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The Famine Blog

Thinking Through Fundraising

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Daniel Kiefer

Summer is four or five months away and if you’re like me, you have already booked your camps, mission trips, activities, over nights, and various other events that keep your students engaged all summer long. No matter what your summer looks like, most of the things we’ve planned cost money, which is something most parents don’t have a lot of. And when deadlines come around we are left begging parents, “Show me the money!” Many parents are left saying, “We don’t have any.” This is where you sweep in and shower them with all the fundraiser cash that you have collected. So how do you best leverage your fundraising super powers?

Build a Team

First you have to build a team of invested parents. Often times we overlook the greatest resource we have: parents. Get all the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles that you can to be a part of your fundraising team. This team will spread the load of work among many people instead of you bearing the workload yourself. Cast your vision to this team and get them to invest their time and talents to help raise the money needed. Now that you’ve built your team you need to…

Cast your Vision

Let this team know what your goal is for the amount of money you need and why you need to raise it. For instance, our goal is to raise $150 per student going to camp. We need to raise that much because camp is expensive and most families have multiple students going to camp. But more importantly we believe that camp is an experience for students where they can have an encounter with God that can change their lives. Once your team has bought into your vision, figure out which fundraisers are going to get you the…

Biggest Bang for your Efforts

For years, I would overwork myself trying to squeeze every last dollar out of 3, 4 or even 5 fundraisers. We did car washes, catalog sales, discount cards, and parents nights out, lunches after church, doughnut sales and even car washes. Did I mention car washes? We would do ok, raising on average $500-600 for each event. But the effort involved in these fundraisers never matched the payoff. At most we would get about $50-60 total per student raised, which isn’t really a lot compared to the amount they owed for the events. So I began to look for the best way to raise the most money we could. I settled on 2 fundraisers that were high on the profit margin and began to focus on those two fundraisers alone. Now certainly there are always tweaks to make to these fundraisers and this is where you learn to…

Get Creative

Think of outside-the-box ways to promote your fundraisers. Sometimes when we reuse the same fundraiser year after year it tends to loose its momentum and in turn it doesn’t do as well as it did the year before. Find ways to promote it differently, or put a new twist in it. This is where your team of parents can help. Sit down with them and find new or better ways to do these fundraisers. Once you have all your planning done it is time to…

Delegate

Delegating different tasks will help you avoid getting burned out. You cannot do your job alone; you’ve got to have help. I am a firm believer that the more people you have helping the more successful you’ll be, not just in raising these funds but overall in your ministry. Find people who can do the jobs that you cannot do. Find people to do the jobs that you’re not skilled in and let them work their magic.

The best two fundraisers that I’ve ever done are our annual golf tournament and and an envelope fundraiser. The golf tournament is a lot of work but it can be a huge success. The one key to our golf tournament is selling hole sponsorships. Our goal this year is to sell 2 per hole and this is where my team of parents will come in and help. They have way more connections in the community to business that are willing to donate money for camps just to advertise their business. The envelope fundraiser is not original with me, I found it here: http://www.youthministrymedia.ca/blog/best-youth-ministry-fundraiser/. This fundraiser is very customizable and will work in a lot of situations. You can do any number of envelopes and it is all 100% profit. The thing I like most about this fundraiser is ANYONE can participate in it. Some people can donate $500 and some can donate $1 but no matter the amount given it all goes to help a student in your ministry.

So what are your fundraisers that have been successful? How have you built your fundraising team? What creative new ways have you put a twist on a reused fundraiser?

Teaching Girls to be Intolerant

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Kathy Jackson

The end of 2017 and the beginning of the new year of 2018 has been pretty interesting so far with the #metoo movement.  How do you address this in your youth ministry?  Do we just go on about our business and ignore this movement or do we talk about it head on?  How many girls, soon to be women, do you have?  What do you want to give to them to be able to deal with what they may confront when they move into their “real” world experience?

At the first meeting this past fall of our young teen Girl’s Bible Study, I passed around paper and asked them to choose one word per girl to describe themselves and the others sitting around the table.  Much to my chagrin the most common word was “pretty”.  Really?  “Pretty”?  That is what was tops in their mind…how they looked.  After we thought about it, my co-leader and I couldn’t blame them.  These same girls (5th, 6th. and 7th graders) were just coming to us from wearing bows in their hair, Mary Janes, and bobby socks.  Everyone at church would say “Don’t you look pretty?” “How cute,” and other remarks about their clothes, hair, and shoes.  These are the only compliments they ever hear from our church goers. No one has taken the time to stop, talk to them about anything personal….only how they looked.

What role do we as youth leaders have in changing this conversation and thought process in our churches?  How do we get our leaders and congregants to describe our girls as “resilient,” “brave,” “strong,” “courageous,” “self-assured,” and “intelligent?”  Or do we have a role at all?  If we, as leaders, can’t change the way we describe them, how does this conversation ever change?

If we remove the politics from #metoo and get to the heart of the message, we will discover that it IS up to all of us as to how the next generation views the world.  What if we taught our girls to be “intolerant?”  That might surprise you! But what if we taught them to be Intolerant to everything Jesus wants us to be intolerant towards: poverty, sexism, racism, ageism, homelessness, food endangerment, and hypocrisy, just to name a few. Jesus wants us to be intolerant towards sin.

As we teach our girls to be “intolerant” we must also teach them to be loving in that intolerance. Micah 6:8 says “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  So we should teach our girls to be intolerant toward injustices. Injustices such as poverty, homelessness, food endangerment, racism and sexism plus the other things in our society today that Jesus would not tolerate.  We need to teach them to speak up and not be afraid as long as they are grounded in their faith. They need to be assured that Jesus wants them to speak up about injustice.

These days call for special teachings, teachings of Jesus’s intolerance against injustice and his wish for us to be intolerant but to also show mercy and kindness.

Coming Back to the 30 Hour Famine

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Jen Bradbury 

Most youth workers I know are familiar with the 30 Hour Famine. Many have even done it… at least once.

Maybe that’s you. Maybe you did the Famine years ago but then, for whatever reason, stopped.

That’s what I did.

For over a decade, the 30 Hour Famine was a staple in my ministry – one of its go-to, yearly events.

But then, the Famine lost steam – not because it was a bad event, but simply because we’d done it so many times and also because February, the month we’d traditionally participated in the Famine, became the worst month to hold an overnight event in my context. Between sports, forensics, and math team meets, virtually none of my kids could participate in the 30 Hour Famine.

So, in 2014, my leaders and I made the difficult decision to take a break from the Famine. At first we thought we’d just take a year off. But then one year became two and two became three and eventually three became four. That’s when something interesting happened.

At a brainstorming event over the summer, one of my high school seniors – who’d never participated in the 30 Hour Famine himself, but whose siblings had – suggested we do the Famine. Since many of his peers were completely unfamiliar with the Famine, he explained what it was based on what he’d heard from his siblings. After doing so, the people in the room got excited.

Really excited.

So, we scheduled a date for the Famine in October, far from the national Famine dates but on a weekend that worked for the teens in my ministry.

After four years off, when I sat down to plan the 30 Hour Famine, I realized I was excited about it in a way I hadn’t been in years. I wanted to teach teens about global hunger, poverty, and even the discipline of fasting and was thankful for the forum the Famine gave me to do so. I pulled from past years and recycled some of our greatest hits – teachings and activities that proved effective year after year. Then I supplemented those ideas with new ones, uniquely designed to minister to my specific group of teens in this specific time and place.

Our actual Famine event was everything I dreamed it would be and more.

Teens grew closer as a group. They participated in an important, transformational spiritual discipline for the very first time. They dove into Scripture and wrestled with God’s heart for the hungry. They served our local community and learned how hunger exists, even in affluent suburbs like ours. They also got acquainted with the organizations committed to fighting hunger in our community. What’s more, they learned to articulate what hunger is in a way that I hope will make them empathetic to those who are hungry and more committed to serving them. In all of this, they encountered Jesus – in each other, those who are hungry, and those who serve the hungry.

So, friends, what are you waiting for?

If you’ve never done the 30 Hour Famine, or it’s been a while since you’ve done it, try suggesting it to your team and see if there’s any energy behind it.

If there is, seize it.

Schedule a Famine date – even if it’s not one of the national dates – and then do it.

Then watch as God uses the Famine in the lives of your students, in ways you dreamed of as well as ways you never dared to imagine.

Making Space for Wonder

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By John Sorrell

The 30 Hour Famine allows students to be confronted with realities outside themselves. This is actually the number one reason why I love the Famine. It isn’t always an easy event, but the long-term impacts on students are consistently present. I look forward to it every year.

The Famine creates space for students to expand how they presently see the world and our place in it and God and our relationship with Him. I’ve found that making use of wonder and even imagination as a lens through which we reflect during the Famine can be valuable. I saw this mostly through closing our Famine each year with communion. While I know this isn’t possible in all settings I hope it can help inspire the sense of wonder and imagination through your Famine weekend.

In Your God Is Too Safe, Mark Buchanan has a chapter devoted to wonder called “What Ever Happened to Wonder”. That chapter has always resonated with me. He challenges the premise of having all things figured out and invites the reader to reconsider how much about God we don’t really know. About halfway through the chapter he takes communion into consideration and equates how it is commonly practiced to that of scientists explaining a kiss in sheer scientific terms. When that happens there is a loss of wonder and imagination. He continues talking through his experience where the practice of communion left him hungrier or thirstier than when he entered.

I found during the 30 Hour Famine as we neared the end and students began to anticipate breaking the fast together in whatever mysterious way we had planned that year we could enter a time where we redefined communion. Not only with larger drinks of grape juice and bigger pieces of bread but a new vision of a community practicing this almost mystic spiritual ordinance of the church.

Mark’s last paragraph on the topic of communion is this:

“Jesus said, ‘This is my body. Take and eat. This is my blood. Take and drink.’ He didn’t explain it. In fact, all attempts to explain it have been mere descriptions of kissing [This is a callback to a fantastic point he makes a few paragraphs earlier]. He just stated it and left it to our imaginations to figure out how it was so. He left it to us to remember – to vividly remember – His life and death and resurrection and ascension. To experience right now, right here, His presence. To anticipate with a wild yearning our seeing Him again, eating this meal with Him in Heaven. And to leave full.

It takes imagination.”

– Mark Buchanan, Your God Is Too Safe. Pg. 55

It isn’t only in communion where imagination and wonder can be invited. If our students gain insight into local areas of need and how their help and energy could change their neighborhoods, it becomes powerful. Or if they see that by skipping a few fast-food meals or coffee runs that money can further help someone else through microloans. The possibilities are endless of course.

You might, like me, have a love/not-so-love relationship with the Famine. Its impact is inspiring, but it can be hard some years to get excited about having that coffee withdrawal headache I would always get Saturday afternoon. My hope is this year we can create space to imagine and wonder with our students through the various elements of the event.

As you prepare for your 30 Hour Famine event this year, is there a topic or time where you can invite your students to dream? Encourage them to reconsider, with the help of imagination and wonder, what could be if God breathes life into our vision and action.

What Starbucks Taught Me about Belonging and the Church

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Elizabeth Murray

Every Sunday morning I drive by Starbucks to get to church; and every Sunday morning, Starbucks is busy. The streets may be fairly empty, but there are folks drinking their morning coffee at Starbucks at 8 or 9am.  I always wonder why—why are they there? Why aren’t they at church? It’s clearly not because they are too busy, out of town, or don’t want to get up that early. So, I asked myself this question, “What does Starbucks offer that the church does not?”

People come to this space to work, read, meet up, do homework and lots of other things. Why not just stay home and read your book? Do you really want to be at a busy, loud Starbucks while reading? Don’t you have an office to go to? Why don’t you do your homework in the library? People go to Starbucks because of the atmosphere. Sure, you get your work done there, too, but is it always the easiest place to work? No. Have you ever walked in to Starbucks in the evening? It’s so crowded.  I always wonder why people are there. Walking into Starbucks can be like walking in to home. You feel comfortable there, you know what to expect when you go, you know how to order your drink a special way, and you might even see someone you know! I have noticed this when I have been at Starbucks—people need community and belonging.

Starbucks has created a culture of belonging. It is its own community. What do I mean by that?

As humans, we need community. We are made to be in community with one another. We are not meant to live without human interaction. God created us to love other people, to laugh, to talk to others, to ask questions, and to be reminded that there are other people just like us in the world.

Maybe the people at Starbucks on Sunday morning are like me and they live alone—if they don’t leave their house that day, they won’t get any human interaction that day. That’s a pretty scary feeling—if you have gone a whole day without seeing or talking to anyone, you know that it can be weird. But, if I get up and go out today, I get to interact with other humans. I have also seen a lot of people doing Bible studies at Starbucks, both individual and in groups—people who are not scared to share their faith in a public space. Wow. Are other people noticing?

The Greek word koinonia means community. In the books of Acts, the Church is born. The first Christians are there and they join in community—a community of believers that are coming together because they have something in common. Acts 2:45-47 says,

 “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything.  They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them.  Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.”

We are not meant to do our lives on our own—we are meant to go through life being in relationship with others.  What does it mean to belong?

Belonging is not about fitting in. When you try to fit in, you are trying to be something you aren’t. Belonging means that you are accepted for who you really are. People come to Starbucks because they are accepted for who they are–something, again, that all of us desire. They order what they want without shame, they can stay there as long as they want, and they are accepted there.

Social scientist Dr. Brené Brown defines belonging this way: “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging does not require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

Maybe now we understand why people are at Starbucks on Sunday morning? It feels like a safe space for them. They can come and relax without feeling judged.

Is it possible that Starbucks has created a space that more people want to come to than the church?

How can we create spaces of community and belonging for the youth in our church and our community?

Trying New Things

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Mark Eades

In Ecclesiastes 3 we read “there is a season for everything.” In youth ministry, these verses speak to us about whether we should be thinking about doing something brand new or redoing something tried and true. As you think through your ministry schedule for the upcoming year, here are several ideas to think about:

Be yourself, not somebody else. I often find myself believing that if I can just do what other youth pastors do I will have an awesome group. That belief will almost always fail. God has given you the group, the church, and the community where you are. Gather ideas from other sources, but adjust them to what you know would be best for your group.

Think outside the box, but not too far. You have a very unique view on the community where you live. You aren’t looking through a school teacher’s point of view or a coach’s point of view. You see a place where both God’s grace and truth must be heard.

I like to spend time meeting with local middle school principals when I can. Apparently, one of the scariest things that incoming 6th graders experience is the daunting task of opening their locker for the first time and remembering the combination. With this new information about my community and a Christ-centered perspective, I decided to try something new. We held a simple “locker practice” in the summer so new 6th graders could become more comfortable with lockers.

Be organized, but very flexible. It is important to come into each meeting, retreat, or trip with a plan of how it will go. God gives us the ability to plan ahead, and he is a part of that planning. But in the moment God can and does awesome things that don’t match our careful plans! Be ready – but be ready to change too.

I like planning, so I have a spreadsheet of teaching lessons for the next 6-9 months. However, each week I try to communicate with a few of my leaders on what is best for us to hit on that week. Most of the time we follow the schedule, but occasionally we adjust based on new input.

There is a season for trying something new, and there is a season for continuing what works. Use ideas from others, but also be confident in God’s plan for you and where he planted you.

One last idea: don’t worry about never repeating a great idea because it’s not “new” anymore. We repeat major events every three years when we get new 6th-8th graders. We know they have been field-tested, but the students still get to enjoy a “new” activity.

Helping Your Students Approach a New Year With Intentionality

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Aaron Wolgamott

It is easy to live our lives more out of reaction to what happens or comes our way. And while that is not necessarily all bad, there are so many things we can’t control in this life that we do have to learn how to react well to, we also need to learn to approach life with intentionality; to have a plan and set goals and learn to be purposeful as much as possible.

Plans and goals don’t always work out the way we want them to, because again there is so much in life that we can’t control. BUT, when we make plans and we set goals and we seek to be purposeful, we are living our lives with intentionality. Doing that gives us focus and purpose, keeps us on track when we might want to get off track, and even helps us better navigate the changes that life brings our way.

Students are in a place where learning to be intentional and purposeful in life is so important. They are in the time of their life when much of what they think is being developed, when their futures are in the process of being mapped out, and when who they are is still being formed. What better time in life to make sure to approach life with intentionality?

This New Year is a prime time to talk about this. The focus for many is on the idea of “new year’s resolutions,” trying new things, and moving forward into what the future holds. The New Year brings this kind of thinking out in our society, and we can take advantage of that to help students approach this New Year—and really their lives—with intentionality.

Here are a few suggestions for how to go about helping your students approach this New Year with intentionality…

  1. Encourage students to pick a word for the year. A word that will give them guidance and focus. For example: CHOICE. Picking a word like this provides a constant reminder that what they do in this life involves choice; who they hang out with, where they go, what they do, how they react, etc. It is also a word that can encourage them to seek to make the right choice in all circumstances.
  1. When a student picks a word, have them choose some key scripture verses/passages to go with their word. This takes their word beyond just a good word; it gives it a spiritual focus and element as well. It helps them focus on God’s Word in their life. For the word CHOICE, some verse ideas could be: Joshua 24:15, Matthew 4:19-20, and Colossians 3:2. The verse doesn’t have to include the word itself, but should encompass the idea of the word. Help students find some verses, but allow the student to pick their verses, as it will also show their specific heart and focus behind the word they have chosen.
  1. Have the student write out a list of goals, dreams, and plans for this coming year. Encourage them to write things that they will be able to accomplish or keep track of fairly easily, as that will give them victories to celebrate. BUT, also encourage them to think big and write some things that will challenge them and require them to trust God in ways they may have not had to before. Also remind them that it’s ok to not accomplish everything, or to allow some of their goals, dreams, and plans to change during the year. Life happens, and we must learn to give ourselves grace as well as be flexible to make adjustments.
  1. Each student should find a friend with whom they can share what they write down. That friend can be someone who continually encourages them throughout the year to stay focused, pray for them, and even help them as they need.
  1. One other idea that some might like and some might not: encourage students to pick a “theme song”—a song that really speaks to the student’s heart, causes the student to worship the Lord, and is a good reminder to the student of their word and focus. Music speaks to us in a powerful way, which is why picking a song can be a good piece to this.

At the end of the year, it would also be very cool to have students share what they accomplished from their list, how their word and verses helped them, and what God taught them. This would be a way to celebrate the past year, and prepare them to look forward to being intentional for the next coming year.

By the way, I’d love to hear other ideas for helping students (and really ourselves as well) to be intentional. Feel free to email me at (aka.woogy@gmail.com) with other ideas you have.

Re-do the Renew

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Sean Garner

Happy New Year (conditionally, of course)…

Congratulations, you’ve celebrated Christmas and the end of another year changing the world (in big and small ways).

Now, quickly! It’s time once again to look forward and make new goals for a new year: lose weight, do great things in your job, go on that vacation you’ve always planned on. One day, like January 1 versus December 31, can make all the difference in your perspective—so get moving you lazy bum! How else will this year be better than the last (which was, in theory, better than the one that preceded it- right?)?

Still, I guess that January 1 only started being the start of a new year in 45 B.C. when Julius Caesar literally changed everyone’s calendar in the Roman Empire, because he could. Even after that, January 1 lost out to March (in the Middle Ages; aka: the church’s awkward, moody teen years) and came back in form in the 16th Century. The truth is, many cultures, countries and faiths where World Vision and the 30 Hour Famine has the most impact celebrate the start of their new year on completely different calendar date (the Ethiopian New Year, Thai New Year, Chinese New Year, Islamic New Year and Jewish New Year celebrations are all on other days than January 1). If you were to wish any of them a Happy New Year on January 1, you’d be either WAY too early or WAY to late.

Maybe we can take the pressure off creating the “new you” by January 2…

Let’s start with some bad news that gives way to some better news: true renewal often involves a lot of death (think: winter/summer, death/resurrection, caterpillar/butterfly). Major bummer!  It does hurt a little bit; true change is like that. But, that means you don’t have to KEEP everything to start over. In times of renewal, you’ve got permission to let things go! In fact, if you relax about letting things go, you may find God brings this “new” stuff more quickly.

Second, renewal doesn’t require resources (trees don’t need money to transform each fall, Jesus didn’t need a beautiful tomb to be resurrected, caterpillars are just um…fuzzy worms to start off). So, you don’t have to HAVE anything to begin with…that’s good news for those of you working for non-profit organizations and/or looking at your not so celebration-worthy pay stubs. God’s resources are astounding; but his true wealth is inside you—not in your wallet.

Finally (and back to the whole “Julius Caesar just made up a holiday” thing), renewal doesn’t require a certain start or stop date. Take the pressure off yourself having everything together immediately. In fact, true renewal is mostly organic: it grows, shows and wanes in cycles until you look around and there is suddenly a marked change. Time is a friend of your renewal this year, not it’s enemy.

So give yourself permission to adjust your calendar and set your own New Year’s Day (in your personal life, professional life, ministry life). Give yourself permission to re-do your renew.

Let God start something new in you when the time is right, not when the calendar calls. Have you noticed that we always mark our calendars for the first day of winter or summer, and God simply chooses the day that is right for change each year and surprises us with a turn of the weather? Maybe we should follow his plan instead.

When people ask you what you did for New Year’s, tell them:  “Um, my New Year’s didn’t happen yet. I’m shooting for March 21 to start to my New Year.” Give yourself a chance to catch your breath in order to SEE the change that is coming, rather than expecting it to happen all at once.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing.

It springs up—don’t you see it?”

Revelation 21:5

A Seasonal Reminder

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Luke Lang

Once upon a New Year’s Eve…

We are about to embark upon a shiny new year. I love that New Year smell! There is something completely hopeful about a new year. No matter how awesome or horrible last year was, we get a do-over. New Year’s Day is an annual reminder that life is all about seasons. We go through stuff. We GROW through stuff. And sometimes you just look back and you are thankful that you survived stuff. We all have weird seasons of life. This is the story of one of those seasons for me. I’m MUCH older now and HOPEFULLY a little wiser.

I was in my early 20s, I was a rookie youth pastor with a youth group that consisted of three middle school boys and my sister. There was a big…REALLY big youth rally coming up on New Year’s Eve in Denver, Colorado. 695 miles way from home. I decided that our small yet sturdy little group really needed to attend this event; I was sure that it would be a time of unparalleled spiritual empowerment and enrichment.

Yeah, right. My motives for driving eleven hours to celebrate the New Year weren’t entirely…um…pure.

The truth was…I wanted to meet girls. The only single girls at our church, besides my sister, were either six or 76. That didn’t work for me. When I heard about this denominational rally, I suspected that there were going to be girls there from exotic places like Iowa.

I had to go. I wanted to go for spiritual reasons too…I promise. But, honestly…the social reasons were more important to me during that season. Life is all about seasons. It was a wild season. So…I got three jobs in an effort to make the money to go to the big New Year’s Eve event.

First, I worked nights at a pizza place. It was a New York style pizza place (in Oklahoma) that I think was owned by the mafia. It was managed by a guy who had actually been to New York. His name was Tony…seriously, true story! Tony had a big, very impressive mustache and a quick, not so impressive temper. He liked to occasionally throw pizza dough. His wife worked there too. She was a very angry person; but I think she liked me. She even gave me a nickname: Butt-face. I’m pretty sure that she meant it in a sweet way.

Despite my warm, fuzzy bosses, my least favorite part of this job was the uniform. I had to wear a thin cotton T-shirt that was 3 sizes too small for me. It was embarrassing. My chubby chest was constantly on display. I felt like an object. I would squeeze into the unforgiving shirt—which made breathing a real challenge—and try to serve up slices of pie. I apologize to the people who tried to eat while viewing me packed like a sausage into that too-tight shirt.

I ALSO worked at a lovely little chain shoe store. I would spend hours trying to fit size 14 feet into size 9 high heeled shoes. It was a fragrant place to work. It was there at that shoe store where, one fateful day, I gave myself a hickey…seriously, true story.

We had rubber suction cups with hooks that held up window signs. For some truly idiotic reason I attached one of the suction cups to my forehead, where, surprise! It made suction. Then it wouldn’t come off. It took me 7 panicked minutes to get the suction cup unattached from my face. It left a mark…a perfectly round, bright red hickey! My first and only hickey, and I gave it to myself. My dad was so proud. I got home from work that night, he looked at me, let out a long sigh, and asked, “What did you do now?!”

I told him it was a biking accident. I don’t know if he believed me.

FINALLY, I also worked at a sunglass kiosk at the mall. It was right between Orange Julius and the Hot Dog on a Stick place. This job was supposed to be my ticket to finally being cool! I mean, c’mon!! I was AT THE MALL! I was selling over-priced sunglasses. But, It’s really hard to be cool with a big red hickey on your forehead.

The thing about seasons is that they don’t last forever. I worked 47 days straight and made the money to get to Colorado. Fortunately, the hickey had disappeared and I didn’t have to wear my pizza place shirt.

There WAS a girl there from Iowa and we came dangerously close to meeting: we were about seven feet away from each other. We have the picture to prove it. But, we didn’t actually meet for another year and a half. AND, then we met in another exotic place, Virginia.

Diana was beautiful and kind and creative. She still is. She became my wife. She still is.

We NOW live in Denver (NC). We have shared sweet and sour seasons. That’s how life works.

Life is all about seasons. I have discovered that the crazy seasons and the weird stuff in my story are all connected with the sweet seasons and the very good stuff. It’s all related.

Maybe you are in the midst of a hard time: New Year’s Day is a reminder that nothing last forever.

Don’t despise the weird seasons. Don’t get beat down by the hard times. It’s all leading you somewhere.

Maybe somewhere exotic like Iowa!

An Adoptive Christmas Meditation

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Andrea Sawtelle

Several weeks ago, I found myself sobbing on the bathroom floor, wondering what my husband and I had gotten ourselves into. We were in Delhi, India, picking up our newly adopted 2-year old daughter, and the process had left me questioning. “Am I really capable of loving the way God loves me?” Our daughter—who we had just taken out of the only environment she had known for the first two years of her life, and who spoke a totally different language than her brand-new parents who looked nothing like her—was struggling, and so was I.

After a fairly “picture perfect” first adoption of our son just four years earlier, I had hoped this second adoption would be equally as beautiful. What I didn’t expect was that our daughter would grieve hard, push me away in those first few days, and often scream and cry in an inconsolable manner. There was no Instagram filter that could have masked the brokenness and pain felt in those first few days.

As I held my daughter numerous times in those first few weeks, listening to her sob and feeling her small hand press my face away, I felt God saying to me, “Just love her. Regardless of whether or not she reciprocates, just love her.” Those words were hard to swallow, as I had spent the prior months imagining beautiful mama/daughter bonding moments but this reality was beyond my expectations.

If we’re honest, it’s a lot easier to love people who love you back. It’s a lot easier to enter the lives of people who aren’t so messy and broken.

The funny thing is…we’re all messy and broken. We’ve all got our own stories and pain that we carry. Yet God still chooses us. Not only does he choose us, but he enters our messy and broken places and loves us without condition and that unconditional love transforms.

Tonight, as our family drove around to see Christmas lights, and I sat next to my daughter, I couldn’t help but think back to God’s prompting in the hotel room. “Just love her.” A child who just 6 weeks earlier was distant and grieving was now clutching my hand, smiling ear-to-ear, and attempting to sing her own version of “Oh Come Let us Adore Him” with her cousins. Unconditional love transforms.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself randomly sobbing as I’ve looked over at my daughter. These tears are different from the tears experienced in those first days. Her eyes are full of light and there is a noticeable difference in the way she carries herself. When I think back to those first few days together, I can’t believe the transformation that’s taken place. It literally takes my breath away. She’s discovered for the first time what it means to be loved.

This Christmas, as we come across neighbors, teens in our ministry, employees at our local coffee joints, and even our own family members who are broken and hurting, my hope is that we will choose to love without condition. That kind of love will require us to sit close, enter some messy places, push us to our limits and expect nothing in return. But it will be that love that may be the very thing that brings life to someone. May we choose to be people who love like Jesus, the one we celebrate this Christmas Season.