Thursday, December 29, 2011

Make your year-end gift count!

As we wrap up 2011, we know a lot of you out there are looking for the right place to invest your year-end tax-deductible gift. We would like you to consider investing that gift in The Sound of Hope. We’ve had a wildly successful year thanks to many generous donors. Our organization’s revenue has grown by 1,209% in 2011! That growth means a greater impact in the lives of hundreds of orphans and at-risk children around the world.

To be more specific, last year (in our first year of operation as a 501c3 organization) we were able to release $3,200.00 to care for our children overseas. This year, we released $100,667.57 to the Children’s Homes and Children’s Programs we are partnered with in Thailand, India, and Swaziland!

We are beyond excited to see this increase in giving. You see, we’ve spent 5 months of this year traveling to and living in 2 of the countries where we have partnerships - Thailand and India - and we have seen the needs of these children first hand. Our bottom line is simple - the more you give, the more we can do for these kids. More money means more children rescued from poverty, drug-trafficking, sex-trafficking, genocide, disease, and abuse. More funding means more children living in safe, loving homes - and more children with an opportunity for an education! 


We know that, as a donor, you want to see the greatest impact made with your year-end financial gift. By giving to The Sound of Hope, your gift will drastically impact many lives. I know this because we’ve put money in the hands of our local partners, and seen in person how they use that money. Our overseas partnerships are built on face-to-face relationships. So you can trust us with your sacrificial financial gift.

Right now we have 3 pressing needs:

1 - The Asha Mission Land Project - We need $36,000 for this project by mid-January, with another $180,000 by July.  The Asha Mission Children’s Home in Delhi, India is home to 33 children, but they only have 2 small bedrooms. Over half of the little boys and girls there must sleep on the cold, concrete floor every night. This Children’s Home needs to expand, and the best way to do that is to buy their own land and build a permanent home. Money given to this fund will go directly to purchase this land.

2 - The HOPE Fund - Money given to this fund will be disbursed evenly to the Children’s Homes and Children’s Programs we are partnered with in Swaziland, India, and Thailand. These funds are used for needs like food, clothing, rent, transportation, school fees, and medical care.

3 - The ADMIN Fund - In order to do this full-time work of fundraising, empowering and advocating for our kids around the world, we need funds to operate our organization. Donations given to the ADMIN Fund provide for our operational expenses, salaries, and travel expenses so that we can work around the clock for hundreds of children trapped in horrific poverty.

One thing we do well as an organization is bring you, the donor, face-to-face with the projects you support. During our trips overseas, we broadcast “real-time” video updates from the field. We believe it’s important for you to know the needs of the children and precisely how your contribution is being used.  Here is an example from a recent project in India.

We are anxious to get to Swaziland in 2012, so that we can share the stories and needs of the children in Nsoko - but we can’t do it without your help! Because donors like you have invested in The Sound of Hope ADMIN Fund we’ve been able to make many direct and intimate impacts around the world in 2011.

2011 PROJECTS ::

As you can see, we’ve had a very successful year!  But the truth is, we are only as successful as our donors are generous. So THANK YOU for giving and partnering with us this year. We hope you’ll continue to help us give HOPE to children around the world by giving a year-end gift today!

Click on your fund of choice to donate online (Asha Mission Land Fund - HOPE Fund - ADMIN Fund) or mail your tax-deductible donation to The Sound of Hope - PO Box 534 - Helena, AL - 35080.

Many thanks & Happy New Year!

Rusty & Ericka Jackson
Co - Founders
The Sound of Hope


ps - We have a lot of exciting projects planned for the coming year, including starting a Children’s Library in each of the homes we support, and starting a school in a slum in India. Please help us continue our work in 2012! We'd love it if you would re-post this blog or share it on your facebook or twitter! Thanks friends!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I'll Be Home for Christmas!

Well friends, it's been an INCREDIBLE 6 weeks in India & Thailand. We've enjoyed every moment with our partners and the precious children we help care for. We still have a lot of stories, videos, and pictures to share, but for now - we are focused on getting HOME!


"I'll Be Home for Christmas" - never have 5 words sounded sweeter! I have a whole new respect for those who serve overseas during the holidays - whether in mission work or in the military. All of you - and your families - will be in my prayers this week. (And you incredible people are why I'm sharing the video/song above... it makes me cry every time!) Missing Thanksgiving was difficult, but Christmas would be even worse! I've honestly been pretending it's not Christmas this month - not really listening to Christmas music or watching Christmas movies so I didn't get too homesick. I am so glad we got to spend this precious time with our kids overseas, but I'm also grateful the timing worked out for us to come HOME before Christmas!

Right now, we are in the middle of our long trek home. We had a 6 hour flight to Korea - 12 hour layover (where we are right now) - next up is a 12 hour flight to Atlanta - and then a 4 hour drive home to Birmingham. If you think about it, please pray for traveling mercies for us!

This Christmas, I will have new burdens in my heart for "the least of these". The precious faces of our children will be fresh in my mind as I look at our Christmas tree. After spending time with forgotten children in hopeless situations, it will be much more meaningful to know that our Savior came to bring HOPE to the world! I'm looking forward to sharing about our time in a leper colony, our visit to a government orphanage in Thailand, and some exciting new projects for The Sound of Hope... but for now... MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours! May our love, hope, and generosity point others to Christ this Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Planting HOPE in a trash heap.

Today I'm reposting a blog I wrote for The Sound of Hope. This is a new project in India that we are really excited about - and we've got over half of the funds raised already! We'd like to finish fundraising for this before Christmas, but we need your help. If you're looking for a gift for a teacher in your life, donating to this project in their honor would truly be a gift that keeps giving!

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Here in India, we've found that there are 3 main areas that the children at our homes are rescued from - the Red Light District, Leper Colonies, and the Slums. We've visited all three of these areas during this trip, but our visit to Chauma Slum was definitely the most overwhelming.

After a short drive from the Children's Home, we arrived at what appeared to be an empty trash heap. But as we peered inside the open huts made of leftover plastic and cardboard, children began to arrive out of nowhere. Within a few moments, we were surrounded by filthy, beautiful, pathetic, precious little boys and girls.

They were covered in dirt and sores. Snot dripped from their noses and their matted hair looked like it had never been washed or brushed. Their clothes were trash - torn, worn peices that other people had thrown away. And as they ran to us, Babu (our Indian partner) explained that any food they got was also from the trash - leftovers or spoiled items their parents found while trashpicking.


I looked deep into their eyes and it was more than I could take. I felt hot tears well up inside, but for their sake, I fought them back. They didn't need my pity - what they needed was love and attention!
After some hugs and kisses, a song, and some candy, I brought out my camera. They posed like they were little models - hamming it up and pushing themselves in front of my lens. "Auntie, Auntie! Take me!" they shouted as my shutter snapped. They all wanted to see their photos, and have pictures made with their siblings.

For about an hour, I lost myself with them. I took pictures while they fought for my attention. I held their grubby hands and patted their sweet little heads. We laughed and played together. I pushed them around on their only "toy" - a trashpicker's cart some adult had left behind. It was in the middle of this "game" that I was forced back to reality.

"Ericka - watch out! That is human poop you are stepping in! It's everywhere!" Babu shouted.


I shrugged it off and kept playing - but it hit home for me. These children are living and playing in trash and human feces EVERY DAY OF THEIR LIVES. Their parents abandon them during the day so that they can go and search through the trash heaps around town for food or recyclables - anything useful. This is the only source of income for these families. The children here are destined to live out the same fate... UNLESS WE DO SOMETHING.

I know we can't rescue all these children. The 3 homes we support in India are already overflowing with too many kids and not enough space. But leaving these little ones behind without doing anything for them was too much to bear. We don't want to just be spectators in these countries- we want to RESPOND when we see a need!

It turns out that Sharma, the house dad for Asha Mission, has been wanting to plant a school here for over 6 months. We eagerly asked what we could do to help. Babu explained that all they really need is funding, and the small amount it will take to run this school for a YEAR will shock you! Watch this video to hear more...

Donate Now

Just $1,600 will fund a school in the Chauma Slum for 1 year. That's $200 to rent a plot of land, $175 to build a basic structure, and $35 per child to cover their school supplies. The school will be small and very basic, but if we can even teach these children to READ, then their lives could be changed FOREVER!

You see, for a forgotten child like this little girl, EDUCATION = HOPE.


So please, help us plant HOPE in a trash heap. You never know the possibilities that could grow out of this garbage!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Looking for the 411 on Korea!

Okay - here's a quick post for all my traveling friends! I'm wondering if we know anyone who's been to Korea - specifically around Seoul? We have about a 10 hour layover there on our way home in a few days, and we really need some advice!

From what we can tell, the airport is about an hour away from Seoul. We were hoping to head into the city and find a market - but we have no idea where to start! You see, some dear friends of ours are adopting a precious little girl from Korea, and we wanted to buy a few items (jewelry, scarves, art?) that they could auction off to raise money for their adoption. So - if you can give us any advice on the following questions, we would really appreciate it!

1 - How do we get from the airport to Seoul? Subway? Taxi? Ferry? (it appears that the airport may be on an island?)

2 - How long does it take to get to Seoul? (We need to plan our time carefully!)

3 - Do you know of any good markets? I was hoping to find a street market, which is where I usually shop in India, Thailand, etc. We want nice things for a good price! Anyone have any suggestions? (maybe we could give the name/location to a cab driver to get there?) And do you know if they are DAY markets, or NIGHT markets?

4 - What items are "special" in Korea? For example - Thailand has pearls and silk scarves.... India has wall hangings.... Swaziland has batiks. Is there anything (that isn't crazy expensive) that is unique to Korea? And do you know what a good price is for it?

5 - What is the exchange rate for Korea?

6 - How do you say "Hello", "How much?" and "Thank You" in Korean? Are there any other cultural things we should know? (I don't want to offend anyone while we're in-country!)
7 - Is there anything else special/exciting/unique that we should try to see in Seoul while we're there?

I realize I could (maybe) find some of this info online, but we don't have very good internet so I don't have a lot of time to search. If any of you could help us out with this little project, we would appreciate it so much! Thanks friends!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

From India to Thailand... (catching you up!)

Sorry guys for the lack of blogs! My last update was on Thanksgiving in India, which means I'm way behind on all we've been up to overseas.To say things have been busy would be an understatement. Let me try to (quickly) catch you up!

Here are the highlights...

After our time at Asha Mission, and Asha House in Delhi - we headed to Kolkata for a few days to visit the third Children's Home we support - Asha Mission Kolkata (founded by the same people who founded Asha Mission Delhi). This is home to 15 little boys, and we loved spending time with them! While we were there we found out they were sleeping on the cement floor and getting sick from the cold weather (because they couldn't afford mattresses or warm blankets.) So we bought them all new pillows and thick blankets for the winter, and then (thanks to our awesome donors) we were able to raise the funds for new mattresses! Check out the video here...


Asha Mission - Kolkata from The Sound of Hope on Vimeo.

After 3 days with the kids in Kolkata, we finally took a much-needed day off. For some reason we didn't schedule any off-days between the 3 orphanages, brothel, and leper colony this trip, and we now know what a mistake that was! We would work all day at the Children's Homes, travel for hours in Indian traffic, and then come back to the hotel for 4 (or more) hours of video/blog/internet work before falling into bed around midnight or 1am. We were seriously worn out by this point (day 15 of the trip). We'll definitely do a better job of planning some rest into our next trip!

After our rest day we flew back to Delhi. I spent 2 days shopping for merchandise for The Sound of Hope, and let me tell you - that was an adventure all by itself! These ladies don't like to take "no" for an answer. At one point one saleswoman had me by one arm - Rusty had me by the other - and both were pulling as hard as they could! I felt like a human wishbone! (I seriously wish we had a pic of that - LOL!) But I am happy to report that we got some extremely beautiful handmade products that I know many of you are going to love! We're planning a big fundraising event for next November (in B'ham) where we'll be having a silent auction with these items - so keep an eye out to find out how you can be a part of it! 

Our last day in India was one of the busiest, but best days of our trip. We spent the day with Babu John - the founder of both Asha Mission Children's Homes. He shared so much with us about his vision for these homes, the children we care for, and also about the issues orphans and vulnerable children face in India. He also took us to visit the Chauma Slum, and what we saw broke our hearts. I'll be reposting my blog about our time there soon, but I'll go ahead and share our video now. You see, we've decided to plant a school in this slum, and we want YOU to be a part of it! 


Chauma Slum - Delhi, India from The Sound of Hope on Vimeo.

Donate Now

We said our goodbyes at Asha Mission (Delhi) later that night, and got some beautiful gifts from the children. We also got to celebrate 2 of the kids birthdays with them! It's tradition here for the staff to feed the kids all bites of the birthday cake (kind of like the bride & groom at a wedding in America). Of course, they also smash icing all over their faces and everyone has a good laugh!

Here's the birthday girl, Leel...


And the birthday boy, Ramlal!


We sure are going to miss these two (as well as all the other sweet little boys and girls at all 3 homes here!) India is a very difficult country to visit (it's really rough on your health), but being with the kids  makes it all worth it!

The next day, it was time to fly to Thailand! The plan was to have 3 days to rest in Pattaya, before heading back up to Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, our plan didn't really work out. Our first day in Pattaya ended up being the only day Rusty's 81 year old cousin Sam could visit with us, so we stayed awake for around 36 hours straight! (It sure was good to see him and our Thai friend Thida though!) After that we were just going to sleep in for 2 days and lay by the pool... but our health issues kind of ruined that. We think we both got parasites in India (I guess that's a risk when you are eating in brothels and leper colonies!) and had to take parasite meds for 3 days. Then, I had a serious allergic reaction to the bedding in the hotel (I think it was the detergent the sheets were washed in). I was pretty much covered in a red, itchy rash from head to toe for 4 days. Pretty miserable to say the least! I'm glad to report that after our parasite meds, lots of benadryl, and prescription strength steroid cream we are both feeling much better!

After our (itchy) days in Pattaya, we flew back up to Chiang Mai and immediately hit the road! No rest for the weary! We drove to Mae Sariang to visit the new Children's Home we bought a few months ago (video to come soon) and then headed to the refugee camp to visit the 19 kids at The Refuge for a Christmas party! It was SO good to see them all again. We were really encouraged to see how well they are doing and also to see the new home. We can't wait to share the details with you!

Until then though - here's a pic of some of our kids at The Refuge in their Christmas hats. We had so much fun together!


... and now you're all caught up! (Well, with the basics anyway!) We still have a LOT more stories, videos, and pics to share - so I promise to post more later. I can't believe how fast time is flying by! We only have 6 days left in Thailand, and we still have so much to do!

I'll end for now by saying a big THANK YOU to everyone who's been following our work on our personal blogs, vimeo, facebook, twitter, and The Sound of Hope blog. It has been so encouraging to get your comments and messages, and to see you reposting our videos and blogs! It's great to know you are here with us "in spirit"! We really couldn't do this work without you!

Friday, November 25, 2011

A different kind of Thanksgiving... (Part 2)

As I mentioned in my last blog, we spent our Thanksgiving Day at Asha House - one of the orphanages The Sound of Hope is partnered with in Delhi, India. This Thanksgiving was very different from my past 26 - so I thought I'd share our day in pictures (and videos) with all of you!

When we walked in the gate, the children immediately started pulling on our shirts saying, "Auntie, Uncle - THANK YOU for the money for our new house!" After seeing how excited the kids were, we thought we should ask Victor and Simini (the house Mom and Dad) what they thought about all the money for their move coming in last night! Here's their response...



Are here are our sweet kiddos, saying THANK YOU to everyone who donated!
(If you gave, then listen closely to hear your personal THANK YOU!)


We spent most of the afternoon working at the house - taking videos and pictures of the kids, and hearing more of their stories (how they came to Asha House, what their dreams are, etc). It was great to re-connect with each of the kids individually, even if it was just for a few minutes! Of course, in between video shoots, we found time for some to love on some of our sweet girls...

Here's Rusty goofing around with Tabitha and Jyoti!



And me holding Baby Aksha - look at that sweet little scrunchy face!

 
She has so much personality for someone so small!


We also made sure to get some pictures of  Rusty with all the boys...


...and me with all the girls! (we're all hugging, if you're wondering! ;)



We worked on a secret project with Jyoti, Tabitha, and Shanu (it's a new piece of merchandise we'll be revealing in a couple of months... very exciting!) and they were all so happy to be a part of it!

We also made sure to get a "family" picture of us with Jyoti. We've been personally supporting her for almost 4 years, and she has been stuck to us like glue this week (which we've loved! Especially since she was terrified of white people last time I visited - haha!) Here is our shot of Rusty Uncle, Ericka Aunty, and little Jyoti!


Throughout the day, I noticed Simini and Sapna (one of the staff members) working on a saree. I knew they sometimes did some seamstress work to make extra money, so I didn't really think anything about it. Towards the end of our visit, Simini asked me what I thought of her new red saree. I told her how beautiful it was, and she explained that they had made it themselves (they added all the trim, rhinestones, and they even painted the flowers on it!)


Then, to my surprise, she said it was for ME!!! I was so SHOCKED! I'd mentioned a few days ago that I wanted to buy a red saree someday, and they had decided to make one especially for me! They had been working on it all day right under my nose! We had a good laugh and I thanked them over and over while they dressed me up!


My sneaky, sneaky seamstress friends!


Next up it was storytime! Just like at Asha Mission, we brought the kids their own copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible. When I walked in to read it in my saree, everyone cheered and clapped! They loved my new Indian clothes!


After storytime, the kids surprised us with even more gifts! (I wasn't sure if it was Thanksgiving or Christmas!) We were given two beautiful handmade cards, and a big framed photo of us with our Asha House Family! We can't wait to put it in our office!


And then, came the most special part of our day.... all the kids circled around us, laid hands on us, and prayed! I just sat and cried - I was so moved. I felt so undeserving of all their love, gifts, attention and prayers. I just kept wondering how we could be so lucky - so blessed - to be loved like this by these incredible kids!



As we said our goodbyes (and got lots of kisses from our sweet Jyoti) - we headed out to treat the staff to dinner. Our Thanksgiving Dinner was not turkey this year.... it was Chinese food at an Indian restaurant called Hi Mirchee!


It was definitely a different kind of Thanksgiving, but I couldn't be more thankful for the memories we made today! We love our Asha House family!!!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A different kind of Thanksgiving... (Part 1)

Since November 1st, I've been reading lots of posts about thankfulness on my friends' blogs and facebooks. For the past few days, I've been reading about everyone's preparations for the holiday - and all the family, friends, and food they're planning to enjoy! But this year, Thanksgiving looked very different for us. Instead of spending time with our family and eating all our favorite dishes, we spent the day working at one of our orphanages in Delhi, India. We may not have celebrated in the traditional way, but the past few weeks have given me a lot of new things to be thankful for... many of them things I typically take for granted.

After spending time in a leper colony, I am thankful for all my fingers and toes. I'm also thankful that I live in a country that has eradicated this debilitating disease. To see people suffer as social outcasts because they have a curable disease is so unfair. To see them die without dignity - living out their last days in a crude wooden box - is a tragedy no one should suffer.

After spending time in an orphanage where half the children have to sleep on the concrete floor, I am thankful for my bed. What my husband and I once thought was small and old (it's only a full size mattress, and it's a "hand-me-down") now looks luxurious. The fact that I have a guestroom with an extra bed in it seems like an even more outrageous blessing.

After watching a video of Christians being beaten to death in Orissa, India, I am thankful for RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. The beatings I witnessed were absolutely horrific. Crowds of people not only watched without helping, they joined in with baseball bats and rocks - beating, kicking, and stoning men and women simply because they professed to know Jesus Christ. The streets were strewn with dead bodies - men and women martyred because of their faith. But every day in America I am free to pray, worship, and profess my faith in public without ever fearing for my safety.

After spending time in a brothel, I am thankful for my FREE education. Most of the women in prostitution here (in India and around the world) are trapped in this profession because of a lack of education. We were told that there are up to 20,000 women working as prostitutes on the one street we visited, and that most of them can't even read.


Because school fees are expensive, those born into poverty often remain trapped in the cycle of poverty for generations. It is truly a privilege to live in a country where a quality education is available to every single child, up to 12th grade. It's even more amazing that so many scholarships are available to those wanting to continue their education in college!

God forgive me for taking so many of these gifts for granted! 

There is more than just thankfulness in my heart this week though. I have been so humbled by the people we've met here - living out their faith in some of the most difficult circumstances in the world. I've found myself asking WHY often. Why don't I have leprosy? Why wasn't I born into a brothel? Why wasn't I orphaned? Why am I healthy when so many are sick? Why was I given the incredible opportunity of a free education? Why was I born into a loving family instead of being abandoned? Why have I been so BLESSED, when I am surrounded by extreme poverty and pain? 

I don't know the answer. All I know is, I didn't do anything to deserve the life I live. In no way did I "earn" the incredible blessings God has given me. Every day, I feel so undeserving when I compare myself to our friends here in India. And while I don't understand why I have every opportunity to thrive while women just like me are suffering in brothels and slums, I do know that I have an opportunity to do something about it.

We are blessed to be a blessing friends - plain and simple. I hope as you reflect today on all you are thankful for, that you'll ask God how He would have you share your blessings with others!

(Stay tuned for Part 2 - a post full of pictures from our Thanksgiving Day!)

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Night in a Brothel


"If you take me to America with you, I will leave this life."
 

Kamlal's statement stunned me. For a moment I envisioned myself taking her by the hand and marching out of the brothel. I started to reason that she could live with my husband and I in our guestroom. I saw a better life for her unfolding....

....but in the blink of an eye it was back to reality. 

Rusty joked with her that we could adopt her, and we all laughed. We knew there would be no way to take this 35 year old woman - with a husband and 2 children - away to America. It just isn't that easy. 

But looking around me, I wished it was. I was standing on the balcony of a brothel in the Red Light District of Delhi, India. From behind the iron bars on the windows, women were beckoning their customers. They would service the men in the 8 tiny rooms to my left and right - 4 on each side of the balcony, 2 on top of each other. I call them rooms, but they were more like prison cells. A 5 by 4 cement room with a cement slab for a "bed". There was no ventilation, and only a small red bulb for a light. I couldn't bring myself to imagine these sweet women "working" in these damp, dark cells. I shuddered and whispered the name of Jesus. There was little I could do but pray for His presence to fill the darkness.

We'd come to G.B. Road to visit the mothers of 4 of the boys at one of our Children's Homes. Our contact, Saji, had been doing ministry in this area with his wife for several years. In the video below, you'll hear him explain that there are between 15 and 20,000 women working in brothels on this road. The road is less than a mile long.



He also explained that for some families, prostitution is multi-generational. One little boy from our home has not only a mother working in these brothels, but a grandmother too. We've never been so convinced of the importance of rescuing the children out of this area. No child should have to grow up in a brothel. No little boy should have to watch his mother being bought by strange men night after night. No little girl should grow up seeing her mother treated like property.

But there are children who do. After a slow climb up a dark, filthy stairwell, we met a little girl who couldn't have been more than 7 years old. She offered me some gooseberries and we sat and ate together. She, like her mother, seemed happy. But our contact told us it was only a mask.

"Many people here have become addicted to alcohol and drugs, because once they get into this [profession], many people use them and mistreat them... therefore they have become addicted. Maybe they show their smiles on their face but inside their hearts I feel there are very many pains and agonies."

But the women aren't the only ones. When Saji introduced us to Kamlal, he explained that her husband was the one addicted. "We have taken him to rehabilitation two or three times, but it doesn't last. He is addicted, and he is abusive." We found out that Kamlal is forced to sell her body to support her husband. "He will come for money," Saji explained, "and if she does not give it to him, he will beat her."

I asked how much she costs.

"200 rupees," she responded.

FOUR DOLLARS.

That's the price for her dignity, her health, her self-respect. $4.00! I was appalled. The beautiful woman standing in front of me was only "worth" the price of my mocha at Starbucks.

As I tried to wrap my mind around that figure, I wondered if her work or her abusive husband was the reason for the back pain she was complaining about. She asked us to pray for her, and Saji explained that she'd experienced healing from prayers before. She knew she could turn to Jesus in her suffering. And so, I prayed. I prayed for healing, and then I prayed for a new life for her. I told her she was a child of God - made in His image. I told her that He had a plan for her life - and it wasn't prostitution. I asked God to reveal Himself to her and to reveal His plan for her life. And all the while she clung to me like a liferaft.

Rusty told me I should sing over her, and she agreed. From the moment we walked up the staircase I'd been wanting to sing Rita Springer's "Holy Spirit Come" over this place.... but when I opened my mouth all I could sing was Amazing Grace. I fought back tears as I felt God saying - "My GRACE is big enough. It's big enough to cover you, and it is big enough to cover Kamlal. My grace is sufficient - and it is even big enough to cover a brothel."

As we said goodbye, I prayed for His GRACE to find Kamlal.

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We met 9 more women that night in the brothel, including the mother of one of our boys. She was surprisingly social - full of laughter and insisting on playing "hostess" and getting us drinks. But when Saji explained she had been in this brothel for 10 years, I wondered what kind of pain was hiding behind her smile.

Rusty asked why the women stayed here. "Most of them cannot even read," Saji explained, "so they can't really escape this life." I found myself praying a prayer of thankfulness for my free education. I wondered how I could have been born in a place with so much opportunity, when there are girls just like me born into brothels.


Saji went on to explain that the apartments they lived in were owned by landlords that required half of their income. "So... if they make 200 rupees, the landlord will get 100 of it", he explained. Rusty and I looked at each other in disbelief. That meant these women only got $2.00 from each of their "customers". I tried to hide my shock as I took another sip of my soda.

My soda that was bought by money earned from prostitution.

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My mind was reeling as we prayed over two more women and said our goodbyes. They hugged me more tightly than I have been hugged in years, and I wondered why they clung to me so desperately.  I hoped it was because they saw Jesus in me. I hoped that they could see that I loved them. I hoped that our prayers brought some light into their dark world.

I whispered "Jesus" on every step back down the cramped staircase. Over and over I begged Him to come - for the customers, for the women, and for the children we were leaving behind.

As we drove away from G.B. road, I knew I would never be the same.

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We may not be able to end human trafficking on our own, or to rescue the prostitutes we met -  but we can fight for the next generation. The Children's Homes we support in India and Thailand are doing more than just rescuing children from brothels - they are preventing children from ever being at risk of trafficking. By giving these children a safe home, an education, and equipping them with sustainable life skills, we are providing a way out of this cycle. Our little girls will grow up knowing their worth, and knowing that they are capable of a better life. If you want to help us protect and empower these children, you can give a tax-deductible donation HERE.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Indian Wedding Party!

After dinner at the Children's Home tonight, we heard quite a commotion outside. When we opened the gate, we found this...


Indians take the term "Wedding Party" very seriously! They party for days leading up to the event. One of the traditions is for the Groom to ride through the neighborhood on horseback to the Bride's house - with his friends and family leading the way. They stop every few hundred feet to dance in the street, and people come outside their homes to watch and dance with them!

I love that the Groom really does appear to claim his Bride on a beautiful white horse! It's just like a fairytale! He looks quite dashing, doesn't he? (I wonder where I can find an outfit like that for my husband? ;)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Welcome to Asha Mission!

Today we spent about 8 hours visiting Asha Mission - one of the Children's Homes we are partnered with in India. I can't express how incredible these children are - and how good it is to see them so happy and well cared for. They sang and danced and played and prayed - and we were so blessed to be a part of it all!

We got quite the welcome when we arrived (as you will see in the video). What we weren't able to shoot was all 32 children hugging us and introducing themselves to us. It was the sweetest thing!


I spent a lot of time with the girls in their room. I told them I only have brothers at home, and asked if they would all be my little sisters? They were more than happy to agree! Before the night was over, Susheela, the oldest girl, had given me a pair of earrings that she insisted were "too big and heavy for her" - no matter how I argued that she should keep them. At 13, she has only a few belongings tucked in her bunk bed, yet she wanted me to have something of hers. I was beyond moved and put the earrings in immediately. They will remain one of my most treasured possessions.


One of the gifts we brought for each of our Children's Homes, is a copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible. I was able to have "storytime" with the kids and read them "David & Goliath" and "Daniel & The Lions Den" at their request. Their Bible knowledge both amazes and humbles me. These kids know the Word and they are hungry for more!


They are also hungry for more EDUCATION. We heard about how hard they work in school, and that they have received outstanding marks and honors in their classes. The house mom and dad, Sharma and Sasi, are incredibly proud of them, and they shared some of their dreams with us. These children want to be doctors and nurses and teachers and policemen when they grow up.... but it's up to you and me to be sure that happens.

The children asked us repeatedly today, "please do not forget us".  We promised them we wouldn't, and that we would share their stories and their needs with all of you. We told them that you cared about them, that you wanted to know more about them, and that you would be praying for them. They were encouraged and excited to know that there are people in America who care about them!

Over the next few days, we'll be sharing more about the kids at Asha Mission, and what some of their needs are. I can tell you right now that need #1 is a bigger house, considering there are 32 children crammed into 2 small rooms with no place to sleep or play or study. So keep checking back to hear the details of their current living conditions, and to find out how you can help. Together we can provide for these children and empower them to reach their dreams!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An update from India!

Wow! What a whirlwind the last few days have been! We've driven from Birmingham to Oxford, AL -  flown from Atlanta to Korea, then flown to Thailand, then flown from Bangkok (Thailand) to Chiang Mai (Thailand).... spent three days there before flying back to Bangkok (Thailand), and then hopped a plane to India!

We've been blessed with pretty good flights - especially the first 2 (This is where I say all sorts of good things about KOREAN AIR - sooo much better than Delta - and where I'll share that on the 6 hour flight from Korea to Thailand we had 2 rows of seats to lay down and sleep on - we were so grateful!) so we've been handling jet lag pretty well. Our 3 days in Chiang Mai were spent resting and hanging out with our good friends the Wards, including their precious new addition Teanna!


How sweet is that little giggling face?! She is seriously the happiest baby I have EVER seen! I snagged this picture from facebook, but I can't wait to get back in 3 weeks and get my camera focused on this little one!

We arrived late last night to India, and we've spent the day settling in our new "home" (for the next 2 weeks) and preparing to visit our Children's Homes tomorrow. It's been a bit of an adjustment here - since it's been almost 4 years since we've been to India. I'd forgotten how LOUD it is! I'm really thankful I brought earplugs, or I would not be able to sleep through the music and honking horns outside our window!

We're also adjusting to the food here... pray for us (kidding...sort of...) Neither of us like curry, and it is in everything (somehow, it was even in the french fries I just ordered!) and the spices are.... well... HOT! We each drank over a liter of water at lunch, and from what I remember of my last trip, the spice in that meal was nothing compared to most Indian food! But if spicy food is our biggest problem, then I think we're doing ok. As I've found little things that annoyed me today (because living and working in third world countries is not always "comfortable" ;) I am working hard to remain grateful. The TRUTH is, I have so much to be thankful for!

I am trying to give myself some grace too, as I think my mind and emotions are a little overwhelmed from all the transition this week! I keep waiting for the inevitable moment when I speak Thai to someone in India....or Hindi to someone in Thailand (when we return in December).

And speaking of my emotions - today I had a rough morning. I'd forgotten more than how loud it is here, and what the food tastes like....I'd forgotten how difficult the spiritual climate is. It's hard to explain really - and some of you may think this sounds kooky or too "supernatural" for you, but there is a spiritual darkness and chaos here that I just can't quite put into words. I woke up this morning crying for no reason, struggling with depression, and feeling like a weight was literally sitting on my chest. Thankfully after a prayer from my husband I was better - but I was naive to think we wouldn't have to actively fight this chaos and darkness DAILY. Please pray that we will have discernment every moment of the day and night - that we will know when and how to pray - and that we will be LIGHT in the darkness here.

As I'm rambling through this "stream of consciousness" here, I want to share an update with you today about Asha House (one of the Children's Homes we are partnered with here in Delhi). First thing this morning, I got an update from our partners, telling us that 3 new children came to the home this week. My initial response was excitement, and I tweeted about how I couldn't wait to meet the kids. But as the day has worn on, my heart has become heavy. 3 new children in our orphanage, means 3 more children without a mom and dad. As thankful as I am that they are in a safe and loving home tonight, I am grieving the fact that they are orphans. I can't imagine what they must be feeling right now. I've been praying that they are comforted during this transition and that they know they are loved. Please join me in praying for them - all I know right now is that they are 2, 4, and 5 years old. I'll share more of their story next week.

As I write all this, I'm not sure if my heart is ready for this country. There is so much to grieve here, and at the same time, there is much to celebrate. I'm looking forward to sharing each experience with all of you!

I'll leave you with a quick video update Rusty shot today. I felt like I was in the circus with the crowd we drew - the only white people to be seen, randomly shooting a video in the middle of a busy street - apparently we were quite the sight! I wish you could've seen the crowd huddled behind Rusty while he shot this... it was so hard to stay focused and complete my sentences with all of them watching! (haha!)


If you haven't done it yet, then I hope you'll sign up for our blog updates at The Sound of Hope, follow us on twitter, and "like" our facebook page, so you'll be sure to see all of our upcoming videos, stories, and pictures!

Thanks so much for reading, and thanks for your prayers and encouraging comments too!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Success in the Chaos

Today we're headed overseas again, this time to spend 6 weeks in Thailand and India visiting the 5 Children's Homes we support through The Sound of Hope. As we were preparing for this trip, we've been reflecting back on all God has done so far this year. Rusty wrote an awesome blog last week highlighting some of our successes, and I wanted to re-post it and share it with all of you. Please pray for us during this trip (especially with all the flooding in Thailand). We are asking you to pray for favor, for blessing, for traveling mercies, for divine appointments, for our health, for our work, for our partners, and for the children we care for. PRAY in EXPECTATION - we know God has big things in store for this trip!

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It's been an INSANE year - traveling, weddings, moving, etc - lots of transition!

But in the middle of all the CRAZINESS, we've seen God show up BIG in our organization, The Sound of Hope. Here are just a FEW of the highlights ::


INDIA

* We were able to provide winter uniforms for the kids in two of the orphanages we support. Why is this a big deal? Because, without those uniforms the kids could NOT go to school. One of the things we STRONGLY believe in as an organization is making sure the children get an education.

*Secondly, we met all the medical needs for 2 sweet little girls who are dependent on this medicine for their survival. For more on that story, click here.



SWAZILAND

* Nsoko is the poorest area in this country, which makes it the perfect place to invest in a community garden project. This is HUGE because not only will it benefit our carepoints and give the orphans and vulnerable children healthy food to eat, but it will benefit the people of the Nsoko community as well. We love this project because it promotes self-sustainability, something we strongly support. You can read more on this here.



THAILAND

* First, we were able to raise the funds needed to bring 13 new kids into The Refuge, a children's home in a refugee camp along the Thai/Burma border. The 13 kids came DIRECTLY out of the violence in Burma. Now they have a safe place to live, receive an education, and be exposed to a godly couple who run the home. More than words, Hebrew, and his wife Sernagay, LIVE out the Gospel - and that speaks loudly to the kids around them.

* Secondly, if you've been following our journey this year then you know we've been trying to raise a TON of money to build a children's home in Northern Thailand. This project is called the Promised Land. The plan here is to rescue and care for children who are potential sex-trafficking victims, plus provide a safe place for kids coming out of the violence in Burma. 

I'm VERY happy to report that we have recently purchased a home that will be used for those purposes! This became official just a few weeks ago. We're excited - our partners are excited, and we can't wait to see the impact this home will have in the area. For the rest of this story, check out this blog.


God is VERY good!

Let me be clear - He absolutely showed up in a HUGE way for us this year. In turn, we've been able to pass the blessing along to those who need it the most. I'm seeing more and more that we are simply a channel, a funnel of HIS blessing! I LOVE it - it's all about stewarding God's resources!

We leave in a matter of days for another international trip. This time we're going to India, and then we'll swing back through Thailand. If you think about it, please be in prayer about this journey. Pray for God to be glorified and for us to be a blessing to the people we serve.

Lastly, I want to say THANK YOU! Thank you to all the people who have supported us and continue to do so. These are your successes as well. They would NOT have been possible without YOU! So lets celebrate them together!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Testing, 1, 2, 3...

Sooo, a few days ago I realized that the google group I sent up for "email subscriptions" to this blog has NOT been getting my updates! SO sorry friends! Apparently when I did my little blog makeover, I didn't add the address back in... oops! That means the last email update you got was July 24th!

I'm hoping that most of my regular readers came to check out the blog anyway (even when you didn't get email reminders). But just in case you didn't - there is a LOT you've missed over the past 3 months! If you don't have time to read all the blogs I've posted since July, then I hope you'll at least make time for these 2.... 

Miracles Happen (Part 1) :: Life on the Fringes

 

Miracles Happen (Part 2) :: Everything Changes


Trust me - they are good ones! Oh yeah... and you should know that we MOVED to ALABAMA! (Seriously - you've got a lot of catching up to do!)

 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Congratulations Mr. & Mrs. Brillard!!!

I just wanted to share a quick post from Jackson, MS. We came this weekend for the wedding of my dear friend BJ Agnew, and it was an absolutely beautiful (and fun!) day!

BJ and I have been friends since our first week of college at Auburn, and we've made so many wonderful memories together. From SGA, to the summer we were roommates, and the time she drove me at 4am one morning to Mobile for a Miss Alabama Preliminary pageant complete with themed "road trip music" (what a friend!)... we have "been there" for each other through so much. She is one of my sweetest and most thoughtful friends, as well as one of my CRAZIEST and most fun friends! (No one else could talk me into doing something that almost got us arrested! HA!) We've never had a dull moment together!

I was honored to be asked to be the soloist for her special day, and also to serve as an honorary bridesmaid. The Agnew family is so precious to me, and I was glad to be able to contribute something to her wedding. I sang "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" during the ceremony, and it was truly a privilege!

When we found out they didn't have a videographer, Rusty and I shot some footage (which we're hoping to put together after our trip overseas). For now though, I'll leave you with a few of my favorite pictures that Rusty snapped yesterday afternoon!
 
 The Happy Couple!

BJ and her sweet Daddy...

Don't the moms look beautiful in their orange and blue?! 
I loved this shot of everyone laughing together! It really was a day overflowing with JOY!

With the other lovely "honoraries"... I really enjoyed getting to know these ladies!

I have no idea what we were laughing at, but this picture makes me smile!

My handsome date for the wedding! ;)  


Yes, that's the beautiful BRIDE wearing her soccer cleats! I've never seen anyone 
with that much skill in a wedding dress, haha! These two love their sports!

 And speaking of sports... we'd like to say a big THANK YOU to the 
guy who brought his iPad so everyone could watch the game! Seeing men 
and women huddled around this cheering at a wedding reception made me 
so happy to be back down SOUTH! ;)

 And speaking of football... don't you love the orange and white cake and blue champagne flutes?

 
 I saved the best for last! This is my favorite shot of the day. Aren't these ladies BEAUTIFUL?!

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Congratulations Ricky & BJ! 
We pray that you are blessed with many years of happiness together!
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

October Baby

For those of you who thought I was announcing an October pregnancy, think again! Sorry friends, but this is all about an incredible movie that I want you to see, called...

banner

I have to begin by saying, that I am typically skeptic of "Christian movies". I have seen many of them, and while they have sweet story-lines, there is inevitably something cheesy about them. (Am I allowed to say that as a Christian?! Are you mad at me now? Sorry... just being honest!)

This film is not. Somehow - even with a theme of redemption and forgiveness... a pro-life message... and at one point scripture being shared - I found it authentic. REAL. Heartbreaking. Beautiful.

I IMPLORE YOU - please go see this movie! A special limited release is happening right now, and if I understand correctly the demand for it will directly affect how long it plays and how many theaters it is released to in the future. To quote their site, "An independent movie like OCTOBER BABY lives or dies by its Opening Weekend, and then it's a week to week decision. As long as the movie is selling tickets, it will stay in theaters."

So please go see this movie! It's playing in Alabama, Mississippi, and one city in Tennessee. You can see the list of theaters here. And fyi - if it's not in your area, you can "demand it" by pre-selling 1000 tickets. I know that sounds like a big number, but all it would take is one church to get behind it! There's info on how to do that on the site too.

Some fun facts for those of you in Alabama - it was filmed in Birmingham, Dauphin Island, and Mobile, and the lead role is played by a beautiful girl from Dothan! I went with two of my girlfriends tonight and we loved seeing the familiar scenes of our home state throughout the movie. You can watch the trailer below...




Now, for those of you who don't know, the movie is about a young girl who survives an abortion and is then adopted.... but she doesn't find any of this out until she's 19. You can read more here.

Believe it or not, this has actually happened before! Gianna Jessen is one of the most outspoken, INCREDIBLE women I've ever heard speak, and she is an abortion survivor! She recorded a beautiful song for the movie, and you can hear her talk about her involvement in the video clip below.



If you'd like to download her song, you can buy it here. I bought it tonight after seeing the movie and can tell you it is absolutely gorgeous in its entirety. And while I have you captive, I'll tell you that you should also go watch this video where Gianna speaks in Queen's Hall, Parliament House, Victoria. Australia - on the eve of the debate to decriminalize abortion in Victoria. It will move you, inspire you, encourage you, and challenge you.

Believe it or not - I am not connected to this movie in any way. I'm not on their "street team", I'm not a personal friend of anyone involved, and I'm not being compensated for writing this blog in any way. I just saw a beautiful film with an incredible story of redemption, and I wanted you all to know about it. I hope it gets the support it needs to be seen by MILLIONS of people in America. I think it would bring real healing and forgiveness in the lives of people who have had abortions, or been touched by abortion. And I hope and pray it will prevent future abortions. God has a plan for every child's life! Gianna is living proof!

Monday, October 31, 2011

I promised myself I would NEVER do this....

I promised myself I would NEVER do this, as I am very anti-rushing the holidays. As much as I adore Christmas, I believe that there shouldn't be Christmas decorations up on Halloween, and that we should really focus on Thanksgiving and the theme of gratitude during the harvest season. To me, rushing into Christmas takes away the specialness of it, and it ends up overshadowing the other holidays (which is so sad! I mean.... what if all your friends were celebrating another kid's birthday that's in December, during your November birthday?! Wouldn't that be disappointing?) So I've always had a strict, "no Christmas decorations up until the weekend after Thanksgiving" rule.

But... sometimes... allowances have to be made. A few weeks ago we bought our tickets to India and Thailand to visit our 5 Children's Homes there. And after talking about it for months it was finally official - we would be missing the rest of football season (we really did not think that through!), Thanksgiving, and most of the Christmas season. We won't be home until December 20th, and while I'm glad we'll get to celebrate Christmas Day with our family, those 4 days before the 25th will have to be spent unpacking, re-packing to go home, and recovering from jet-lag.

It was time to face the music.... and the twinkly lights. If we wanted to have some Christmas cheer in our house in December, then we had to put it up this weekend! (I know, I know! The trick-or-treaters will see our Christmas tree! *cringe!) So I put on some Christmas music, fixed myself a cup of peppermint tea (oh how I miss hot chocolate!) got out our decorations and got to work!


Our tree is up, and I'm working on wrapping a few presents before we leave. (Thank the Lord I bought half the gifts for friends and family throughout the year!) We've also got a small tree in our dining room, and a few festive touches in the living room. I think I may wait to put out our Nativity Scene until we get home... and may also wait to put the ornaments on the tree till then. We've done a very "scaled down" decor job this year, because we really didn't have the time to go all out. Still, I think we'll be glad to see those twinkling lights when we come home in December!

As sad as I am to miss all these holidays, I am getting more and more excited about seeing our kids. We will definitely be reminded of the REAL "Reason for the Season" while we are serving our partners and children overseas. I re-watched this video the other day, and it thrilled my heart to know I'll be hugging these sweet ones again so soon!  (*warning, my videos are no where near as good as the ones my husband makes - but I am still thankful to have this footage from my first trip to India!)


Please pray for us as we prepare for this trip. There is so much still to do (packing, etc) and this weekend we'll be gone to Mississippi for a friend's wedding. I don't know what we were thinking cramming all this in right before we leave, but God has given me a sense of peace about it. Somehow, I know it will all come together!

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So tell me... when do you put up your Christmas tree?

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Diet Update - Stage 1 is OVER!!!

Friends, I have been waiting for this day now for 29 days....

STAGE 1 OF MY DIET IS OVER!!!

PRAISE THE LORD!!! For those of you who haven't been following, that means that the hardest part is over, and I can start re-introducing more "normal" foods back in. (*note- There are lots of different opinions of how to do the Candida diet - some say Stage 1 should last 2 - 4 weeks, others say 3 months. I went with 4 weeks because it was the longest I could go before we have to travel again.) I could not be more excited!!! This week I will re-introduce sweet potatoes, white potatoes (hellloo mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, and french fries! I have missed you SO!), other veggies I haven't been able to have (like black beans, peas, etc) and I may even let myself have small amounts of some condiments. I'm probably going to be introducing things faster than is recommended - but since we're leaving for a 6 week trip overseas soon, it's better that I re-introduce things now and see how I handle them when we are not traveling.

Moving forward, my plan is to stay Gluten Free and Casein Free (dairy free), and also try to stay away from refined sugar. I feel like these 3 things were causing me the biggest issues, so that's what I'm going to focus on. I know that won't be easy (no bread, no cheese, no ice cream!), but it WILL be easier than what I've been doing for the past month! As far as yeast, soy, vinegar, preservatives, and natural sugar (in fruits, veggies, etc) I'm just not going to be as concerned. (Especially since I am gluten free - without bread I doubt I'll be eating much yeast.) I have to include more normal food when we're overseas (and I can't read labels in Thai or Hindi) so I'm just not going to let myself stress about it. Stress is one of the worst things you can do with these issues, so I am just going to do my best and try to trust God!

I have to say that I feel EXTREMELY proud of myself for making it through the full 4 weeks!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

10 years of sobriety

For those of you who don't know my husband's story - he used to be a very different man than he is today. He was an alcoholic, and lived a very crazy life of partying, drinking, and addiction. I can't help but think how ironic it is that we ended up together - when my platform for the Miss America Organization (that I worked so hard on for 4 years) was Teen Alcohol Abuse Prevention. Sometimes, God has such a sense of humor!

But we did end up together - because God is a God of REDEMPTION. 10 years ago TODAY Rusty prayed for God to take away his obsession to drink, and God performed a miracle in his life. I could not be more GRATEFUL. Grateful that God had a plan for Rusty's life, and for our life together. Grateful that God protected him from himself through all those years of drinking and the reckless behavior that came with it. Grateful that Rusty had the humility to ask God for help - the courage to take a step of FAITH - and the commitment to see it through for 10 years so far!!!

Because of this gift of sobriety - so many lives have been impacted! With God's help, Rusty changed the course of his life and became the man He was always destined to be. He has served in the name of Jesus Christ in over 12 different countries. His is a wonderful husband, and will be a loving, present father to our children some day. Our children will grow up in an alcohol free home because my husband was courageous enough to put down the bottle and walk away.

I can't imagine my life without him, and I just wanted to say here - for the world to see - how GRATEFUL to God I am for this gift, and how PROUD I am of my husband!

CONGRATULATIONS RUSTY! - I LOVE YOU!!!

*You can read Rusty's story on his blog HERE.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Diet Update - Swallowing the Bitter Pill

Okay, it's more like swallowing the "digestive bitters" and about 30 pills a day. Ugh.

Just thought I'd share my supplements with you guys - in an effort to help you understand all this diet entails. As you can see, I am taking a little bit of everything, for a little bit of everything. People keep asking me if I think the diet is helping... but I can't figure out if it's the diet or all these pills!

I will say that the symptoms I struggled with before are gone (praise God!) but they've been replaced with "die off symptoms" from the parasites and yeast so I can't say I feel that much better. Until the exhaustion, achyness, stomach issues, and skin issues (apparently your skin is affected first when your body is flushing toxins out of its system) go away, I don't think I'm going to feel that much better. And until my other issues are resolved (which I talk about later in this post) and I am able to eat somewhat "normally" again - I won't feel like this was a success. My quality of life has got to improve before I can say this was "worth it".

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Diet Update - What I'm Eating

When I tell people about this diet, and all the foods I can't have, the #1 question I get in response is...

....so what can you eat?

So I thought I'd take a minute to fill you in on what I've been eating the past 2+ weeks. Just to refresh your memory - this is a list of all the things I can't have ::

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kisses from Katie

Sorry for the "downer" of a blog post yesterday friends! I promise I'll do better at sharing happy things with you - like the #1 thing I'm looking forward to this weekend.....

KATIE DAVIS IS COMING TO BIRMINGHAM!

For those of you who don't know who Katie Davis is, she's the 22 year old author of the new book, Kisses from Katie. You may also know her as the author of one of my favorite blogs by the same name (Kisses from Katie).


If you're wondering what a 22 year old has to say of importance, let me give you a little background info on her. Katie, once her high-school homecoming queen, left her comfortable Brentwood, TN life behind to move to Uganda. At the age of 19, she adopted a little orphan girl - and in the years that followed, she adopted 12 more. That's right - this beautiful 22 year old from Tennessee is now "Mom" to 13 little girls in Uganda. She also started Amazima ministries, helps run a feeding program and health clinic for her community, and every day lives her life as "Jesus with skin on" to the people in desperate need around her.

If I had to describe her, I would say she is my generation's Mother Theresa. I'm sure she would shy away from that title, as I've read nothing but sincere humility in her posts. But I can't help but be challenged, convicted, humbled and inspired every time I read her blog.

And now, she has written a BOOK that I cannot wait to get my hands on! (You can order your copy here and a portion of the proceeds will go to support her ministry.) And even better - she is coming to speak at the Church of Brookhills this SUNDAY (ie- tomorrow!) at their 9 AM, 11 AM, and 6 PM services.

She is high up on the list of people I'd like to meet before I die, and Rusty and I will definitely be going to hear her at the 6pm service. We're also bringing along my parents, little brother, and his girlfriend. If you're in the Birmingham area (or within driving distance) I hope you'll come too!