Hope Bridges

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” Matthew 5:14-15 (NIV)

I’m going to tell you about Mike Lane and the powerful, life-altering work that he and the Hope Bridges team are doing in Thailand with children living in poverty. Most of the children, Mike shared, “live in pretty deep poverty and most do not have a father, the mother cannot care for them due to addictions and/or no money.”

My intent is to shine light on the good that people are doing. I want you to share this story with your friends, share it with the world. We all need more good news.

I will also tell you how you can support and be involved in this world-changing project (if you want to) and also enjoy some delicious coffee. (And if you don’t like coffee, you can send it to your friends who do like coffee, or me.)

But first, a few words about my goals:

I feel like there are many people who are doing good in the world, but for whatever reason (maybe they’re not social media-savvy, maybe they don’t have a lot of Facebook friends to see their posts, or maybe they are just too busy doing the work to share their stories) only a very few people know their stories.

I want to find these stories of world-changers, and shine light on them. I may not be able to do what these amazing people are doing, but I can be a voice.

Hope Bridges is a nonprofit organization based in Olathe, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. It has been around since 2010.

There are three different facilities in northern Thailand that are home to over 80 children and young girls. Not only does Hope Bridges provide food, clothing, and life skills, but also they have a goal of sending the children to vocational school or college so that they are prepared to be well-functioning adults.

Mike and I spoke in Nashville a week ago, and one the great success stories that he shared with me is about a newborn baby girl named Kai Muk. There were complications during her birth, and since there is as little to no access to medical care, her mother died shortly after.

Many hill tribes in Thailand believe it is the child’s fault if the mother dies during childbirth. The baby is placed under the dead mother, and they are both buried together. It’s gruesome.

Thankfully, the local caretakers at Baan Mai (one of the children’s homes run by Hope Bridges) heard about Kai Muk, and were able to convince Kai Muk’s father to let them adopt her.

Kai Muk was only five days old when she was brought to the children’s home, she was malnourished and barely alive. Hers is the beautiful smiling face you saw when you clicked on this post. It’s been almost two years a year since she was rescued and she is growing and thriving, thanks to the care provided by the Hope Bridges team. (To learn more about her story, you can read Mike’s post here.)

In order to fund these facilities, this nonprofit exists primarily on donations, and coffee! In a beautiful example of a perfect circle, they purchase green coffee beans from a hill tribe cooperative in Thailand; a local roaster in Kansas then roasts and packages the beans, which are then sold online.

Mike told me, “We have a full-time Thai woman who works for us and we have a part-time American missionary who helps us as well. Zeb and Rachelle Morlok a young couple have bought one way tickets to Thailand and will be living there for two years being missionaries for Hope Bridges.”

One of the greatest needs that Hope Bridges has right now is sponsors for their child sponsorship program. You could help a child like Kai Muk for the same amount of money you might be spending on your daily Starbucks run. Click here for more information.

I did not write this post only to ask for money at the end. If you feel led to help this cause, please don’t hesitate to do so.

But, my main goal is to expose and bring light to the good that is happening out there in the world. Please share this post with your friends. We all need more positive news in our newsfeeds.

This post is part of my new series: The Matthew 5 Project. My goal is to shine light on the good, and to share the stories of those making a lasting impact on their world. 

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Writing

I hate the constant rushing of lying voices in my head. They tell me over and over and over again, that I’m not this. I’m not really a writer. Who am I kidding? I am no writer.

Every lying voice in my head screams at me, taunting me. Laughing.

How do I feel about writing? I’ll tell you. I hate it. I love it. The thought of it keeps me up at night. I wish I was better. I want to be better. Comparison kills my work.

The futile strive for perfection. I feel like I’m hauling a plow across a field, making rows and rows for seeds to grow.

And then, I turn around, and I see myself going back, before anything has had a chance to be planted, and covering up the rows.

I think there are TOO MANY words already. I doubt my ability to make myself be heard. I doubt that I will gain anything positive. I doubt that ANYONE will gain anything positive from my writing. I doubt myself. I doubt my actual writing ability.

I compare myself to others.

I try to write a final draft every first time, struggling against my own humanness

I live and die by word counts.

By chopping and cutting. By adding and expanding.

I mold and meld my pieces but even after I share them, I find things I want to change.

I go back and read what I wrote a year ago and I cringe. I want to take it down, delete it from history, erase it from your memory.

I want to make something earth-shattering, to create an amazing fantastical world like Narnia, or Redwall; but there’s nothing in my head, and I wonder if maybe there never will be.

I worry that there’s nothing in my head. My head feels like a vast empty cave, and there are plenty of nothings rolling around.

But maybe there are a few somethings.

I have to still hope. I have to hang on.

Because somewhere in the cave, in all the squishy, important parts of my brain, there has to be something. Something I can share.

Something with MEANING.

I want to leave something to the world like Michelangelo or Rembrandt, or Emily Dickinson, or Edgar Allen Poe, or Victor Hugo.

I want to leave a mark.

Not just an empty cavern. I want to be remembered. I want it to be noticed that I’m gone.

And for me, that thing I leave, is my writing

(I WANT TO STOP BEING OBSESSED WITH WORD COUNTS.)

I want to be REMEMBERED!

Maybe I obsess about it at times, and maybe my worry about leaving a mark gets in the way of my actually LEAVING A MARK. I should work on that.

Writing is birthing something unique and special and monumental. Writing creates life. It creates life and death.

Writing is agony.

(Author’s note, this was created after reading the following writing prompt by Jeff Goins: “What do you love about the craft? What do you hate? Share your passion, your agony, your love for writing.”)

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The Stranger

What a beautiful day!

Is that a stray dog over there? I wonder where his people are. I hope he’s not lost. Or hungry.

I hope he’s not lost and hungry.

Hmm… maybe I can’t even see. I don’t think that’s a dog after all. I guess it was a bush. My eyes are playing tricks on me. Maybe I need new glasses.

Did I lock the door? Do I have my keys? Where are my keys?!

The stranger sits up abruptly, and hurriedly rummages through a well-worn dusty leather jacket, panic setting in. A happy jingling sound brings calm; the stranger relaxes, and breathes again.

Well, my goodness! I’m glad I’ve got them. It would be horrible to be stranded here in the middle of nowhere. It is beautiful though. Might not be so bad.  

I hope it doesn’t rain. I don’t have my umbrella. I should have brought it. I should have. It really does look like it might rain. Darn it all.

Hmmm… I think there’s a rock in my shoe.

Our stranger kicks off a shoe, shakes out a pebble or two, and then returns the shoe to it’s rightful place in the universe. Tiny bits of sand fall silently from sun-warmed pants. A small crab wanders by.

Loud popping sounds rattle from underneath skin, as the stranger sighs heavily, stretching arms and legs. A brisk breeze arrives, gray hair dances happily with the wind. Goosebumps appear on thin skin laced with rivers of blue, story-laden scars, and sun kisses.

The wooden bench screeches under the stranger’s weight, screws and bolts scream quietly together. A tiny brown spider crawls along the edge, dodging broken bits of wood, bothering no one, simply passing through.

I should go. Why am I still here? Those clouds! Oooh, I see a rabbit in that one! I could watch these clouds all day. Maybe I will stay.

Maybe I should walk down to the beach. Eh…  maybe not. There are too many kids there. It will be too loud. I’ll wait till suppertime when they all leave. Maybe I’ll find some shells. Maybe some good ones!

A wandering seagull with an empty belly meanders towards our stranger, its eyes darting and hopeful. It’s claws click almost imperceptibly on the boardwalk.

“Go on, move along now. I don’t have anything for you,” our stranger gestures gruffly, towards the bird, “If I had anything to eat, I’d be eating it, not sharing it.”

The seagull, full of hope, stays nearby, optimistically watching.

Damn birds. They’re so dumb. I guess they’ve got to eat too. I wonder if I have anything in the car. I’m getting hungry.

No… I can wait. This day is perfect. I’ll stay a little longer.

The clouds dance across the soft blue sky, playing a speedy game of hide and seek with the sun. The warmth from the sun caresses the stranger’s face. Contentment.

Tiny grains of sand crash onto skin.

A smile. A sigh.

This is happiness.

**************

Author’s note: I was spending time agonizing over blank pages; so I decided to try writing something based on a photo. The idea for these words came to me when I saw this image by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash.

I also intentionally left out the gender of our stranger. It’s too easy to make the assumption that this stranger is a male.

I also wanted to write something that was difficult and different than anything I’ve done before. I wanted to go outside my comfort zone.

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The Fear of Writing

The fear of writing is strong.

Or more accurately, the fear of the results of writing is strong.

Along with writing comes the idea of baring your soul for the world to see. It could be avoided, but I’d probably not see a person not willing to open up, as someone I could relate to.

What scares me the most about writing, is opening myself up to facing (so-far-imaginary) dislike of my work, and possible criticism and hatred.

If I am truly vulnerable, and if I truly write from the depths of my soul, there may be someone who doesn’t like it. In fact, there might even be a guarantee of that somewhere in my contract.

(You know, that invisible, “I AM A WRITER.” contract we all sign the minute we’re born.)

I’m afraid you won’t like what I have to say, I’m afraid of criticism, I’m afraid of losing friends. I’m afraid of repercussions. I’m afraid of all manner of imaginary negatives befalling me simply because I’ve chosen to write.

I haven’t tasted that bitter water, but many of my friends have. And I’m afraid of facing it myself. I’m afraid of something I’ve never experienced.

I suppose it’s sort of like bungee jumping. I’ve never bungee jumped because I’m afraid of it. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. I should, simply because I’m afraid of it. I’ve done a lot of things lately, that I was afraid of, because I wanted to live outside my comfort zone. I need to apply this same principle to my writing.

I went to a writing class not very long ago, and one of the very first things the professor said was that we don’t have control of how people perceive our writing.

I guess part of putting myself out there and jumping outside my comfort zone means I’m not in control anymore.

We can write the exact same message, send it to two different people, and one will say, “This is great! I understand this,” and the second will say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. This is horrible!”

What I learned from that class is that all we can do, is to write well. I have to simply write well, or to the very best of my ability, and let my baby birds – my words – fly out of the nest.

I don’t have ANY control over how I’m perceived. All I can do is write what is inside of me, and hope that my words will change the world.

And if they don’t change the world, I’d be satisfied if they changed my world.

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The Undeclared Dream

Hi, I’m Jessica.

Some of you may know me, and some of you may have never heard of me. I live in the shadows, sporadically appearing out of nowhere to share brilliant, witty words, and amazing National Geographic-worthy photographs of cats.

Even though I’m hiding, I’ve always been here. I was part of this community from the very beginning – from the machete beginning!

During the first few months I went through a few different goals. My first goal was to lose weight; I remember it, because I failed. Then I was going to write a book, but I don’t know if I ever put pen to paper.

Eventually, I realized I was what I’d always been: an expert at failure.

A few vocations I’ve considered in the last thirty-or-so years: forest ranger, baker, veterinarian, architect, figure skater, ballet dancer, actress, famous author, truck driver, marine biologist (yes, I had, in fact, just watched Free Willy), farmer, archaeologist, librarian, zoologist, and the list goes on and on..

There are so many people who know EXACTLY what they want to do with their lives. Many of those people are you. Some of you know exactly what your dream is, exactly how you want to spend your life.

I envy you!

I’ve wandered around, lost and confused, for my entire life. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know my purpose.

Sometimes, while hidden in this amazing group of people, I feel like an impostor. Maybe I’m not supposed to be here. I don’t have a GRAND DREAM.

And, perhaps, you feel the same way.

Maybe your dream is unknown or undeclared. Maybe it’s buried so far inside of you, that you don’t even know what it is… YET!

Maybe you feel like an impostor, a fake, or a hypocrite. In the back of your head, a little voice is lying to you, saying, “You don’t belong here!”

Wait! Hang on. Don’t give up.

I want to give you some pieces of hope.

You may be meandering along in your life. You might feel like a leaf, floating along a river, going wherever the current takes you. As you float along, your answer may hit you in the face.

I don’t have all the answers. (In fact, I probably don’t have ANY answers.) I can’t tell you which way to go. But I can give you some suggestions. Some things that have helped me…

Keep your hands and your head busy. Keep your eyes open. If you have a handful of interests, spend time on them. Invest in quiet time with yourself. Think about your future and your desires. Go out and DO things. Go and experience new things. Live outside your comfort zone. (This is one I’ve been working on lately, and it’s been fantastic every time!)

Talk to people. You never know what’s out there until you GO OUT THERE.

Reach out for help and guidance from someone who has experienced your struggles. If you fight self-doubt, talk to your friends. They can offer unbiased, honest opinions about what you’re doing, and you might be surprised by the ideas that come to the surface in your conversations.

For those of you with experience, please share your knowledge. You affect others through us. You change the world through our lives too.

If you doubt your writing, write more. Even if you think it’s garbage, write.

Practice.

If you doubt your art, create more.

Practice.

If you have doubts about what you’re doing, do more of it! You will prove to yourself whether or not you are truly committed.

All dreams are not a straight line from A to B. There will be massive amounts of trials and errors.

Life isn’t even a straight line. Life is squiggly and ugly and messy and crazy.

I don’t have a clear picture of my dream; it’s not laid out for me in perfect calligraphy in a beautiful gold-gilded leather-bound book.

My dream looks more like a coloring book with pages ripped out, pages smudged and erased; and my crayons are most definitely broken! One or two pages are perfectly filled out, but most are incomplete, sadly, reminding me of all the places where I’ve given up way too soon. Many of the pages are completely blank. I can’t see them yet because I’m still stumbling around, wandering in the wilderness.

Your dream will always take you on a crazy ride. So it doesn’t matter if you aren’t “there” yet, or that maybe you don’t know quite exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.

What matters is that you are here, and you are working towards discovery. Don’t stop because you don’t know the end result.

It will be messy and confusing and heartbreaking. But, I promise you, you’re going to be amazing.

If you need encouragement and support, you’ll know where to find me.

*Jessica walks offstage amid thunderous applause*

*These words are part of a speech I wrote for the 2015 Launch Out Conference in Nashville, TN.*