What’s Your *

The company I own, AshaBelle, was named because the word Asha means Hope in Hindi and Belle means beautiful. We loosely translate AshaBelle to mean “Beautiful Hope” for our purposes.

It has been a journey of faith and grit and loads of grace to get to where we are today. I’ve wanted to quit more times than I can count, but somehow the Lord steadied my soul each time enough for me to sense Him saying, “Not yet.” So we pressed on and have paid the bills and Indian staff for 3 years now. Whew.

It was three years ago this month that Jon and I were back in Delhi, had hired our team, and set to work. There were a million bumps and setbacks. I was told I was crazy to run a business with 4 kids at home (well, that’s what they know, I have 5 now!) and that it would be more of a drain on me and my family than I realized. But with passion for the cause of helping women thrive, we began.

In the back of my mind has always been the thought, “If it were me (living in dire poverty with small children without any job prospects), then what would I want someone to do?” The answer continues to be, “I would want someone to see me and my situation and to offer me hope in a better future. To put me to work doing dignified labor for fair wages. Give me the opportunity to provide for myself and my family.”

So that’s what we try to do. With our little team of artisans, we work to provide economic opportunities to vulnerable women living in a particular community. These women have little skills and have barely seen much of life outside the slum or the village they moved to Delhi from. It’s astonishing to me as someone who has had the privilege of being born in the US, educated, and has abundant resources that allows me even to be able to sit down at my computer and type this post.

We have plodded along, making like-minded friends and learning valuable lessons along the way. Developing the necessary grit to keep going when things look bleak or the future, uncertain.

I suppose it’s why I’m not really worried about September. That at the beginning of our busiest season we are having to relocate from our current space we’ve used for three years. This business that began as an outreach is being launched from the nest to see if it can fly on its own. At first, because of the way it happened, I felt deeply wounded. The back story isn’t relevant in this space, but I firmly believe that what some have intended for harm, God can use for good.

August is a month where I want to see a miracle happen.

I want to see sales go through the roof this month and a big door open up for a cozy, safe, affordable space for our Delhi team.

I want advocates to rise up and champion our ladies and our mission.

I want women to feel empowered because they are empowering other women by keeping them employed.

I want a community to rally behind our little business and hold us up.

I want so many things for us that I cannot accomplish on our own without other women who feel this same desire to empower others.

This may be our last month of production, and if so, I have peace about that. But I hope it’s not. In fact, I really don’t feel like it will be. But I’m holding all things with an open hand and not stressing myself out by trying to make things happen.

When we look back on this chapter of the story, I hope it’s one that builds our faith and gives us courage. I hope we are able to continue to challenge women to #tellastorywithyourjewelry and to promote this idea that how we spend our money matters tremendously to the people who make our products.

And it’s funny that I never set out to create ethically made products, or learn about fair trade, or women’s empowerment, but in the process of building AshaBelle, my eyes have been opened to so much I never would have thought about before. What a gift.

We created these earrings above to be a visible symbol of hope. That our name and its meaning are not random, but tell the bigger story behind the products our team creates. Every life has a deeper story than the one we see on the surface; every vulnerable woman employed has unspoken dreams and desires for herself and her family. Or maybe she doesn’t and she needs to be reminded that it’s ok to dream again. That’s the power of hope.

That’s the state of things with me. August feels huge, and exciting, and terrifying. So let’s see what this next chapter in the story holds…

 

(Pictured above is our Beautiful Hope Studs) 

 

Accidental Entrepreneur: Part 1

When we moved to India in 2010 I never imagined I would leave one day as a social entrepreneur. At that time, I didn’t even know what that meant.

While my husband and I worked on graduate degrees we ran a small graphics business to help make ends meet. He also worked early mornings at a shipping co., worked at a local church during the daytime, and we both attended classes while adding two more kids to the mix for a total of three when we left for Delhi.

So in reality I was an entrepreneur, although I never called myself one. There was a disconnect for me with what I thought that word meant and how I viewed my own work. Entrepreneurs wanted to make money and grow a business; I worked to make money, yes,  but my goal wasn’t to grow a large business– graphics were a means to an end, so we could eat and move on to the next phase of life. And honestly, I had 3 children ages five and under– it was enough to see myself as a mother, wife, student, and part-time designer preparing to move overseas so my husband could go into business. The entrepreneur in the family was him, not me.

Fast-forward to 2014 when I was asked to take over a small income-generation business in Delhi. I had creative gifts, a strong sense of justice, and a heart to see women thrive. But running a business was not yet something I felt empowered to do. In fact, it has taken a couple of years to be able to truly see myself as more than a do-good, justice-loving owner of AshaBelle.

Putting your own skin in the game will change your perspective eventually. And for AshaBelle, I can say that I have definitely gone all in to build this brand. So have the other six people in our family. I’ll admit too, that sometimes, too much of me–my time and resources– have gone into it.

I didn’t realize until grad school, and even more so now, what a perfectionist I am about my creativity. If I create, write, design a piece I want people to love it. If I show my art to the world, I want you to see beauty in it. Designing jewelry, empowering the women who make it, putting it on a website, these are endeavors that have my fingerprints all over them. They are personal and represent the best I am able to give as I learn to juggle this life as a social entrepreneur. When things come up less than perfect I struggle with being okay with that.

Part of learning to see myself as an entrepreneur has been to learn to recognize my lack of gifting in an area isn’t failure. It’s an opportunity to have someone who IS gifted come alongside me and join me in what I’m doing. And it’s taken a long time to get to this point– where I feel settled enough in a place to reach out, and that there are women looking for ways to engage outside of their normal everyday in something that has the potential to see lives changed for good.

This next season feels big. I don’t really even know what this means, exactly, but it feels like God has been preparing my heart for plans he’s had all along. Plans that I have been hesitant to fully embrace because there is still a part of me that questions God– “Really, you want ME to do this?” I feel like this often because as a business woman I have miles of growing to do, and because it’s a weighty responsibility, and mostly because I have a big family that has so many moving parts right now, it’s easy to start to feel crushed by the weight of everything when I’m operating in my own strength.

I’ve had another post on my mind lately– I wanted to share a little bit about what it’s like to run a socially conscious business. The highs and lows, struggles and joys, etc. A reflection on what we’ve experienced over the past 2, almost 3 years since we took this on. I’ve had several people communicate to me how wonderful it must be to run something like this because it’s purposeful and serving a greater good. And I get that. However, at the end of the day, it’s a business, and small businesses are full of unexpected snags, long hours with no results, and learning how to navigate the ever-changing retail scene. Things I had no idea about before starting AshaBelle (which is probably a good thing!).

So that’s what’s next here in Part 2. I’m happy to be writing again. It’s been sporadic and almost non-existent and I have missed it so…

Missing India

dsc_0014

I miss India tonight.

There is a longing inside of me that I cannot even describe, but I feel it burning in my heart and watering up in my eyes as I sit in a quiet house after everyone else has finally gone to bed.

I have too much to do, as usual. So much so that nothing ever feels done, completed. Maybe you feel like that, too? I’ve been running this race for so long now it simply feels like normal life and honestly I don’t think I’ve paused much over the past year to process all that has happened to us. To me. The changes, the trials, the losses, and the gains. There have been many of each over the past 12 months and it all feels like an emotional blur, one I’ve basically numbed because I’ve convinced myself I don’t have time to dwell, only to move forward and do the next thing. Or the next ten things.

Maybe that’s why I miss my India days so much right now. Life there had a simplicity, that, admittedly, felt monotonous to me most days. But I find myself longing for a time and place I can never have again, and goodness, it hurts in a way I never expected.

Because honestly I never expected to miss India with this sort of raw emotion. The mosquitoes, the smog, the rickshaw drivers always overcharging (seriously y’all, I would argue about a $3 dollar ride home!)

dsc_0044

I knew I would miss people, food, historic places all within 10 minutes of our house. But I miss crazy things right now.

I miss seeing elephants and camels on the way to church, because, you know, we basically took the kids to the zoo every time we drove around.

dsc_0128

I miss markets that are crowded and full of produce, and flies.

I miss the parathas Ruma made me for lunch every week and how I lathered them in Dahi.

I miss how everything felt so alive and real and chaotic. And I felt so alive, real, and chaotic.

dsc_0065

I miss the sweet friends my kids made over the years at their school.

I miss the precious friends I left behind because Skype doesn’t cut it and the time difference is the worst for conversation.

I miss my terrace and plants and cool mornings when we could sit outside and have breakfast before the afternoon heat drove us indoors.img_20140202_140143

I miss the feeling of accomplishment after a trip to Big Bazaar. (No, I don’t need whitening deodorant, but thanks!)

I miss the feeling of being tucked safely into our home in the evening, all of us together– hot and sweaty and grateful for AC. All of our parents were still with us then and we knew they would be waiting for us eagerly whenever we arrived in ATL again.

Life overseas was difficult and stretching, but it didn’t leave us the same people we were when we left and that is a good thing.

It’s not to say that right now I don’t love where we live or think we should have stayed. It was time to leave. But the longing for simply one day back in that time is in my heart tonight, even though it isn’t possible. And that’s ok. Longing  and grieving are all part of life, and I probably need to make more space to feel these things so they don’t hit me all of a sudden.

And perhaps it’s the knowing that life hums right along, even after you leave, and I’ve started to feel like the 5+ years there were a bit of a dream even though my heart feels different, a little more squishy and free. And I can’t help but see life in a completely different way now.

So if you can travel, do it. And if you can live abroad, even for a few months, do it. It will mess you up in all the good ways, and if it doesn’t, you weren’t there long enough. Or you didn’t let the culture into your heart, which takes a while for some people (insert awkward cough).

dsc_0122

Obligatory sweaty Taj Mahal photo taken a million years ago.

The Joy of Moving Forward

dsc_7409

We moved this summer and began a new life in Charlotte. And what a breath of fresh air it has been. To be free of the strain that Atlanta had; to be with groups of people ready and eager to come alongside us and who are eager to know us… well, it’s life-giving. Some places just carry too much baggage and too much history to be safe places. Atlanta is that for me.

So we’ve settled into our new lives and new roles we were given overnight. Jon is thriving. The school the big kids are in is a healing environment for them and I am thankful.

AshaBelle even has new fans. This is huge for me. I’ve known for a long time that AshaBelle was not mine to carry all alone, but I had no idea who would need to come alongside us. I’m still not exactly sure, but I know that God wants more women here to be a part of empowering other women around the world and it’s an exciting time to be sure.

Seeing lights come on for people as they realize that they can be part of the solution for helping other women rise out of poverty. This is huge. What an amazing movement it would be to have thousands of women empowering other women to be able to provide for themselves and their families. No charity, just mutual respect and a cheering section. We all need one of those from time to time.

What’s Next?

DSC_0173

The exciting (and slightly overwhelming) thing is we are moving… again! This time to a new city (Charlotte) so my husband can take a ministry job doing all the things he loves. We are only going to be four hours away from family, and we are excited about the move and what it could mean to our family– a season of settling down and sinking in deep– but we are still facing another significant change only a short while after several other changes in our lives. And to tell you honestly, I am a bit raw and already grieving the losses as I look at a handful of good things that happened while we were here during this season.

As someone who has gone through a number of transitions over the past 10 years, I know the settling into a new place will take time. Building relationships, setting up house, finding the grocery stores I like, etc., all of these things will take time. But because we are excited about the move, I’m hoping this will make it easier to navigate.

But there is also another side to all this change. The reality that I am one person with limited capabilities and time and energy. That there needs to be some margin carved into my life of I’m going to burn out on all the good things.

As the months have ticked by and my stamina seemed to have waned, I decided that I needed to say no to some things. Good things, for sure, but in my season as a mother of five children 12 and under, the pressures began to pile up and I’ve felt, as Bilbo Baggins says, “Sort of stretched, like too little butter scraped over too much bread.” And so I made the decision that I needed to step back from IndiAanya and see what might happen.

So I did. A little. And there were others to fill in the gaps. But there is still more stepping back to be done to make way for the new things God is putting before me and my family this next season. Saying no to something I’ve created and still feel passionate about is hard. So very hard. And there’s no guarantee anyone will pick up my pieces. And I have to be ok with that, even though that’s hard, too.

But God has given us these wonderful children, and a business to run, and a marriage to maintain. All of these take a great deal of work, too. And if I’m honest I’ll tell you that I haven’t done anything particularly well in a long time. I have managed, but I have not thrived. And I’m tired of simply managing. Well, really, I’m tired.

When I look back on the past year, I’m afraid to say this will be known as the season of losses, of transitions, and of goodbyes. And it kinda hurts in a lot of ways right now because there is almost too much to process. And too much to pack… especially when I just unpacked  it all in December.

So there has been much seeking the Lord in the gaps and spaces of quiet, and sometimes in the not-so-quiet. There have been tears and flutters of anticipation mixed with the feeling of let’s just get on with things. Being half melancholy and half choleric works like that at times.

I know our time here has not been wasted, even though it hasn’t gone as I imagined it would. That we were able to be here when my family went through our greatest loss yet. That the place we’ve been in has somehow brought us a measure of healing and calm because we have been able to enjoy the outdoors and watch the seasons change in a beautiful setting and be near family. And we have been forced to take time to heal where otherwise we would have just jumped into the next thing if it had been available at the time.

This space will most likely continue to be sporadically maintained. There seems to be so much more to do in a day than there is time for and writing has been put in last place.

At least for now.

 

 

On Turning 40 and a Loss

IMG_1071

Today I turn 40.

When I thought about writing this post a month ago I had some vague thoughts about sharing what turning 40 looks like for me. Throwing in a bit of humor and a dash of snarkiness about getting older and all that entails when you are a mother of five and try to jump on a trampoline. Some of you know what I’m talking about.

I still may write that post. But not today. March has looked different than I expected. A joyful month typically full of family birthdays, springtime shopping and new life budding all around, has been one of sorrow, loss and questions…

This article was first posted on IndiAanya, and you can read the rest over there. Thanks for stopping by!

On Being Small

cropped-hope-1.jpg

It has been an interesting few days. And by interesting I mean weird, unsettling and eyeopening in hard ways.

I have wrestled with the new normal of American life that everyone here is “busy” and to be a part of people’s lives plans have to be made months in advance. And how this doesn’t seem to be connecting people more, but keeping them even more isolated as they run around from good thing to good thing filling in gaps with Facebook or Instagram posts along the way.

I have allowed someone’s negative opinion about me get under my skin and wrestled with the truth that people believe too much of what they hear without considering the source.

And I have felt small. So very, very small. I have felt the enemy creep up on me big time telling me my work doesn’t matter and that my life is too small to count. And that the world isn’t interested in my small work, women, poverty or anything that is on the fringes. That this world is only interested in BIG things that are flashy, provocative and screaming for attention.

And I’ve always found it deeply ironic that God chose to use someone who prefers quiet introspection and long-talks over coffee, to lead a business that sells something. By nature, talking about myself and products and this sort of hustle does not come easily. Not because I don’t value these things or believe in them, but because I never want people to think I have wrong motives–that I’m a salesperson first. I have been self-conscious of this my entire life– at times, pridefully so if I’m honest. In my head I know there is a time to promote the things we are passionate about, things that are good. It’s simply difficult for me to walk this line.

So I’m struggling to find my way here.

How to not get caught up in the busy that makes others feel small; how to live a life that feels authentic and real and full, and has space for interruptions and small-living; how to not feel that smallness is a liability in a culture that says it is; how to communicate with people who have so much, still want more and are seemingly never satisfied; how to share this story of hope, life-change and empowerment in a way that connects women all over the world as those who have voices speak for those who don’t and give them hope.

There’s been a lot rattling around lately as you can see.

And at the heart of all this, I know I  really need own the truth that I am complete–even if I am small– because Christ says so. Not because people have time for me or don’t, and not because I fail or succeed in business, or people say things about me to others.

I am complete because Christ says I am.

And I wonder if we all owned our completeness in Christ and lived in light of this how different our communities, our world would be.

And maybe I’m not the only one who struggles with these thoughts on a Thursday morning.

With feeling small.

With feeling unknown.

With feeling not enough.

And I wish that by the end of this post I could tie things up with a bright red ribbon, but I think I’m going to have to sit in this for a while until the truth roots deep in my heart.

For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.b

So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. (Col. 2:9-10)

 

When Your TCK Grieves, You Do Too

Jack

This morning I opened email as usual, but one particular message made me pause, and out of nowhere I suddenly felt a knot in my throat and then the tears started to spill. And this was before I even opened it.

There was nothing significant in the email, in fact, it wasn’t even intended for me. It was what it symbolized: the deep sense of loss inside of me lately as we sit smack dab in the middle of a million unknowns. It was an email from our boys’ old school in Delhi informing them of the adventure camp coming up. The adventure camp that my eldest loved and has such wonderful memories and stories to tell from every time he went.  The camp that challenged me in hard ways to let go a little and let them explore their world as they took buses out of Delhi and around mountains.

The emotions tied to the email hit me hard. Harder than I would have expected. Because the absolute worst part of the move back to the US has been what my older boys left behind. Hands down. This has been gut-gnawing and painful in so many ways. I have grieved for our children and their losses; I have grieved for the friends they left behind who were so close to my boys because their friendship had grown over the five years we were there. I have grieved for the lack of community now and how they are trying to understand this new place and make peace with the fact that most people do not give a rip about their old lives or understand what they are going through as not only the new kids in school, but new kids to the culture.

And when I see grief in their eyes too when they come home and tell me things, I grieve all over again. And I start to wonder if there is any end to this grief for them as TCKs (Third Culture Kids), for us. And the answer is no, most likely not. A lessening, yes as time goes by and new relationships are made, but an end, I imagine not.

I’m going through some books to help me process all the things in my head, but they aren’t. So how do I help these kids of mine process and move through this time of grief and loss in a healthy way? I’ve been thinking about it since we arrived and here are a few simple things I’m keeping in mind as we work through our emotions during this transition from Delhi to the US.

  1. Allow space for the negative emotions to come out, but circle back around to get to the heart of the issue. This means listening first, before reacting to whatever anger, frustration, disappointment is being expressed. Remembering that change and transition is harder for some personalities than others. I’ve definitely seen this with me and my husband and as it relates to our five children. One of our children responds just like I do to change: Everything is terrible. Letting him express his feelings, but then coming around again to the truth that while change is hard/painful, the world is not falling apart and there is still plenty to be grateful for. And there is nothing quite like seeing yourself in your children to help you make changes in your own behavior as well 🙂
  2. Acknowledge my own struggles with this time and be honest with them. I have always tried to be transparent with our kids about many of my struggles. I grew up thinking that parents were supposed to be super-human and perfect. That, I am definitely not. And I don’t want them to think that they are alone in feeling displaced/lonely/frustrated/in culture shock… etc.  I try to remind them we are all in process and none of us know exactly the perfect way to work through everything we are going through. There is grace to be given in every situation.
  3. Grab onto a couple of traditions, dishes, and holidays that were import to us there so the loss doesn’t feel complete. There are a few holidays and dishes we truly loved and I don’t want everything we loved about India to simply fade away because we are back in the US. This means I need to find my local Indian market and fire up the pressure cooker for some dal tadka, subzi and chapati, even if it doesn’t exactly taste like Ruma’s and the chapati look more like Australia than a circle. And over time maybe we will be able to make new Indian friends here and celebrate some of their most important days along with them.
  4. Point them back to the One that loves them more than we do. This part is one that I hope I handle well because missing the mark could have longterm effects on their relationships with the Lord. My hope is that they will see that their lives are in the loving hands of their Heavenly Father. That they would know he cares for them and He knows that this is hard. That it was His leading that brought us to and out of India. And that He has a plan for all their lives and can be trusted– not to give them all that they want or ask, but to give them exactly what they need. This is best communicated by the life that I live and the relationship I have with the Lord and the trust I display right now, even when I’m also struggling to understand so many things about the present.

From what I hear from others and have read about Third Culture Kids, I know for our oldest three, India will always be with them as part of their identity, one of them may even decide to move back there someday. This makes me smile. I certainly expect our family to be a global family, which means plenty of interesting places to vacation once we are empty-nesters.

TCKs are special people. They have a wider view of the world and are more likely to empathize with people who feel displaced or are on the fringes. When you live it, you get it. And there is certainly, for me, that deep sense of gratefulness that they have this view, but along with that comes grief at times because I know they want to appear normal and fit in with peers wherever they are– and that takes time and effort. But, I firmly believe they can have an impact and succeed wherever they are if they have a good support system and parents who are willing and able to be present and share their grief during the time of transition.