Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Children and Chocolate

I love chocolate. I love it so much, I actually pack my favorite kind of chocolate (70% dark) when I travel. One day a couple of months ago, as our trainer was going over our "foods list" (the 30 most consumed foods we eat) with us, he noticed chocolate was close to the top of my list. He asked me, "Is it just a favorite thing of your's to eat or do you eat a lot of it?" I know I gave him a funny look, because the answer to both questions was "yes." 

I buy a bar of dark chocolate every other week. A bar usually lasts me two weeks. It doesn't cost that much, it calms me when I'm stressed, and it has antioxidants. So, it's worth it... 

Or is it? 

A week ago, if you had asked me, "How much would you be willing to pay for a piece of dark chocolate?" My answer would have been, "Well, it depends on the quality." Because like I said, I only like a certain kind.

But, now my answer is, "It depends, how was it harvested?"

Because the truth is that most of the chocolate we consume in America, costs more than a couple dollars.

It is costing moms in West African countries like Burkina Faso their children.

Children are being trafficked, sold into slavery, to be used in the cocoa harvesting business found in many West African villages. 

Much of the cocoa harvested by these children makes its way into our Kit-Kat bars, chocolate chip cookies, and my 70% dark chocolate squares. 

BBC produced an incredible documentary within the last couple of years about this issue called "Chocolate: The Bitter Truth." It is broken down into five short (under ten minutes each) sections on YouTube, and I strongly recommend taking a look at it.

I know, for me, when I think about human trafficking, immediately I think about the sex trade. I think about women, who are helpless, who are treated worse than animals. 

When I lived in downtown Atlanta, I felt a little more connected to the issue, because Atlanta is the capital for human trafficking in North America. But that was so naive of me. Because, it doesn't matter where in the world we live, each and every one of us is connected to the issue of human trafficking. The things we purchase and consume, even things that appear to be lovely, like chocolate, connect us to this sickening issue. 

It's very much like Satan's nature, isn't it? He's so camouflaged. The way he works. What used to be a shiny candy wrapper enveloping a bite of happiness now, to me, symbolizes a child slave. 

So, what to do? We can't ignore it. It's not just in a far away place, anymore. It's in your box of chocolates that your boyfriend is planning on buying for you for Valentine's Day. It's in the carpet of our homes. It's in the clothes we're wearing, the electronics we use, and the cars we drive. 

I know, just in the last week, as I learned about the tiny hands that could have harvested my dark chocolate, the 70%-dark-chocolate-bar-with-a-touch-of sea-salt in my refrigerator makes my stomach turn just to look at it. 

So, do we stop buying everything unless it has a "Fair Trade" certification stamp or a "Made in America" seal?

One thing is certain, if we're going to help stop this, the first thing we need to do is become aware. We need to wake up to horrific reality that slaves work for us. 

And, if you have a problem with that, which I truly hope you do, then, start educating yourself on this issue. Talk to other people about what you're learning. And, consider what your purchases, your lifestyle, and your candy bars are really worth, and the message we send the manufacturers when we buy from them.

As David and I have begun to wrestle with the intensified understanding that we contribute to slavery more than we help prevent it, it's been helpful to have organizations and resources who have already started to make a difference. I've included just a short group of resources, below. If you have any you'd like to add to this list, please comment. We can help end this. We just need to start doing something about it.





Thursday, January 24, 2013

Across The Ocean

There's this place that exists across the ocean that every now and then holds me captive. Even though it's thousands of miles away, and it's been nearly eight years since I left it, it's left a stamp of the most indelible ink on my soul.

Sometimes, it doesn't affect me at all. Sometimes it's just a place that I happened to visit once. A place, that in the moment when I remember it, I have no feeling for or about.

I've come a long way, I think. For a long time in my home, it's name was only referred to as "The A Word". It was a name my family feared to speak, because mention of it could unearth all kinds of unwanted feelings inside of me.

But, now, truly, sometimes I forget I've even been there... Sometimes, I forget that was my life, my experience. I forget that I was one of the people "on that team." Sometimes, it's just a place far away across the ocean with all kinds of exotic animals and climates and languages and people...

And, then, then there are other times. Times that take me by surprise.

Like a smell can, in a second, take you back to someplace you had been as a child. Maybe it's the smell of Spring, with the tulips sprouting up and the dew in the morning, that reminds you of that Easter when you were ten, and the deviled eggs were there next to the sliced ham, and you had managed to fill your basket with all kinds of colorful, plastic eggs...

Or, it's the smell of someone's fireplace that reminds you of the weekend trip your family took to the mountains that March... It was so cold, and the family dog got to come along, and we played and played in our winter coats...

Just like that, in just a second, you're back there. Because of one simple thing that reminded you of it.

...

I guess that's how it is.

Although, I don't have to live as sheltered as I did those first two years after, I still filter the things I watch on television. My sweet brother and sister and close friends who walked through those two years with me have always been very good at warning me not to watch certain movies. And, I kind of have a formula I follow that works well for choosing TV programs.

The images on screen, those seem to be the strongest triggers, so I guess that's why I still have to avoid them.

...

I had prayed about serving in this year's Passion 2013 conference in Atlanta the first week of January. I never had a settled feeling about it, so I enlisted myself as a prayer warrior for the students and door holders who would be there. My brother, Paul, attended. And, after, during one of our several long conversations about his experience there, as I listened to the stories that were shared about women enslaved in human trafficking, Paul said, "There were lots of stories about how women become trapped in it... Stories about girls going out to the clubs, and there were stories like your's..." And he just looked at me.

I looked down at the kitchen floor for a long second... Then back up at him, and said softly, "I think it's a good thing I wasn't there (at Passion)."

He just nodded, bitting his lower lip, "Yeah, Lindz."

He and Katie, they seem to know better than anyone what takes me back there...

...

The Discovery Channel has a program on right now called "Africa." The footage these camera crews have managed to capture is truly amazing. I sit there and watch images of these tiny frogs climbing up blades of grass in the MIDDLE of the Congo or of these spiders rolling down sand dunes in the desert, and I just can't believe how fortunate they are that they were able to find these tiny, living things!

They're just animals. Animals aren't in my formula.

Just last week we watched footage of thousands of flamingoes on a lake.

I saw thousands of flamingoes when I was there eight years ago. I stood right there, in the mud, on top of their little footprints. I have pictures of it. Last week, watching flamingoes on my HD TV screen didn't bother me...



But, yesterday, the footage of the jungle... The jungle alive, not because it's full of living things, but because it is a living thing... THE JUNGLE ... That reminded me of the Africa I experienced...

Riding in our white van one day, eight years ago, through Nairobi, I noticed the pot-hole filled road we were driving on. It was paved, but it was almost as if the jungle had given permission to the road thus allowing it to be there. The trees created a canopy above us, and thick vines crept along the side of the road. There was no sign of human maintenance that kept the vines off the road, or kept the great trees' roots from cracking it... One of the men we visited just outside of Nairobi said to us, "Africa LETS US live here." I sat there looking at him, eating my Kenyan lunch ... primarily mashed potatoes with peas ... with my tea and milk, and thought about the road we'd driven on that morning.

...

As I sat on our green couch, yesterday, with my legs curled under me and Sperry snuggled up close, I couldn't break my stare. I couldn't reach for the remote control. All I could do was look at it. As, internally, I fought every racing emotion inside my body I just stared at the jungle floor on my television screen... At the life.

I didn't visit the Congo. I was in Kenya. And, the forest they drove us into, it didn't look like that forest. It was bushier. And, every time when I was there and saw jungle that looked like the jungle on my TV screen was a different time. It wasn't that Sunday...

But yesterday, it didn't matter. It was Africa. The continent that has a persona of her own. It was that Africa I fell in love with, before I even stepped on the plane to go there. And, it's that Africa that pulls at my heart when I let myself remember her. Not, the violent part that I experienced. But, the LIFE. The extraordinary life that lives there.

Perhaps, yesterday, or today as I process all of this, I have stumbled upon a revelation. Maybe the reason my relationship with Africa is so complicated and dynamic is because that is Africa. It is beautiful, and happy, and full of hope for a better life, and there is dancing and singing... but it is also sick, and scared, and violent, and lonely, and tired, and needy...

ALIVE vs DARK.

That is my conflict. That is Africa.

So, now I don't feel so bad about having mixed feelings, when I allow myself to have them. To feel for Africa, to remember it appropriately, should encompass the reality of all that it is. And, that, Lindsay-girl, is okay.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Really Great Monday

Today, David and I got to do something that we've been wanting to do for over a year now. We bought these beauties!


We had wanted to buy some in Atlanta, but at that time in our lives, realistically we knew we wouldn't have enough time to use them together. Arkansas is well known for the plethora of bike trails all over the state. We have access to one about 10 minutes from us that's right along the Arkansas River. I inherited my mom's craving for being near water, so I love that we are going to have another excuse to be close to it. 

When we got home with our new purchases, we were happily surprised to find a crew of men removing giant tree limbs from our backyard. We'd been waiting on pins and needles, not knowing when they'd be coming, for a giant dead tree to be removed from our backyard. The top of it had toppled over a couple days before Christmas during what I'm calling a "wind storm." Then, during Christmas there was a snow storm that knocked lots of other people's trees over. Lots of these other people (like my sweet grandparents up in Jacksonville) actually had trees and limbs fall on their house. So, those people, rightly so, received priority from the tree removal services. Finally, today, it was our turn!

It was pretty intense watching them work out the window of our office. I was trying to focus on returning emails for work, with Sperry by my feet attacking a raw hide bone I'd given him as a distraction from all the strangers in the backyard, while David provided me with tree removal commentary. 

"It's about to come down!" David told me.

 I stood up in front of the window, with hands on my cheeks and eyes wide open and exclaimed, "It's going to hit the neighbor's fence!"

David calmly replied, "No, it won't. And if it does, the tree service is insured."

Insured??? But there's still going to be a hole in the fence, and an angry neighbor for sure!

My hands slid closer to my lips, practically squeezing them into that smushed face look we'd make when we were kids, pretending our face had been stuck in a bus door.

I could hear the truck's engine and see the tree rocking... THUMP!!!!!

Seriously, it must have missed the fence by four inches. What skill! 

To give you some kind of idea of how big this tree was, here it is cut into smaller pieces in the front of our yard.


And here's the rest of it on the other side of our driveway...


So, once the crew was finished, we took our bikes for a test run around our neighborhood. (I might regret it tomorrow, because we're doing legs with our trainer!) It was so cold, and there are so many hills, but we had so much fun. And, it was really fun for me to see David enjoying his new bike so much. He loves cycling, but we've only ever rode together on St. Simon's Island, and it's flat there. Here, it's hilly! So, I'm huffing and puffing (and at one point walking my bike up a hill) while David's literally joy-riding. 

He's laughing looking back at me, "Lindz, what gear are you in? Turn it down!"

It was fun. : ) When we got back, we took Sperry into the backyard to get a good look at the cleared out space. 

David had bathed Sperry this morning. Our dog is literally a sponge. His fur absorbs water and he doesn't like water, so usually we splurge and pay PetSmart to bathe him.

Every time we notice something quirky about Sperry we say, "It's the poodle in him!" (If you don't know what I'm referring to, read this.) So, I wonder, does a poodle's fur absorb water?)

Nonetheless, David and I are checking out the back fence behind the swing set when I look up and see my two-minutes earlier clean dog literally ROLLING around in sawdust. 

"Sper-ry!"

Still on his back he craned his neck to look at me, and he looked like he was having the time of his life, wearing that dog smile he boasts so well.

...

1 happy husband + 2 new bikes + 1 dirty dog - 1 big dead tree = A really great Monday : )

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sunshine

After a morning of phone calls to and from three different doctor's offices and my insurance company, I let out a low growl of frustration. Why can't it just be easier? Why can't you just go to the doctor and everyone code things the right way, receive claims the right way, and bill me the right way? 

I looked outside as sunshine flooded through the open blinds of our living room. 

I felt my whole body relax and get light. 

Here I am frustrated that I had to spend a few hours on the phone getting my healthcare sorted out, when I should be grateful that I have 1. a cell phone and service to make and receive all of these calls with, 2. people actually calling me back and answering my questions (one of which being the sweetest nurse named Jenny), 3. access to healthcare AND insurance coverage, 4. a CHOICE as to which doctors I see and which insurance company I use. And here I am actually growling over it! 

Thank you, Lord for using sunshine to remind me of how blessed I am.

...

Yesterday, I had five precious minutes of talking with one of my very best friends, Ashley, on the phone. I was emptying out our vacuum cleaner at the beginning of our conversation, so of course we spent a good two minutes talking about how neglectful we've both been about emptying out our vacuum cleaners. We admitted how silly we are, constantly putting it off until the next suction fest, and how much we hate the mess it can make... Then we laughed claiming our shared dislike to be a "First World Problem" for sure. 

I have a scab on my right knee. Somehow I managed to bruise my left hand and bum up my right knee during a cross-fit workout I did a couple days ago. This morning during a quick yoga session, I could hardly stay in my down-dog position for more than a five seconds. And being on hands&knees hurt my scabbed right knee so much! Again, I thought to myself, "First World Problem." I hurt myself, a little mind you, doing something good for my body. 

What room is there that I should complain about a little scab and bruise? Turn my nose up at a dog hair stuffed vacuum cleaner? Growl after two hours of phone calls?

I'm reading Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts. It's challenging me to remember that even the little things around me are gifts from God. I'm surrounded by so many little things! I'm surrounded by so many gifts! And I'm not ONLY surrounded by little gifts, but there are so many big things in my life that I know to be gifts from God.

In church on Sunday, our pastor reminded us about the difference between giving and bringing your tithes and offerings. He said you can only give something that belongs to you. But, if it doesn't belong to you, you can't give it away. Well, nothing we have belongs to us. It's all from God. So, that is why we BRING our offerings. We essentially are BRINGING them BACK to Him. 

So, couple this reminder with the reality that all of these little gifts (and the big gifts) around me are from God. EVERYTHING is from God. Everything started with God. Like, we can talk about physical stuff and we can talk about spiritual stuff and we can even talk about knowledge... It all originates with The Creator.

So, the Lilly Pulitzer calendar my sweet brother gave me for Christmas (that I absolutely love to write in and carry with me) ... That was a gift from Paul, but it was also a gift from God. Because, everything comes from God!

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." James 1:17

The Father of lights, who is constant, this morning gave me sunshine, and with that sweet, perfect gift reminded me of how blessed I am.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Bare White Wall Challenge

When David and I first walked into this little red barn house, which we now call home, it was on a whim. We were here in Arkansas for a quick weekend, whirlwind trip trying to find a house and maybe a job for me just weeks before we were due to move. We poured over newspapers, internet sites, we even had a realtor looking into rental homes for us. We found one property management company that had two houses within our price range, and one of them was ready for move-in ASAP. It was just down the street from their office, so we figured why not check it out. It ticked all of our boxes and even had a little character to it. Long story short, we now call it our law-school house, and home. 

Like many women, I've taken great pride in turning this little rental house into a home. From planters by the front door to curtains in the guest room, it's been a project. And, more importantly a project on a budget. 

I think that was one of the reasons why I was so excited to stumble upon this INCREDIBLE find.



My mother-in-law, Brenda, and I were perusing through our favorite antique store one cold, rainy day last week, and tucked away in one of the booths was this ginormous wooden frame. 

AND

It was only $8!

I couldn't pass up an opportunity like that. So, I bought it, and the creative juices began to flow.

Originally, I thought I'd put it in our living room over the couch and create some kind of collage with it. But, when I set it against a bare white wall in our kitchen for a minute while I unloaded some other purchases, I saw the potential it had as a simple solution to a decorating challenge I had yet to overcome...

The bare white wall. I don't know what the walls in our kitchen are made of, but they're not regular walls. You can't stick a thumb tac in them, and even hammering nails is really difficult. We've only managed to get two nails into the walls of our kitchen. So, aside from painting it, I didn't have any other ideas for this one bare white wall.

I had seen this cute idea via Pinterest that I found endearing. Then, in that moment looking at the simple wooden frame against my bare white wall, considering staying budget friendly, I found my opportunity to put my own spin on the Pinterest idea. 

After a quick trip to Hobby Lobby, I was one step closer to tackling the challenge of the bare white wall.



Because I knew I wouldn't be able to use a nail to hang my frame or these letters, I picked up some velcro 3M command strips from the grocery store. 

With David's help and some good eye-balling, the bare white wall challenge was complete!



Now, are you ready for the real INCREDIBLE part!?! 

This whole little project cost me less than $25. That includes the frame, the wooden letters, 3 different acrylic paints, new paint brushes, and two packs of 3M Command Strips. Woo hoo!

Now if I could only figure out how to hang the cute hooks I bought to go under the frame... : )

Monday, January 7, 2013

Reflecting on Atlanta & NYC

What an action packed, blessing filled past 17 days! We are back in North Little Rock after a whirlwind trip to Atlanta and NYC.

So much happened while we were gone, that in many ways, I feel like I've come back to Arkansas a different person...

Part of that is probably due to the condition I was in when we left. I hadn't been feeling well for two weeks prior to leaving for Atlanta, but I figured I was just suffering from a bunch of different little ailments. When I woke up Sunday morning in Atlanta, too sick to attend my dearest friends' baby shower (which was the whole reason we came into town as early as we did) I gave into the reality that nurse Lindsay was out of excuses and solutions. So, while the boys went out golfing, my sweet mother took me to an urgent care center down the street where the doctor informed me that I had the worst kind of sinus infection possible. (I feel it is only right to mention here that David had told me a week prior that he thought I had a sinus infection, and he wanted me to go to the doctor. I was stubborn and said no. I should have listened.) Thankfully, it didn't take too long for all the prescription medicine to start working and by Christmas I was feeling much better.

We loved getting to spend time with my immediate family in Atlanta and cherished getting to spend quality time with many of our friends as well.

Before we knew it, we were repacking our suitcases to fly up to NYC. My wonderful Dad drove us VERY early to the airport New Year's Eve morning. We were so excited and so happy to be on the T-Terminal because at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, T-Terminal gets it's own security checkpoint. So, it's much faster than if you have to go through the main one. Our flight was perfectly uneventful, and soon enough we were looking right out our window at the Statue of Liberty.

Knowing that the city was going to be super busy on New Year's Eve, we had made prior arrangements for a car to pick us up at the airport and take us down to our hotel in Times Square. I've been in swerve-ier car rides. When our driver informed us that the street our hotel was on was already blocked off for the evening's festivities, and we would therefore have to walk half a block in the madness with our luggage, I put my acting skills to good use and put on my "don't-mess-with-me" face.  We managed a bee-line the half-block to our hotel (mostly against the flow of foot-traffic) and happily were able to check in early after grabbing a bite for lunch.


Things We Learned About New Year's Eve in Times Square...
1. Everything is blocked off. That is why people line up so early. Also, they don't leave. They are there the whole time. Our hotel was on W 44th St. We had a couple tour buses (we think they were for Carley Ray Jepsen because we saw one of her dancers) on our street, so at a certain point we couldn't walk any closer to Times Square. If your intention is to be out in the middle of Times Square New Year's Eve, get there early and wear good shoes.
2. Every police officer must be on duty that night. They're everywhere, which made me feel very safe.
3. They practice the count-down for the ball to drop every hour on the hour. It is hilarious! It'll be 8pm and you'll hear everyone counting down, and then an hour later you'll hear it again...
4. Saju Bistro on W 44th is so good. A very, very nice man on the street noticed David and I exploring, asked us where we'd be eating that night, and pointed us to Saju Bistro. I ordered the salmon and David ordered the lobster risotto. We literally switched plates. To make risotto that good is now on my list of things to accomplish. Also, they serve the most addicting olive tamponade. I had to ask our waitress what was in it... My jaw actually dropped open when she informed me that anchovies were what make it so yummy. Anchovies?!?! Well, I have a new appreciation for those salty little fishes, for sure! I'm so glad that nice man stopped us on the street and directed us inside. It was an incredibly special second anniversary dinner.
5. The confetti is amazing. It is everywhere. For days! On Friday morning when we left NYC (which would be four mornings later) there was still confetti outside of our hotel!



Things That Were Just As Cool About NYC As I'd Hoped They'd Be...
1. The Empire State Building: David had bought us tickets to both observation decks before we left Atlanta. The first thing we did New Year's Day was walk there. The 86th observation deck was too windy and cold for me to really enjoy it, but the 102nd was truly something. I'd read that New Year's Day, in the morning, is the best day of the year to explore NYC. David had the foresight, having been to the Empire State Building before, to decide that we should go there first as the lines can get very long. We had no line, and only had to share the 102nd deck with a handful of other people.
2. Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill: Bobby Flay is our favorite television chef. We love his shows, have his cookbook, and have always wanted to eat at one of his restaurants. When we arrived at Mesa Grill Wednesday night, we were bursting with excitement. Our waitress (who shares with me an allergy to cilantro) was wonderfully attentive, our food was INCREDIBLE, and their pastry chef even wrote "Happy Anniversary" on our dessert plate.
3. Broadway: We weren't sure if we were going to see a show or not while we were in NYC, so when David suggested we run over to The Majestic to check the prices out for The Phantom of the Opera I was pleasantly surprised. When we got inside and saw they were running a 2-hour deal on the next day's matinee, we were shocked and picked up two front mezzanine seats for a steal! The performance was exceptional. And, David will even tell you that it was one of his favorite experiences on our trip.
4. NY Cheesecake: If you know me well, you know that I LOVE CHEESECAKE. The majority of my birthday cakes have been cheesecakes. Cheesecake Factory has been privy to several of my birthday celebrations, nursing school graduation celebration, after David proposed he took me to Cheesecake Factory where our families were waiting for us... That should help you understand me and cheesecake. Our very good friend, James, and David's cousin, Noah, had both told us about a restaurant called Junior's who apparently carries good cheesecake. When our waiter at John's Pizzeria across the street from Junior's also told us Junior's had the best cheesecake, we couldn't avoid the signs. Yes. Yes, Junior's has the best cheesecake. : )

Things NYC Made Me Appreciate...
1. Being raised in the South: Oh my goodness... I feel like I could write a lot about this. But, I don't have all of those thoughts organized just yet. I hope to get them organized and write about them soon. Stay tuned...
2. Being in good health. We walked EVERYWHERE. We only took taxi's when it was just physically too cold. I was so grateful to have two legs and feet that could carry my body all day across an entire city.
3. Dr. Pepper and Bottled Water. I was very surprised that no one carried Dr. Pepper and that bottled water was so difficult to find some places.
4. Our lifestyle. I feel like I'm learning a lot about lifestyles right now. I'm learning that your lifestyle is a choice. This, like my first point, is a topic I'm still decompressing. And, I'm not talking about gender preferences and controversial stuff like that. I'm talking about how you choose to live your life. Do you choose to rush rush rush? Do you choose to go with the flow? Do you choose balance, and balance of what? Do you choose at all? Or do you let someone else choose for you? Who's a part of your life? What do you let in? How does your life happen? There's not one best lifestyle, but there is a best lifestyle for you and for your family. I'm still learning about this...

Friday came quickly, and soon we were back at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and Dad was picking us back up. We had one last night with my family in Atlanta. Paul, my brother, had spent the week at the Passion conference. So, we were so excited to hear about all that The Lord had been doing that week through our home church, and the ways that He was working in and through Paul as students from all over the country convened under One name.

I never EVER thought I would be so happy to be back in Arkansas, but we when stepped back into our little red house Saturday afternoon I could have melted right into the floor. As we begin to shift gears back into work for me and school for David next week, we happily remember how much we packed into two weeks and embrace the slower pace of North Little Rock.

And so we begin our third year of marriage, our second semester of law school, and our first Arkansas winter. We're excited to see what the Lord has in store for us this year. With our hearts surrendered, and our hope in Him alone, we can hardly imagine what's ahead... : )