Archive | thoughts

things I’ve learned this summer (so far)

things I've learned this summer / jones design company

My friends Myquillyn and Emily (and their dad) host a monthly podcast covering all sorts of themed topics. Their most recent, and the one I listened to yesterday, was titled What Only Summer Can Teach Me. They talk about the things they have learned this summer and I was so inspired, I decided to join the party and do some thinking about what the summer has taught me. We’re about half way through and so stopping to reflect seems fitting. What has been good? What has been not-so-good? Where could I change things? What random lessons have made up the summer? You get the idea.

So here’s my list of things I’ve learned this summer (so far):

sunshine does the soul well

We live just outside of Seattle and our summers are typically the most gorgeous time of year here, but they usually don’t show up until after the 4th of July. This summer, however, we’ve had nothing but sun, sun and more sun since the beginning of June. It has been glorious. Waking up to the sun shining does wonders to my mental state.

there is a two day period of funk when the kids transition from in-school to not-in-school

It happens every year. And every year I forget that it’s a thing, this transition-into-summer funk madness.  The first couple days of summer are a struggle – squabbling children, no routine, a never-ending stream of messes in the kitchen, the compulsion to do every fun thing all at once! forgetting that we have 8 weeks ahead of us to spread it all out. It takes a few days to figure out the rhythm of summer. I just need to remember and prepare myself for this again next summer so I don’t feel like locking myself in my room on day one of summer break.

I’m selfish and also introverted and sometimes that doesn’t make for a happy mom

Apparently it takes having 4 kids in the house at all times to remind me of how particular and selfish I can be. I got used to having them off at school for a few hours each day and I guess I enjoy a clean, quiet house where I can work or do a project or run errands or just be more than I realized. My selfishness and compulsion to have a spotless house has reared it’s nasty head more than once and it’s not pretty. Thankfully, the kids love me and the Lord is working on my heart in these areas.

if you need long torso swimsuits for your daughter, try land’s end

Our Audrey is a growing girl. She’s pretty tall for her age and has grown out of the swimsuits I bought for her at the beginning of the summer. Finding modest, little-girl suits for a long child has not been the easiest, but I just ordered a bunch on sale from Land’s End and they fit great. This one and this one are our favorites.

Lash extensions make life easier

I’ve talked about it on here before, and I’ll say it again: lash extensions are so great for summertime. I decided to take a break this spring and make sure my real lashes were still there (they were), but once summer hit and we were headed to a waterpark for a mini-vacation, I decided to put them back on. It just makes things so much easier for this light-lashed girl. No need to wear makeup = easy summer face.

Audio Books are not just a thing of the past

The last time I listened to a book on tape, it was literally a book on cassette tape. I think it was Bridges of Madison County that my mom had on while we drove to California. I probably tuned out most of it because I don’t have much of a recollection of the story and maybe it wasn’t that appropriate for a 15 year old? I don’t remember.

Anyway, audio books are not a new concept, but I’m a recent convert. I had no idea that when you order a digital book on amazon (I use the kindle app on my phone and ipad to read), you can add the audio version for just a few dollars more. I started reading Secrets of a Charmed Life and didn’t want to stop reading, but I had to go pick up my kids from their grandparent’s house (bless all grandparents of the world who offer to take the kids overnight) and so I ordered the audio version and listened while driving in the car. Then I popped in headphones and listened while baking a pie. It was amazing. You can switch back and forth between reading and listening and the app will keep up with progress on both formats. Game changer.

The slow pace of summer suits me just fine

I like working and doing and checking things off my list as much as anyone (um, my name even means diligent worker) and summer just doesn’t allow for that. It has forced me to slow down, take a break and as I talked about a little bit in the podcast with Jamie Ivey, God has been speaking this message to me and Ryan: Rest. Be still. Let Me handle the plans.

It’s not easy, I’ll be honest, because I like coming up with my own plans and I like keeping busy and feeling like I’m productive. We’ve done a little bit of productive work, but mostly, we’ve been learning to step back into reading scripture, wait on His timing and direction, pay attention to moments, take the time to reflect on all the things and it is resulting in a great trust in Him.

I’m grateful for the physical necessity to take a step back (what with multiple children and vacations and sleeping in and swim lessons and all) which has given me the chance for my heart to breathe a little more. There is a time for hustle, but right now it’s a time for rest.

And one last bonus one:

11, 9 + 7 year old boys are really fun

They swim in cold lake water for hours, go on the scariest upside-down rollercoasters over and over (I would puke), hug their mama often, play monopoly and card games, and dress up in ridiculous outfits just to get a laugh. They’re loud and messy and physical and whiney at times, too, but mostly I’m enjoying this stage with them. The boys don’t get a ton of screen time on here or instagram, but that’s not a reflection of my love for them. They just don’t dress as cute as Audrey :)

I’d love to hear what Summer has taught you so far. Anything big? Or little? Do share!

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Q+A / ask away


I like to do this once a year-ish … a few days of Q+A.

I chat at you post after post and sometimes it’s fun to switch things up and hear what you want to talk about. Personal, random, decorating, business – any of it – I want to know what you’re curious about.

I wish we could all sit together and chat in real life and actually have a conversation (poolside, perhaps?), but this Q+A is the next best thing for us online-friends. So go ahead and ask me anything in the comments and I’ll reply back as best I can.  Feel free to chime in and join the conversation as well! No topic is off limits and I’m a fairly open and honest girl … so … ask away!

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if you’re curious about what I’m really like …

I met Jamie Ivey (next to me, second from left) over chips + queso in Austin at if:gathering this winter and connected instantly.


We both have four kids – three boys and a youngest girl. We are the same age. We love Noonday and Sole Hope and talking and Jesus. We have friends in common. I don’t know why, but she just felt like one of those people that if we lived in the same neighborhood/city/state, we would do life together.


Jamie and her husband Aaron (a worship pastor/song writer) live in Austin with their four kids. She’s an adoptive mama and speaker and hosts my favorite Podcast show ever called The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey. Each show, she and a guest chat about books and kids and work and life – whatever is going on in their lives – little things and big things and everything in between. It truly feels like you are listening in on a conversation between two friends sitting for an hour over happy hour. It’s fabulous. I think I’ve listened to every single episode.

Well, last week, Jamie and I did a little happy hour time over the phone. We were supposed to talk for an hour, but instead just kept going. And going. And going. And then after we hung up, we kept texting with more things to talk about. I guess that’s the sign of a fun new friend.

Since we went so long, she split the podcast recording up into two!


In the first episode (which came out last week), we talk about my sisters and the vacation Ryan + I just took, I try to explain what Jones Design Company is about, we share embarrassing stories of overexposure and then we dive right in and discuss what God is doing in my life (it’s so good and so hard at the same time).

I posted about the podcast on instagram and it was fun to hear reactions. It’s hard to let your true personality come through online – you miss the voice, inflections, silliness, real life that takes place over conversation when you forget the recording is going and you’re just being yourself. That’s part of what I love so much about Jamie’s podcast … it let’s you see another side to her guests who you might be familiar with for the book they just wrote or the ministry they lead, but this gives you a more complete picture. Anyway, I loved doing the show and love that when you listen, you get a more complete picture of who I am. So, if you’re curious about what I’m really like …

The second episode just came out today. We we’re supposed to record for so long, but like I said, we just couldn’t stop so it’s super random. Books we’re reading, what we’re doing with the kids this summer, my three current favorites, more embarrassing stories of me crying on a bus in Africa, what books we want to write.

So if you’re headed out on a road trip, or you need a distraction while mopping your floors, come listen in on our Happy Hour conversation!

P.S. There is so much in the conversations that I would love to continue talking about here on the blog. Let me know in the comments if there is anything you’d like me to share more about …


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when you don’t know what your thing is


It’s a message I keep getting over and over and over:

Be who you were created to be.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Walk confidently in the gifts God has given you.

Shine your light.


At If:gathering a few weeks ago (it was so, so amazing. Truly one of the best weekends of friendship, great food, deep conversations and God whispering to each one of us), I left feeling affirmed to carry on and just do my thing.

I came home ready and motivated and even doodled this saying as a reminder.

And then I had a moment of crisis: What exactly IS my thing?

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve taken positive steps in overcoming comparison, have learned to accept yourself, ready to step into the great roles the Lord has for you … but you just have no idea what that looks like. You don’t know what your passion or gifting or talents – your thing – is.

I get you, darling.

I’m there too.

I spent some time brainstorming, reading articles about ‘how to find your calling’, reflected on times I’ve felt most alive and I’m slowing figuring out who I am and what I love. Just a few glimmers of awareness feels really great and hopeful and reassuring.

So if you see the photo above and feel excited to embrace your passions/talents/calling


you see the photo and wonder if you even have any passions/talents/calling


You have a purpose, great value, a unique ability and through intentionally reflecting, dreaming, talking with people who know and love you best, it will be made clear to you.

I truly believe that.

And maybe the best part of all, is that your thing looks different than mine and there is no need to feel intimidated or inadequate or puffed up when we look at each other. We get to live out our unique talents, seeing the beauty within each of us and sharing them with one another.

And so, my friends, let’s continue on this journey of doing our thing.

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the care and keeping of you (and me)

I got my haircut last night.


My previous haircut was seven months ago. They suggest getting your hair trimmed every 6-8 weeks. You could say I was a bit behind.

Last week I had a colonoscopy.

It was so pleasant.

That is a total lie. None of it was pleasant. Except maybe the glorious sleeping gas they give you that knocks you right out and makes you dream happy dreams (it also makes you a little crazy and you might say random things to the nurses when you wake up and find hospital bed selfies you don’t remember taking when you look through your phone a few hours later. I’m slightly embarrassed about my post-anesthesia behavior.)

For months I knew I needed to get to the doctor. And that I needed a hair cut. And a dentist appointment and better face wash and moisturizer that doesn’t sting and all those little maintenance things you forget about doing for yourself when you are a woman.

This idea of self-care has come up in conversation a lot lately.

My girlfriends and I pushed each other to finally schedule doctor appointments after admitting how long it had been since we were last seen (me: almost 5 years. Not proud about that one). A lady yesterday told me she consciously chooses to buy her son new clothes before she gets something for herself, even though she could really use a few new items. An instagram friend shared that she finally pampered herself with a manicure – and decided not to feel guilty that it took time away from her to-do list.

Sometimes we forget about taking care of ourselves because we’re too busy taking care of others.

Sometimes we don’t have it in the budget.

Sometimes we don’t have the time. Or make the time.

Sometimes we’re waiting for the symptoms to just go away, or the weight to come off or our situation to change.

But ladies, we really need to care for ourselves anyway.

Getting your toes painted makes you feel pretty. Going for a run makes you feel rejuvenated and healthy.  Following through with a medical procedure makes you face the truth and move forward.  It doesn’t matter what your thing is – a haircut, new pair of jeans, updated lipstick color, an eye exam, a workout dvd, mammogram, crest whitestrips, a correct-sized bra – whatever it is, take a first step towards caring for yourself.

Do it for your kids (they need to see you take time for yourself!), your husband (he likes when you feel pretty!), your friends (let’s encourage one another!) – but mostly, do it for YOU.

So that’s my pep talk for the day.

I’d love to hear your thoughts … do you struggle in this area? Do you think it’s important to take time for yourself? What stops you? What one thing do you need to do to take better care of yourself? Let’s chat …

(and also, will you please remind me to go get my haircut in about 6-8 weeks?!)

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me, in bullet points.


When I write a post, I feel like I’m writing to friends. I’ve been doing this for five years now and while things have changed and grown in ways I never could have imagined, it still feels small and personal and like we’re sitting across from each other sipping coffee.  I hope you feel like that, too.

One thing I forget, though, is that many of you are new-ish here. I assume you know me and our family and what this blog is about when maybe you just got here after clicking on a photo on pinterest (welcome!).  So I thought I’d take a few minutes on this first post of the new year to properly introduce myself to you. My life in bullet points, if you will.

* My name is Emily. Maiden name is Jones. Married name starts with an L (hence my out-of-control wall of L’s).

* I’m the middle of three girls. My sisters are the best. You would love them both.

* I was a ballerina all my childhood and secretly wish I could still dance. I don’t have the right feet for ballet, but my posture remains pretty good.

* I went to college at Azusa Pacific University (a christian college in southern California) where I met my future-husband, Ryan, also from the Seattle area who was looking for the sun for a few years. We moved back home after graduating and while there are many things about Seattle that we love, we look at each other every March and start searching for houses in sunny cities.

* My degree is in Child & Family psychology. I thought maybe I’d like to be a family therapist or an elementary school teacher. I do neither professionally, but find I still love talking deeply about marriage/family/relationships and being in my kids’ elementary school classrooms teaching art.

* My mom’s parents were part of the Seattle theater culture in the 50’s and 60’s. My grandfather was an actor, musician and set designer; my grandma was a dancer and actress and made pie crust perfectly. I’m pretty sure my artistic side came straight from them. I’m still working on the pie crust thing.

* When my friends started getting married and having babies, I designed their stationery which turned into a business: Jones Design Company. I made wedding invitations, baby announcements and one million Christmas cards for 10 years before ending this aspect of the company in 2012.

* I cried really hard when we found out our No.3 was another boy. I mean, that sounds terrible and I was so embarrassed that my reaction was tears, but it’s what happened. By No.4 I felt prepared to have four boys. It actually kinda made me excited. Then she was a girl. Of course I can’t imagine having any other combination of kids. I really love having three men and a little lady (remember that movie?! Classic).

* I started blogging right before Audrey was born because women do crazy things when they are super pregnant and caring for three boys under age 5 at home. I had no idea it would turn into a passion and community and full time business and I couldn’t be happier about all of it. I needed a creative outlet and our family needed extra income and so it was the perfect fit.

* Ryan doesn’t show up on the blog or instagram much, but he is as much a part of Jones Design Company as I am. He’s the tech guy and marketing strategist; I’m the creative and make things look pretty.

* I wear jeans pretty much every day. Just wanted you to know that.

* And I wear fake eyelashes (lash extensions, to be exact).

* One of my greatest joys is inspiring women to create. Whether through hosting a craft night or posting doable projects or sharing home decorating ideas or teaching creative classes, I just love being part of it. More of that to come …

So that’s me. Well, there’s more, of course, but that’s a pretty good summary. I’m so thankful for you and look forward to a year full of inspiration, honesty, friendship and encouragement.


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when the holidays magnify heartache

This is a re-post from last year – it just felt like the right post to share again today. I adore this time of year as much as the next person, but it never fails that the joy and twinkling lights and peppermint candies are always accompanied by some type of undeniable pain and sadness and loss. If you find yourself not quite in the holiday spirit today, may this post be an encouragement to you …


I’m a dreamer.

Not in the sense that I’m a visionary with lofty ideas or plans. I’m not that type.

I’m literally a dreamer. I wake nearly every morning having dreamt the night before and can usually remember large portions of these dreams. Sometimes they are off-the-wall, make-no-sense types of dreams. Other times, I wake with a deep impression, a clarity, a sense that my dream was not just a dream.

Sunday morning, was one of those moments.

I’ll spare you the details, but the gist was that I quickly delivered a baby boy and he only lived for a few short minutes.

I woke with a broken heart.

I am not pregnant, we are not trying for another baby, it’s not a story I recently read or watched or had a conversation about. There is no logical reason why my sleeping brain would dream about this. Someone told me once that when interpreting dreams, pay less attention to the details and focus on the emotions instead. So I woke, thought about my dream and was compelled to pray.

This time of year is about joy and cheer and merry and bright. There is so much to celebrate, so many delicious smells and cherished traditions, festive parties and happy moments. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

But the holidays also magnify heartache.

The loss of loved ones. Broken marriages. Sickness. Financial struggles. Unexpected hardships. Unrealized dreams. Fears coming true.

These things happen all year long, but it sure seems they pile up during the holidays. Heaps of sadness, heartbreak, struggle, loss come pouring down during this time of year when we should be singing merrily.

I don’t mean to be a downer. I just know there is a lot of pain underneath our glittery sequins – sometimes hidden masterfully, other times oozing out in the least expected moments.

You are not alone.


As I lay in bed on sunday morning, I prayed. I prayed for the mothers who have lost babies. I prayed for the families who are fractured, for those with scary diagnoses, for the heartache and brokenness we all feel. Will you join with me in praying? For relationships healed and bodies made well, for jobs found and hope restored. But most of all, for an unexplainable peace to cover and comfort in the face of trial.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

You are welcome to download and print this quick scripture reminder I made for myself. Share it with a friend who needs hope today or keep it for yourself as a reminder of His loving gift of grace and peace in the midst of ugly circumstances.

grace-and-peace-print (click image to download)


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coffee chat thanksgiving edition

Hello my friends! Just wanted to pop in real quick to say hi and Happy Thanksgiving and whew … are you ready for the holiday wonderfulness to begin?!!


We are hosting Thanksgiving at our house so it’s a mad dash to get the furniture put back, pictures hung on the walls, accessories thoroughly dusted and rearranged, table set and groceries bought after our mini-remodel.


The floors look amazing (minus the big dent we made while moving the piano. oops), the white walls feel so fresh and the baseboard trim went up earlier this week and once it is calked and painted, it will totally finish off the spaces. It was a lot of work, a lot of money and a lot of dust and chaos for these past few weeks, but we’re so happy with the results.


I’ll show real after photos once we’re done. Hopefully next week.


Here’s a fun fact: Ryan and I slept this past saturday until 10:30. TEN THIRTY!


As I shared on instagram, it was glorious.  The kids are now at the age where they can wake up and grab a bowl of cereal and draw or play a board game (blokus is their current favorite) or watch a show without needing us.


Speaking of shows, the reason Ryan and I slept so long is because we couldn’t stop watching episode after episode of our favorite show: Newsroom. We stayed up way too late for three nights in a row and plowed through all of season 2. That show is so good. Quick witted, great acting, likeable characters, super interesting plot. A definite recommendation if you’re looking for a reason to stay up way too late and an excuse to sleep in.


Still finalizing your Thanksgiving menu? I promise you’ll want to add this recipe: Sweet Poatoe Puree with Brown Sugar & Sherry. It’s devine.


Our annual BIG thanksgiving weekend sale is coming again starting Friday! I think you’ll love the new christmas-y prints and it’s a great opportunity to grab a bunch of gifts for cheap, cheap, cheap. Details to come …


Alright, I better get back to readying our house. I hope you have a lovely holiday and many chances to count your blessings.


Happy Thanksgiving!

(all images from my instagram feed. Follow along here)

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chosen (thoughts + free art prints)


My parents divorced when I was 20.

I know they say that adult children deal with divorce better than younger ones – and that probably is true to a point – but it sure doesn’t feel good or easy or right even when you’re grown and out of the house.

Let me back up for a second …

My childhood was just about as good as I could have ever asked for. I am the middle of three girls, our parents were young and fun, we lived in family-friendly neighborhoods with good schools and activities nearby. We grew up close to our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins spending a lot of time with them for holidays, sleepovers, every chance we could. We had traditions and memories, vacations and love. Truly, I could not have asked for a better childhood.

Which I think is what made the break-up of our family even more difficult to deal with.

A handful of factors led to that devastating moment when my dad made the choice to leave us.  It never made sense to me – maybe it still doesn’t – how a man who adored his family and did everything he could to protect and provide for us could make the choice to walk away. I don’t think he knew what the true consequences were going to be. Maybe if he did, he would have chosen differently. I’d like to think so.

It still stings all these years later. I’ve healed a ton, but gosh my heart is still fragile. I miss him and feel sad and let down and even though I know their divorce was not my fault, I still can’t get over the feeling that maybe we just weren’t worth enough for him to choose us.

I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I guess I’ve just been struggling with some of the long-lasting issues that come with feeling not-chosen and it seems like something I should confess. Maybe you feel rejection in your life, too? Continue Reading →

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coffee chat no. 18

Every once in a while I just have all these random things to say and nowhere to fit them in, so they get all smushed together in a post series I like to call coffee chats.


Pretend we’re sitting across from each other (or standing on a soccer field) sipping our drinks (decaf, tall, extra hot, one pump mocha for me, please) and enjoying a few moments to just catch up and talk about all the things floating around in our minds.

Here are a few things I might chat about: Continue Reading →

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q & a day

q&a For the next day or so, let’s have a Q & A. Feel free to ask me any question in the comments and I’ll respond back as a reply to your comment.

Let’s imagine we’re sitting together over a cup of something delicious watching our rambunctious children and having a real life conversation (except without the inevitable interruptions from said children). No topic is off limits and I’m a fairly open and honest girl … so … ask away!

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speaking your child’s language

We just returned from a weekend away at our favorite beach house on Whidbey Island. I’ve written about this magical place several times before, and posted a million IG photos (#theboathouse). Our good friends are gracious hosts and their hospitality provides the most cherished and memorable adventures for our kids. It is for sure their most favorite place to be.


I love the boat house for many reasons, but lingering at the top is watching the boys be boys. They have complete freedom. They can roam the endless beach collecting shells and digging for sea creatures. They cut down branches and make paths through the woods and whittle sticks with their pocket knives. They shoot bb guns and practice with their bows & arrows. They kayak or paddle boat and swim in the freezing cold water.  They build forts and bon fires and swing on a hammock. Continue Reading →

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currently (home from rwanda edition)


I am home now from Rwanda. The flight was loooong and jet lag is winning, but I’m trying to get back into regular life and this blog post is attempt no. 1.

How do you share all that was experienced? There are no words. We had three talented photographers with us to capture the trip in images and I can’t wait to show you them. For now, I’ll just wrap things all up with my current thoughts as prompted by a blog post series I call currently. (here are a few previous versions, if you’re interested). Here it goes …

LOVING // The girls I traveled with. I mean, could you get a more talented, driven, beautiful group of women?


These women are passionate, kind, funny (so funny) and it made our time extra amazing to have each other to share life with. Paige, Jan, Jennie, Wynne, Raechel, Jessica, Jen, Melissa, Meredith & Kelle – you are the best.

READING // The new Justice study starts today on She Reads Truth (a bible study app that I adore). I’m excited to begin to dig in deeper to learn what the Bible has to say about justice. It is a word with sort of a harsh connotation, so it will be good to get a new perspective in light of our work last week exposing us to injustices beyond thinking.

To keep things light, I’m also reading The Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society.

WAITING FOR // It all to sink in.

EXCITED ABOUT // the pretty handmade items I brought back with me.


True to my love of neutrals, I came home with black, white and wooden objects – all of them beautifully crafted and little reminders of the beauty of the people and country of Rwanda.

TRYING TO // figure out what’s next. Where do I fit in to making a lasting difference in the lives of the vulnerable? Like I said in this post, now that I know, I can not un-know. What do I do with my life that will make the most impact?

WORKING ON // a new art print with this verse:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humblywith your God.
– micah 6:8 –

ENJOYING // my husband and kids. I missed them. They missed me. Thankful for the good life we live.


USING // a lot of ice. It was one of the main things I missed with being out of country. Water, unless bottled, is not safe to drink, which means ice is also not safe. Ice is one of my deepest loves. Therefore, I missed it. And now I’m eating a lot of it.

WEARING // this new bracelet. It’s totally touristy and cheesy, but it’s beautiful and meaningful and I’m embracing it.


PLANNING // a noonday party. I’ve never hosted a trunk show and now that I have learned so much more about the company, I can’t wait to spread the word to my friends. The new fall line comes out in a few weeks and from the few sneek peeks I saw, it looks gorgeous. Plus, we designed a new #styleforjustice collection with the artisans and those will be debuted and voted on August 7th!

NEEDING // first instinct answer is nothing. The friends I met in Kigali have so little, and yet they are so generous and grateful. Just a big reminder that stuff does not equal happiness. Safety, provision, relationships, love – these are true needs and all are met in my life. So now, what I need most is generosity and gratitude.

LEARNING // So many things. And I’m still processing. But here’s a short list:

1. Relationships is where change is made and relationships with those who are different than me are so valuable.
2. Life is unfair.
3. Hope is absolutely necessary.
4. The seats on Brussels airlines are very uncomfortable. Take a different route to Kigali next time.
5. People in Africa use facebook. I now have Rwandan facebook friends. Such a strange world we live in.

DOING // Becoming a Freedom Partner with IJM. This organization is so professional and doing good work, I am honored to take a tiny part in partnering.


To learn more about the work of IJM, read Jen Hatmaker’s well-written post. That girl has a way with words.

DREAMING OF // Returning, of course. With my family. I want them to meet my new Rwandan friends and see for themselves what a resilient, forgiving, hopeful, beautiful country it is.


Such a beautiful country.

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twirling in Africa

My best friend prayed for me before I left for Rwanda. She prayed that as I rode on the rollercoaster that the trip would be, I would always hold fast to God’s promise that he loves all of His children and wants to do His work through us.

The first four days were high highs. Even in the midst of visiting the genocide memorial and a church where the killings took place (I haven’t even begun to process), in hearing about the amazing efforts IJM is making to stop child sexual abuse and in meeting and creating with the women at the co-op, there was profound hope. My heart felt open, not broken.

And then came yesterday.

It all started to weigh heavy on me.

One of our translators – a good, good man who lost his wife 2 weeks ago to sickness – was ousted from his previous journalism career because he spoke his mind, is struggling to piece together odd jobs to provide schooling for his two daughters. He is bright and friendly, educated, intelligent and kind. And he can’t find work. It feels so unfair.


We met a 14 year old IJM client who has endured the unthinkable – physical pain, mental trauma, rejection, hopelessness – and although she is a walking miracle, I just grieved for the suffering she has been through. It happened when she was 10. My oldest is 10. I can’t even imagine.


I had the honor of visiting the home of one of the co-op partners, Solange.


She is a genocide survivor, but lost all of her family. Her husband left her with 5 children, the oldest of whom is 23. Jean-Luc is his name. He is a high school graduate, was the president of his English language club and was so enjoyable to visit with. We sat in their small rental home (one living area with a bedroom they share. It was clean and open and despite the fact that it was a very poor house, I felt comfortable and at home. Their hospitality was inspiring). Jean-Luc, a translator and I had a long visit where we laughed and asked questions and got to learn more about each others’ countries. He is a sweet, handsome, smart young man. He wants to go to University, but he will need to pay his own way and can not find a job.


Note: when I say he can not find a job, it literally means, there is no job for him. It’s not like he is being picky or lazy. There just are not enough jobs in Kigali. Not even for a bright, hard-working, goal-oriented man like my new friend Jean-Luc.

Totally unfair.

We have many of these same problems in America – violence, unemployment, corruption and coercion – but we have fairly functional systems that make dealing with the issues somewhat easier.  Welfare, unemployment benefits, legal representation, a developed justice system.

The people of Rwanda do not have such luxuries. The government is doing all it can, but it is still in its infancy. Keep in mind that the country was absolutely destroyed 20 years ago after the genocide. They are starting over. Things are progressing, but not yet there. There is no unemployment, food bank, free public education, medical benefits.

These are not issues I was passionate about 1 week ago. I knew nothing of the country of Rwanda other than a few facts about the genocide. I knew nothing of the people, the culture, the resiliency, the strong community, the hardships, injustices and need. Now that I know, I can not un-know.

It all came to a crashing low yesterday. I felt like I just wanted to curl up in a ball in the corner and cry. Cry for the sadness. Grieve for the loss. I had to hold it together, but my heart was busting with emotion and I barely made it through the morning.

One of the things I know about myself is that I am tender. I cry easily. I empathize with everyone. I am sensitive and emotional. So it’s no surprise that I fell apart. It was only a matter of time before all of the heaping stories of injustice caught up with me. So much hardship.

But God didn’t let me stay there. He never does. He is a God of hope.


Later in the afternoon, after the enjoyable visit with Jean-Luc and the sweet hospitality of Solange, we said our goodbyes. The neighborhoods here have the most amazing community feel, so all of the neighborhood children were out playing and interested in meeting the foreigners. We hadn’t been around a lot of children until this point, but playing with little ones is one of my greatest joys – I was so excited to see those sweet faces. Communicating with children who do not speak English is difficult, but the wonderful thing about children is that you don’t need language. Hand clapping games, Polaroid photos, hugs – they respond to it all.

I’m not sure how it happened, but with 20 or so children gathered around me, we held hands and hopped. Hopping is universal, I supposed.


So we hopped, saying the word hop each time.  Hop. Hop. Hop. 


Their little accents made it sound more like another word: hope.

With each jump, hope. Hope. Hope. Hope.


And then we twirled.

Twirling is my thing. Twirling is dancing, yes, but more importantly, it is just being who God made me to be. Sometimes it might look like crying with those in pain. Sometimes it is playing with children on a dusty dirt road. But always it is loving. Loving through tears, through creating, through helping wash beans or folding mounds of laundry at home. Through reading a book to my children or giving our money in support of organizations like IJM and Noonday.

We can not solve all injustices and pain on our own. I can not give our translator a job or ensure that Jean-Luc has a future. I can not bathe every one of those babies and make sure they have a meal tonight.

But I can love. Love in the best way I can at the moment.

And sometimes that looks like twirling in Africa.


(all stories and photos are used with permission. Photos by Paige Knudsen and Kelle Hampton)

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on being a working mom

I am a working mom.

This is something I never would have expected to say about myself 15 years ago.

And yet, here I am, happy and fulfilled (and often a little overwhelmed) by being a mom and a working woman.


I’ve been coming into this title, beginning to both admit and embrace it. It’s taken me a while, honestly. If you were to ask me last year what I do, my answer would always be “I’m a mom.” Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the truth is, I’m a mom and I run a business. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either.


I’m in Rwanda with a group of 11 other American women, all of whom work. They are smart and beautiful and talented beyond measure. Those who have kids, adore them. They are lovely moms and also do their work with excellence. It is so inspiring to be with these women.

I was lovingly scolded at dinner the other night because I was dismissing my business side. Not taking credit for the hard work I do. No more.

I am a working mom.


We spent our day yesterday visiting with a group of working moms at the Umucyo co-op. They started their business just over three years ago, going through sewing school to learn a trade and joining forces with one another to create jobs for themselves. They did not do this on their own; a profoundly compassionate and intelligent woman named Jennifer (an American living in Rwanda while her husband started a business here) lived in their poor neighborhood and became their friend. They began to trust her, she saw their great need and knew that while sharing her food and buying them eye glasses were necessary and important, these gestures were not sustainable. Someday she would move away and she would no longer be able to provide snacks and school tuition and wanted to offer them a way to provide for themselves. She met Jessica right at the beginning of Noonday, they dreamed together and empowered 11 women to start a company who created products that noonday could buy.

These women, who were sad and hopeless struggled to provide food for their families and could not send their children to school (p.s. the ability to send your child to school is the best indicator in a developing country that you are earning a living wage. If you can afford tuition – about $8 per semester – it means you can handle your basic needs.) So these original 11 women were in need of work, in need of purpose and most of all, in need of something sustainable to pull them out of their desperate situations.


I wasn’t sure what to expect from our visit. I hoped the shop was clean. I wanted to believe the hours and pay were generous. Mainly, I needed to know that the women were happy.  But I wasn’t sure. You never really know what it’s like and I felt excited and nervous to see for myself.

My friends, it so much more beautiful than I could have imagined.

First of all, their studio space is wonderful. Light and open with fluttering curtains and old-fashion pedal sewing machines set around the perimeter of the room. If I could build a studio, it would be this one.

Because they collectively run their co-op, the work hours are decided as a group and they set wholesale prices based on cost of materials, labor requirements, shipping and taxes. These women, who once were jobless and hopeless, are not only seamstresses, they have become business women.


And it has changed their lives.


Just three years after their sewing co-op began, these women are thriving. They are able to send their children to school. One moved out of her one room home to one with three. New women have been interviewed and welcomed into the group. They have supported one another with loans when needed. They have purpose.

They still face challenges, of course. Challenges unlike anything I face as a working woman in America. They live in a country where there is little economic opportunity. They worry their children will finish school but will not be able to find work (a very real problem in Rwanda). Tariffs are high and so it is expensive for foreigners to do business here. Violence is common and an everyday worry. All have been impacted by the unthinkable genocide 20 years ago and many have taken in orphans to raise along with their own children. Life is not easy for these women, but it is no longer hopeless.


Our lives are very different, but our human spirit is the same: we are creative women who love our children, we find joy and purpose through our work, and we take pride in how we can use our talents to make our lives better.

We are working moms.

I have never been more proud to be in that group than now.

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