Will You Be There?

I am a poet writing of my pain.

I am a person living a life of shame.

I am your daughter hiding my depression.

I am your sister making a good impression.

I am your friend acting like I’m fine.

I am a wisher wishing this life weren’t mine.

I am a girl who thinks of suicide.

I am a teenager pushing her tears aside.

I am a student who doesn’t have a clue.

I am the girl sitting next to you.

I am the one asking you to care.

I am your best friend hoping you’ll be there.

-Chicken Soup

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What Does Love Look Like?

What does love look like?

It has the hands to help others.

It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy.

It has eyes to see misery and want.

It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.

That is what love looks like.

-Saint Augustine

 

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Give an Unconditional Gift — Free a Heart

Sometimes, the most valuable and empowering gifts we can give a person don’t come from a store, but from our heart.

They are the gifts that money can’t buy. They might take an investment of time, energy or commitment but what we sow, we also reap.  So what do these unconditional gifts look like?  Giving hope or encouragement, taking the time to really listen and connect, showing thoughtfulness or caring, and sometimes, the purest form of all, the one that reflects the true nature and spirit of Christmas: Unconditional Love.

And, one of the greatest extensions of the gift of unconditional love is asking for, or extending, Forgiveness.

When we give one of these unconditional gifts, they aren’t meant for the person on the receiving end alone. They are meant to be shared with us. They give comfort and peace and they bring comfort and peace. Like a healing balm, they relieve and soothe places deep inside of us that couldn’t be touched in any other way outside of the divine.

One of the most common reasons people resist taking action, especially when it comes to giving the gift of forgiveness, is connected with a sense of entitlement or justice. They are unwilling to move until an apology is issued or when an offense is acknowledged or admitted. In their own estimation, the other person is unworthy and doesn’t deserve it.  Justice will come eventually, not always in our timeframe, but it will come.

Life is too short and too precious to put on hold.  What many people do not realize is that by holding on to an offense, negative thoughts or feelings–whether they are justified or not–our own hearts become hard and enslaved in the process.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you” -Lewis B. Smedes

Some say, “Live today like there’s no tomorrow.” I prefer to take it a step (or heartbeat) further and say, “Love today because you might not get another chance tomorrow.”  What is life lived apart from love, except going through the motion of living on the outside, but not being completely (peacefully, joyfully, gratefully) alive on the inside. 

Is there someone you need to connect with this holiday season?  Don’t stop to over-think, over-analyze or calculate things to death. Just open your heart, pick up the phone, (pen or computer) and give your gift

Remember to give it with no strings attached. Once you open your heart and let it fly away, there’s always a possibility that it will meet with disappointment, but we can’t control the outcome of another’s reaction.

What we can control, is our own internal response. And we will have to live with our own choices–the dullness or brightness, heaviness or freedom within our own hearts.  Give the gift that costs nothing, but is priceless.  Free someone today, and in the process… Free yourself.

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it” -Mark Twain

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

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Peace, Hope and… Fashion? — WORN for Peace Project Serves Refugee Women

She was born in the jungle between Burma and Thailand. Her family's home was burned down during the war. She fled to a Thai refugee camp where she lived for 20 years before finding her way to the U.S. and her work with the WORN Project.

Do you have a special interest in women’s issues?   Do you have a heart for disenfranchised women who could use a hand up to make their life just a little bit brighter?  Then maybe like me, you look for ways to personally plug into social enterprises with a life-changing purpose. 

There are a number of organizations whose missions fit that description, but let me share just one with you today:  Catholic Charities, Fort Worth–an organization focused on serving women (and families) that have fled persecution and oppression in their homelands.

Gratefully, these women find themselves welcome in the United States of America, yet they are not fully equipped to function in a foreign society. Many need help learning a new language, fitting into the culture, caring for the needs of their families and earning an income. As such, the vision is, “to provide the necessary skills that allow these refugees to be self-sufficient and regain a sense of both self and dignity”.  Over 113,000 individuals, families and children were assisted just last year alone.

And although a majority of assistance comes from local charities, supplemental income is pivotal to the long-term financial stability of these refugees. Enter: WORN–a scarf-knitting project that provides a supplemental income for refugee women and an opportunity to rise above the poverty level.  Each circle scarf is hand-knit by women who have survived the afflictions of their war-torn and poverty-stricken homelands.

             WORN symbolizes:

  • Peace – Teaching that peace is more than just security, it’s dignity
  • Hope – Enabling refugees to find value in both product and self
  • Fashion – Making a statement for those in need by wearing it over the heart

Purple "Eternity" Scarf handmade and initialed by a Refugee Woman. A soft blend of alpaca and wool, available in a variety of colors.

Catholic Charities also provides social services to strengthen families, reduce infant mortality, resettle refugees, assist the elderly and disabled, and prevent child abuse. One of my favorite parts: 100% of the profits from this project go directly back into the community to further equip the women with the necessary skills to become self-sufficient.  As the website states:“WORN but not abandoned…”

WORN is a socially-conscious business founded by Catholic Charities Fort Worth, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that has served the community since 1910.

Visit the WORN for Peace Website, Blog, or on Facebook and Shop!

Read Article: “Knitting Hope”, Agencies Helping Hand Venture Tailored for Refugee Women”

Read Article: “Refugee Women Knit Scarves as Part of Catholic Charities Project”

As promised, I will be highlighting organizations throughout the remainder of the year that offer unique ways to give the gifts of love, joy and hope to women and girls in need. Share the true spirit of Christmas and, spread the love… Tell a friend! 

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

(Photos by WORN, a Catholic Charities, Ft Worth organization)

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Christmas Gifts of Love, Joy & Hope

 

Christmas, the time of year that symbolizes love, joy and hope, is here once again. 

Some of us know Christmas is near from the chill in the air. Crimson leaves have finally fallen. Trees stand still and stark against the bitter cold.  For those of us who enjoy the distinctness of the seasons however, it is a welcome chill that transports us to the warmth of our crackling fireplace sipping warm drinks, enveloped in music, family, festivities and cheer.  Our hearts swell with gratitude as we reflect on the love given and received throughout the year.  Our imaginations flow with dreams and visions for the New Year. Peace and joy abound.

But peace and joy escape many women, especially at this time of the year. Countless women and girls have received little or no love so there is no capacity for reflection, no warm memories to buoy their hearts. They experience another kind of chill. The coldness from a world, that, like the perpetual motion of a merry-go-round at a fair, just keeps going without a care.  

And there are ones who are locked away in the darkness of addiction, the bitter chill of un-forgiveness or some other form of dysfunction. They are not living their potential or destiny. Gripped with fear, self-loathing or pain, they feel powerless and incapacitated. Their hearts and imaginations are strangled by the icy fingers of hopelessness that wrap around them, causing their hearts to grow cold and sometimes, hard.

Life doesn’t stop for anyone. We live in a world that applauds wealth, status, beauty and accomplishment.  But, for many women and girls, the world’s definition of success is not even within their grasp. They are overlooked and in many cases, even viewed with distain. They feel forgotten, abandoned, neglected or unloved. They begin to believe the lie that the beauty, kindness and goodness in the world is not for them.

The orphaned feel abandoned. The abused feel neglected.  The unloved feel unworthy.  The marginalized feel trapped. The used feel shame.  And, those are the “lucky” ones, because many no longer feel anything at all.

But Christmas at its core symbolizes unconditional love, hope for the future, and God making a way (for the forgotten, addicted, dysfunctional, marginalized, abandoned and unloved) when there appeared to be no sign of deliverance or remedy. Gratefully, the ultimate gift of Christmas isn’t for a select or elite few, it is for all people, everywhere.

Don’t get swept up believing that people want to be left alone or that they have a “need” to be independent. Sometimes it’s good to gently press in and invite, welcome, encourage or simply reach out to those in our lives (or even strangers) that need to see the good in Christmas. They need to know someone feels, someone sees, someone cares. Their dreams are worthwhile and their life does matter.  And as long as they have breath, there is hope.  They need to feel the kiss of heaven.

It is with great joy that I will be highlighting several unique ways you can get involved to give the gifts of love, joy and hope to women and girls who desperately need to know that their life matters this Christmas season.  For if not for the grace of God, we could be her.

I challenge you to join me this month in helping in some small way, to ease the pain, soothe the sorrows and reignite the hope of a woman or girl in need.  Let’s put our feet to the street and prove that love does conquer and heal. Make a commitment to yourself (or maybe even take on a project with a group of friends) to love on a sister-friend unconditionally in some special “you” way this season.  I’d love for you to share how you decided to reach out, and how it also touched you in the process!

Who will you reach out to this holiday season by sharing the true meaning of Christmas?

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

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Just Cards Direct: Providing Justice, Dignity and Hope for Disadvantaged Women


Just Cards Direct – The Vision
Once in awhile a story comes along about people who get together and dream about how to help other people live better. This is one of those stories. In 2007, a group of friends who shared a common interest—a heart for the poor and disadvantaged—began thinking and talking about opportunity and possibility, and out of that place, a dream was birthed to create handmade greeting cards.

Coupling their creativity with their desire to advocate and make a tangible difference in the lives of others less fortunate, they began to plot out their vision. Soliciting the use of their prayers, hearts and hands to guide in the process, their vision began to take shape, and before they knew it–Just Cards Direct became a reality.

Just Cards doesn’t just sell greeting cards—the heart of their mission is to help provide justice, dignity and hope for the disadvantaged through the promotion and sales of their handmade treasures. Just Cards imports and sells handmade greetings cards from Africa and printed cards from around the world.

Offering Hope to the Hopeless
Working in partnership with card-making community projects in the developing world, Just Cards helps to provide jobs, self-worth and security to women and children who live under oppressive circumstances. In many cases the cards provide the only income to a widow or an orphan. They practice fair-trade principles and strive to bring hope to those who have been neglected, downtrodden and traumatized.

“Together, may we loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke and set the oppressed free.” –Anne Horrobin 
Director, Just Cards Direct Ltd

Supporting Oppressed Women in Africa

The Handicraft Card Project — Rwanda

Just Cards Direct supports two special projects in Rwanda. Cards from Africa employs young people who were orphaned in the 1994 genocide and another that supports widows.

They buy from several banana leaf card-making projects in Rwanda. The cards are made by harvesting banana bark and leaves from the local area, before cutting and shaping them into complex designs portraying local life.

Kipepeo Cards Project — Kenya

In Kenya, Just Cards supports Kipepeo Cards, a project based in Kibera Slum that employs 16 women. Kipepeo Designs cards are handmade by women who live in Kibera using recycled paper.

Karabo Card Project — Mamelodi Township, South Africa

The Karabo Card Project was established in 2007 as a “community upliftment” project in Mamelodi Township, South Africa. The Township is home to 1.5 million people, many of whom are unemployed, and 25% of whom are infected with HIV. The people who work at the project would otherwise have little means of feeding themselves and their families. Materials from soda pop cans and recycled paper are incorporated into their designs.

The name of the project ‘Karabo’, was chosen by the local people. It means ‘answer’ in the local Pedi language. They chose this name as they believe the project was God’s answer to the cry for help which came from their hearts. 

Making a Difference

Just Card’s offers a wide range of high-quality handmade cards from Africa, plus some printed in the UK and Australia, which are available through their website, individual traders, conferences and a number of retail outlets.  

They also give away over 25% of their profits to Christian charities who share their values in providing justice, dignity and hope to disadvantaged women and their families.

Jennifer Brown is a Trader for Just Cards. Originally from South Africa, she understands the oppression of women and the reality for the disenfranchised people who live there. She says:

“I have witnessed the desperate need for employment – work that offers people not only an income to survive but a dignified purpose to their lives. These are beautiful, individually unique cards that are lovingly made by local community projects. It’s nice to know I can make a difference and help by selling them.”

Mother Theresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”  Think of creative avenues you may pursue to help oppressed women or disadvantaged children to live better lives. Who knows what dream might unfold as you consider opportunities and possibilities with your heart wide open.

Learn more about Just Cards Direct.  Click here to view and purchase cards

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos by Just Cards Direct)

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HopeWares: Combined Hope Makes Women’s Dreams Come True

What is Hope?  For the Dalit women of India, it means the possibility of expectations, desires and dreams fulfilled.

The word “Dalit” means oppressed. For the many desperate women who have lived under the crushing oppression of the Hindu caste system for over three thousand years, it also means no hope.

“Dalit women say they can be their own worst enemies given that caste distinctions are ingrained from birth. Then there’s the prevalent belief that individuals somehow deserve their fate because of good or bad karma carrying over from the last life.” –Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times

Hurting Hearts & Combined Hope

After the tragic death of her daughter Anna, an Australian woman named Lynda Disher took a trip to India where she discovered “the horrific injustices that we as women here, rarely have to confront.”

“Anna had a passion to help the poor and bring joy to their lives. Like many young girls she struggled with being accepted by her peer groups but wrote in her diary that Jesus made her unique and she wanted others to know and embrace their uniqueness.” –Lynda Disher, HopeWares

She was challenged to make a difference. Fueled by her own grief, she connected with the grief and crippling oppression of the women she met. Woman to woman, hearts were united around a shared need for hope and the promise of a better tomorrow. 

These women did not want to live on handouts though, they wanted to make a difference for themselves and for their children—with their own hands, minds and ingenuity. That trip changed not only her life, but the lives of countless Dalit women.

HopeWares is Born

Through Lynda’s creative advocacy, her dream became a tangible reality.  Just one heart, one woman, one vision — and HopeWares was conceived.

Lynda observed that simply handing out money was not the solution. They needed more than money. They needed an opportunity to become educated and to learn skills that would pave the way to sustaining their families not to mention, freeing them from the bondages that had kept them down for thousands of years. HopeWares represented a light in their darkness, a flicker of hope.

“I don’t think I did anything wrong in my last life, I’m a human.” –Dalit Woman

The Solution — Sewing & Reaping

Working in partnership with Light Home, a home for children in Andhra Pradesh, HopeWares provides training in sewing and embroidery. At the end of the training program, the women receive a brand new treddle sewing machine. It is wonderful to imagine that something as simple as a sewing machine can symbolize freedom for a woman across the world, but it does!

“I have gained skills in tailoring, embroidery, and knitting and above all I have gained confidence in my future.” –Dalit Woman  

By creating colorful handbags, scarves, ottomans and home décor, the women are able to tend to their children and provide for their families. The profits from the goods (mostly designed by Lynda) and sold on the HopeWares website provide sewing machines and fund training schools that teach these rural women how to sew, thus, their tagline and purpose: You buy, we give.

Through her own grief, loss and sense of hopelessness, Lynda said yes to the call of her dream. And by saying yes to her dream, she gave hope by lighting the torch of the Dalit women’s dreams in India. Together with their combined hopes to make a difference for a better tomorrow–to raise the bar for the women so locked down by this ancient caste system they were prisoners of–their dreams really did come true.

A Brighter Future for the Next Generation

Today, there are up to an estimated 300 million people classified as Dalits, or “untouchables”, living in India. They are dehumanized, segregated. marginalized and suffer discrimination in education, employment, and health care. On top of that, Dalit women rank even lower than men. While the younger generation of Dalits have begun to stand up and plan for their future rights, they are still referred to as “untouchables.” 

Prejudice defines their lives… “Untouchables are shunned, insulted, banned from temples and higher caste homes, made to eat and drink from separate utensils in public places, and, in extreme but not uncommon cases, are raped, burned, lynched, and gunned down.” –National Geographic Magazine

How would it feel if your occupation or status in life were predetermined from birth? Mother Theresa said, “If I look at the mass I will never act.” And, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” If we can light the candle of just one person, we have made a difference, we have ignited hope.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

Additional Reading:

Dalit women find their voice through a newspaper, Los Angeles Times
Untouchable – National Geographic Magazine

To learn more or shop, visit HopeWares online.

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos provided by HopeWares)

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The Clothesline Project: Honoring Women Victims and Survivors of Violence


How would you feel if someone hung your deepest darkest secrets out on a clothesline for everyone to see?  Your hurts, fears, betrayal, anguish and shame just blowing in the wind?

Women are doing just that across the world!

 

THE CLOTHESLINE PROJECT

The Clothesline Project was designed as a voice for victims of rape, battering, incest and child sexual abuse–and to honor victims and survivors of intimate violence. As its tagline states, it has been: “Bearing Witness to Violence Against Women for over 20 years”.

The idea of women exchanging information over backyard fences while hanging clothes on a line, prompted something special in visual artist, Rachel Carey-Harper. It presented a unique vehicle for raising awareness about the issues surrounding the violence and oppression of women. True to its objective, it created something remarkable—something that would leave an imprint on viewers, while also acting as an exercise to promote healing.

 

“The concept was simple – let each woman tell her story in her own unique way, using words and/or artwork to decorate her shirt. Once finished, she would then hang her shirt on the clothesline. This very action serves many purposes. It acts as an educational tool for those who come to view the Clothesline; it becomes a healing tool for anyone who makes a shirt – by hanging the shirt on the line, survivors, friends and family can literally turn their back on some of that pain of their experience and walk away; finally it allows those who are still suffering in silence to understand that they are not alone.”

At a distance, they look like beautiful colors gently blowing in the breeze. As you draw closer though, you see more than just beautiful colors. You see the shattered lives of women.  The t-shirts hang out for anyone to see.  To see the messages that are written on the outside of the shirts, but more powerfully, from inside of the women— messages from their hearts and minds.

Some represent the victims themselves while others are from family and friends who use their voices to speak on behalf of their loved ones. As individual as each woman and each crime is, so too are the messages they want to convey to the world and to their oppressors. Some are statements of what happened to them, like the one that simply says: “Rape”. Others are messages to their abuser: “I hate you for what you did, you took my innocence and happiness”, while others are messages to themselves: “I Am Beautiful!”; or, from loved ones: “She didn’t deserve to be hurt!”

RAINBOWS OF HOPE

The shirts are color coded to show the form of abuse and whether the victim survived the abuse they experienced. 

White represents women who died because of violence

Yellow or Beige represents battered or assaulted women

Red, Pink, and Orange are for survivors of rape and sexual assault

Blue and Green represent survivors of incest and sexual abuse

Purple or Lavender represent women attacked because of their sexual orientation

Black is for women attacked for political reasons

BREAKING THROUGH THE SHROUD OF SILENCE

Profound and often difficult to read, the messages displayed in a kaleidoscope of color are reminiscent of a rainbow, reminding us thankfully — that there is hope.

“It is the very process of designing a shirt that gives each woman a new voice with which to expose an often horrific and unspeakable experience that has dramatically altered the course of her life. Participating in this project provides a powerful step towards helping a survivor break through the shroud of silence that has surrounded her experience.”

CREATING & ADVOCATING — THE VOICES SPEAK 

–       Daddy please stop!   

–       30 years later am I still screaming?   

–       I hate every evil act done toward women

–       It started when I was 2

–       Every child deserves their childhood

–      Who was to save me from you?

–       My baby, she was killed in a satanic ritual, I was only 14

–       Don’t suffer in silence

–       In loving memory… You Are Free!


© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos by Al Fed, Mallory Dowd, Cheryl Wolfe, Michael Hanscom)

The Clothesline Project (CLP) started as a program on Cape Cod, MA in 1990 to address the issue of violence against women.  Start your own Clothesline Project.

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