05-31-2017

Charleston’s Summer Events for Kids: MamaCamp Plan

Only a few days of school remain…are you wondering how you’ll fill all those endless hours of childhood boredom?

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Check out this list of free to minimal cost events for kids in the LowCountry.

Charleston Co. Library’s Summer Reading Events

Dorchester Co. Library’s Summer Reading Events

Berkeley Co. Library’s Summer Reading Events

Piccolo at the Library

Piccolo for Children

Charleston Co. Parks Summer Series

Movies at Terrace Theatre

Movies at Regal Grande Theatre

Movies at Tides Hotel on the Beach at Night

Movie Nights at Wannamaker Park

ExtraValue Days at CCPRC Waterparks

The Charleston Museum: Kid Tours (Wednesday’s) and Hands on History (Thursday’s)

Barnes & Noble Story Time 

Charles Towne Landing Toddler Forest & Canon Shootings

Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry Programs

Awendaw Green Barn Jams

Historic Charleston Foundation Kid Programs

Family Fun Nights at Mt. Pleasant Recreation Pools  (word on the street is if all goes well, the Jones Center pool will open back up on June 12)

City of Charleston Programs

Charleston Library Society Storytimes

Time for Tots: Old Santee Canal Park

Join me tomorrow when I post activities for older kids and don’t forget to check out 63 Places off the Beaten Path in Charleston for more summer fun inspiration.

jessica

05-16-2017

What It’s Like Helping a Refugee Family Resettle in America

The Saturday morning Trump signed his executive order banning refuges I spent countless hours wracking up an irritating headache as my eyes were glued to this too small smartphone. My eyes were wrecked, my brain was in upheaval, and my heart felt ripped apart.

Just ten days prior, I helped welcome a Congolese refugee family to these American soils.

Laughed with a fellow volunteer as hours before they arrived we pondered whether we should show up to the airport with shoes. Because clearly it is proper shoes…
Not food consumption, boarding planes to the unknown, or the chance of being turned around only to be told: No Entry…
that must be the biggest concern for our refugee mama after flying halfway around the world for 17 hours straight.

So that Saturday, January 28th – I couldn’t understand how one man could wield such power to turn away people clinging to threads of hope.

The last four months few words have been written on this computer, but many have been the words in my head.

Today we attempt a trek to Wal-Mart – only a few miles away but hours away when using public transportation.

Six lanes of cars flash by as I slow my steps to the gait of a woman used to carrying loads of laundry on her head.

We squat on a cracked sidewalk waiting an hour for the bus to appear.

Growing uncomfortable with the deafening silence between us, I whip out my speak & translate app – attempting to converse with a language so foreign from my own.

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The fastest way to transform your life is to serve a soul that looks, acts, or believes different than your own.

Helping a refugee family re-settle has opened my eyes to my preconceived notions and judgmental thoughts. Lifted the veil on the hardships those relying on public transportation face. Made me wonder if the ways of life I consider essential are really necessary.

It’s easy to roll up our car windows and blast the radio when we see the homeless man on the street corner, turn a blind eye to the latest Israeli/Palestine killing reports on the television, or drown out the noise of social injustice by making our schedules busier & busier so we have a convenient excuse of no time to spend with those who need us most.

Put a name with that homeless man, give a story to the 12 year old Palestine boy, and it becomes impossible to ignore social injustice.

As a wise refugee volunteer leader shared, “having a personal connection, a name & face, changes the lens of how you view the world around you.”

Six months ago, if I’d driven by a mom and a toddler sitting on the sidewalk of a busy road waiting for the bus – I’m not sure sympathy would have been my gut reaction. I had little compassion for public transport riders until our 4 mile trek took us 4 hours to complete, tried to explain landpoints to a non speaking English person because tickers don’t exist and route maps don’t show needed stops.

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Unless we consciously choose different, how we view the world is how we were taught to view the world.

Unless we consciously choose different, how we LOVE, how we LIVE, what we BELIEVE, is what we were taught as kids.

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What the refugees and the homeless and the boy down the street need is not more shoes.
More stuff we want to discard from our overstuffed homes.
Instead what they need, what we all need from each other, is simply our time.

Reach out today and spend time with someone who believes different than you, looks different than you, lives life different than you.

It’s rarely convenient. There is a good chance it requires a drive across a bridge to the other side of town. That other side of town.

Or it might be as simple as walking across your backyard and inviting the lonely widow to a meal at your house, you know – the grouchy lady who hates it when your kids’ baseball gets in her yard.

Perhaps it is as grandiose as stopping on the side of the road to help immigrant Mexican’s with their stranded car, you with your sniffling nose and tired eyes from lack of sleep.

It can be as easy as encouraging your children to befriend the kid whose skin doesn’t match their own.

Loving others who believe different, look different, live life different –
in the end, you are the one with a transformed life.

jessica

 

02-10-2017

Fifty Shades Darker: Abuse at its heart

Because Fifty Shades Darker opens this weekend. Because abuse is the opposite of love. Because this is near & dear to my heart.

{A repost from when Fifty Shades of Gray movie opened in theaters.}

For two weeks now, as I watch ad after ad of 50 Shades trailers, I have been in a mood of outrage at our society.

How can we be outraged when Rihanna takes Chris Brown back and we watch a Super Bowl ad and say “oh, yes…domestic abuse is an atrocity.”

But then we turn a blind eye to a movie that at its heart embraces abuse, condones misuse of power, and degrades a woman’s self worth.

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What occurs in this movie is much more than just BDSM. What happens between the two characters is emotional manipulation, controlling another person’s thoughts, words, and deeds, threatening another person’s safety, and the list goes on and on.

At numerous many points in this book {just to name a few…the stalking, the threats, the inequality of power & control} I want to say “The worst thing about these books is…”

But perhaps, the worst part is the underlying effect when abuse embeds itself into one’s psyche.

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…the Grey Shade of Shame
while hiding black & blue bruises on our backs, afraid to undress at the gym for fear of being found out.

…the Grey Shade of Torture
while hearing “If you had done what I told you to, I wouldn’t need to whip you with this belt.”

…the Grey Shade of Fear
while hearing your abuser threaten to rape you.

When caustic comments are repeated day after day, situation after situation, year after year, they get under your skin, degrade your worth, and eventually they tear a woman down. They make her feel she deserves those beatings, she deserves being talked to as if she is a filthy human being.

Whether verbal,physical, or sexual…abuse is psychological.

It gets underneath your skin and affects how you view right & wrong.
It skews your beliefs until you don’t know what to be confident of anymore.

You take a controlling man who preys on a woman and batters her down
until nothing is left
but a stubble of who she used to be.

His actions make her not just FEEL but THINK that she wasn’t worthy of decent love from the beginning.

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Or, perhaps it is this that is the worst part…

For many supporters of this trilogy, they see the plot as being redemptive. For by the end of book 3, Ana has changed Christian to be a better man. Because of her, he is now a loving husband, a doting father.

Women, hear me loud and clear.
No woman has ever changed a man.
NEVER, EVER, EVER.

You love him for who he is. And if he happens to become better over time, that’s great. But at the end of the day…

You only have the power to change yourself.

So what message are we sending young ladies, teenagers, college bound girls….that they will be able to change a man? That their self esteem, their self worth doesn’t matter?

Young women…hear this…

There are awesome and wonderful men in this world who will cherish you, treasure you, and respect you and your wishes more than you ever thought possible. Trust your heart and your body to a man like that.

A man who gets his pleasure from hurting you, from controlling you, from knowing where you are every single second of the day…avoid those men like the plague. The man who makes you second guess yourself, makes you question what his true motives are…those are the ones to leave behind in the dust.

If someone can’t respect you for who you are, if someone has to undermine your value in order to make themselves feel more important – move on to bigger & brighter futures.

Because, you, you are worth SO MUCH MORE than being the object of someone’s issues with their own past.

Let them get help on their own. Let them figure out how to release the demons of their past. But you don’t need to stick around for them to do that.

Instead, find your worth in who you are…a beautiful, brilliant, talented, witty, funny, caring, loveable creation of God.

jessica

p.s…if this post has been touching to you, please forward to the young women in your life. Abuse happens more often that we realize, everywhere around us, even to men by women.

And if you are in an abusive relationship, there are people that want to help you. www.thehotline.org or 800.799.7233

01-25-2017

Feelings are a GAUGE not a GUIDE

One of the greatest gifts God’s given me is the presence of really wise women.

Brave, strong women who don’t let life hold them down.

One such woman is Cinelle Barnes. Cinelle is a master of words and her memoir, Monsoon Mansion, will be released in Spring 2018. Lucky me, she’s my writing mentor!

During a recent chat, the conversation quickly become about how I think I feel & analyze TOO much.

Every day, I’m overwhelmed with feelings I experience. From thinking about the refugee situation, then wondering how I’m suppose to be a mama and manage various writing projects, to analyzing conversations in my head. Processing my feelings is often the stumbling block trapping me from living life.

So I’m having that moment of “what in the world is wrong with me?” and “do you think other people process things in their head like this?”.

Cinelle brightly smiles and says “Jessica, have you heard that phrase…

Feelingsare a GUIDE

 

Rocket science, I tell ya’ll! That was such a big statement! I go through life getting caught up in how I’m feeling instead of realizing my feelings are simply telling me something but shouldn’t be what guide my day or what influences the decisions I make.

I hope these few little words help ya’ll out too!

jessica

 

 

01-23-2017

The #1 Lie Christians Say: God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

I’m not a theologian. Never been to seminary. Just a girl who wants to have a deeper understanding of scripture.

When faced with grief, hard times, and just plain life – there’s one phrase shared in the Christian community that I detest.

“God won’t ever give you more than you can handle.”

I’m sure people mean well – not sure what to say when a friend is in the throes of seemingly insurmountable hardships.

But that phrase is actually not in scripture.

Yes, I Corinthians 10:13 does say God won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. However, it doesn’t say hardship. It says temptation. And in my opinion, the word temptation means temptation to sin.

Without ill intent, we alter scripture to make it seem like God doesn’t allow hardship we can’t endure.

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Bible stories resound with God letting people experience tragedy, deprivation, poverty…the list goes on & on. Story after story it is HE who prevails them through the storms of life. Biblical stories actually don’t end well when people choose their own devices to make it through the hardships.

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If God didn’t give you more than you could handle on your own, why would you ever need Him?

We realize our dependence on Him when we have nothing left of our own resources to make it through the next moment.

It is not of my own striving, my own accord, my own will that has helped me through the mountains of life.
When I realize my brain, my body, my heart cannot adequately meet the need in front of me is when I turn to Christ the most.

It’s as small as realizing I can’t go a day without yelling at my kids without the Holy Spirit giving me self-control of my mouth.

It’s as big as realizing I can’t forgive heart wounds from trauma without the supernatural gift of forgiveness from Christ.

Part of Christianity is accepting the limitations of my own self. Of being willing to say I wasn’t meant to walk life’s journey alone.

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It is when I lean most heavily on Him that I thrive.
I’m not talking about thriving in the material sense of the word.
I’m talking about thriving in joy, peace, self control, contentedness.

As we are reminded in II Corinthians 12:9 –

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

In my translation…

Christ’s grace is sufficient for you, for His power is made perfect in your weakness. 

When friends are facing hard times, instead of saying “God won’t give you more than you can handle”, we could instead encourage them that Christ will be the provider of what gets them through the journey.

jessica

 

 

12-19-2016

5 Ways You Can Help A Child in Aleppo

Ya’ll, does your heart break every time you watch five minutes of the evening news?

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© UNICEF/UN044445/Al-Issa

You want to do something, anything, to help those in need but have no idea where to start?

On Normal Wednesday, you know – the day that happens after Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday – that day, November 30, CNN’s headline read “Aleppo Descends to Hell: UN Emergency Meeting Called“. My eyes glossed over and I looked away because I could not stomach more.

More violence.
More trauma.
More helplessness.

We in the civilized western hemisphere are so far removed – not only in geographical miles – but also far removed from experiencing war fare, fleeing broken homes in rags, or nightly serenades of bombs exploding as you pray you wake to see another sunrise.

Wanna be a world changer but despair that your just little ‘ol you?

Here are 5 practical ways you can actually help someone in Aleppo.

  1. Preemptive Love Coalition – Jesus said to love your neighbor. He didn’t say love those who look and live just like you. This organization is the real deal.  And they even have Christmas gifts you can buy that are made from refugees.
  2. We Welcome Refugees – Sign a petition, join a movement, let your voice be heard that refugees are welcome where you live
  3. Make a Welcome Kit for a Refugee Family – Working with World Relief
  4. Lutheran Services of Carolinas – This organization welcomes refugees from all over the world. Contact them if your church would like to partner with them in welcoming a refugee family
  5. Pray – for world leaders to have wisdom on how aid can be brought to those in need – for how you can help – for our hearts to be opened deeper and wider so we might be willing to sacrifice our own comforts and have time or money for those who need our help

As my wise friend Kelly encouraged me on that Normal Wednesday,

When you feel you can’t conquer the world – give anyway, love anyway. Any time you give, any love you share WILL make a positive impact.

jessica

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© UNICEF/UN044437/Al-Issa

 

10-27-2016

Finding Your Way Through the Brokenness in Your Life

The busyness of October has taken me by surprise.
It’s been a blur of days flung my way with not enough hands to grasp it all.

All the fun plans and unexpected adventures filled me with excitement but when all said & done has left me gasping for air.

I had grand plans for this month. Plans to blog every.single.weekday. You can see how successfully that turned out. When I feel like this, it’s easy to concentrate on all I didn’t accomplish instead of focusing on what I did get done.

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My kids got to see their first college football game in real life. The fact a hurricane was hunkering down on us made it all the more fun. Who cares if they only saw 2 plays before we couldn’t take any more of the 53mph wind and driving rain?

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My faith has been blown away as I see the Holy Spirit’s power & presence shows up week after week in a Bible study. Read National Geographic and watch Frontline documentaries on ISIS and it’s enough to make you question where God is inside the boundary lines of third world poverty and war. But I’m not overseas. I’m here in the continental U.S. And it’s God changing women’s lives right in my path that makes me confident in his reality.

The real treasure showed up two weeks ago in the form of this book…

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When it come’s to Ann’s poetic words, I’m a slow reader. I need time to process her words as they take root in my brain and heart. Even though I’m only to Chapter 7, I can already say this..

If your soul is weary, battered & torn from simply living life…

If you’re the lonely, outcast, and marginalized…

If you want to find a sense of purpose in this thing called life…

If you want your life to be more than just the broken that’s happened to you…

Read The Broken Way.

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Ann’s book released this week and you can find it here and here. Even if you don’t feel you are currently broken, this book will encourage you in a very tangible way to live a life of purpose and bring kindness to all those around you.

jessica

 

09-28-2016

When The Broken Way is Really the Only Way: An Invitation to Read Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way

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Tucked into the fetal position on a cold hard concrete floor, a nine year old little boy beckons with God…please, just please keep my brothers & I safe. Please, God, please let the yelling and the throwing pass over us.

A forty two year old woman cries herself to sleep after watching her husband walk out that door. Alone and afraid, she wonders what her friends will think.

A four year old chestnut haired little girl teeters precariously on the kitchen stool, making her and her brother’s cheese sandwich for dinner. If she doesn’t, there’s nothing to eat tonight.

There is a lot of hurt & broken in this world.
All too often, we turn away from the broken in our hearts and deny it ever happened or made any impact on us.

We hide it all behind our shiny cars, clean houses, and lipstick smiles.

And I get it. I’ve been broken. I’ve been depressed. I’ve had moments when I wasn’t sure what the point in keep on, keeping on was.

When we’ve been broken, when we’ve been abused and trampled on, when taking a breathe feels like engulfing fire on the shame deep inside. When that is what our life is or has been – why wouldn’t we want to put on a pretty plastic facade and pretend we are a-ok.

Because if we say we are a-ok, then eventually, the longer we say it, a-ok becomes reality, right??

Ultimately though, the weight of that facade wears us down. The tension of day after day, holding it all together, pulls half-an-inch too tight. And our world comes crashing down around us.

What do we do then? When we just want answers and we just want our messy, broken, hurting souls to feel better. To be mended. We just want a way out from the all consuming crushing weight we’ve been wearing on our backs.

That my friends is what Ann Voskamp’s newest book, The Broken Way, is all about.

Ann, in her signature poetry prose, makes us consider…

“Maybe you can live a full and beautiful life in spite of the great and terrible moments that will happen right inside of you. Actually – maybe you get to become more abundant because of those moments….Maybe our hearts are made to be broken. Broken open. Broken free. Maybe the deepest wounds birth deepest wisdom.”

I’ve never, in all my times of reading Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000, pondered the significance of the word broken. Ann does…

Jesus “took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the the people”

Jesus fed the people out of the brokenness.

As Ann writes, “The miracle happens in the breaking. Not enough was given thanks for, and then the miracle happened.”

Could it be that our messy traumatized hearts is what becomes the miracle in our lives?

What if…

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***

I was humbled and thrilled when I got the acceptance email for being part of Ann’s launch team for this book, The Broken Way. Her first book, One Thousand Gifts, transformed my life when I was in the midst of grief and despair following a loved one’s death from suicide. Her dare to write down 1,000 things I was thankful for in 1 Year’s time changed my heart and my life. This morning, five years later, I jotted down reason #4,799.

Giving thanks in all and letting our brokenness be the miracle God unleashes for the world are intricately tied together.

I hope you’ll journey with me as I read through the book and each Wednesday share nuggets of encouraging wisdom from Ann. The book releases October 25th and you can pre-order here.

Love,

jessica

 

08-04-2016

The Ever Boring Tasks of Parenting: A Poem To Encourage When Yet Another LONG Summer Day Looms

Spaghetti splattered dishes haphazardly askew in an uncleaned sink.
Last night’s orange cheese grime caked on the metallic baking sheet.
Mold growing where apple juice resided in a pink sippy cup.
Making the 6th PB&J, of just this morning.
Bending low to wipe the yellow spotted toilet seat.

It’s the daily monotony that makes motherhood boring.

When we bend low with serving posture we see how low Christ bends to make Himself known to us.

He bends low to cleanse the mold of our messy souls.
He bends low to wipe away sobs of distress.
He bends low to open ears to cicada’s chants and noses to sweetgrass’ perfume.

Monotonous rituals of motherhood
shape us,
make us,
creates in us
the serving posture of Christ.

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jessica

07-21-2016

The 6th Anniversary of Mat’s Death: Grieving A Suicide (or any death) Takes Time

The 6th anniversary of my brother in law’s death to suicide is this week.

As the week unfolds I am reminded what I need most during pressing times like these is to move slower.
Breathe deeper.
To give myself time to process the grief that wraps itself around you and clinches tight.

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Losing someone tragically, without warning, provides no time for the slow process of letting someone go.

Before we lost Mat, death was, for me, found most often at the end of an elderly person’s life.

Death at an old age seems natural in a way.
The body decays as we age and at a certain point our souls can’t continue on in a decomposing body.

When a 32 year old man who seemed to be thriving in so many ways is declared dead, to say it’s a tough pill to swallow is the same as saying Niagara Falls is just like that tiny creek in your backyard.

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Between “go to the pool so the swim lessons will be worth it” and  “putting up jars of peaches, tomatoes, and figs that occupy my kitchen table”…there seems little time this week to work in grieving.

I am easily overwhelmed when my to-do list stretches longer than “play at the house today”.

When I add ‘grieve for a loved one’ the list aches my soul.

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Relationships are forged over time and grieving works the same way.

We must permit ourselves time to grieve.

Time to process the sadness.
Time to process what was that will never be again.

My friend Amy who lost her mother in a tragic car accident a few years prior to Mat’s death told me…
time will never be the same for you.

Your reference point for the rest of your life will be “post this date”.

She was right.

Even now, six years later, I chronicle events in my head with Mat’s death as the marker of them all.

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It took me two years post Mat’s death before I would be able to write in a journal again.

Me, the girl who’d been journaling since pre teenage years. But to write it down meant I was committing it to reality.

When all I wanted to do was turn back time and have more time and alter reality.

In six years we’ve come so far. {There’s an entire book that could be written here in what happens in being a suicide survivor. That’s actually what they call the family members and friends who’ve lost someone to suicide. Crazy isn’t it? Usually being a survivor of “something” means you actually had the atrocity done to you. But picking up the pieces of a torn up broken into rags life is the atrocity that’s been done, the war wrecked reality you have to wade yourself through.}

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For me, losing someone tragically seems to magnify the loss.

The anniversary seems more poignant, more reminiscent.

And that’s where I find myself today, this week.

Simply needing time.
Time to be slow.
Time to acknowledge what was lost.

Reminding myself that the tomatoes desperate to be canned will be just fine if they end up being frozen instead.
Recollecting it’s okay if my children don’t perfect their swimming skills this summer.
Repeating the mantra to make time for myself so I can be a patient, compassionate, and caring mom and wife.

{There is so much more I could write & say on the subject of grieving a suicide. To sum it all up, you just feel a heavy aching in your heart that this is now reality. I even feel weird posting this. I didn’t write it to have condolences. I am just sharing because it’s what is on my heart and I want to be authentic. Plus, maybe it will encourage someone out there who is grieving a loss. And whether that loss is from a tragic death or from watching a loved one slowly slip away year after year – grieving is all the same…healing from loss requires time to experience and journey through grief.}

Love,

jessica