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LAJ + Amazima Ministries = Lives Changed in Uganda

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Hello friends! I have some really exciting news to share with you. I've been itching to tell you about this for weeks, but I just got the details nailed down a few days ago. When God gave me the vision for Leslie Ann Jones Ministries, he also laid on my heart a conviction that the LAJ shop would be more than a for-profit business. He made it very clear to me that a portion of shop proceeds would go to missions, and I've spent the past several months searching for the perfect partnership.

Today, I'm happy to announce that Leslie Ann Jones Ministries/Muscadine Press will donate 10 percent of ALL shop profits to Amazima. Amazima is a ministry dedicated to living out the love of Jesus by educating and empowering the people of Uganda and the communities in which they serve. Founded in 2008 by Katie Davis Majors, author of Kisses from Katie, Amazima offers hope and life to those who need it most. In addition to providing education and meals for hundreds of area children, Amazima also provides vocational instruction for adults. The women's beading circle has allowed 31 women to rewrite their stories, and the farming project has provided both sustenance and a means of income for local families. Every single outreach of Amazima Ministries, whether education sponsorship, feeding the hungry, vocational instruction, or medical care, is accompanied with Biblical teaching and spiritual encouragement.

If you stop by Muscadine Press, you'll notice a "Giving" tab at the top of the page. As time goes on, I'll update that page with stats on how much we've given to date and how that money is being used in Uganda. For example: did you know that it only takes $0.17 to provide a meal for a child in Uganda? That means that the purchase of just one Dwell Journal = six meals for hungry kids. 

I'm so excited about this partnership I can't hardly stand it! When the shop opens on Monday (just a few days away!), know that your purchases make a difference. Buying a journal or mug for yourself will also buy food, clothing, and medical supplies for people who need it most.

Be sure to check back in on Monday for Launch Day specials! Hope to see you then!

Until next time, grace and peace.

Say Good-Bye To Excess and Give Your Stuff Away

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It's consignment season in my little corner of the world, which means that two weekends ago, I spent nearly an entire Saturday cleaning out closets, sorting through clothes, and tagging all the stuff we needed to get rid of. When I sat back and looked at the mountain of stuff surrounding me, I was disgusted.

It sickened me to see such a gross overabundance of clothes, toys, and baby paraphernalia when there are so many who go without. My girls have so many clothes that they can't wear everything they own in one season. I can't tell you how many times I've resold clothes with tags from the original purchase still hanging on them. It's gross. And it has to stop.

Did you know that in the developing world, most people survive on less than $1 a day? What if your yearly salary was less than $400? Could you make it?

Several years ago, I went to Ghana. When I was there, walking through villages and observing the abject poverty around me, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the abundance in my own life. When I sit down to pay the bills each month, the last thing I feel is wealthy, but the truth is that compared to the vast majority of this world's inhabitants, we are quite wealthy indeed.

Don't you think that life would be simpler if you could just get rid of all the stuff? How much time do you spend cleaning up the explosion of toys in your kids' rooms? What if you got rid of half of it? How many hours of your life could you reclaim?

Don't you think that you would feel better if you weren't chained to all your stuff? How much debt have you racked up buying stuff that you can't afford and don't need? What if you sold all the stuff and paid off your bills? Can you imagine that type of freedom?

Don't you think that it would be rewarding to stop acquiring and start giving instead? What are the needs in your community? Are you willing to say no to that new shirt that you don't really need so you have room at the margins to give to those who have real needs?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you're in the boat with me. Here are three tangible ways we can trim the fat and give out of our excess.

1. Sponsor a child (or two or three) through Compassion International.

After my trip to Ghana, I wanted to do something tangible to help alleviate the poverty in the region. So we sponsored a little boy through Compassion. We've been sending $38 a month to the ministry for the past seven years. He's 14 years old now, and because we took the money we could have spent on ourselves and sent it to Compassion instead, he's gone to school, learned about Jesus, gotten new clothes, received medical attention, and eaten good, nutritious food. If that sounds good to you, then hop on over to Compassion and sponsor a child today. There are hundreds waiting to get into the programs.

2. Get rid of your stuff.

There's a story in the gospels about a good guy (who also happened to be rich) who asked Jesus what it takes to live forever. He's lived a pretty good life and kept all the commandments, but when Jesus tells him to sell all that he has and give it to the poor, the guy walks away dejected. Why? He was too attached to his stuff. He had so much that he couldn't fathom giving it away. I relate a little too closely to that rich young man. I like my stuff. I want to keep it. And that's precisely why it's important to give it away. Have a yard sale. Clean out the closets and put the items in a consignment sale. Give gently used toys to foster families. Talk to the school counselor and ask her to give outgrown coats to kids who come to class without them. There is so much we can do - we just have to be willing to let go.

3. Create room at the margins.

Did you know that if you were an Israelite in Old Testament times and you happened to own a field, you weren't allowed to harvest the entire thing? You were supposed to leave room at the edges for the poor to come and gather what they needed. It's how they took care of the needy in their midst. Those who didn't have a field of their own came and reaped what they didn't sow (think Ruth in Boaz's field). Now, think about your own "fields." Where can you create some margin to help people who need help the most? Can you take some money from your eating out budget and put it in a "giving to others" fund instead? What about your clothing budget? Or your manicure budget? Or your vacation budget? Pray about it. Then take a good, long, hard look at the numbers, tighten up your belt, and give the excess away.

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I'm going to be honest and say that this is an ongoing battle for me. No matter how hard we try to fight the influx of stuff, it just has a way of creeping in. But as Christians, we are called to give freely from what we have, and the truth is that we have so, so much. These changes may seem small. And it's true. There are much bigger, more radical things we could do. But let's start with baby steps. Never forget that if a bunch of us do a lot of small things, it will make a big difference. We're in this together.

I hope you'll join me in the fight against excess. If you do, make sure to leave a comment and let me know how it's going. I want to hear from you!

Until next time, grace and peace.

Loving the Least of These

'I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'

And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

Matthew 25:36-40

A few days ago, I met a new couple in the hallway at church. They seemed nice enough, and after a quick introduction, I hurried to the nursery to drop Micah off and then went about my business, teaching class in the youth building.

Only later did I learn that the couple is destitute, which, according to the definition of the word at dictionary.com, means that they are lacking basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter. My jaw dropped when I heard the news.

I live in a nice, small, Southern town. I know that there are poor people in our area, but honestly, I never see them. I didn't know that our little town had projects until I stumbled across them one day when I took a wrong turn. When I read passages in the Bible like the one above, I think, yes, we should feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, but really, Lord, where are they? They're not here.

Turns out that they are.

A lot of people have rallied around the couple, and they now have a roof over their heads, food in their pantry, and clothes on their back. They don't, however, have a car. Did I mention that the woman is pregnant? And the hospital in Iuka will flat out turn you away if you walk in with a pregnancy complication. The closest place to receive care is Corinth, 20 miles away.

Can you imagine?

They walked the mile and a half to church from the less-than-reputable motel they were staying in.

I don't think I've ever wanted to go to church so badly that I set out walking.

Even Dennis, who literally grew up around the corner from church, has never walked there.

We are so privileged, and so often, we don't even realize it. Three years ago at this time, I had just returned from a monumental trip to Africa. It was there that I first realized how absolutely undeserving I am of the life that God has chosen to bless me with. Here I am, three years later, learning the same lesson all over again.

Yesterday afternoon, I cleaned out my pantry and linen closet, bagging up items that I had gotten for free thanks to my couponing efforts. It felt good to be able to give so freely out of the abundance that God had given me, but I wonder if there is something more we can do.

I know that there are people like them all over the place. The reminder that they exist, even in a place like Iuka, has shamed me for the way I have failed to do the things that God has asked me to do. I don't feed the poor or clothe the naked. I certainly don't visit anyone in prison, nor do I intend to anytime soon.

I think there's something wrong with that.

I know that I am doing a ridiculously poor job of loving the least of these. And that's a sobering thought.

As I contemplated ways that we can actually help the poor in our midst, I was reminded of God's commands to the Israelites. If they were so fortunate as to own a field, they weren't to harvest it all the way up to the edges. They were supposed to leave a margin of unharvested food around the outside. That way, those who were without could come and collect food to eat (see Leviticus 19:9-10). That, by the way, is what Ruth was doing in Boaz's field. Collecting the grain that had been left behind.

Now, Dennis and I don't have a field with grain to harvest. But we do reap a paycheck harvest every month, and I think we can do a better job of saving some room at the edges to help the poor.

I want to be able to give freely out of the abundance that God has given us. This whole experience has reminded me that it's time to be more disciplined and intentional about the way we handle our money and resources. As Christians, we are called to love the least of these. It's well past time for us to get started.

Until next time, grace and peace.