Making a Difference, Everyday.

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Most of us like to do things that make a difference, am I right?

We volunteer our time, give money to our favorite charities, bake for our neighbors, etc.

As a follower of Christ and an active member of my church, I serve in the youth ministry alongside my husband who is our youth pastor. I love being with the teens, helping them sort through drama, theology and the inevitable spats with parents.

I knew there was a piece missing to my service, my “activism” if you will, though.

Ever since the hubs and I met on a HIV/AIDS prevention trip to South Africa, my life was forever changed. Seeing the faces of poverty, disease and heartache up-close-and-personal is just something I will never be able to “shut off”. Nor would I want to.

Issues of social justice have been near-and-dear to my heart since that trip in 2005 and my passion for awareness and to help educate others on these issues has only grown since then. Orphan care, human trafficking, issues of poverty/hunger/lack of education and clean water have consistently moved and stirred my heart.

Fast-forward to 2013. My sweet friend Erin started posting on Facebook about how she was so excited to be an Ambassador for Noonday Collection, where she was selling beautiful, hand-crafted accessories on behalf of artisans world-wide, with the purpose of helping lift them out of poverty.

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And I saw the jewels.

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And I read more about the mission of Noonday.

And I was all: “Did someone seriously read. my. mind?! Like, for real, here. Someone actually combined the worlds of trendy accessories with social justice? No. Freaking, Way.”

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Noonday Collection is a company that provides a sustainable income for over 2,000 artisans in over 10 countries. Their goal is to empower the artisans through dignified work that will have a long-lasting impact on the artisans and their communities.

Through trunk shows, I get to set up a marketplace for our artisans. I display the gorgeous pieces, tell some amazing Noonday stories and women gather for food, laughter and playing dress up! I get to style women in the latest accessories, and meet some world-changing women that believe in using their purchasing power for good.

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Even Charlotte likes to get in on the action!

Even Charlotte likes to get in on the action!

My husband, Jason, will tell you I’m constantly saying “I’m SO glad I’m an Ambassador…for so many reasons!”

Noonday, is also helping us bring our son home from South Africa! We’re that crazy family with 3 biological children under the age of 5 who still has more love to give. Through my earnings with Noonday, we are putting it toward our adoption expenses and getting one step closer to fulfilling our dream.

I love that with Noonday, I can now rest assured that the artisans are receiving 2-4 times more than what they would in their local marketplace. I like to say it’s “more than fair trade”.

It’s beautiful. It’s life-changing.

For everyone.

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You can shop Noonday Collection for yourself or gifts for loved ones anytime at: www.lauraloewen.noondaycollection.com.

Maybe you’ve got a social-justice itch and/or love for on-trend jewelry like I do. Consider becoming an Ambassador and joining an amazing group of women with a heart like yours! 

We all like to make a difference. I hope you’ll join me in sharing these artisans stories, and changing their lives {and the lives in your community} forever by purchasing Noonday, hosting a trunk show or becoming an Ambassador.

Through Unspeakable Joy,

Laura

7-Year {Anniversary} Reflections

7 years

Jason and I tied the knot at the tender age of 22. Freshly graduated from college, Jason from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and me from Hope College in Holland, MI. We thought we had it nearly all figured out. We were madly in love with each other, wanted to serve God together and thought we had an excellent 5, 10, and 20 year plan for our lives.

Even though we were in the thick of our pride, our sometimes enabling-each-other-because-we-were-always-SO-right mentalities, I am very glad we got married at the young age we did.

Freshly Mr. and Mrs.

Freshly Mr. and Mrs.

In fact, looking back, I wish we would’ve gotten married even sooner. I was convinced I would need an entire year to plan a wedding. Things couldn’t be farther from the truth for this Type-A, super planner. I mean, really. I knew the colors I wanted. The flowers. The flow of everything. Put into the mix that I was recovering from knee surgery in the middle of our engagement, and I had a TON of time on my hands to plan our wedding.

What two crazy-in-love dating 21-year-olds look like.

What two crazy-in-love dating 21-year-olds look like.

Hindsight is 20/20 they say. In this case, yes. Totally believe that to be true. I had graduated from college a semester early in December of 2006, so technically, we would have been poorer than all get-out, but we could have made it work. We wed on June 9, 2007.

We knew we were crazy about each other and man alive, keeping the beast tame that was our desire for each other during that year-long engagement is something I would not wish on anyone.

As stated previously, Jason and I, although trying to pursue the Lord, made a lot of mistakes.  We made a commitment to ourselves and the Lord that we would save the gift of sex for our wedding night, and I’m SO glad we did!

Growing up, it was never an “option” for me- both for my personal convictions and what my parents instilled in me – to give myself away in that manner to anyone but my husband.

On our honeymoon, 2007.

On our honeymoon, 2007.

So lesson #1? Christian men and women: if you know you want to get married, just do it. Exception? If one or both of you have deep-rooted issues that need to be addressed in individual counseling, then those things should be worked on before saying “I do”.

You’ll never “be ready” to be married. What the heck is “being ready” to be a husband or a wife anyway?

You’ll never have a “enough money”. Trust.

(And for real – an extra $100 or $10,000 isn’t gonna make you happier, or ensure a better marriage. Now, there IS something to be said for a crazy-hard work ethic and a commitment to provide and support each other. Different animals entirely.)

Lesson #2 over these past 7 years? Don’t hold your plans so tightly.

At my MSW graduation, 2008.

At my MSW graduation, 2008.

Case-in-point: this was my 10 year plan when we got married.

  1. Finish graduate school (Master’s in Clinical Social Work)
  2. Get a position as a high-paid therapist
  3. Continue impacting lives while being over-the-moon happy in love
  4. Buy a nearly-new house + car
  5. Have first child at age of 30
  6. Continue to do therapy full-time, having kid(s) in daycare and livin’ the American Dream

Man alive, do I shutter at my then-unspoken goal of living the American Dream.

God had SO. MUCH. more for me – thank you Jesus!

And how did my life actually go? Glad you asked.

A lil’ somethin’ like this:

Life as I hadn't planned. :)

Life as I hadn’t planned.🙂

  1. Finished graduate school (Master’s in Clinical Social Work)
  2. Got a low-paying, super-stressful job in my field, but not as glamorous as I would have hoped
  3. Felt the “baby itch” every time we sashayed by the baby section in Target
  4. Gave birth to Landon at 24
  5. Began working part-time, then felt God’s call to be a stay-at-home mom
  6. Gave birth to Charlotte at 26
  7. Now at home, felt God’s nudge to both adopt AND have another child biologically
  8. Gave birth to Aiden at 28, to shortly start adoption process for our fourth

God’s plans are always best. How I wish I would have just said “Lord, my life is yours, do with it what you will” at the tender age of 22.

Instead, I spent my time pursuing what I thought was best, what my life plan was.

Lesson #3? Keep your marriage your priority relationship.

Most families put their kids above all else. And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my kiddos. I mean have you seen them?! Stinkin’ cute. Just thinking of them makes me smile.

But, one day, they’ll all grow up. Leave the nest. And Jason and I will be left.

My love. The bestest.

My love. The bestest.

Hopefully, to remain the best-of-friends, laughing, loving and still making out in the kitchen.(sorry for that visual but guys, we’re crazy about each other. Sue me.)

In our mid-forties when the kiddos are gone working, in school, being married, or where ever God leads them, I want Jason and I to enjoy each other.

And I honestly believe that because of date nights, taking the time for each other daily to check-in, being super affectionate with each other, that we will truly enjoy each other when my role is mama-no-more, but empty-nester-wife.

So thankful for the lessons God’s been teaching me since we’ve been married.

So thankful that Jason loves me, despite me being my full-out intense, goofy self.

May our marriage be one that points others to the beauty of the Cross, and the goodness of God all our days.

Through our imperfections and struggles, may our union remind people of the sacrifice that Christ made and the Love that is so real and calling us all to Himself.

Through Unspeakable Joy,

Laura

 

Utter-Failure Status.

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Ever have those days when you feel like an utter failure?

Join the club.

Pull up a spoon and let’s dig into this Ben + Jerry’s.

I felt like SUCH a failure this morning.

Three loads of laundry were bunched up in the laundry room. And although clean, they weren’t folded and their 5-day old creases seemed to be mocking me.

I felt like I earned a couple “good mom/wife” points as I completed another five loads.

But their folded status? Eh…it’s honestly all piled up on my bed like a huge mountain I don’t wanna climb.

(And no, Miley, I don’t feel like climbing today.)

Then the fun got kicked off when Charlotte bit Aiden. Let’s just say mama wasn’t havin’ it.

Although from recent car trip, similar emotions ensued.

Although from recent car trip, similar emotions ensued.

So, consequences were dealt out (You wanna whine and cry about what YOU did to your brother? Fine. Go sit on your bed. I’m not getting a headache due to your ridiculousness. Oh? What’s that Charlotte? Wanna continue the theatrics? Great. Then no ‘bear ribbons’. Important side note: ‘bear ribbons’ is our term-of-endearment for C’s blankie that she almost cannot go to bed without).

Per usual, mama wasn’t playin’.

At this point, Landon (4) had talked me into playing a game of trouble. Aiden (1) was an arms length away in his high-chair flailing his arms and squawking because I couldn’t deliver the vanilla yogurt to his little mouth fast enough. Repeatedly.

 

Meanwhile, Miss Charlotte (3) had gained her self-control and was busy coloring a Beauty + The Beast page while emphatically stating things every 2 seconds like: “Mama wook!” “Mama, I color Belle yew-oh!” “Mama! I make it wook supa pretty!”

I snapped.

I'm sure it looked something like this. Awesome.

I’m sure it looked something like this. Awesome.

It got ugly real quick. I started yelling. I would calm down, and then repeat like a complete psychopath.

Pretty, huh?

I told the kids I was wrong for yelling (amongst throwing a near 29-year-old-temper-tantrum) and asked for their forgiveness. Like the sweeties they are, they promptly forgave and hugs were given all around.

However, I couldn’t take back my words.

The nasty tone of my voice, the way my words spewed from gritted teeth. There would be no wiping this from their memories.

I tucked them all in for their afternoon naps, snuggles given, a calm, more relaxed, but remorseful mom who kissed her kiddies and told them she loved them.

“What a horrible mom” I thought as I left their rooms.

I just wanted to run away in seclusion. Feeling completed depressed and fully convinced I was a failure of a mom, I just sulked into the couch hoping my Instagram feed would distract me for a second.

Instagram failed me, so a threw my phone down on the couch, partially annoyed with it, mainly frustrated with myself.

Really Laura? Really?

I felt a little nudge. Maybe you should try reading the Word.

Whatever, God. I’m not in the mood. 

Nice. Good pastor’s wife, eh?

I got myself out stuff to make a breakfast burrito and switched on the Bible on audio.

As Romans chapters 1-3 played, my heart softened.

I felt God’s peace and presence wash over me. I was reminded of God’s goodness and how His love never fails.

Even for a sometimes-screw-up like me.

So. Much. Grace.

I am just so longing to be able to consistently extend that grace, especially to my kids.

I mean, as much fun as a crazy, yelling, psycho mom can be…I think I’d like to leave her at the curb and replace her with loving, fun mom.

We all feel like failures sometimes. And sometimes, we even play the part real well.

I hope I keep listening to that Voice of reason and love, wooing me to come to the Fountain of Life, for Water that will never leave me thirsty again (John 4:13-14).

I know that’s where I must go to be filled, and to be able to pour out anything of beauty.

Through Unspeakable Joy,

Laura

On Getting Derailed, and How We Might Get Back On-Track

You know those times when you feel like a straight-up crazy person?

Raging lunatic?

Oh, yes. I am all too familiar with these emotions.

Namely, when there’s a bee in my house.

What the what? “A bee?” you say. Yes, a bee.

These guys.

These guys.

Those little insects which cause minor harm to the average Joe, could actually kill my husband.

Jason is deathly allergic to bees, to the degree that if he gets stung, he has been told he has 2 hours to live. 

Needless to say, I have a bit of contempt for these black and yellow creatures.

I mean, you even pose a minor threat to my family, and I will flat-out go crazy on yo’ *ahem* behind.

Every summer, bees inevitably find their way into our home and think they can make themselves cozy. Little-do-they-know they’re about to have the wrath of Laura come down on them. So I swat, and I aim to kill.

Else-wise, they’ll literally kill my sweet husband. And you know I’m not having that.

And while I’m totally pro-bees when it comes to them being outside, in their natural habitat and pollinating my garden, and everyone else’s garden, they pose a real threat to my dear family.

Bees have an incredibly important job to do. God created them well, and they are a vital part of our ecosystem.

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Annndd..I love honey. Oh-for-the-love, I love honey.

Isn’t it funny how something that is inherently good can cause so much destruction when it goes outside of it’s intended purpose?

When it gets derailed from it’s created purpose?

I’ve signed (and encouraged others) to sign petitions that our government would “save the bees” so-to-speak. We need them. And so while I am not anti-bee, I do recognize the intense and real threat they pose to my family.

When I get derailed from my created purpose, the consequences are many.

My life starts looking like:

  1. Striving
  2. Trying to be everything to everyone
  3. Burnout
  4. Fatigue
  5. Comparison-trap living
  6. Laziness

And on, and on.

I know Whose I am. I know that He created me to be in relationship with Him. To use the unique gifts He’s placed in me, for His glory and my fulfillment.

Because, what it boils down to is this: God created me to love Him and love others.

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-40

When I am able to focus on these two things, this loving of God and loving of others, I am doing what I was created to do. 

Life, while not easy, goes better. Flows better.

I don’t need to feel crushed, worn-down or tired when I’m living into what He has for me.

I need to try to do a little more of that – by the power of His Spirit living inside of me.

Because I know that apart from God, I can’t do anything of value {John 15:5}.

But, in Him, through Him, He promises that I will bear much fruit.

And oh, don’t we need more fruit in this world? The fruits that are talked about in Galatians chapter 5?

I know I want more: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

In what ways do you need to stop buzzing around, trying to be something your not?

Maybe you could create some space today to let God know that you want to live into who He made you.

Maybe you could even ask His help in that – through prayer, journaling, etc.

Won’t you be who you were created to be?

We’ve got enough of everyone else. We need more of you.

Through Unspeakable Joy,

Laura

 

 

Quick + Easy Homemade Granola

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Here in the Loewen house we eat lunch between 11:30-12 most days.

Meals are super important because, well, we love to eat and we get hungry.

The other day it was about 11:20 and it was a special treat as the hubs was home on a lunch break with us.

I was so over PB + J for the kids and had made a ton of cheese quesadillas, so I needed something quick and easy.

Granola to the rescue!

We had a bunch of yogurt in the fridge because in addition to appreciate food in general, us Loewen’s love us some yogurt.

I’ve made several granola variations in the past – stove-top, roasted, granola bars, granola balls, etc.

I just wanted a simple, tasty granola to sprinkle on top of our yogurt that didn’t take an hour to make (as a lot of them do) and also wasn’t filled with a ton of sugar.

This was a nice treat, and the kids {and Jason} loved it!

The granola varieties in the store are crazy-expensive, and although tasty have a ton of sugar.

So, do yourself a favor: save a bunch of money, make a healthy option and try this granola out!

We have a big ol' container of rolled oats, so nice to have on-hand for baking!

We have a big ol’ container of rolled oats, so nice to have on-hand for baking!

Vanilla from Jason's Haiti trip, along with the coconut oil and sea salt I used

Vanilla from Jason’s Haiti trip, along with the coconut oil and sea salt I used

The pretties: chopped almond, dried cranberries, rolled oats and raw pumpkin seeds + a few raw sunflower seeds

The pretties: chopped almond, dried cranberries, rolled oats and raw pumpkin seeds + a few raw sunflower seeds

Upclose-and-personal with granola

Up-close-and-personal with granola

{If you do like super-sweet granola, feel free to ‘up’ the sweetness factor}

Recipe adapted from: Elizabeth Rider

This makes two baking sheets of granola, enough to last our family of 5 for a few days.

4 cups regular {not quick cooking} rolled oats

1 cup chopped nuts {I used almonds but feel free to use walnuts, pecans…whatever suits your fancy}

1 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds {can sub with raw sunflower seeds – we get ours from a local natural foods store}

4 Tbsp. maple syrup {or honey if you prefer – raw honey being the healthiest option for honey}

2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 1/2 tsp sea salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl with your hands {messy, yes…but it mixes everything together perfectly}. The coconut oil can be a soft solid or liquid depending on the temperature in your house. Mine was a soft solid. Really work in the coconut oil so that there aren’t any big chunks left.

Spread granola mix on 2 rimmed baking/cookie sheets, and bake for 10-20 minutes depending how toasted you prefer your granola. I did this batch for 10 minutes as we needed lunch in a snap, but next time I’ll probably bake it closer to 15-20 minutes.

Eat it warm or cool, but make sure it’s cooled down before you store it in an air-tight container.

Eat as a cereal with milk and try with a variety of yogurts! 

Yum, yum!

Use your imagination and try different varieties! You could add: 

-Cinnamon

-Almond extract vs. vanilla

-Dried raisins or cherries vs. cranberries

Whatever your heart desires!

Enjoy and leave me a comment on what way you’ll be making your granola. 

Through Unspeakable Joy,

Laura

 

 

 

4 Books That Are Changing My Life

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I’m a self-proclaimed “book binger”. As in, I binge on books at various seasons of my life.

After undergrad and grad school, I needed a major break from reading.

During that season of being told what to read, my brain needed a break in the worst way.

So, I’ve slowly picked up reading again. {Slowly, as in…I have three small children, so any free time is a constant inner battle: cleaning, Netflix or reading? Ahh, the struggle!}

The following books are reads that have really made me think, given me hope and even challenged my beliefs.

It’s so healthy for us to read pieces that aren’t in the box we normally go to…on topics that push us; propel us to the next level.

While this is certainly not THEE list of “best books to ever read”, they have been crucial in my faith journey, in this current season of life.

There have been many other books that have strengthened and challenged me along the way, but these have spurred my heart to believe, trust and hope for the greater things right now.

The very things God is stirring in my heart and calling me to.

And, so, the list of books I’ve loved in this season of life…

1. Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning by Rebekah Lyons

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This book really challenged me to think about the person God created me to be. Not my friends, not my family, but me. Lil’ old Laura.

Rebekah does a great job of being effortless, relatable and brutally honest. I love the way she describes her journey and lays it out bare for the rest of us.

This book will especially resonate with anyone who’s ever struggled with anxiety or fear  {hi, like, all of us}.

Pick it up and expect to learn more about yourself, and to go deeper into what your calling might be…how you were created to be uniquely you.

2. Interrupted: An Adventure in Relearning the Essentials of Faith by Jen Hatmaker

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This book is for two very different types of folk.

This book is for the churchy. You know, the ones who grew up singin’ the hymns, were at church every single moment the doors were open. It’s for the ones who know all the “right” answers. The “good”, “clean” folk.

This book is equally for the people who are disgruntled with Church, Christianity and maybe even God all together.

It’s for the people who look around at the churchy folk and inwardly cry “hypocrite!”.

Yeah, it’s awesome.

Interrupted is a book I appreciate on so many levels. It’s refreshing, honest and raw.

Jen Hatmaker {one of my fave among favorite} authors, does a beautiful job of recounting her life story:  how everything was picture-perfect and comfy-as-could-be until God came and messed it all up.

Due to her authenticity, Jen reaches audiences wherever they’re at. She knows what it’s like to a “churched person”. She also knows what it’s like to look around and say…

Is this really all there is?

So, read Interrupted and be prepared to laugh, cry and have your world rocked.😉

3. One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace For an Exhaustible World by Tullian Tchividjian

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Crazy last name, but this guy is actually Billy Graham’s grandson (now there’s some immediate credibility for ya!).

This book was recommended then kindly gifted by  someone who Jason and I greatly respect and would even call a friend – Greg Stier, President of Dare 2 Share Ministries {if you know teens, are a parent, a pastor or a youth leader, you need to get familiar with them! After 9 years in student ministry, I can confidentially say that Dare 2 Share is hands-down the most impactful, genuine, spot-on student ministry you’ll EVER see}.

This book is all about grace. God’s grace.

What it is, why we need it, and all the beautiful reasons we should extend this grace to others.

Tchividjian does an amazing job of gently explaining the difference between law and grace. He beautifully and practically paints pictures of what lives lived through both look like.

If you’re like me and struggle with “law living”, meaning, you air on the side of: “These are the rules” and are more justice focused, (perhaps, like me, speak a lot of truth but need to work on that whole truth in love thing) then this book is totally for you!

Reaching into your soul, and lovingly offering various ways of responding to difficult situations and even your view of yourself, One Way Love is a book you’ll want to soak in and truly get. 

4. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne

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This is one of those books that I wasn’t ready for until now.

You know how you can listen to a sermon, hear a piece of advice from a friend, etc. and know that you know that if it would’ve come any earlier you would’ve just brushed it off?

Yeah. That’s totally this book for me.

“Unconventional”, completely flipping-church-on-it’s-head, I love Claiborne’s humility and transparency throughout this book.

Premise? What if the Church today looked like the early Church (the one in the book of Acts)?

What if we all actually loved each other...and lived it out?

Claiborne spent some time in Calcutta learning from and being mentored by Mother Theresa right before she passed. For real, for real.

It appears as though Claiborne and I have the same major beliefs theologically. We both believe in the Trinity, that Christ came down as God with flesh on to take care of our biggest problem (sin) and then rose again three days later.

We also are fully in-line with the fact that God isn’t just about heaven, although heaven is going to be awesome and such a beautiful gift.

That God longs for us to have life to the full (John 10:10), or an ABUNDANT life here. and. now.

For me, this book isn’t something I fall in-line with theoretically point-for-point. However, I do believe there is a ton of merit in his message…

If we’re Christians, wouldn’t it be awesome if we acted like it?

If you’re like me, and aren’t familiar with communal living or a more “free/gypsy” lifestyle, then totally take this book with a grain of salt.

However, I will promise you that if you’re open to God doing a new work in your heart that He’ll most certainly speak to you through Irresistible Revolution.

Leave me a comment on what books are rocking your world right now!

Through Unspeakable Joy,

Laura