Win a Copy of Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives

Winner Announced! Scroll on down and see if it’s you! If not, I highly encourage you to snag a copy of Everbloom here.

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I am delighted to be giving away a copy of Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives by the Women of Redbud Writers Guild.

By way of a preview, a few paragraphs from two of the stories.

“I know the stories. Of mothers in Syria being forced to choose which child to take as they flee. Of women and girls sold and trafficked. Of friends around the globe and in my city who battle chronic and undiagnosed illness; of friends who, because of the color of their skin or the socio-economic bracket they’ve been born into, cry out “help” much more often and healthily. But me? I’m a suburban mom with a new bleeding problem. I know only a smidgen of suffering.

Yet, I am learning my body has deep lessons to teach me. That this triad of mind, body, and soul is a pretty construct that doesn’t hold up. My body exposes where I’ve chosen to dig down my roots. Often, it turns out, they’re in rocky soil.”
I Am a Desperate Woman by Ashley Hales
(twitter | fb | insta)

“I didn’t want to be the girl whose house always had a rice pot plugged in on the counter, whose pantry was filled with seaweed and saimin noodles and Spam, whose fridge smelled of kimchee when you opened it. My taste buds never understood why the tiny stacks in the Lunchables box were anything to be desired, beyond being a way for me to line up on the shelf right next to my peers. I wanted to fit in, to belong, to be seen.”
Red Lips, Holy Rebellion, and Lady Danger by Alia Joy
(twitter | fb | insta)

They keep you wanting more, no? Enter to win so you can read more of these stunning stories, along with dozens of others. If you just can’t wait, order a copy here and if you happen to be the giveaway winner, you can pass a copy along to a woman in your life.

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I’ll announce the winner on Saturday – best wishes!

the facebook group: FAQs

Recently, I announced a new series on supporting foster and adoptive families. You can find the first three posts here.

What is this Facebook group you speak of?
In September 2015, some friends of mine (Jenny and Elizabeth) were opening a foster pantry (read all the details here!) and I offered to try out some online fundraising to get some needed items stocked. 24 hours later, nearly $2000 had been raised. On Facebook. It was clear that momentum had built and that people were eager to do more to serve foster/adopt/kinship families, so I started a Facebook group to share ongoing needs.

What goes on in there?
– Raising money for foster pantry items
When Jenny or Elizabeth lets me know about an item that needs to be restocked in the foster pantry, I head to the Facebook group and do some fundraising. Depending on how things are going with people donated used items, sometimes we’ll decide to wait and do a big fundraiser for several items a few times a year. At times, we also learn of families who are at risk for CPS-intervention because of insecure housing who have obtained an apartment but have no furnishings, and we’ll do fundraisers for that as well.

The fundraisers, frankly, look a lot like me posting incessantly and convincing people that even giving $2 makes a difference. I’m silly, loud, and pep rally-ish, and people give either because they love it or because they want me to be quiet. I’m cool with either.

Here are some sample posts from fundraisers!

– Meal calendars
We regularly post meal calendars (favorite site is Meal Train) where people can directly sign up to take a meal to a family, post in the comments that they can cook but not deliver (or vice versa) and look for a partner, be prompted to donate toward take out, or sign up to cook and deliver a meal that they’ll be reimbursed for through our Monthly Meals program (post to come). Those posts look like this.

– Promoting adoption fundraisers
– Posting information on classes for becoming a certified foster babysitter
– Offering items that are no longer needed to other families
– Coordinating rides, pick-up/drop-off of items, etc.

How could I start a Facebook group?
– Talk to local foster/adoptive families and/or CPS workers to determine what would be truly supportive in your community and determine if a FB group could be a part of it.

– Consider if you want to be responsible for running the group, if you’d like to do it with a group of friends, or if you’re not comfortable with/capable of posting regularly, etc. Who do you know that may be?

– Get very familiar with unsplash.com. Unsplash has a great selection of free stock photos that I use constantly when posting meal calendars, a request for a ride or delivery, etc. Pictures make a huge difference in visibility and interaction on Facebook.

– Whoever is in charge of this little corner of the Internet must be comfortable posting frequently when the need warrants it. When there isn’t a pressing need, go quiet. When there is, or when it’s time to do a fundraiser, go crazy! The more excited you are, the more momentum builds.

– PayPal and Venmo make it easy for people to give, as well as offering the option for checks to be sent.

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I’m here for you! Comment with questions or shoot me an email.

New Podcast Episode: Hopefully Resisting Racial Division

The second episode of My Sista’s Keeper: Shalom in the City’s Monthly Conversation on Race & Unity is here! This month, Osheta and I are exploring the idea of hopefully resisting division.

When it comes to racial reconciliation conversations, what words seem to make us aware of division unlike any other? You got it, race/racism/racist. As challenging as those words are to discuss, we think it’s worth it to really press in to what they mean in order to have a common, working definition as we go forward.

So, on this episode, we’re diving deep and getting all kinds of uncomfortable as we look at how race and racism operate in the world today. And we promise you, every word we say and question we ask – it’s all in the name of peacemaking.

We’ll be honest with you, this episode had us pretty sweaty! We share stories, ask questions, and speak truths that we are confident are necessary for bringing about true Shalom in racial reconciliation. It’s a deep one, but we think it’s a good, too.

We want to know what you think about this episode and what this conversation has you thinking about: Come join us on Facebook at the Shalom Sistas’ Hangout and share your thoughts!
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Want more Shalom in your life? 

Subscribe to the podcast via the Podcasts App, iTunes, Stitcher, or listen here.

You can join the Shalom in the City conversation over in our Shalom Sista’s Hangout, as well as on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Hope to see you in some of these Shalom Spaces!

What Friends Are For

I grew up in the era of the sanctification checklist. “Have you read your Bible today? Have you spent time in prayer? At church? Serving others? Memorizing Scripture? At Bible study?” The list goes on. Extra points if your youth pastor added, “Did you spend more time reading your Bible or looking in the mirror this morning?”

This guidance came from leaders who desired to see teenagers fully devoted to Christ, but it felt like a fifty-pound weight on my already burdened heart. I longed for the satisfaction of feeling right before God—and that weight on my chest only increased my zeal.

Maybe, I thought, some more marks in those checkboxes would help me become holy. Maybe I can check off the boxes before the weight crushes me.

Many praise the move away from this type of ministry, but I wonder how far we’ve really gone.

Keep reading at Fathom Mag.

On Preparing for Easter

Holy Week is upon us, perhaps bringing the thought of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, or Easter to your mind. I wonder, though, if any of us think of Maundy Thursday, that just before Good Friday? Maundy Thursday recalls the Passover that Jesus shared with his disciples, which we often refer to as The Last Supper (recorded in John 13). The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for “command,” referencing the command Jesus gave to the disciples at the Supper,

“Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Simon Peter asks Jesus where He is going.

“Where I am going you cannot follow me now,
but you will follow afterward.”

Just before this, Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet, which would customarily have been done by a servant. He has also led them in the inaugural observance of communion.

“This is My body, broken for you.
This is My blood, shed for you.”

Can you imagine the disciples’ confusion?

Keep reading at Sparrow Conference.

the foster pantry: FAQs

Last week, I announced a new series on supporting foster and adoptive families. You can find the first post here, and the second post here.

What is the foster pantry?

Though it has “foster” in the title, the pantry also serves adoptive and kinship placement families, as well as families at risk for CPS intervention. The pantry is filled with clothes, car seats, strollers, baby swings, diapers, toys, toiletries, and more, all available at no cost to the families.

How did the foster pantry get started?

A few years ago, my friends Elizabeth Carter and Jenny Closner began dreaming about opening a foster pantry through a foster and adoption support group called Faithful to the Fatherless. When Elizabeth lived elsewhere, her church started one, and she had seen firsthand how helpful it was to families.

Elizabeth (a foster and adoptive mom), and Jenny (an adoptive mom), prayed about the pantry and eventually a family in our church provided space for it in a small side building on their property. The pantry now shares a storage unit space with another ministry of our church. The items all come through donations.

Who runs it?

Elizabeth and Jenny are the primary contacts, and a few other volunteers have keys for meeting families at the pantry to go shopping.

Why is the pantry needed?

Very often, foster families receive a phone call just a few hours before a child is coming into their home. CPS interventions vary widely, and children are often in immediate need of a place to spend the night tonight.

Imagine that you are going about your day and suddenly the phone rings with a placement opportunity. How comforting to know that your next phone call can be to set up an appointment at a pantry that is stocked with the items you’ll need for this new season of your life!

The pantry is also open to families who are adopting, as they are often facing major costs. We want to celebrate the bringing of a child into a home, whether temporarily or permanently. So, the same way that we throw baby showers for friends who are pregnant (even when they have the ability to buy some items themselves), we want to show our support through the pantry.

Don’t foster families get reimbursed by the state? Don’t the kids bring things with them?

The pantry primarily provides items immediately needed at the time of placement (as opposed to ongoing needs months after a child has been placed, though we are happy for families to trade out clothing sizes, for example).

Foster parents are reimbursed by the state, but the reimbursements take a while to come in, and they’re not a high amount.

Children often come with nothing, or maybe a few belongings in a trash bag. So, for example, if the child is a baby, immediate needs would include a car seat, stroller, bottles, etc. – items that add up very quickly and can’t wait to be purchased when the reimbursement comes. The pantry removes the stress of those large initial costs.

How do families learn about the pantry?

Many of the foster and adoptive families in our community are a part of the Faithful to the Fatherless, so the word spreads easily there. Jenny and Elizabeth also have good relationships with caseworkers at our local CPS office who inform foster families that the pantry is available to them.

How do families set up an appointment?

Foster parents (and sometimes caseworkers) call Elizabeth or Jenny who arrange a time to meet the parent at the pantry. Sometimes, if the child is coming right this minute, a volunteer will go gather items for the family and deliver them. Ideally, though, the parent gets to shop and choose things they especially like and need.

How much can families take? How do you know you’re not being taken advantage of?

The vast majority of the time, Elizabeth and Jenny are imploring foster parents to take more. Rarely, almost never, have they felt that the pantry was taken advantage of.

In general, foster families are so thankful and overwhelmed by the offer of assistance during those crazy first days of transition that they restrain themselves a great deal when choosing items. (So Elizabeth and Jenny just add things to their bags :).)

Faithful to the Fatherless wants to steward donations well while honoring the dignity of each foster parent and child by giving generously and not being trapped by the fear of misuse. There will be times when the pantry or items from it are misused. But overall, abundant giving has been reciprocated with abundant gratitude.

Families are never expected to return the items that they take, though we’re certainly happy to take back items that are no longer needed (a crib, for example). The foster families are also encouraged to send items with foster children who leave their care to wherever they are going.

If resources were limited, it would be easy to come up with a checklist that is given to the foster parent (x number of outfits, etc.) to refer to as he or she shops.

How do you solicit donations?

When the pantry first opened, Jenny and Elizabeth spread the word through Faithful to the Fatherless and on social media that excellent used condition (this is really important – we want the families to receive items that communicate dignity) clothes and items were needed. Our community stepped up to the plate big time with clothes, and by the time I made it to the drop-off day, the only things still needed were bigger items like car seats and strollers.

I suggested to Jenny that I post on Facebook and see if anyone wanted to contribute toward the “grand opening” of the pantry. 24 hours later, the wild world of Facebook had blown me away by raising around $2000 toward needed items (read about it here).

Building on the momentum of that fundraiser, I started a Facebook group where supporters of Faithful to the Fatherless could stay in touch with ongoing needs. I’ll do a separate post on the Facebook group, but for now, it’s where we share a lot of information about items that are needed and fundraise for them.

How could I do something like this in my community?

You’ll need:

Space, which could be as small as part of someone’s garage (maybe with attic space for car seats, etc.), or as large as a storage unit. You may start small and get bigger! Ideally, the space needs to be accessible by multiple volunteers who will have keys to take families shopping, so keep that in mind as you’re considering spaces (aka do you want to give 4 people keys to your garage?).

Volunteers to maintain inventory, fundraise/solicit used items, meet families at the pantry. Time commitments will vary based on the size of your city’s foster/adopt needs and how often new placements are made (you could learn this by contacting your local CPS office). Jenny and Elizabeth average about 3-5 hours per week meeting families at the pantry and maintaining inventory, and I average around the same with raising money for needed items, etc.

Keep in mind that this is an average. Some weeks, Elizabeth, Jenny, and/or I may spend 15 hours on the pantry, some weeks none at all. Largely, this is because some weeks the community may have no new placements, and some weeks it may have 10.

If you’re limited on volunteers/time, you could have a schedule of weekly availability for each volunteer and only allow appointments during those times. A lot of this will depend on season of life/other commitments for your volunteers, so I encourage you to all be very honest with each other about your schedules/capacity and set up the pantry in a way that will be sustainable for your volunteers.

Set up a clear line of communication between the people who are hands on at the pantry taking families shopping and maintaining inventory, and the person or people who fundraise for needed items. In our case, Jenny or Elizabeth will send me a text of what’s running low and I’ll get to work hassling people on Facebook for baby swings. Talk through it with your people to see what works and helps everyone stay on the same page.

A connection to foster families so they can learn about the pantry, such as an existing ministry or the local CPS office

A strategy for soliciting donations of new and/or excellent used condition items (post to come on some of our fundraising tips and tricks)

You may want:

A Facebook group (post to come!)

Someone who is comfortable manically posting in said Facebook group to solicit donations (in our case, this is me)
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I am here for you as you determine if this is something your church, community group, or friends could get started. Please feel free to comment on this post or contact me with any questions!

3 Ways to Shake off the Winter Blues this Spring

It’s springtime! Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, winter coats are hibernating in the backs of our closets (or the middle for the northerners, just in case). As spring greets us on the calendar, many of us are noticing a spring (couldn’t help it!) in our steps as well, and that’s not sheer coincidence. According to scientists and psychologists, “a combination of timing, the natural human body program, hormones, and most importantly, light,” work together to create a general sense of positivity and happiness when springtime heads our way. It’s a lovely thing.

But of course, cheery as it sounds, it’s not a universal truth. Some of you look at the sunshine breaking through the clouds and almost feel taunted by its presence, wondering why it still feels like winter in your soul. Some of you feel caught in the gap between the beauty outside and the harsh cold inside, the inner ice of stress or depression or grief or sadness. I have been you, and more than once. It’s a lonely, disorienting feeling. So what do we do when the calendar’s pages are beckoning us into springtime, but winter’s grip seems to linger in our souls?

While there’s no formula to follow that will suddenly thaw the chill inside you, I’d like to offer a few suggestions that have served as a warm blanket for me in various seasons of my life.

Keep reading over at iBelieve!