$366 + $120 = everything.

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I run this really cool company called Dot. It’s named after my grandmother (that’s the first thing people usually ask), and we sell school supplies and fund education for kids around the world. I came up with the concept in college, developed it during an internship at my college church in my first year after graduation, and launched it late last summer, just in time for the “back to school” rush. It’s been a whirlwind and a learning experience; each day I know a little more about business and giving and loving people than I did the day before, and I really love it a lot.

In entrepreneurship, there’s a lot of hurry up and wait. A lot of times when you don’t see the fruit of your labor for a while. Where you work really hard and wonder if any of it actually matters, and then you wait six months and you know somehow exactly why that happened–and then sometimes you never know. I think that’s probably true about a lot more than just entrepreneurship, but I’ve been learning about entrepreneurship lately so that’s what it’s about to me.

The past few weeks, as the year has wound down and I’ve gotten more convinced of my need to have everything straightened out business-wise before the end of the year (and more anxious about my lack of business skills), I’ve been buying things that we needed and paying other things off, trying to get everything settled before New Years, and one thing that was certainly settling was our Dot bank account. It wasn’t super concerning because Christmas sales would make things up (and really I’m still a little excited every time we get an order), but my desire is to make Dot my full-time gig in February/March, and as our bank account kept going down, I was starting to get a little worried about that potential. Questioning if some opportunities coming up in the next year that would require me to quit my job were really the right thing to be chasing or if I needed to stay in the safe zone of getting a for-sure-bi-weekly paycheck for a little while longer.

Tonight, I went back to the church where I spent so much time developing Dot last year and shared our vision with the middle school ministry. It was rewarding and ridiculously fun (and it made me feel like middle schoolers today are a heck of a lot cuter than I ever was in middle school. What happened to poofy hair, glasses, and braces? But anyway…). It costs $365 for a child to go to school with our partners in Mexico and Tanzania, and the kids were generous with their purchases and donations, so I knew we would be able to send at least one child to school from tonight. All this, and the back-of-the-mind nagging about finances, was in my mind as I got home and began to count the money in the donations jar.

$20, $40, $60, $80, $100. I did this three times. And then another $60. And then a spare $5. And then a $1. $366 donated. Which is $1 more than $365, the amount it costs to send a kid to school. And for some reason, I don’t think in any way that was a coincidence. Because with that $1, He somehow showed my anxious mind that He would provide. Not just enough for the things I wanted to do–sending one kid in Matamoros to school–but just even more than that. Which is what my heart needed. And then I moved my computer (which was sitting on a disorganized pile that is my room/Dot HQ) and saw the envelope that had been handed to my sister as she stood at the table with product tonight by a middle school girl that wanted a journal and to give a donation, please. And when I saw that, I laughed. Because the money in the envelope had not been included in my calculations. And that little girl had given $120. By. Herself. Enough for three months of school. And God reminded me that He doesn’t just give us $1. He gives us $1 in the exact moment we need it and then pours down $120 when we recognize the blessing we had in the $1.

And this may not make sense to anyone else. It may seem like a silly over exaggeration of a coincidence, but it was enough for me tonight. It was enough to remind me that He cares, because tonight, a group of 200+ middle school kids got together and their donations and purchases will be enough to send two kids to school in Mexico, and the words that I told them about “making a difference in their little decisions” ring true. Because two kids will don uniforms and have a bookbag full of school supplies they might not otherwise have, because of that group of kids. And that’s cool. So freaking cool.

So thanks Pinelake Middle School Ministry and Jesus, for reminding this little girl that He is generous and able to provide when we walk in the things He’s calling us to. Thanks for being the “hands and feet” (clap, clap. stomp, stomp.) of Jesus tonight.

Go do those things. You won’t regret it.

–Hallie.

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The first year.

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Almost six months into the second year, and I needed to write this. Before I could write anything else, to get this one out. I’ve been trying for a while, but today it happened and it could be better but I’m good with it just being. –H.

Saying “your first year out of college is really hard” to a person in their senior year is like telling a senior in high school that “freshman year will be so much fun”. They get it. They hear it over and over, in fact. But they still find themselves completely unsure of what to do when mom and dad pull away from campus and they’re really left all alone. They eventually figure it out, and probably have a little too much fun in the meantime, but they walk away, typically, without better words to explain the phenomena they’ve just experienced. You’ll hear them say to new high school grads “freshman year is so much fun.”

Being a college grad is the opposite of fun, at first anyway. You realize you know absolutely nothing, and this time mom and dad drive away it’s a little less exciting and a little more terrifying. Over the course of the year, you figure it out, typically with a few more tears than the years previous, and at the end of the year, you chalk it up to the first year out of college and celebrate the beginning of a new season, one in which you actually might know a little bit of what you’re doing.

My first year out of college came and went just like that. It was messy and hard and overwhelming, and I look back and realize it was 75% all up in my head. I worked for a wonderful church that was going through a lot of transition, and sometimes I got stuck in the cracks of transition. And it was just what I needed. It was the first time in my life that I wasn’t a superstar. The first time that I didn’t own the world and feel competent to run it with my bare hands.

I learned a lot about who I was and who I wasn’t. I began to understand my desire for autonomy as a personal need–the way in which I was created to fill my place in the world–instead of an inability to submit to authority, something I haven’t quite figured all the way out yet. I learned about submission and seasons and what it looks like to be fully alive in a situation you don’t like. (I learned from failure on that last one.)

Actually, I learned from failure a lot that year. I learned what it was to be just alright at something and that be enough. To depend on God and for God not to come through in the way you thought He would–with miracles and lightning bolts–but to see His movement just the same. I learned that, in some seasons, my fingers can’t type in this space because my brain can’t process in a way that would work itself out onto a screen without phone calls from a worried mom and questioning hearts from those on the edges.

I learned to embrace, however, that I am a writer. That it’s a part of me. Not just something I choose because I enjoy it, but the way in which I best process. I learned even more that I’m a planner. Of events and situations and businesses. That I thrive on it all. Because Dot was created in that first year. Really created. She went from a developed idea in a classroom to a line of products I could hold in my hand in that year. She became tangible and overwhelmingly good in that year.

I don’t have answers for you first-years. Other than to say it does kind of suck, and it will get better. I don’t have answers other than to say that you aren’t crazy, and then sometimes you really are, and that’s okay too. That there’s a plan in it all, and you’ve got to walk it out, and even the really scary parts that you’re not sure could end up good, ever, they’ll be good somehow too. Somehow, you’ll be thankful. So that’s the first year. And the blocks that stacked together to make the second one that much sweeter.

’til next time.
–Hallie

Why Community Matters: On puzzle pieces and finding friendship in late night Kroger runs.

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It always happens this exact same way.

There’s something I need to talk to someone about. The something is very specific. It’s a situation with a person or an event that I’m not quite sure how to deal with. It nags my mind almost constantly for a week or so–sometimes longer–and I just can’t quite figure it all out. I want resolution. I think and “pray” about it a lot. There is no resolution. There is no movement. I sit and dwell and “wait”.

And somewhere in my heart I know that God clearly is saying, in the way he unaudibly says things, “tell your community about this”.

But I think He must be saying, “think more about this on your own and try to figure it out and look for signs and…. DON’T TELL ANYONE. THEY WON’T UNDERSTAND AND YOU NEED TO FIGURE IT ALL OUT ON YOUR OWN.”

God looks lovingly down and actively whispers the answer as I, once again (remember, I said this “always happens the exact same way”. That means this isn’t my first rodeo, kiddo.) run in circles when the straight path is clearly in front of me. I email random people that don’t know me—because that totally makes more sense than telling the ones that LOVE ME for the CRAZY that I am, but whatever. I look for guidance in blogs and books and even the Bible—sometimes I get desperate and actually turn to things that are healthy for me.

At the back of my mind, I know I should “tell my community about this” whatever that means. But I come up with excuses, like I don’t feel like I actually have friends—which is total BS (excuse my abbreviations)—or they’re too busy or blah, blah, blah, and I RUN IN LOTS OF CRAZY CIRCLES and feel like nothing is ever going to be resolved. I feel like I’m always going to be sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off—which is the WORST because I love flying and I love getting to where we’re going and waiting on the tarmac is the EXACT opposite of both of those.

Pause. I have a tendency toward drama. My friends and family know this, but I need you all to know this. Because my mom worries about me and the things I share on the internet. And I need her to know that we ALL acknowledge that I’m being a little bit silly and overdramatic. But people love drama. That’s why reality TV exists. So there’s my disclaimer, Mom. Don’t drive up to Jackson with tissues. Unpause.

And then, typically in a moment that I’m a little bit grumpy and a lot frustrated and kind of just over the world—and usually God too—a friend steps in.

Always. This is how it always happens.

And I usually almost say no to whatever situation it is that they are inviting me to, because being alone seems like it would feel a lot better than being around people, but I don’t—because I’m a good human being/have major FOMO. And at some point in the conversation, it turns to the thing that I’ve been needing to talk to someone about and I spill all the guts and wait anxiously for my friend to tell me I’m crazy.

But they don’t. They never do.

They point out the truths in my words and they point out the lies. And they usually say one very specific thing that they have no idea will have the impact it does and it’s the one tiny piece that I’ve been needing to complete the puzzle that’s been jumbled all over my mind. The one piece I couldn’t figure out on my own. The reason that God has been saying “tell your community”.

And with it all on the table, I’m able to piece it together. Able to process the things I couldn’t process. Able to step lightly over the hurdles that felt like mountains just two days before.

And I’m realizing lately that community might not always look like a group of best friends that you do everything with. Your community might be all over the country and “getting together” may look like Skype dates or late night last minute runs to Kroger because someone needs lemons and why not make a Kroger run into a friend-date. It may look differently than it’s ever looked before, and that’s good, because right now life looks differently than it’s ever looked before.

But I need them. Community. People. The ones with the puzzle pieces I don’t have. The ones with the words I haven’t yet thought of. The ones that God calls me to tell the things that I can’t quite figure out on my own. We each need those people. We each need the puzzle pieces they hold and the strong hands that help us put it all back together when we can’t do it on our own.

Find your people. Reach out and hold them tight. Tell them your stories. Tell them the crazies. Let them fill in the puzzle pieces you’ve been running after.

–Hallie

Some days, it all gets a little too heavy.

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A few years ago, during the intense week that followed the Boston Marathon Bombing, I wrote about the heaviness and pain in the world. I wrote about the Aurora Shooting and Sandy Hook and the Boston bombing all in one and summed it up that the world needed Jesus and one day it would make sense. I summed it up so nicely. 

And today, I believe those same things. I believe that Jesus is the redeemer. That He is coming back and that all of the tragedy we see in the world is a consequence of sin. I believe it maybe even more than I did when I keyed those words on a page on my Macbook Pro. And I’m a thousand times eternally grateful that we won’t always live here. That there’s a better place waiting. That the weight won’t be heavy anymore.

But sometimes, I stumble into a real glimpse of the pain that there is walking all over our world. It happens on the most seemingly innocuous days. When life is trotting along and things are going pretty good in my world, I get slapped in the face with the reality of sin and evil all around. Get reminded that it’s probably not going away anytime soon, without the second coming of our King, anyway.

I had dinner last week with the founder of one of our Dot partners, and he told me the story of Congo. The long and exhausting history of one group after another taking over and claiming a people group as their own. Claiming people as their property. And he told me his perspective of how the world had responded. And his perspective marred by the memories of gunshots and bombings and fleeing as far as his family could go until they couldn’t go any further and they just came home. And I realized, with my Coach purse in my hands and my Lucky jeans on my legs, that I didn’t know what it was to face that kind of suffering. That maybe no upper-middle class American really did. And the weight of that is heavy.

Nine years ago last month, my family lost our home in the worst natural disaster America had seen in a very long time. We went to Destin for the weekend and ended up staying almost two weeks and came home and everything was different. The city that I had finally fell in love with was different. The friends and people and world. It was all different and I was 15 and the world was supposed to be good. I had been promised it would be good. But it wasn’t good in those days. And we lived in something like twelve different places that first few months after “the storm”. She wasn’t known as anything else, and though we don’t talk about her as much as we once did, she changed our hearts as much as she did our homes. And school didn’t reopen for a month and in that time people were scattered across the country, some with lost jobs and shaken nerves not returning, settling somewhere that they could feel a little more safe somehow. Knowing the coast would somehow never be the same.

It’s been nine years since that time, and a lot of life in between. High school and college and graduations and weddings and lives even have come and gone. And life is good in so many ways. But life is also hard some days. Because we no longer live in a world where everything is going to be alright. We no longer have the illusion that people are generally good and things work out always. It’s simply not true. And some days it all gets a little too heavy.

In the midst of that reality, I’m learning what it looks like to take each moment for what it is. I’m learning to live in community and love a little bit deeper. I’m learning that the deeper your knowledge of the evil in the world is, the deeper your understanding of your need of a Savior becomes. The more you begin to appreciate His redemption. The more desperate you are to see His Kingdom come. The harder you’re willing to work to bring it to Earth today.

The other day, in a fit of dreaming about what could be, I wrote down a list of just my favorite Jackson-area girls. I stopped at thirty—thirty actual girls that I do life with on a semi-regular basis/have had coffee/dinner with over the past year—and there were probably fifteen that have come to mind since. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to count five. Not because they weren’t there—they have always been exactly where I’ve needed them—but my eyes weren’t open to the beautiful grace that God has given me in the people that He has surrounded me with. My eyes were tightly shut because they were simply afraid of seeing the pain. And there is a lot of pain in each of those relationships. I think if you’re in relationship with anyone, there’s always a sharing of pain. But the more you share, the less there is on one individual. The less weight you find on your own shoulders.

At the end of my life, I think I’ll be more thankful for the painful moments than the sweet ones. I think I’ll be more of a person because I’ve experienced lost. And I know that more and more as I get the chance to interact with our Dot partners all over the world. Because the men that run our two organizations have been through the ringer. One an orphan, one a refugee. They have the story that attests to the saving grace of Jesus and they depend on Him before anything else. Not because they choose to, but because it’s absolutely required to keep on living. Most days lately, I want to live more like that.

–Hallie

Wrote this last year in a busy, crazy, whirlwind season of ministry. Stumbled upon it today and realized how incredibly good God is and how He works in the long term. Couldn’t have today as it is without yesterday as it was.

Sometimes I get angry with God for not showing up when I expect.

And then He blows my mind with His goodness,
And I remember how little I am and how good he is.

Today I worked ten hours. Minus about thirty minutes at lunch in which I ran home and grabbed my phone charger for the dead phone sitting in my purse since our devotional time at nine this morning.

I’m doing things I love so ten hours flashes fast.
But it was, for sure, a full day of emails and phone calls, meetings and spreadsheets, that ended with sitting in on marital counseling, right before I clocked out and walked thirty steps into a prayer time and our Wednesday evening service.

Our Wednesday service has become a time of prayer.
A time that I look forward to each week, and I walked into the room with a full head and a desiring heart.
But it was one of those days where you sit in the wrong spot and have disjointed conversations and you’re tense and cold and somehow prayer feels more like you’re talking to the ceiling than to the Creator of the Universe.
(And let me know if I’m the only one who sometimes has those days.)

And I got a little grumpy with God.
A little annoyed when the sermon didn’t just rock my world and the notes that I took were rewriting Bible verses that fell on my cold deaf ears.
Because I’m just starting to learn that ministry isn’t just about Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. It isn’t about the service but instead the relationships that come in between. But the stubborn girl inside of me hasn’t grasped it yet, and I just wanted God to speak somehow tonight. But God always has a different plan than the one I dream up, and somehow His is always ridiculously better.

When the invitation (a Baptist tradition this Presby-Tist has grown to love) came, I walked down as a hesitant first time decision counselor, standing against the wall less expectant than I should have been. But I was placed to pray in a group with a girl just my age, excited because she had just understood knowing Jesus for the first time, and further conversation led to the realization that she was a dear friend of a friend of mine. Which led to a text message shot across a parking lot into the next town where my friend read my words with excitement and picked up the phone to hear more about our time. And it turned out that the “harvest is great” where she now studies, close to our college town but far from anything resembling our college experience.

And tonight I got to talk about the bizarreness of half-grown-up life where things are so close to being the same and yet so separate in worlds and understanding. It made me excited because it proves that there is potential, and the sermon about Joy that I was annoyed with rings loudly in my ears because I realize for the first time that I have a perspective that not all hold, and yet I want to share it with all. I have the potential to be a reckoning force in the world for my Savior if I just shoot the text messages and sit in the Kroger parking lots and laugh when people need laughter and speak wisdom when all they have are a pile of misunderstandings.

I thank God that He comes through even when I’ve given up. That he lets me go to the valley so I recognize the greatness of the heavens once again. That the valleys are much higher than they could be. That he’s allowing me to be a part of other people seeing the holy in their day to day. That he’s allowing me to be a small part of bringing his everlasting Kingdom to this earth.

–Hallie

Loved well.

She realized, one day, that she had forgotten how to live.
In the hustle and bustle, forgotten what it meant to enjoy conversation over a meal instead of seeing food as the gas that kept her body-vehicle moving.

And in that moment, she chose to not hold at a distance the things the world held dear.

She chose to embrace and to try to understand.
To enjoy the creation her Creator had perfectly put together.
She chose to believe that she was such a creation.
She chose to love instead of hate, even when hate seemed to be the prescribed “love”.
To drink deep the moments that fly by.
To dance to the drum of a slightly different beat.
To edge closer and closer to the Artist of the night.
To edge closer and closer to the reason for her creation.

She chose to dance.
Each day and night. Into the dark and into the light.
She chose to embrace.
When it was easier to let go. To push away.
The laughter and pain. The troubles and joy.
She chose to love.
Like she had been loved.
Because, oh, had she been loved well.

On anxiety and wrestling down monsters.

In eleventh grade, I got nauseous every Thursday.

Like clockwork, I could tell the day of the week by the lump in my throat and the queasiness of my stomach. My teachers had decided that Thursdays were test days, and it was the first year of my life, and maybe the last time too, that I worried about my abilities to do well on each and every test.

Halfway through the first semester, I had started to dread Thursdays, which would bring the lump and the queasiness a day early, and then I dreaded Wednesdays. And it never quite went away until after school on Fridays but then there were lots of social interactions that came with the weekends, and high school was just not my place, and I did my best to be actively against the underage drinking that got most kids through it, and so the lump and the queasiness was there on the weekends too. Sunday would come around and I may get a day off from the mind-racing but typically there were meetings for that high school sorority I just “had to” be a part of—and now I kind of agree with a commercial I saw recently where a guy said that women in groups is typically a bad thing, that they couldn’t ever pull off Oceans Eleven because two of them would have to keep stopping to talk about the other nine—and so there was anxiety on Sundays too.

And eleventh grade came and went, and at the end we burned all the pages of work that had caused the queasiness and the lump, and I thanked the heavens that it was all over… for the time being anyway.

Anxiety. It’s this silent wrecking ball that dangles its crushing force above my head when life gets overwhelming.

And sometimes, like ninth grade and Katrina and losing best friends because I couldn’t be civil when all the mess was up in my head and sophomore year of college when the world ran too fast and all the commitments became exhausting, I have believed the lies that rule my mind and I have let them wreck my world.

After Katrina, I starting seeing a counselor for the first time—which, by the way, if you ever tell me you have any type of problem, I’ll probably suggest a counselor. They’re lifesavers and best friends and moms and—best of all—they’re impartial. And everyone needs a good one for the times that the waves get high. And she told my mom that I wasn’t depressed but I was anxious. A year and a half later—after a long period of denial on my part—I started taking anxiety medicine. It got me through that junior year of grade anxiety and test anxiety and social anxiety and all the other anxieties wrapped into one, and that summer I went off to work at YoungLife camp and finally felt free once again. I stopped needing the medicine because there wasn’t anything to be anxious about, and senior year was a breeze compared to junior and the medicine got tossed out when it expired unused. And somewhere in there, I believed my fight with anxiety was over.

But what noone told me—or I never really “heard”—was that anxiety is a lifelong battle. And so when life got hard sophomore year and senior year and my first year out of college, I blamed it on the people around me or on God or my poor decision making abilities, not on anxiety.

Just recently I’ve been learning that the fight is on-going and it is daily. I’ve been learning that I get to control my walk with anxiety if I make it a priority. If I give it to Jesus. And I don’t want to hyper-spiritualize it. Because giving it to Jesus looks less like simply handing it over in my mind and a lot more like WWE with KLove in the background. It’s listening to Christian music when all day CNN at the office has made me question the world.

It’s reading my Bible when I do not want to. Going to the truth in scripture when my to-do list is a thousand items long and everything inside me tells me that it would be checking off items that would make me less anxious, not sitting seemingly idle and reading a book—even one that I know has life-changing power. It’s being in community and asking hard questions and giving hard answers when the questions are asked of me. It’s having people and sending quick text messages in the midst of the storm and then sometimes it’s laying in a hammock in our front yard and reading a book because “why not?”. Recognizing what I’m doing with Dot is good and great and wonderful, and I’m so thankful to be a part of it, but recognizing it’s not meant to be my entire life. Because then I’m back to eleventh grade when school and acing the social world was my life and that caused anxiety Wednesday to Sunday, and I simply don’t have time for that anymore.

—Hallie

(I’m starting this new thing where I write everyday, partly wrestling down the anxiety monster, partly because I really love writing. So if you’re subscribed, prepare to get more emails in your inbox. I’m also trying this new thing where I don’t apologize for things that don’t need apologies, so instead of saying “Sorry!” for the emails and posts, I’ll say “I hope you enjoy them!”.)