Fill up

This fall has been the typical craziness for me. Between work, training for Thunder Road Half Marathon and volunteering, it has seemed non-stop.

First of all, Thunder Road with the Isabella Santos Foundation Dream Team was amazing. We ran miles together in preparation and by race day, we raised $33,000 for ISF. It was powerful running by Levine Children’s Hospital at mile 8 of the race and remembering our mission to #crushcancer. I am so blessed to have made friends and made an impact this way. Who knows what the next race will be for me (open to suggestions).

Operation Christmas Child is in full swing. It’s National Collection Week, so you still have time to pack a shoe box gift to impact a child’s life forever and show them the love of Christ. Make sure you go to a drop-off location near you by the 24th!

This week at church we had a women’s night featuring our pastor’s wife, Marilynn Chadwick spoke about breaking free from idols and one thing that really spoke to me was “Fill up on God, so you don’t have room for the junk.” What a gut check. Was I filling up on God first or was I filling up on other things?

The other point I loved from Women Under Construction, the speaker said her life’s mission is to help people wipe the mud from their eyes so they can see Jesus. What is your life mission? What are you working toward daily?

#crushcancer

Dear Friends and Family,
I am writing with exciting news: I’m currently training for my 4th half marathon (13.1 miles) this November! But this time…I’m doing it for more than just myself. I joined a running/training team (called the dream team) and am fundraising for the Isabella Santos Foundation (ISF). The ISF mission is to raise money and awareness for neuroblastoma research in the hopes of one day finding a cure. Isabella was 2 years old when she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and passed away after battling the disease for 5 years in 2012. Isabella dreamed of a world with “No More Cancer” and the Foundation continues in her name, hoping another child will be saved through funds raised in her memory.

Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer of the sympathetic nervous system – a nerve network that carries messages from the brain throughout the body. It is usually found in young children and is the most common cancer among infants. Neuroblastoma has one of the lowest survival rates of all pediatric cancers and accounts for 15% of all pediatric cancer deaths.

Although I never met Isabella, I met Isabella’s mom, Erin, last year when I attended an ice-cream party for the patients of Levine Children’s Hospital hosted by the ISF. I saw Erin’s passion for fighting for a cure and knew I wanted to get involved. You can learn more about Santos family story at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzMoTCHEkJY. I am now training with Erin and community members that inspire me to run in the heat and humidity, not because it is easy, but because children like Isabella couldn’t quit things were hard.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and my goal is to raise $500 by the end of the month to turn awareness into action. You can donate online at http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/juliaesmith15/isabellaactionteam.

I will also donate all my profits from my Amway business in the month of September to the Foundation. No matter if you purchase laundry detergent or a light-up lipgloss, I will donate all the money I make to ISF. If you would like to purchase products, please visit http://www.amway.com/jsmith60.

Thank you for continually supporting me in all the opportunities I have been blessed to take part in. You are truly making a difference not only in Charlotte, but for families around the world as we fight to find a cure.

#crushcancer
Julie

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His bride

This summer has been very busy for me, I was in a wedding in July and I am in another one in September. It has been so much fun to shower my friends with love and to celebrate marriage. Although I am still living the single life, the wedding and bridal showers have allowed me to be thankful for the friendships I have and to remember the love that Christ has for us, His bride.

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How Do You Find the Time to Volunteer?

A friend and I were talking about the things we are involved with outside of work and she asked me, “how do you find the time to volunteer?” and “Why do you make time for all those things?”

I answered her sharing about my love for people and sharing Jesus, but it definitely got me thinking about why I do love serving others and being involved in several ministries in town. I found this letter I wrote 2 years ago:

Even as far back as sixth grade, I have always been into service. From Girl Scouts to church youth group, I volunteered constantly. When I eventually started college at Elon University, I automatically joined the Service Learning Community, doing projects several times a month. I also joined the service team of my Intervarsity Christian Fellowship chapter mainly because I felt qualified. As a sophomore I lead the Service Learning Community for the new freshmen, but I was not actually enjoying the service aspect.

Volunteering had always been something I’d done, so I figured it was something I should continue in college. But in continuing service almost as a default activity, I had grown bored. I realized I was missing the point of volunteering.

Thinking back to why I had originally started volunteering, all those years ago, I was able to reduce it back to its simplicity: it was out of love that I wanted to serve. It was because I could show the love of Jesus to people that did not know Him. As Mother Teresa once said, “Love cannot remain by itself—it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.”

Once I had my head and heart back in focus on outreach, I began to love what I was doing again. I finally realized how my passions and my major could be used for the love of God. As a communications major, I loved to write, read and share about social issues that I’m passionate about so that others can make an impact.

Live Intentionally

This past month has been very busy – but what’s new? Life is constantly happening, bringing with it new challenges and victories. 

After experiencing the simplicity of life in Rwanda of worshiping God and then loving others as Christ loves us, I came back to my busy life in the Queen City with a sense that I need to slow down. I have always been the person who is over-committed with a jam packed schedule, but that is where I thrive. I know how to manage my time when I have very little free time…it’s when I have lots of free time that I start to become a sloth. 

Anyway, living intentionally has come up several times. I am trying to live with a purpose and make each interaction I have with people be a way that I can show Christ’s love to them. It is a hard thing to do, and I have been convicted of times that I have failed, but I like being reminded each day that I have a purpose and everything that happens, happens for a reason. 

A couple changes I have made in my schedule to help me stay focused on my goals and living intentionally:

Quiet times in the morning. Spending more time journaling, praying and reading Scripture. 

Working out in the morning. That way I have more flexibility and time in the evenings. This means though, that I am trying to get to bed earlier. 

Packing my lunch the night before. This gives me a few extra minutes for my quiet time. 

Listening to an audio daily. Stories of overcoming struggles and leadership principles (esp. Terri Savelle Foy, John Maxwell, etc) helps to keep you inspired and focused. 

Rwanda is full of Hope and Beauty

I have safely arrived back home after an incredible experience in Rwanda with Operation Christmas Child. I am going to try to highlight just a few stories from my days there, so bear with me as this email might get lengthy.
If I had one word to describe my time in Rwanda it would be beautiful. I mean that because the country itself is beautiful with green rolling hills, but the people are also beautiful. Everyone was incredibly hospitable and welcoming, profusely thanking us for visiting and stressed that they wanted us to go back and share their stories.
Quick facts: I was in the country for 5 nights and participated in 6 shoe box distributions. Each distribution had about 100 kids, except our first distribution (which had 200 children) was done at a local church (except one on Thursday… read below). In addition to receiving shoe box gifts, each child received The Greatest Gift of All booklet that shares about Jesus and during our presentation we shared the Gospel with the children.
We began the week on a heavy note, to understand the history of Rwanda. The genocide of 1994 lasted 100 days and took the lives of nearly 1 million Tutsis. We visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center and Nyamata Church. The memorial center had three exhibits regarding the Rwandan genocide, other genocides across the world and the Rwandan children lost. Some of the most impactful moments were seeing more than 2,000 photos of those lost and reading the stories about the children that were killed.
Nyamata Church was a site where more than 10,000 were killed in and around the church. It was very emotional to tour the facility – to see the markings of the bullets and grenade explosions, clothing of those lost and then mass graves outside. As I left the church with the breathe sucked out of me, we heard children laughing and singing. A school about 20 feet away from the church had let the children out to play. It was a reminder of the hope and future that God has in store for Rwanda.
Tuesday we began shoe box distributions! Our first distribution had more than 200 children and God provided just the number of boxes we needed. As we handed out the shoe boxes to all the children, they were calm and patiently waiting with the boxes on their lap. These children had not received a gift before and it was hard for them to understand when we counted down to open their shoe boxes, that these boxes were truly for them!
At our second distribution of the day, Pastor Innocent told us that he started the church with 3 people in 2009 and heard God say he would have visitors. Now, more than 700 adults attend his church and he called us an answer to his prayer. Talk about a powerful moment!
For lunch Wednesday, we had the opportunity to hear from 3 government officials. They shared their genocide survival stories and how the leadership of the country worked to quickly start the process of reconciliation. Nelly, a young woman who works in the President’s office shared how her father was Tutsi, but out of the country visiting family when the genocide began. She later found out her mother, a Hutu, had been part of the prepetrators of the genocide. She spoke about how her identity is not in who she is related to, but in who she is and the hope for Rwanda she has. I won’t be surprised if she is president of Rwanda soon — Rwanda already has more females in parliament than any other nation!
On Wednesday we went to the church of the Rwandan discipleship coordinator, Gatesi (who is one of my dear friends). I had the opportunity to introduce the team to the children (saying about 3 words in the local language and explaining that we love them and so does Jesus). After I sat down, a little girl in a floral dress came to sit on my lap. She was fascinated with my hands and kept clapping them together and putting them on her face. She was absolutely precious! After the distribution, we went to buy coffee and when we came back a man was standing by our bus with a note. It was written in English and said that he saw our distribution and that he wanted to know Jesus too. We prayed for him and Gatesi promised to follow up with him. God is moving in Rwanda, beyond just the children we loved on!
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Thursday was another incredible day with 2 distributions. The first one was my absolute favorite. We went to a center that was started by the government for genocide survivors. There are 80 home for genocide orphans and 102 homes for genocide widows. We sat among the children, I even got pulled to dance a traditional dance – and then it was time to distribute shoe box gifts! I grabbed the box I had specifically packed for a 5-9 year old girl and scanned the area to see where God would lead me. A little girl in an adorable striped dress grabbed my eye. I handed her the box and she had the biggest smile. I sat down her as she opened it and her smile was infectious. I placed the sunglasses on her and played, then she spotted a bag of lollipops that my friend, Bethany, had added to the box. Her smile widened (if that is even possible). I opened the bag and gave her one. Then I showered her the jump rope. I finally got a translator to come over and learned this little girl’s name was Teddy, she’s 9 and she loves red. Her favorite item in the box was the sunglasses. Most of the kids had left at that point, so I said good bye, and then we went to walk around to see the homes. As we were walking, Teddy came across our group and then she grabbed my hand. We walked and then I picked her up in my arms. I could not get enough of her! I almost walked to the bus with her in my arms.
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Our last distribution was so much fun, I think I had more fun after the shoe boxes were handed out. There were lots of children outside that did not receive shoe boxes – the need is more than the supply, so pack more shoe boxes so Operation Christmas Child can impact more lives – so I went outside to play with some of them. My office had recently bought some inflatable beach balls that I brought with me, so we had a good game of catch going on. Then We went to play soccer for a little bit. I ran for about 2 minutes toward the ball, but realized the boys were serious players, so I decided to go find some other kids to settle down with. One older boy had a bottle of bubbles, but he didn’t know what it was. I opened the bottle and blew a few bubbles. He laughed and then I had him blow some bubbles. When I looked up, we had a group of kids around us, all wanting to blow bubbles. Such joy in such a simple gift!
I apologize for the length of this email — all I have left to say is thank you.  I felt God at work from the moment I arrived at the airport in the US, to the moment I returned to my apartment. It was incredible. Thank you for being part of this special experience with me.

Photo Walk: Queen’s University

On Friday I had the opportunity to take a digital photography class at Queen’s University with Nanine Hartzenbusch and I really enjoyed it. The class was a great refresher for me about compositional creativity, ideas on lighting, editing, and archiving your work. After the lecture, we walked around and photographed the campus. Here are some of my favorite shots:

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