To the lover of the third world.

delight yourself Hey girl,

You, yes you. You, who has spent more than your fair share of time this week staring at pictures of sweet brown kids who lie on ratty beds halfway around the world. You, whose bank account is dwindling because there’s always another t-shirt to buy for someone else to get on a plane or another organization to support. You, who’ve felt the hot tears burn your cheeks as you make deals with God to allow you to be a part of what He’s doing because He certainly needs you more there than here. You, who begs God every night and tries to convince everyone else around during the day.

You. I know you all too well. I know that your school work has become disinteresting and you feel guilty every time you write a check for another formal or t-shirt or dinner out with friends—because, “shouldn’t that money go to someone who needs it more than you?” I know what it feels like when all of your most viewed sites are splattered with pictures of dark babies wearing worn tattered clothing and how much you would give to just be the one that God allows to fix it all. Just to be a part of the solution, you realize, is your call. But you feel stuck where you are and all you can do is blow up Instagram and Facebook every Thursday with #tbt to the faces and places in which you tangibly saw your part in the kingdom.

I know what it feels like to be you. I know how hard it is. When you feel stuck where you are because college is the next step after high school and you’re afraid that a job and husband and babies and a white picket fence will be the next step after college and somewhere in the midst of it all your dreams will fade. (Disclaimer: Husband and babies and America and white picket fences are not bad. They are wonderful and good. But it doesn’t feel like that sometimes. It doesn’t feel like that could be the good plan.)

I know what it’s like to be there. I know what it’s like to feel and then to not feel anything at all some days. I know what it’s like to repress the desire to jump on that plane because you’ve pounded on every door you could, brought a battering ram to some, and yet they stayed as firmly shut as if you were a tiny wind.

I know what it feels like to think that you heard it wrong. To question because you were quite sure He said “go!” but you’ve tried everything and you’re only hearing all the no’s. I know what it’s like to question it all. To doubt everything. Because He doesn’t show up like you think He’s supposed to. Because it was all so clear for a day or week or month and then, all of a sudden, the faucet is turned off and you hear nothing. And you start to wonder if you’re going to end up like the shriveled up plants you gave up watering when your life became so focused on everywhere but here.
You. I know it’s hard. Almost impossible some days.
But I want to let you know, He’s there.

And I wish, years ago, when I was you, someone would have told me these things. Although I’m sure they did but it’s hard to pay attention when there are literally children around the world dying from starvation tonight and you’re hearing God really speak for the first time.

I want to tell you that He loves you. Not that He needs you or wants you or anything else. He could take care of all of the junk. And HE WILL. But I want you to know that you’re loved. More than anything in the world. Sit and let that soak in. Before you pull out your pictures or find yourself on your knees asking when. He’s on your team. I promise you.

And maybe He has a different plan than the one you’ve been asking. Maybe the best answers are the ones that you don’t see coming. Today, know that you are loved and know that it is enough. Then, know that His promises are true. That you’ve got a hope and a future and it’s bright, baby girl.

It’s so bright. But the struggles are real and the struggles are true. And you need the struggles. Every single one. Like Moses and Abraham and Esther and Sara and Ruth. Like Corrie Ten Boom and Katie Davis and Mother Theresa. The struggles are what make the good times so sweet. They are the places where God makes you who He needs you to be. So just wait. And breathe. And enjoy the walk when it’s a walk and run fast when it seems that you’re supposed to jog. But always remember that you’re loved. Always remember that He’s enough no matter where you are. No matter how little you seem to be doing. In the waiting, He is there.

My advice for you is this. Lean in. To where you are now. To who you are becoming. Lean in. To friendships and coffee dates. To that boy you may be avoiding because he would mess up all the plans. Lean in. Because you don’t have the map and you don’t know who He wants you to be. Lean in because holding on may mean giving up a bigger plan than you’ve ever imagined. Let go. Of all the ways you’re manipulating. Of the late night brainstorming of how you can make your plans work out. Start praying. That your heart would become more like His. Start evaluating your motives and ideas. Give yourself grace. Get to know your family. Learn to ask hard questions. Learn to ask any question at all. And to ask them often. Of your family, your friends, the world. Of yourself. Learn to not be right. Learn to question everything. He’ll catch you, I promise, and you’ll be more who He needs you to be at the end of it. Lean in and let go. He’s never failed before and He won’t start now.

–Hallie

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Welcome to Dot — School Supplies Changing Lives.

dotproductsIf you ever wonder about the heart of humanity, start an organization that helps the marginalized. You will quickly realize that good reigns. In the tiny corners. If you take the time to look. Good reigns. In the moments when you need it most. Good reigns. If you ever wonder where all the good people are, create an opportunity for people to step outside themselves to change the world for others. Make it relevant and simple. Make it profound. You will be amazed, grateful, and forever changed.

Last week, on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, I announced the launch of Dot Products, a school supply company set on changing lives through education. I’ll tell you the story of how Dot came to be one day soon, but today I want to tell you the story you have written this week alone.

In the past week, you have funded an entire year of education for a child in Mexico through your purchases and donations.

Already you have shared and liked and commented. You have blown up social media. 450 and counting of you on Facebook alone. Thousands of people have been told about Dot. Thousands. Orders are coming in from people I don’t know. People who wouldn’t know about Dot if not for you. People who are going to change the world for a child in a developing country because of their purchase and donation. I couldn’t be more proud. I couldn’t be more humbled.

And our busiest season of the year is coming up soon. Kids are headed back to school and we want to help them do it in style and with a greater purpose. For those of you in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, consider hosting a Dot Party at your home or church for your favorite students. You invite your friends and provide snacks and drinks–as fancy or chill as you’d like. We’ll bring the supplies, the stories, and the chance to change the world through your everyday purchases. We had our first party this past weekend, and it was a blast–and it quickly turned into a pencil packing party! We ate, drank, laughed, and talked about Dot partners and how, together, we’re changing the world. One at a time.

Follow along on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to see how you can get involved and make a difference!

–Hallie

Travel.

travel

If I could give you just one piece of advice, it would be to travel.
If I could tell you one thing, beyond the story of Jesus and His great love for you, it would be to get out of your comfort zone.
It would be to go. Beyond where you’ve been. To places you’ve only heard of. To places you’ve only dreamed of. The ones you first saw in that third grade textbook.
I would tell you to leave. Leave where you’re comfortable. Take that first tiny step. Go ahead. Right now.
Leave your job. Leave your home. Leave your city.
Give up your comfort. Spend all your money. Abandon your lifestyle. Live in a tent under the stars. If that’s what it takes.
Get away. Watch your feet land on a new piece of earth, a thousand miles away or just down the street.
Let your mind spin and your head hurt and the tears flow.
Let your assumptions shatter as you meet the contradictions of your whole way of thinking, your entire way of life.
Travel. Next door or to the next continent. But do it. Now.
Tell your story. Ask people what makes them who they are.
And when you ask, listen. Really listen.
Put the iPhone away. The world will wait. Your life is more than the Instagrammed pictures you’re known for. The person in front of you has a story, and they want to share it right here and now. It could change your life, if you’re listening.
Open your ears. Open your eyes. Breathe in, and recognize who you are. Recognize who they are. A creation of the One who only makes perfection. A product of sin. A product of love.
Travel. To know what makes you feel alive. To strip away your comfort. The things that keep you where you are. The things that keep you from clarity.
Travel. To know love. To know life. To know that America isn’t all there is. But to know that America isn’t all bad either. Travel to understand your blessings. Travel to understand your God.
Travel far and wide. Get real and see life get messy. Travel where you want to go. Travel where you’d rather stay away from. But whatever you do, travel. 

–Hallie

Belize

The semester we spent in Belize years ago was the beginning of my love affair with Jesus and helping his people. My parents are headed back on a mission trip to Belize in a few weeks, and I’m just a lot jealous. I’ve been thinking about our time there and wanted to share some fourth grade memories with you.
–Hallie 

When I think about my parents’ decision to take their 4, 9, and 11 year-old kids to live in a teeny village with minimal electricity and plenty of need, I kind of understand the people who thought they were crazy. It was 1999, and we were in the process of moving to Ocean Springs, but before we did so, my parents packed up all our earthly belongings, put them in a storage unit, and headed south. To Belize, Central America. For about six months of life change.

I’m not quite sure who I’d be today without that time of my life. Certainly not who I am now. It was one of those defining moments in the life of our family. I don’t quite remember who I was before that time. Not what I wanted to be really. But I can almost definitively point to that fall semester of fourth grade as one that changed my life. And continues to shape me to this day.

For anyone who talked to me between 1999 and 2009, you know I was set, hard and fast, on becoming a doctor. I decided that on the tarmac of the Houston airport that December as we waited to return to a new home and a new normal. I spent years after devoted to the idea of one day becoming a doctor because of Belize. Because of what I saw and what I heard. Because I wanted to be a part of the action. And that was the closest and most obvious way to get there. I knew then and there that I had to go back. I had to help those people. Because America with its perfection (remember this is a nine year old speaking) didn’t need me like these people did.

I’ve always had a vivid memory, but there’s something about our time in Belize that I can remember like it was yesterday. A smell, a taste, a look, and I’m back playing jacks on a dirt road, climbing over and through cement block construction, and riding on a cane truck with the wind and dust in my cropped hair.

I remember the freedom to jump on a bike and ride to the coke store, nothing more than a person’s straw and dirt hut with a cooler full of glass bottle cokes for sale at an impossibly low and delightful price to a nine-year-old.

I remember staying a weekend in the next village where the nurses of our little clinic lived, finally succumbing to use an outhouse, and the man who came to the door that night. The man with a gash in his leg from the machete he held in his hand. The machete that brought him his livelihood had also given him this life-threatening wound. And I was the only one available to hold the flashlight. Well maybe not the only one, but that’s how the nurses made me feel, important, as I held the flashlight and stole glances of the wincing man’s gash, sterilized, soothed, and stitched by the crudest of means, whatever was available right then and there because the roads weren’t safe to travel at night, and the clinic was miles away.

I remember stealing away into the “dentist office”, the tiny cement block addition to the clinic that boasted the only air conditioned space for miles and miles around, when the hot Belize day got impossibly too much to handle.

And the boys that would leave notes near the clinic. Where I first heard, and didn’t understand, the idea of “Latin lover”. Boys, only a few years older than Hannah and I, and the sweet nothings written to the only fair-skinned girls they might have ever seen.  The ones we quickly tore up with embarrassment and maybe a tiny bit of joy.

I remember the little boy’s screams as my mom peeled banana leaves off his burnt skin. The skin charred from open fire, the only way the family had to cook their food. The banana leaves the only band-aid available when that fire engulfed his leg. I remember my sweet little brother, telling the boy, no older than his four year old self, that everything would be okay. Soothing and smiling at the boy with the pain that most would rush away from.

I remember the hurricane, Kelvin, and standing under the straw-hut covering right outside the clinic’s backdoor watching the rain and listening to the adults talk. It’s incredible the things adults say when they don’t think children can understand. It’s incredible the things that children don’t understand, until years later when something tiny causes that memory to come back to life and pieces to be put together.

I remember the pregnant women and new families lining the halls of the clinic and the clinic employees scrambling for more blowup mattresses and dragging the mattresses off our beds in the little apartment on the back of the clinic where we lived for those months.

I remember the life that my mom helped bring into the world on that rainy wet weekend years ago now. The baby that was born late into the night, and the rush surrounding the hurricane and birth, the first one of the clinic ever, that let a nine-year-old stay up and overhear the details of that exciting night. I remember being so proud of my physical therapist mom. And the joy that she had in helping bring a tiny baby into the world, a job that she would have never been a part of in 21st century American medicine.

And I remember wanting to go back. For years after. And still today in some ever-changing and ever-true way.

Because poverty is the place where you do the best you can. And not being perfect doesn’t disqualify you from helping. And it’s less about waiting rooms and insurance forms and HIPPA violations and more about helping people.

More about saving the life right then and there because it’s the only thing you can possibly do. And you’re needed because there’s noone else. And life is hard, every day. And you’re a thousand miles away from comfort, literally and figuratively, but beauty is more beautiful because you recognize it as such.

And the ice-cold coke tastes better from a glass bottle on a day you really need it. And the mangos are plucked straight from the trees. Sugarcane cut down with the gardener’s machete. And kids can ride their bikes across dirt village roads exploring without fear just like kids were meant to do. And you walk along the Caribbean Sea right after eating in your favorite “restaurant” in town, restaurant in quotations because you know your friends at home would never consider it one in America. And “impossibly fancy” in Belize is much less stuffy and much more my style than the nicest restaurant you’ll ever wait six months for reservations for. And the food tastes better because it’s cooked with love and probably dirt because, you know, there isn’t a big A-rating hanging on the wall from the latest inspection of this place.

And God speaks there. Even when you’re nine and God is more of an abstract and strange imaginary-and-yet-real friend that you meet in Sunday School and try to bring along to the playground, and you know He loves you because you’ve sung all the songs but aren’t sure what that means quite yet because He’s pouring love in ways you won’t understand until years alter, sitting in your first house recalling those long-lost-and-yet-very-near-to-your-heart days. And it’s these memories that pull you back into His love. That remind you that there was no way you’ve done what you’ve done without Him. That you’ve never walked alone, and maybe, just maybe, you’ve never walked at all, because He’s been carrying you all along.

Sweet Tea Stories.

source.
So I changed the title of the blog. For now. At least.
I say for now because I’m still hoping that Africa is in the future and maybe this blog will be used eventually to capture more of that incredible world I had my toe in for way too short of a time.
And maybe then it’ll go back.
But maybe my place is here forever. Wherever here is. But specifically here in the US.
But no matter where I am, two things won’t change.
I’ll still be drinking sweet tea, and I’ll still be telling stories.
(Well, and I’ll still be worshipping Jesus, but I couldn’t find a creative way to fit that into the title.)
So, Sweet Tea Stories, that’s the blog name.
For now.
(The URL (www.dotheyhavesweetteainafrica.wordpress.com) is staying the same.)
–Hallie.

I Believe.

I believe that God answers prayers.
Even when He doesn’t answer them how we ask.
I believe that He loves me.
Even when my situation speaks differently.
I believe that He really does work for the good of those who love Him.
And I’ve seen that in the past two years.
I believe that He loves me more than my mom, my dad, my family, and my friends love me.
I believe that He doesn’t always ask us to do the absolute hardest things.
Even when the absolute hardest thing is really what our heart desires.
I believe He uses us no matter what the situation.
I believe I don’t have to be halfway around the world to live for Him.
I believe in everyday miracles.
I believe He is behind the perfect parking spot and the compliment that turns a bad day around.
I believe He is in the tragedy.
That He allows them to happen for many reasons.
That He wants me to depend fully on Him.
Whether amidst celebration or death.
Death of a person or death of a dream.
I believe in laughing until it hurts and loving when you don’t want to.
I believe in forgiveness.
But that simply believing isn’t enough.
I’m learning to practice it too.
I believe Mother Teresa was right.
“If you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
I believe that Jesus wasn’t a white man.
I believe that color and division are one of Satan’s biggest tools.
I believe in helping. No matter if the person deserves it or not.
Because I don’t believe I deserve anything God has given me.
I believe I deserve death, but He has given me life in abundance.

New Mercies Each Morning.

Thankfulness.

I was reading through posts from Uganda the other day and thinking about how much God has done. I have loved being home in many ways, but it’s also difficult sometimes because I left a nice chunk of my heart across the ocean. But God is doing big things here too. And I’m focusing on that this week, this month, and this year. A few weeks ago in a bible study I’m in, we went around talking about places we had seen God work in the past week. I sat in complete awe of the Lord as each girl shared how God had answered her prayer requests from the previous week, and most of them were answered in ways we couldn’t have expected or didn’t ask for. Truly the affectual prayers of the righteous availeth much. How good is our God.

So here’s another thankfulness post. More for me than anything. Mostly as a reminder that God is sovereign and He is here. He is alive and active. And I am His.

I’m thankful for churches that are speaking the Word, and not settling for “good enough”. I’m thankful for revival in this country and in our hearts. I’m thankful the state of the world is not what it looks like on the news, (as well as being thankful that I don’t watch the news often. it’s a scary place.) I’m thankful that we serve a God who has already got it all figured out. I’m thankful for our bible study group. A little idea I had in Uganda has turned into a weekly meeting of a group of incredible girls. It’s a fun time of fellowship where we’re able to be real and we’re learning what it means to walk with the Lord each day.

I’m thankful for a college campus where faith is integrated into life and education. I’m thankful for professors who we can ask tough questions and get wise guidance.

I’m thankful for efforts of social justice. I’m thankful that people are doing God’s work, even when it’s not in His name. I’m thankful for the things I don’t understand. The things I can’t understand. I’m thankful that even when I disagree with leaders or movements within the church or Christian organizations, we can know ultimately that God’s name is being glorified.

I’m thankful that it’s not all about me. Because pride and self confidence is a lot of weight to wear on your shoulders. I’m thankful that God is working to show me where those areas in my life are. I’m thankful to be surrounded by people who love Him. I’m thankful to have opportunities to love on people. People who know Him and people who don’t.

I’m so very thankful for an incredible support system. For my family and friends. For my dad and mom and sister and brother. For my grandparents. Uncles, aunts, and cousins. I’m so incredibly thankful and undeserving of the incredible group of people that God has given me to love and be in relationship with. I’m thankful for my friends. For the best “best friends” I could possibly ask for. For the most wonderful boyfriend. For new friendships and rebuilding and renewing of long-lasting friendships.

I’m thankful for my bible study girls. For my time each week with incredible almost-adults that love Jesus. For little opportunities. For seeing God at work outside of my own contexts. For overcoming and removing obstacles that I thought I would just have to deal with. For passion to know you and make you known.

I’m thankful for Rafiki and for email and letters. Thankful that we can still communicate even far, far away (although I’ve been a terrible communicator lately!). Thankful that God is just as big in Uganda and the far corners of the world as He is here in Clinton, Mississippi.

I’m so very thankful for answered prayers. For an understanding that God really is working for the good of those who love Him. For requests that were only voiced within my head or heart being provided for in miraculous ways. For problems I thought were impossible or unanswerable being made into beautiful stories of redemption.

But most of all, I’m thankful for the cross. For the blood that was poured out. For the nails in His hands. Thankful that He died for me. And doesn’t just leave it at that, but pursues a relationship with me each and every day. Regardless of anything I do or don’t do.

What are you thankful for this week?

–Hallie