name is Ryah. I talked to Stephanie last night, and she told me that Ryah spends her days sitting alone in her crib because there aren’t enough nannies at her orphanage to take care of all of the kids. Ryah is one of five MILLION orphans in Ethiopia. My husband didn’t believe that when I told him, and went to investigate it for himself. His eyes darkened when he looked up from his cell phone with dismay—“Babe, it’s true.” Five million orphans in a country with little access to clean water or healthcare, where 1 in 10 children die before their first birthday, and 1 in 6 before their fifth.

As Christians, we don’t get to stand idly by and call these people our “brothers and sisters” when we would NEVER allow our biological brothers and sisters to wither away in an orphanage wondering why nobody wanted them. Never.

Isaiah 49:13-16 “For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”

Though this little Ethiopian girl sitting alone in her crib doesn’t know it yet, God sees her and He is rescuing her. Ryah doesn’t know yet that she has a Mommy and a Daddy who are coming for her. A Mommy and Daddy that pray for her a thousand times a day, and even more as they lay awake at night longing to bring her home. Ryah has no idea that Goodnight Moon and pancakes with blueberry smiles are on their way. She can’t yet understand that two people that call her daughter want nothing more than to proudly tape her princess coloring pages to the refrigerator and play tea party and hold her just a little longer than necessary while they rock her to sleep. She doesn’t know yet that she is desperately loved–but oh, she will! She will because God SEES. He SEES that precious little Ethiopian girl sitting alone in her crib, and she is not a statistic to Him. The same God that lovingly created her and saves every tear that she has ever cried has plans for a hope and a future for Ryah. He has not forgotten her.

Ryah’s story reminds me that God has not forgotten you and me, either. We might not see the story He is writing for us, but it is good. And while we might have to sit in the orphanage for a time, He sees. He never leaves, and everything that He authors is good. Even when it feels like we have been forgotten.

Let’s talk about miracles. Do you know what I love about Jesus’ miracles? All of them were restorative.  Jesus walked around with us, and his heart just shattered over the brokenness that surrounded him. He saw the world He’d created in pieces-not at all like He’d intended it to be. And so where others ignored the throbbing pain, this GOOD God stepped right into what was broken. He stopped beside a blind man begging, and gave him sight. He told the lame man to get up and WALK. He fed hungry people and raised Mary and Martha’s brother back to life. Why? Because God is in the business of restoring what has been broken. He never created us to be blind or hungry or to get sick or orphaned-and he was giving aching humanity just a taste of the redemption He has in store for us. Jesus was restoring pieces of the brokenness to what He intended all along-something that will be complete when He returns.

Restoring broken things? I can get behind that. And I’ll bet you can too.

Here, you and I have the chance to be a part of  Ryah’s miracle. We have a chance to be a part of the redemption and restoration that God is working throughout the world—we have a chance to give a little girl that thinks that she has been forgotten in an Ethiopian orphanage a FAMILY. A Mommy and Daddy to take a thousand proud pictures of ballet recitals and a first day of kindergarten. We can give her drippy ice cream cones on long summer days, father daughter dates, stuffed animal tea parties and Saturday morning cartoons. We can be a part of bringing this little girl from death to life. This is the very heart of adoption and the very heart of God Himself. And goodness, do I want it to be my heart.

Here is what I’m asking. Aaron and Stephanie have been in the process of adopting for three long years-years that have been expensive, and have financially exhausted them. They are close to bringing their little girl home, but they need our help. Would you consider giving any amount of money to bring Ryah home? Whether it’s giving up a five dollar latte or a fifty dollar date night out or a hundred dollars or a thousand-anything at all would be an enormous encouragement to this sweet family, and a precious reminder to Ryah one day that God saw her. God saw her and used us to be a part of rescuing her. I don’t know about you, but there is nothing that is more thrilling to my heart.

Regardless of whether or not you give, would you please consider sharing this blog? The more people that hear about Ryah and give, the faster we can bring her home.

Thank you for considering being a part of Ryah’s miracle. To give, please click here.

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Filed under God's faithfulness, Hope, Joy