I’ve Never Gone Hungry (& thoughts on living more intentionally)

Our favorite dinner in Haiti (2010)

One of the things that I probably most take for granted in life is my access to food. Anyone who knows me decently well, knows that I tend to graze. Breakfast, 10-10:30am snack, lunch, 2:30-ish snack, dinner, and maybe even a pre-bedtime small bowl of cereal. Some days it becomes more of a habit that anything. It’s what I’m used to doing, so I continue the routine.

Most of us have constant access to food. We’re surrounded by it and always have the option of eating or drinking something. We often don’t even wait until we’re hungry anymore. If there’s a plate of cupcakes sitting out in the office, well, of course we have to have one.

I have never, ever gone to bed truly hungry or had to wonder where my next meal is coming from. However, that is a reality for more than 1 billion people around the world.

My husband & I were out running errands recently on a Saturday. As we were leaving the Lowe’s parking lot, there was a man holding a sign asking for a combo meal. I had never seen a sign that specific before & it definitely caught our attention. I’ll be honest. I’ve grown quite jaded & skeptical of those who beg on street corners with signs. Are they truly in need or are they just trying to scam people into giving them money, like the stories we occasionally see on the news? The ones who then go walk around the corner to their nice car and drive away…

Honestly, I probably would not have done this if I was by myself, but my husband suggested that we go get him a combo meal. It was a Saturday. We had extra time. Why not. As we pulled in across the street at the Burger King, there was a couple sitting in the grass with a sign of their own, saying they were hungry and asking for food. How could we help one and not the others? What were the chances of there being 3 people in the same 1 block radius who were all asking for a meal? It only cost us about $10. Money that we’d never notice was even missing. All 3 were genuinely so grateful when we went back to hand them out.

It wouldn’t make a big difference in their lives – it was only one meal – but it definitely served as a bit of a wake-up call for me. We all I tend to turn a blind eye toward need. It could be for a variety of reasons – we’re I’m skeptical, too lazy, apathetic, scared… too busy and wrapped up in our my own life to even notice, etc.

I want to live more intentionally. I want to be more tuned in to those around me and to the opportunities that God places in my path. But that could be a blog post all to itself…

Anyway, if you are looking for some ways to help the hungry, I can offer 4 suggestions:

Tornado Cleanup in Rainsville, AL

Some of the trees that we spent the day cutting up & moving.

This past Saturday we had the privilege of traveling to Rainsville, AL to work with others from our church doing cleanup from the devastating April tornadoes. The rest of the group went down Thursday night to be able to work all day Friday & Saturday. As we didn’t have another day off of work that we could take right now, we were glad to at least be able to help on Saturday.

Rainsville is a small town of 5,000. It’s in the northeast corner of Alabama. We heard varying stories, but they either had an F4 or F5 tornado cut a 30+ mile path through the area. It killed 35 people and injured hundreds. In the aftermath, this area of the state has felt largely overlooked. They just haven’t gotten the attention & help that the larger cities have had.

We ended up at Gary’s house for the day. His house was untouched, but he had a lot of downed trees & debris on his property. A tree had also fallen on his RV. But he is the first to tell you how lucky he was. He lost 9 friends.

This is the side of Gary's property, where we were working all day. You can see the damaged RV and bent/downed trees.

When the storms approached, he was outside. He said there was no warning – just talk of approaching strong thunderstorms. When it blew up on his property, he didn’t have time to do anything else but to grab hold of his shed door. Apparently he hung on with both hands as the tornado blew over the side of his property. Apparently afterwards, he (or “they”, not sure which) had to remove a 2 inch piece of glass from his chest. He said they are still getting little pieces of glass out from around his eye.

Gary is a first responder/EMT/rescue diver. We learned that he has spent the last 3 months helping everyone else. It was only a few days ago that he had gotten a small chance to start on is own property. Even Friday night he was out diving to help retrieve cars from a nearby body of water. He only got 1 hour of sleep that night.

I think we all felt so glad to be able to help someone who has spent all of this time helping everyone else in his community. It really was a privilege.

A mangled swingset thrown onto his property. I don't think it was his, but never got a chance to ask.

So we spent the day clearing debris. Everything from small branches to huge trees. These trees that were four & five feet across had been completely toppled by the tornado. We had 3 chainsaws going at a time. I heard that on at least one of them that we went through 3 blades in a matter of hours. That’s how much wood was being cut & moved. By the end, with no more blades, we had run out of things we could do. We had 5 huge stacks of wood/branches, probably 10′-12′ high each. It’s amazing what 25 people working together can accomplish in a short period of time.

Here are 3 of our 5 large debris piles. These are at least 10' tall.

While we weren’t able to get away for a week-long mission trip this year, we were very glad for at least this small chance to help.

God’s Word in Action: Together We Can Change the World!

This is an article that I wrote for this new campaign that we launched at work this Spring. It’s called “God’s Word in Action” and has been my favorite project by far. I am blessed with being able to run the marketing for it. I wanted to share this with you and let you know what we’re up to in the Thomas Nelson Bible Group.

God’s instruction that we should serve others is unmistakable in Scripture. It’s not a choice that we’re given. It’s a command. God charges us to reach out to those in need – in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces, in our cities and nation, and around the world.

In fact, God issues a specific call that we are to especially look out for “the least, the last, and the lost” – the marginalized and disadvantaged in our society. The widows, the orphans, the sick and the poor.

Did you know that there are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that deal with God’s view on justice & poverty? Verses like this one:

“Stand up for the poor and the orphan; advocate for the rights of the afflicted and those in need.” Psalm 82:3 (The Voice)

Thomas Nelson, Inc., one of the world’s oldest and largest Bible publishers, has selected this verse as the theme of their God’s Word in Action campaign. They are striving to put God’s Word into action by helping others in tangible ways and inspire others to do the same.

Thomas Nelson has partnered with World Vision as part of the campaign. Every Thomas Nelson Bible purchased at Christian retail helps World Vision eradicate poverty & preventable deaths among children.** When you buy a Thomas Nelson Bible, you can know that you are helping save children’s lives in the U.S. and around the world.

According to World Vision, each day more than 24,000 children die from preventable causes. The donation from Thomas Nelson will target the fundamentals of child health, including clean water and nutritious food. Water is one of the world’s most important natural resources, yet every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness. Worldwide, one in four children doesn’t get the nutrition he or she needs.

The God’s Word in Action campaign will support sustainable solutions for clean water and secure food, including digging and improving wells, teaching good hygiene practices, providing food aid, improving agricultural practices, and monitoring children’s heights and weights.  It will help children like Mariama, 6, who suffered from trachoma, a blinding eye disease from unclean water, until World Vision installed two water pumps in her village in Niger.

For children living in need in the United States, contributions will make available top-quality necessities that disadvantaged families are unable to afford. Donations also will assist community-based medical facilities in providing children with personal care items.

“As a Bible publisher, we’re making a concerted effort to ensure that we’re living out what God calls us to do as people and a company,” says Thomas Nelson’s Senior Vice President & Bible Group Publisher Gary Davidson. “In today’s economy every penny counts, but we felt strongly that this was an important investment. We’re in a business of developing life-changing products, and it’s only fitting that we are actively involved in other life-changing initiatives.”

In addition to the financial donation to World Vision, Thomas Nelson is creating a movement to encourage Christians to put God’s Word into action in tangible ways. We all have different passions for our personal areas of service. Some feel strongly about helping the homeless, while others thrive doing service at nursing homes or working with children. Some feel called to go on mission trips around the world, while others constantly look for service opportunities every day in their own neighborhoods.

It does not matter what you do, as long as you do something. Start somewhere. Buy a cup of coffee for the car behind you and leave a note for them expressing God’s love. Give up buying lunches out for a month and donate that money to an organization that feeds the hungry. Volunteer to tutor at an underserved school in your area. Just start today.

Thomas Nelson’s Bible Group has built a website that is full of ideas on how you can help others. You can sign up to receive weekly Bible verses, action challenges and ideas. You can also share a story of what you or someone you know has done to put God’s Word into action and help others. Get inspired and then take action.

Join the Movement Today! Learn more by visiting www.SeeGodsWordinAction.com.

Buy a Bible, Help a Child

Every Thomas Nelson Bible you purchase at a Christian retail store helps World Vision end poverty & preventable deaths among children in the U.S. and worldwide.** Just look for any Bible with the Thomas Nelson logo. For more details and to join the movement visit www.SeeGodsWordinAction.com.

Together We Can Change the World!

**Applies to sales at U.S. Christian retail stores only from April 1, 2011 – March 31, 2012. Thomas Nelson will donate 10% of its year-over-year net revenue growth achieved during that period to World Vision, with a minimum donation of $75,000. In addition, when World Vision combines our $75,000 minimum donation with grant funds and corporate donations, the donation multiplies 4 times to provide $300,000 in help to improve the health of children. Just look for any Bible with the Thomas Nelson “house” logo. For more information about World Vision, visit www.WorldVision.org.

Helping at Help Portrait 2010

Last Saturday, Cason & I had the privilege of helping at Nashville’s Help Portrait event. Help Portrait is a movement of photographers giving back to people in need in their local communities. It was started in 2009 by a well-known photographer here in Nashville (Jeremy Cowart). This year, Help Portrait events were held in 47 US states and in 46 countries. 7,015 volunteers and 3,550 photographers donated 54,526 portraits to people and families in unique circumstances (the homeless, people in addiction recovery programs, families who lost everything in a fire or flood, families who may never have had a family portrait taken before).

That’s the overall gist. I heard about the event last year and was eager to try and volunteer this time around. Cason & I have no notable photography/editing/photo printing skills, but wanted to see if we could help in other ways.

So we ended up as Patron Guides. We were the ones that got to escort the guests around through the whole experience and make them feel special and loved on. At the event here in Nashville, that included a breakfast or lunch area with donated food brought in for people to eat, an area with Vanderbilt doctors doing free optional head and neck screening exams, a donation area with coats, blankets, shoes, for those that needed them. My personal favorite was the next area – hair & makeup. The hair & makeup artists would do quick makeovers on the women (& an occasional man) and make them feel really beautiful. That was an integral part to making many of the women feel special & valued. There was also a kid’s area with crafts and a Santa to take pictures with. Finally, there were the rows of photographers, ready to go to work.

Some of the photographers, ready to go to work.

My first patron of the day was Amy. I wish I had taken a picture of her with my camera. She was a really neat woman. She came in with a group of women from the Magdalene House – a residential program for women who have survived lives of violence, prostitution and addiction. Read more about it here. Amy was extremely outgoing and friendly. She was just loving being there. The part of her story that I heard is that her Dad died a week before the infamous Nashville floods, then she and her mom both lost everything in the flood. She hit her lowest point this summer and at some point entered the Magdalene program. But she says she is doing really well in her recovery program, is back in a church, etc. Amy was almost more concerned about going around and visiting with the other women that came in from the same program and making sure everyone else was having a good time. She was just a treat to be around.

Cason got to spend time with a man named Jimmy. One of the only men that I saw that wanted to get some makeup. He was a hoot! He told the makeup artists to make him look like Morgan Freeman! He was the first adult to go sit on Santa’s knee for a picture. He also said he was proposing to his girlfriend later that day and posed in his picture with the ring.

Jimmy & Cason

There were some sweet families in the middle of the day that we got to escort around. A mother with her young daughter that started crying as she was getting her photo framed and was thanking everyone.

The last group of the day that we were there for was the most impacting for me. Continue reading

Nashville Rising (& Serving Together)

I haven’t written about the Nashville flood yet, because I’m just not sure I can do it proper justice. And there are many others out there who have done some amazing posts/reflections on it already. I am not necessarily the best writer. But I do want to say a few things.

For those that may not be aware, on the weekend of May 1-2, Nashville got 13-15 inches of rain. It was 28% of our average annual rainfall in just 48 hours! We just thought it was going to be a rainy weekend. No one saw this coming.Thousands of homes have been destroyed. People lost everything in a matter of hours. Interstates were turned in to rivers. 20 something people died in the flood. Famous Nashville landmarks were filled with water – the Country Music Hall of Fame, Titans Stadium, Opryland Hotel… Estimates put the damage at more than $1.5 billion. This was no 10-year flood, 50-year flood, or even 100-year flood. I have now heard that a rain like this only happens every 5,000-8,000 years!

Here are a few things to read and view, in order to get a good feel for what happened:
“We Are Nashville” post – an excellent read and what started a “We Are Nashville” movement
This is an excellent short video overview of the flood
Some incredible pictures of Middle Tennessee flooding

The most amazing thing of all has been to see people, neighborhoods, churches, communities reaching out to each other and helping each other. You don’t really hear stories of people blaming the government for not helping, or of much looting, or anything like that. That’s the main point on all of the media coverage that I’ve seen on the Nashville flood – that people are just getting out there and doing their part to help each other.

Cason & I had the privilege to be able to volunteer on Saturday through Hands on Nashville. We signed up to help with generic flood clean-up right here in our own zip code. I really wasn’t sure what to expect or what we’d encounter. We got to the center and as soon as they found out I spoke some Spanish, they sent us out to a trailer park on Antioch Pike. If you’ve seen much of the media coverage and the pictures, this is right by the area where the interstate (I-24) was completely flooded and a school building went floating down the road. A long stretch of Antioch Pike was just completely decimated. We got to this trailer park and there were about 8 trailers at the lower end that were destroyed. They were all Hispanic families so I was able to put my (rough) Spanish abilities to use a little bit. We helped to gut the trailer of Juan, Yane(?), and their children. Everything had to come out – carpet, floors, walls, insulation, cabinets. Pretty much everything that the flood waters touched had to be thrown out. Another girl & I packed away anything salvageable from their kitchen area which was already infested with ants by that point. It was heart breaking to work side-by-side with this family as we tore up what was left of their home, throw things in to piles at the curb, and stack up their few remaining possessions. By this area’s standards, they didn’t have much to start with, and now they have far less. Someone was able to secure them a storage unit (it was either donated by the place or it was purchased by someone on their behalf). So we helped load up their remaining possessions and took them over there.

I felt strange leaving them to go back home to my nice, dry house. I can’t imaging what they, and countless other families around here, are going through. It just doesn’t seem right… It’s something else I just can’t put in to words.

Anderson Cooper came to Nashville to report on the situation last week. They called the segment “Nashville Rising”. Yes, as a city, Nashville has suffered a terrible disaster. So many families have suffered so much loss. But it really has been amazing to witness so many people coming together. I think I heard that within just the first few days of Hands on Nashville starting to coordinate volunteer efforts, there were like 11,000 registered volunteers. And that doesn’t count the amazing efforts of churches and other groups.

Bottom Line: The work is far from over. Please continue to give, pray, and help. But God is definitely doing a great work in this city and I have never been so proud to be a Nashvillian!

**Update: Here’s another great story to read more on the personal side of the loss and devastation, from MSNBC – “In Nashville, hope springs among the tears”

**And one more heart-wrenching account of the wide scope of what happened: What the Media Missed in the Nashville Flood

The First Missions: Blessed to be a Blessing

Do you know where & when the first “missions” happened in the Bible? Most of us think of the New Testament when we think of missions – the Great Commission, Peter, John, Paul’s journeys, Philip and the Ethiopian…

But none of those are the correct answer. A couple of weeks ago, Scott Harris, our missions minister did a sermon about this and I was on the edge of my seat.

Are you ready for the answer?

It is actually all the way back in Genesis 12:1-4. Way back at the beginning. This is the story when God sent out Abram:
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran.”

God commanded Abram, at the age of 75, to leave everything that was comfortable to him and to follow wherever God was leading. It really is an amazing story to follow… all of the things that he went through, the trials, the hardships, the tests. Yet God worked amazing things through Abram. He used him to bless all of ‘the families of the earth.’ What a high calling.

One of the biggest things that I took away from this was that we don’t just want to live a mediocre Christian life. We must be willing to leave what is comfortable and to follow wherever God leads.

Scott focused in on a unique top line/bottom line perspective. The top line is to ask ourselves “how has God blessed me?” The bottom line is to ask “how does God want to use me to bless others?” We are blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. It really is that simple. We just need to use the things that we have in order to help others. If we have extra money, time, the gift of hospitality, if we’re a great cook, or make amazing crafts, if we have extra space in our house to host people and activities… God blessed us with all of these things and these abilities, so we are to use them to help bless others. Simple, right?

So I ask myself, and encourage you to ask yourselves also, – how has God blessed me and therefore, how does God want to use me to bless others?

Serving Refugees, Post #3: How We All Can Help

As a recap, I’ve posted twice now about World Relief and how we can serve incoming refugees. You can read those here and here. You can also visit the World Relief corporate site here to see if there is an active office in your area.

World Relief helps resettle refugees into cities across the US. These are families escaping their countries due to some type of awful persecution. They are looking for a safe place to raise their families and to earn a decent living. But it is a very hard situation. Generally they leave their countries with virtually nothing and come here to a new land, to a language they don’t know, and an entirely new culture. Some come from places where they’ve never had electricity or running water. They are basically expected to move here and assimilate quickly into a new life, find jobs not knowing the language, and make a decent living for themselves and their families.

This is where World Relief comes in. They help them get an apartment here, adjust to life, and find employment. But they are only able to give them $425 per person, one time only. A family of four comes and only gets $1700 one time and that goes to pay for their deposits, rent, utilities, everything. That money does not last long. How long would $1700 cover your family of four?

And here is where volunteer and donor support comes in. Here are some simple things you can do to help:

Continue reading

Serving Refugees, Post #2: A Baby Shower

This is my second post on World Relief and serving refugees. To read the first post click here.

After our group helped set up two apartments for arriving refugee families in May, Cason & I kept feeling tugged back to World Relief to do more. We both have a passion for the international community, and this finally seemed like the perfect place for us to be serving here in Nashville. We are involved in church and serving the church community (leading small groups, Cason is a deacon, etc), but it was way past time to start reaching out to those not in the church. So we went through the volunteer application process and helped with a few little things through the summer.

When fall rolled around, our church was doing another “Great Day of Service” and again our class signed up to help World Relief. It was going to be apartment set-ups again, until something changed at the last minute. With one week to go we changed courses completely and were led to host a baby shower for 5 pregnant refugee women (1 had actually just had their baby)!

Continue reading

Serving Refugees, Post #1

This is probably going to be the first in a series of posts on World Relief

Last Saturday, Cason & I attended a training, run by World Relief on how to help teach English to refugees. World Relief is an organization that helps resettle refugees into the area. These are individuals/families that are escaping their homelands generally due to persecution – political, religious, ethnic, etc – or wars/conflicts. Many have faced unspeakable terror. They are looking for a place that they can be safe and where they can raise their children without fear of being attacked.

It was during our church’s annual “Great Day of Service” last May that we discovered World Relief. I had started volunteering at Siloam medical clinic a few months prior to this. They are a group of doctors and nurses that give care to the uninsured and underinsured. I came to learn that most of their patients are refugees. Every Monday they would welcome dozens of refugees who had just arrived in the US within the last 7-10 days for the first check-ups & shots. I always wanted to take off work to be there on a Monday, but never did. Once I learned though about World Relief, the organization responsible for helping the refugees in all aspects, I was excited…

Continue reading

Mission to Moscow

This is the 2nd in my series of posts going back and talking about how I developed my love of travel, mission trips, etc.

Red Square with St. Basil's Cathedral, Lenin's Tomb, & the Kremlin

After studying abroad in Spain, I found myself continually plotting what my next trip would be. About a year later, during my junior year of college, an opportunity presented itself to go to Moscow, Russia with my college Sunday School class on a mission trip. While most people went to the beach for spring break, we went to cold, snowy Moscow!

Continue reading