heart, it races

discovering what it means to live full of grace & joy

a loss and love

(I wrote this awhile back and recently found it in my drafts. Today, I decided to make it live. May you be encouraged.)

At the risk of sounding entirely too dramatic and possibly TMI, I’m going to ask you that you read the follow story with a loving heart.

Yesterday I lost all my most valuable possessions. (Tangible ones, that is). Somehow between washing the dishes after dinner and cleaning my room Monday night, I had misplaced a ring my dad gave me when I was 13, two heirloom rings from my great-grandmom, and this precious Greek ring. You may be thinking, what’s the big deal? They are just rings.

But these were not “just rings.” They carried with them stories, memories, and heritage from generations ago. They were the only material possessions that I’d run into a burning building for. To say they are special is an understatement.

When I realized they were missing, I tried not to panic. But immediately the fear knocked the breath out of me. How in the world had I lost them? I’ve never lost them. So the search began.

I looked everywhere. For 11 hours. In the trash, under beds, behind stoves, beneath refrigerators, in the piping and the disposal. One thing was clear … they were gone. I wept. I cried Wednesday more than I have in years. I felt so heartbroken that I would have to tell my grandparents and parents that I had lost their precious rings in my irresponsibility.

When I thought all hope was lost, I called my dad to tell him of the loss. He comforted me with wise and profound words. He reminded me that God is a jealous God, and he doesn’t want anything to come between us and His love. And he told me that maybe the rings had become an idol.

It hit me. They had become an idol. Throughout the past few weeks/months/year, I have been more “aware” of rings, and more interested in them (that’s what happens to girls in serious relationships). After 11 hours of trying to do it my way and resort to anxiety and fear, I gave it to the Lord. I let go of them in my heart.

For an hour, I sat on my bed praying and worshipping. His love comforted my heart in its deepest places. And He told me to write Dimitri, my boyfriend, a letter. Let me backtrack for a second. Dimitri also spent about 5 hours digging through garbage, sticking his hand in garbage disposals, and trying his hardest to love and support me. I felt I owed him a very large thank you letter. I began to write.

I told him how grateful I was, how I was finally experiencing peace from the Lord, and how I had surrendered the loss of my rings to Him. I know he would take care of it.

The lights were off, and I was ready for bed. All of a sudden I heard a voice telling me to go look in my bathroom trash. My trash? Dimitri and I had both looked in the trash multiple times throughout the day. I didn’t want to get out of bed with the hopes of finding them only to have those hopes crushed. But again, I heard the voice telling me to go look in the trash.

Not wanting to get up, but obeying this voice, I went to the trash can, and started looking. There was a paper towel bunched up and sitting on the top of the trash. I gently unwrapped the trash, and as I did I felt 4 objects in the towel. My heart leaped. No way. No way. No way. I unfolded the paper towel, and to my utter amazement, there they were. Lying there untouched and more beautiful than ever. My rings.

Everything in me began to praise the Lord because I know it was HIs voice directing me to them. He wanted me to let them go, to free myself of the idol that they had become. And the moment my heart truly surrendered, it was his voice, his kind voice, that led me back to them.

Although it was through a trial, the Lord gave me a gift yesterday. A gift much greater than the rings. He gave me His love. And I’m so thankful that I have a Father whose love is so jealous for me, that he won’t let anything come between us.

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world’s happiest 5K

A few weeks ago, I whimsically decided to join my friend Jaimie on a photo excursion at The Color Run, the craziest, colorful, 5k you’ve ever experienced. The race is known for being the happiest 5k in the world, even benefiting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Yes, it’s magical.

Although it was early and my snooze button was calling my name, I’m so glad we hopped over to Piedmont Park to experience the “happiest 5k in the world!” For truly – it was one of the most entertaining, colorful, and joyful races I’ve ever photographed (well, it’s the only race I’ve photographed, but I think I started with the right one.)

Here are a few happies from the race. Take head, these might make you want to run through bright paint, shouting “HOORAY!”

trading fair in dar es salaam

Jane, from Mabinti, a project that works to support women with Fistula

Sitting here under my little mosquito net, preparing for bed, it’s hard to believe that two whole weeks have come and gone. I hate to use words like “life-changing” because what is sometimes coined the latter, is sometimes forgotten and dismissed once at home. But this experience has truly been nothing less than that. It has changed my life. And I will never see work, family, business, and life through the same lens.

The projects we visited the past two weeks are rebuilding lives, developing leaders, and instilling dignity in the lives of worthy women. The true reason I’m passionate about at Karama and why I’m eager to share their stories with women, like them, back at home.

My heart expands. These stories are of women who had the courage to persevere and fight the social stigma of AIDS, fistula, and severe physical disability. And because of their determination, they didn’t loose hope when all life seemed to fight against them. And now, they are bright lights in their communities working hard to provide for themselves and their families.

My mouth utters nothing but praises to the God of creation for providing, loving, and taking complete care of His beloved.

But before I leave for America, I’d like to share the stories of three more artisan groups we had the privilege of visiting during our my last few days in Dar es Salaam. The first, set in a modest white building below a rolling green hill and bright blue sky, the Nuru Center.

The Nuru Center employs disabled adults and children to make beautiful handcrafted items, such as paper bead jewelry. Unfortunately, we were only able to visit for about 30 minutes, but they were bright moments, filled with much love.

a mother, daughter bond, wrapped in love

lovely faces, working hard despite all odds

my salvation comes from the Lord

Marvelous Flotea

On Tuesday, we had the honor of visiting another project called Marvelous Flotea. Marvelous started with a young girl’s dream to bring hope and sustainability into her community through job creation. Now, it has grown to employ around 200 workers. This bright Tanzanian woman’s path to providing others with a future is truly exemplary.

a table fit to create

Flotea helping to guide a seamstress.

she's too stunning for words.

so much beauty and goodness in here

Mabinti:

Fistula. An unfamiliar term to me, and many Americans, as it’s simply not a common problem back home. Yet, this stigmatizing and debilitating injury is affecting the lives of thousands of women across Tanzania. But what is it? Fistula is a tear in the tissues of the birth canal, due to prolonged or obstructed labor, which leaves women incontinent – constantly leaking urine and feces – and almost always results in the death of the baby.

Fistulas are very common in third-world countries and though they used to be common in the West, women in developed countries are now given C-sections long before a fistula could become an issue. Therefore, most people in the West have never even heard of this term.

Women with this condition are often rejected by their community and are thrust into a life of isolation, shame, and humiliation. Though it can usually be treated easily with surgery, most women who suffer from this condition do not have that knowledge nor do they have access to such treatment. Fistula is therefore often a life-long debilitating condition which acts to destroy the lives of women all across Africa.

And that’s where Mabinti changes lives. They train and employ women who suffer from this condition, helping them find the proper medical care, including surgery, and jobs … not to mention in a peaceful, still, and gorgeous work environment. It’s quite amazing.

a teacher's hand

Adorable beaded dolls sharing a bit about their personal stories ...

beautiful jane

working hard around every corner

A few personal favorites:

i'm obsessed with these! such beautiful patchwork!

Just might have picked up some of these ... oh, i'm in love

These so remind me of Europe! Love love love them!

And because I know you’re DYING to know how to screen print:

Step one:

Choose screen print

Step two:

Paint over screen

Step three:

Step four:

remove screen

Step five:

And voila! A fun, beautiful pattern!

Thanks for taking the time to let me share their stories with you. And if you have a moment, stop and pray for these women. Pray for health, strength, courage, and a continued income. For God’s heart is beating loudly and His presence is consuming these women and projects. Hallelujah!

Blessings,
Rae

karibuni sana zanzibar!

The view from the Zanzibar Coffee House breakfast

After spending a lovely few days visiting artisan groups in the mountainous, temperate Arusha, we were excited to explore some new scenery in the tropics of Zanzibar. Stepping foot off the plane, the hospitable Zanzibaris greeted Erin and I with bright smiles and waves, shouting “Karibuni sana Zanzibar!” or “Welcome to Zanzibar!”

Vibrant. The culture is rich in romance, splender, and history. A unique place where Arab, Indian, Persian, and European influences blend peacefully with local African tradition. Wooden doors, old sailing ships, and the scent of clove filled the air. The streets in Stone Town were narrow, filled with merchants hoping to sell spices, wood carvings, clothing, and other handcrafted items. A true adventure waiting to happen.

Throughout our short, yet oh-so-dreamy stay in Zanzibar, we were able to visit 3 of our fabulous artisan groups: Upendo Means Love, Shangilia, and Dada. And at every stop, we were again able to hear story after story highlighting how fair trade creates jobs, respect, and a way for families to provide hope and a future for their families.

First stop: Upendo Means Love

Upendo means ‘love’ in Swahili and is the name of our first stop among our Zanzibar artisan visits. This particular group works to empower women through education and work. In a nearly 95 percent Muslim society, Upendo’s workers comprise an equal number of Christian and Muslim women with the hopes establishing a peaceful co-op between both groups. Now, Upendo has grown to be a sewing school, a workshop, and the Upendo Means Love clothing line, which Karama Mamas … ADORE! And, all of their profits go directly to help create economic independence and dignity for both Muslim and Christian women. Yes, please!

Upstairs, the women are learning how to sew clothing


Beautiful fabrics

Shangalia:

Saturday morning, Erin and I climbed the stairs of the Zanzibar Coffee House to have a delicious rooftop breakfast. Afterwards, we headed out again to visit the Shangalia shop, which employs blind men who weave the most amazing coconut fiber baskets. Through being employed at this project, these men are able to gain respect in their community, as well as provide for their families.

As I listened to their stories, my faith continued to grow. Each man expressed that he was joyful about being blind because they know it’s God’s will. What an awe-inspiring perspective. I know as a Christian, I would hope to have that same response, but I’m not sure it would be the case. And so through these men’s testimonies, I pray for a deeper and more sincere understanding of God’s love for us …

Karama helps provide men with a future!

Dada:

Dada is a new project set up as a socially responsible business network with women in the rural north of Unguja island, Zanzibar. They are creating jobs through providing women with training in food processing, such as drying fruit and spices, cooking jams, as well as the most lovely smelling soaps! We are quite the fan.

And when we weren’t traveling around like crazy-people hopping from taxi to taxi, we decided Zanzibar was the perfect location to go resort crashing. 🙂 So, we did manage to squeeze a few hours of R&R on Sunday. A perfect end, to an inspiring, exciting, and FUN weekend.

Blessings,
Rachel

arusha, wild hope & SEW

Words fall short when trying to express how rich and full the past two days have been here in Arusha. From watching women bead beautiful handcrafted items at Wild Hope to hearing stories of hope and empowerment from HIV + women at SEW, Erin and I both feel tremendously blessed to be able to build relationships with such stunning women.

Yesterday began bright and early as Erin and I met up with Tammy Russell, the visionary and co-founder of Wild Hope, and Faith Moshi, the accountant and office extrodanire, in order to travel out to a beading project. The four of us followed the long, dusty dirt road to Mama Fundi’s home where the women were waiting for us.

During our time at the house, each artisan shared their story of how employment with Wild Hope has transformed their lives. One artisan even said that because of her job she was able to not only provide for her children, but she was also able to give to her local church. Unbelievable. You mean because of one person’s choice to give to her, she was then able to give back to God? What a beautiful story of generosity abundant!

Looking back on yesterday, I’m still amazed that we were able to share chai and donuts, exchange stories, and build relationships with such strong, loving women. It’s one thing to look at tag on the jewelry back home and know it’s “fair trade,” but it’s another thing to watch the hands carefully craft it! Gratitude, it’s the only word that comes to mind.

And today, we were off again to visit another one of our amazing artisan groups: SEW, a group of about 9 HIV + women who make the coolest, most beautiful eco-friendly, recycled bags (in all shapes and sizes).

In Africa, it’s almost impossible to find a job once infected with HIV/AIDS, because of the stigma associated with the infection. As such, SEW acts as a stepping stone for self-employment. While making these bags, the women learn valuable business skills, which help them develop their own enterprise. These carry bags are made from a mix of recycled and environmentally friendly materials. The women are paid a fair wage and all profits are re-invested back into the project. SO COOL!

And so, during our visit, we heard more stories of lives changed, experienced more joy, and even captured more beauty on film. We couldn’t have asked for a more delightful day with a lovelier group of women.

These women, from both projects, touched my heart in such a fresh, vibrant way. They taught me to persevere and trust the Lord, even when things might look hopeless. We often hear, but so easily forget, that God promises to provide for all our needs. But it’s true! He loves us and will take care of his children! A well-needed reminder …

And below I’ve included some photos and information about the organizations we visited in Arusha. Do yourself a favor and check them out online. It’s absolutely stunning work for an even greater cause: dignity, hope, and empowerment for women, men, & children.

Wild Hope

The Wild Hope Artisans project provides income generation and spiritual encouragement to a growing group of talented local artists. With close to one hundred women involved, the project preserves traditional art forms while producing innovative new products that appeal to western markets in countries around the world.

the makings of a beautiful garland

Karama is opportunity!

women who love life, value dignity, and seek first the Kingdom of God

New artisans learning from Mama Fundi

I'm speechless - these children are too cute for words!

And one of my favorite items they make …

And in the end ... a beautiful dragonfly!

SEW

Supporting and empowering Women, SEW, is a development project that employs HIV+ women. They are employed to design and handcraft totally cool bags made from a combination of recycled and eco-friendly materials. (I wear mine everywhere!)

Karama is speaking up!

noble women

The final product

blessings,
Rae

The blind will see, the lame will walk

The sun peaked along the horizon, and the rooster crowed as our Bajaj driver rang the doorbell. With backpacks, ipods, and our cameras in hand, Erin and I were ready to face the adventure of the day: a 9-hour bus ride from Dar to Iringa to visit Neema Crafts, a fair trade organization where Karama purchases many of beautiful handcrafted and designed goods.

But first the bus ride.

The Dream Machine

If you’ve never been on an African bus ride, let me paint you a picture. Imagine a crowded space, no AC, and holding on for dear life, as the driver flies through the narrow streets and mountainous ravines at 70 mph. Yes, it’s quite exhilarating. Maybe that’s a tad dramatic, but honestly, Erin and I are forever-grateful for your prayers of safety!

During the long trek, we made quite a few memories. One in particular will keep us laughing for awhile to come. During our first bathroom “bush” break (6 hours into the drive), Erin and I planned on taking turns to use the restroom. So as she returned, I rushed off the bus to use the restroom, and as soon as I found a spot, the driver started driving away. He literally made me run and jump onto the bus as it was moving. I’m sure he found it amusing to watch a mzungu run from the bush and leap into a moving vehicle. Oh, only in Africa.

On a more exciting note, we also traveled through a game park, where we were able to watch a giraffe cross the road, elephants run wild, and zebras stop for water. And all the while, my mind kept thinking that God couldn’t have created more intriguing and magnificent animals … ah, such beautiful creatures!

Gorgeous view from the bus

Time flies when you're playing "peek-a-boo" with this cutie

After quite the eventful day, we arrived safely into Iringa at 6:30 pm, and by that time, we were ready to quickly get settled into our rooms at the Neema Crafts’ guest house.

Now there’s one thing that I need to mention about the organization. Neema Crafts Centre was started in October 2003 as a beacon of light and hope to many people with disabilities in the area. With an alarmingly high rate of 15% of the community deemed as disabled, there was a dire need for jobs, support systems, and love for the marginalized groups in the area. And Neema has done an incredible job providing for those needs.

The Neema Crafts Centre

The last time I visited Neema in 2009, it opened my heart and mind towards the fair trade industry, and it was such a blessing to be able to return. Katy and Ben, the directors of Neema Crafts, are doing such a fabulous job creating new products and designs, developing leaders and workers, and keeping the daily tasks running smoothly.

During the day, we captured the artisans stories via photographs and videos. Hearing how their current job has empowered them to take care of themselves and their families was truly inspiring. One of the workers named Joel even walked us through Matthew 25:31 where Jesus says that, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” My heart broke, and it made me wonder … how am I really serving the poor, the hungry, the naked?

Most of the artisans have been completely abandoned by their families, and without their job at Neema Crafts, would be completely shunned from society. These physically disabled men and women radiated joy as they shared about the ways their lives have been changed through their opportunity and employment at Neema. The respect they’ve earned in their community, the confidence they now exude … These changed lives are exactly why we do what we do at Karama.

An artisan carefully making a patchwork quilt

The day came to a close far too early. Only a few hours with the artisans, and I wanted to sign up for both Swahili and Sign Language classes. Most importantly, developing relationships with the workers made me grateful for the ability to hear and speak. What a small gift, that we so often take for granted.

And so the time came for us to put our cameras away, say our goodbyes, and get ready for our early bus ride back home to Dar es Salaam. Even though our time spent in Iringa was short, it was worth every second. From getting to see the smiles on the artisans faces to getting to learn more about what’s new in the Neema Craft world, we feel overwhelmed and blessed to have the privilege to work with some of the most talented, beautiful, and creative workers and designers in the fair trade industry.

Our friend Susannah, always with a smile

Materials of love

Joel, a mighty man of God

Susannah loves the camera! And the camera loves her ...

So much joy in these faces

Diligent hands

A weaving away ...

Friends

Susannah and I pretending to be models! She's a natural ... 🙂

Not to mention, Neema Crafts is developing some seriously catchy, stylish new products. Be on the lookout for them in our store soon! ; )

Hoot Hoot

And be sure to watch the Karama blog and “like” their Facebook page for more updates and stories from our journey through Tanzania!

Always facing the sun

– Rachel

an african adventure

the first time back to the airport together! it's a special place for us. 🙂 mmm, cozy!

After two years of dreaming, scheming, and hoping to return to Tanzania, the anticipated day has finally arrived! And this time, I’m traveling in order to help capture the heart and soul of Karama through photography, video, and the written word. But what is Karama? It’s a fair trade non-profit that helps fund local artisans, along with Young Life Africa, and in the process, empowers women with dignity and honor!

The story behind this trip:

Three years ago, my life changed when a close family friend allowed me to tag-a-long with them on their trip to africa. From the bustling city of Dar es Salaam to the stunning Cape in South Africa, we had the unique opportunity to visit several ministries. One of the places that stuck out to me the most was a fair trade, self-sustaining business in Iringa, Tanzania called Neema Crafts.

My heart exploded with the thought of getting involved with a fair trade nonprofit. So after meeting some of the coolest, most Jesus-centered people on earth, I learned about Karama. And the rest is history …

All that to say, for the next 14 days, I will be traveling with a fellow Karama mama, Erin, throughout Tanzania photographing different artisans that Karama supports. It’s the best. I’m beside myself, bursting with gratitude and joy! THIS IS TOO TOO COOL.

And so currently, I’m sitting in the international terminal waiting to board my flight to Amsterdam (another important place in my journey, but that story is for another post!), and for the first time in my life, I’ll be traveling s-o-l-o. Can you say, exhilarating?!


Any & all prayers for safety, creativity, and good health are welcomed with open arms!

With gratitude,
Rae

plenty

Image

“Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of many wicked;
for the power of the wicked will be broken,
but the LORD upholds the righteous.

The blameless spend their days under the LORD’s care,
and their inheritance will endure forever.
In times of disaster they will not wither;
in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.” –  Psalm 37

A simple reminder that God takes care of His children. Those who run to Him will never be in want. And so, although my flesh easily forgets, His everlasting love constantly draws me back to the truth.

Image from http://www.recordisphotography.com/ 

a drive & surprise

This past weekend was magical. Nothing more, nothing less. After having what you may say, a bazaar, twilight-zone kind of week, a surprise appearance by my soulmate Lindley Atkinson, along with a spontaneous roadtrip to Nashville was exactly what the spirit needed.

How did this come about you may wonder? Ah …

The back story: Last November, I went to shoot a wedding with my Lindley, one of my closest friends from Baylor. When I arrived home, Dimitri couldn’t help but notice how much I had missed spending time with her. And so naturally, he started scheming a way to fly her out to the ATL, unbeknownst to me. (I’d like to take a moment to say, WHO DOES THAT? What kind of man has that kind of intuition to plan such a surprise 3 months in advance. It’s crazy talk I tell you).

Well, last Thursday was Dimitri’s 23rd birthday (yay!), and after we were done celebrating, he quickly said he had to go home to open Chikfila the next day (yeah, right). I was a bit surprised at how fast he left — totally bummed really. And so I went to bed, thinking the night was over.

It wasn’t 20 minutes later that I heard the doorbell ring. Jumping out of bed, my head was spinning. Was he back? When I opened the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Suitcase in hand, LINDLEY WAS ON MY FRONT PORCH. After I gave Dimitri a “you sneaky man” look, I jumped into her arms. Complete happiness filled my heart.

After picking up my jaw off the floor, we celebrated by going to the famous Majestic to catch up and find out what Dimitri had planned for the weekend.

a late night rendezvous at The Majestic.

Long story short … Lindley and I ended up playing around Atlanta all day Friday, and getting picked up bright and early Saturday morning to drive to Nashville. From 11 – 2 a.m., we visited coffee shops, centennial park, listened to live music, danced, and ate the most delicious food. Nashville has such an eclectic, trendy, and artistic vibe. It’s easy to see what so many people move there seeking artistic inspiration, music careers, and quality community. I’m looking forward to visiting again. 🙂

ready to take on the town.

Dimitri and Lindley bonding over some Cracker Barrel.

nothing i'd rather do.

a quick stop in Fido.

the parthenon in centennial park. of course, dimitri got quite the kick out of this!

enjoying the cool nashville air before dinner at PM. delicious!

my taste buds have never been so happy.

our snowy, city view right before we had to leave.

waking up to a snowy skyline was icing on the cake.

This is just a quick glimpse into some of the wonderful moments and memories we shared in throughout the past 24 hours. I’m so thankful, and still in awe of how sweet and thoughtful this weekend was. So much selfless time, money, and planning went into making this a special surprise, and I’m grateful for the rest and quality time with friends.

Cheers to making lovely memories!

Peace,

Rae

spread the love

I love Valentines Day. You may be thinking, “Why would anyone, love such a holiday?” But really … I do. It’s the one time throughout the year where culture and society tells you to spread the love … to everyone.

Stores are filled with arts & crafts, adorable red and pink cut-out hearts, candies, flowers, and notes to send to friends, lovers, and family. What some people consider “Singles Awareness Day,” or “Just another commercial holiday,” can be turned into a colorful, delicious reason to makes someone’s day brighter!

Seriously, what better day than February 14 to bake someone a cupcake or tell a stranger that they’re loved? So whether you’re dating, engaged, single, or widowed, take today to step outside of yourself, and do for others.

But you may be among the many individuals who are dreading today because you can’t bare the fact of the A word. (Alone). The truth is that you’re the furthest from (alone). In fact, you are being pursued by the strongest, most complete love man could ever know. A love that reaches into the depths of the soul and into the desires of your heart: the love of the Father. Don’t let today become “loneliness awareness day.” Lean into the Father’s love. For it’s the only true, everlasting source of what our soul is truly craving.

And because I believe today can be so much MORE than a romantic holiday, here are some ideas to just have FUN and enjoy encouraging and loving others today. A few of my favorites:

Who says you have to spend a lot of money to spread the love? These cards are cute, quirky, easy and affordable to make! Too fun.

Encouragement goes a long way. This is such a creative way to tell the people around you how much special they are to you!

Oh, this is the dream! And if you think for one second that this isn’t on my list of things to do tonight … you are mistaken my friend!

Beautiful colors for today!

Oh, how did this get in here? 🙂

Get out there and spread the love. ; ) Happy Valentines’ Day!

*Thanks Pinterest for the images.