Friday, January 5, 2018

All Truth Is...

I think the more you get to know Jesus, the more you see Him. The more you can hear His whisper in the strangest of places, where man thought He had been left out, where it never entered into their minds that He could be.

I once had a communications teacher who said, "All truth is God's truth." I didn't get it at the time, not really. I thought it was a nice way of saying that as long as I was writing the truth, I could write about anything at all. I thought it gave me freedom to tell any story I wanted. And maybe that's still the case, but now it means something a bit more.

"All truth is God's truth" means that in the truth He speaks, and we can find Him there. That at unexpected times, people talk about Him without even knowing it. That He is present in places we want to forget.

I once had a co-worker who said people need more love. What I heard was "people need more Jesus," as if those were the words that had actually been spoken. The world is craving Jesus, they're calling for Him blindly, without even realizing it.

I once watched a commercial about the golden rule and cried because all I could see was Jesus. Nothing about it was religious or overtly Christian, but I wept because each scene showed who I knew Jesus to be: attentive, caring, just, loving. It wasn't intended to display Him, and yet it did.

Every time I see someone go out of their way to help another person, I see Jesus. Acts of service display His heart for the world. Giving a piece of what we have reflects in some small way the immeasurable gift He gave.

All truth is God's truth, and in truth He will be found. May we never discredit the places and times where we see Him. In those moments He speaks, calling us to know His ways just a little bit more.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My Name Reminds Me

I used to be Elise Loyola. It was a name that got butchered most of the time. Elsie. Elisa. Leslie. Even Denise. And Loyola was hard for almost everyone to say, especially telemarketers. It was just a last name, like Jones or Brown, but it became a part of me. My name was tangled up in my identity.

When I got married, I couldn't let Loyola go. I would always be Elise Loyola in some way. So I kept it as my middle name, and as part of my identity. Because when I hear Loyola, when I see it written down, it reminds me of who I am. It reminds me of us--the identifiers, the family members, what has come before. It reminds me of the pieces that make up my identity.

Loyola reminds me of my grandfather. A man who came to the United States from Cuba by boat when he was 18. It reminds me that there are many relatives and family members I will never know. It reminds me that he once told me I look like his mother. It reminds me that we were once immigrants without a home or a place to belong. It reminds me that their skin is swirled within mine.

Loyola reminds me that while so many came here to pursue the American Dream, Grandpa pursued something greater. He had a Kingdom Dream, and traveled as an evangelist throughout Latin America, sharing Jesus with all who would listen. He spoke to great crowds, and in small tribal villages. It reminds me that a great sacrifice is worth the price. While the American Dream is temporary, the Kingdom Dream is eternal.

Loyola reminds me of my grandmother, who faithfully cared for my grandpa after multiple strokes left him disabled. She served him until his last breath, showing what unconditional love looks like in real life, with skin and bones. It reminds me of her joy, her smile, her dedication.

Loyola reminds me of the footsteps of those who walked before and left a legacy for me to follow. Grandpa was the first minister of the gospel that I knew of, my father was the second. Loyola reminds me of him too. A man who also has a Kingdom Dream, who has pursued Jesus with his whole life, keeping no part from God. A man who has served in meekness and humility, and in that way exemplifies Christ to me. I am challenged by these great men.

Loyola reminds me of my mother, a strong woman who has been faithful to the call of God, even when it hasn't been easy. Who has allowed God to grow and change her from the inside out. Who has faithfully walked beside my father and served alongside him. Who gave up her job to raise me and my brother. She is my example of how to live my life in constant pursuit of the Lord, surrendering many things for Him.

Loyola reminds me of what I want to become. I want to have a Kingdom Dream, to keep no part of my life from God. I want to journey wherever He calls, to serve faithfully in meekness and humility. I want to be a strong woman who gives all she can to pursue Christ. I want to leave a legacy for those I hope will follow. Whatever they are called, whether or not they are my flesh and blood, I hope Loyola reminds them of an identity they share. And I hope it reminds them of who they want to become.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Dressember 2017: The Recap

My fourth--and perhaps best--year of Dressember has come to a conclusion, which of course requires a recap post.

I say "perhaps best" not just because this is the most I've been able to raise in any one campaign (currently $2,071.08), or because over half of my supporters were first-time donors to my campaign. I say it not just because this year the World Changers team was the biggest it has ever been or because together we raised a combined $8,616.87.

I say "perhaps best" because sometimes in the fight, in the struggle, in the asking, I learn something about myself too. And sometimes I need that lesson more than I realize. Because sometimes scars aren't physical, and because sometimes when we're fighting for others, we find healing without even knowing it.

I say "perhaps best" because this year, I felt more empowered than I have in a long time. And I am reminded of what I can do.

So many times I, and other women, are told what we cannot do. We are put in a box, told to be a certain way, denied the ability to use our gifting, kept sidelined when all we want is to soar. I didn't realize the pain I was carrying from this denial, or how it made me view myself, until Dressember 2017 was coming to a close.

For the past several years (Maybe many? I honestly don't know.), I have felt like I could do more, give more, but I have felt anything but empowered. I have approached so many doors, only to have them slam closed in my face. I have questioned what I am doing countless times, or if I'm even good at really anything. And through it all I have felt my soul shriveling.

Dressember was a much needed reminder, a drink of glorious truth, that reminded me that I can. I can flourish, I can succeed, I can be good at something. I can bring something to the table, I can be of use. It may be simple--putting on a piece of clothing and talking about slavery is something anyone can do. But regardless, it is something, it is a way to make a difference, and I will accept it with open arms.

From here I feel like the sky is the limit. I feel like I can keep flying, keep doing, keep fighting. And what I want most is to impart that empowerment to others. I want other women to know that they can. They can use their gifts, they can make a difference, they can have a voice, and they can change the world. And I would love to have you join me.

Do you know a woman who is fighting for something? A woman who wants to do more? A woman in whom you see great strength, talent, or gifting? Speak that into her life. Even if all you can offer are words, use those words to build her up. Heaven knows she needs it.

To everyone who has supported me this month, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much. Through your support, you have empowered me more than you can know. And I needed it more than I ever have before. Through that empowerment and support, you have helped me raise more money to fight for the freedom, rights, and empowerment of others. For that, I thank you.

If you are interested in giving to Dressember, my campaign page will remain open throughout January. If you feel led to donate, you can do so here.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Dressember 2017: The Halfway Point

Dressember has been flying by this year! Since I haven't posted here during the actual challenge, I wanted to share some updates from the first half of the month.

The best thing about this year's challenge has been the team atmosphere. It has been so great to participate with others--adults and students--and to walk through this journey with each other. It is encouraging to share the highs and lows together, and to remember that regardless of how much money we raise, we are bringing awareness to new people in new places. And that is the ultimate goal of Dressember.

The Dressember World Changers team has grown exponentially. In its first year (2015) we had two members; last year we had four. This year our team has 21 members, all of whom are new to the team, except for me. As of publication, our team has raised over $3,600 from 73 different donations. If you are one of our donors, thank you so, so much for your contribution to Dressember!

On a personal level, this Dressember has felt both rewarding and challenging up to this point. I was able to speak to our youth group about Dressember, and loved seeing many of them sign up to participate. I started an artistic lettering challenge on social media to bring awareness and another level of participation to the campaign. And I've been blessed to have both new and repeat donors supporting my fundraiser.

It's always challenging to wear dresses all month, but this year I think my primary focus has been on other aspects, so my wardrobe has almost felt like an afterthought. I increased my fundraising goal to $2,000, which is an amount I have never raised in an individual campaign. Last year we got incredibly close, at $1,741. So that's an increase of only $259 over last year's total. I know it's reachable, but there is always a part of me that questions whether I'll make it. As I am writing this post, I have raised $889 so far. I would love to reach the $1,000 mark today, only $111 away, and I am hoping you will help me.

The biggest thing I have learned through participating in Dressember is that anyone can make a difference. When I first started doing Dressember in 2014, I was excited but uncertain. I didn't know if anyone would believe in the cause like I did, or if anyone would want to give their hard-earned money to it. At the end of that first campaign, thanks to the generosity of friends and family, I reached my goal. I felt so empowered, like I could take on anything and conquer it.

When you give to Dressember, your donation goes far beyond empowering me. It goes toward justice, toward freedom, toward the fight for human rights and dignity. When you give to Dressember, you can know deep down in your soul that you have contributed to something that is bigger than all of us. And when people ask what you are doing to make the world a better place, you can point to Dressember and say, "This. This is what I have done."

It truly takes a community to make a change. You are my community, and today I am asking you to stand with me to make a global change. Will you give what you can to help the fight for justice? Will you lend what you have to a war that is being waged in our own back yards? Will you speak where others have fallen silent? Will you give to Dressember?

Thank you, my friends, for your continual love and support. It does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. You inspire me and so many others in the ways you continually show up and care. To borrow from Dr. Seuss, "To the world you may be one person, but to me, you mean the world."

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