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Allie Marie Smith

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The Valley

Ever feel like you’re in a valley and you’ll never get out? I get it. I’ve been listening to this song by Ellie Holcomb literally on repeat. It’s my prayer put to a song. I hope it encourages you as it has me:


 

I don’t want to face this valley
I don’t want to walk alone
You say that you’ll leave to find me
Well I’m begging You not to come

Don’t think I can face this morning
Heaviness is on my chest
You say that You’ll lift this burden
Well I”m begging You to bring me rest

Come and find me in the darkest night of my soul
In the shadow of the valley
I am dying for You to make me whole
For You to make me whole

I can’t keep myself from sinking
From drowning down in all of this shame
My throat is worn out from calling for help
And I’m praying that You’ll remember my name

I know I can’t fight this battle
Been surrounded on every side
You say that You will deliver me
Well I am praying that You’ll restore my life

Come and find me in the darkest night of my soul
In the shadow of the valley
I am dying for You to make me whole
For You to make me whole

Answer me out of the goodness of Your love
In Your mercy, turn to me
I know it’s You that I’ve been running from
But I’m seeing it’s You I need, need
You’re all I need

So come and find me in the darkest night of my soul
In the shadow of the valley
I am dying for You to make me
Come and find me in the darkest night of my soul
In the shadow of the valley
I am dying for You to make me whole
For You to make me whole
For You to make me whole

 

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Consume Less and Create More

I like stuff.

I like to buy pretty things, wear pretty things, decorate my house in pretty things and dream of someday owning lots of expensive, nice things. I spend tons of energy lusting after, searching for, and investing time in getting stuff I want but don’t need. I have Amazon Prime account – enough said. My heart seems to skip a beat when that doorbell rings, dropping off another brown box. I find satisfaction in my constant consumerism.The reality, however, is the satisfaction I get from buying shiny, new things is fleeting and oftentimes, disappointing.

We all are consumers: of food, movies, clothes, jewelry, make-up, gas, technology, music, and TV.

However, we’ve been conditioned by marketers to believe the lie that the more we consume, the happier, more beautiful, more desirable we’ll become.

A life of consumption is self-centered; it takes more than it gives. A life of contribution is an outward-focused life; it creates more than it takes. I believe we have been created and called to contribute more than we consume.

While it’s okay and necessary to be a consumer, we have also been made to create. We’ve been designed to create ideas, art, music, poetry, crafts, movements and companies. Our materialistic culture convinces that we need to consume, while what we really need is to create. I believe each of us have a God-given desire to create or to add value to the world around us. So we are all creators of some kind – some of us with words, others with art, some with clothing or food. 

Here’s the thing: In the end I believe our life will be characterized by contribution or consumerism, by one or the other, but not both.

If you feel worn out from the barrage of messages urging you to consume more, I encourage you to take a step back and mindfully entertain the possibility of living a simpler and more creative life. If you’re up for the journey here are some tips:

Be a creator first, a consumer second
Try a new ratio – try to create more than you consume. Cook more food and eat out less. Brew your own coffee rather than visiting a coffee shop everyday. Focus on refining your wardrobe rather than growing it. Often it’s our boredom that leads us to shop or consume things we don’t really need. Focus on spending that energy elsewhere.

Support creators
Keep your eye out for talented creators — for conscious clothing designers, poets, painters and authors. Invest in their work. By doing so you are supporting the arts, craftsmanship and people who are positively contributing to our society. Attend a homespun market or check out Etsy.

Be a conscious consumer
Before you buy something, take the time to learn where and how it was made. Shop ethically as often as you can. My friend Abigail recently started a resource called Freestate to help consumers do just that. Also check out the blog Conscious Closets for ethical fashion inspiration. 

Instead of collecting things, create experiences
According to research, we’ll be happier and experience more satisfaction if we spend our money on experiences, rather than things. So instead of buying another pair of Lululemon yoga pants, sign up for a 5 of 10K with a friend. You’ll create a memory and deepen a relationship.

Are you living a life primarily characterized by consumerism or contribution?

 

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2016…What If?

Every time a new year rolls around my mind wanders with possibility. I think of the brand new slate ahead of me as I’m flooded with both possibility and fear. Possibility of what I could accomplish, of who I could become. Fear of what could happen, of who I might lose that I love.

What if I just wake up at 7am every single morning? (not a morning person!)
What if I do spinning three times a week, yoga every Tuesday and start weight training?
What if I write for three hours every day?
What if I’m finally faithful in my quiet time?

This year I wonder instead of picking all of these things (which I know would just set me up for failure) I picked one thing. Something simple. Have you every heard of the rock analogy? You know, when someone takes an empty vase and fills it with small rocks and then tries to put big rocks in it that don’t fit? When they place the big rocks in first, there is room for the tiny ones – they just find their place in the vase and fall between the crevices.

As a woman who follows Jesus, I must ask myself what the big, most important rocks are. Time with my Maker is number one – the author of my life, the planner of all my days and the redeemer of my soul. When we seek after God, we’re not promised a perfect, pretty little life, but we are promised we’ll never be alone and that He will direct our path. When we live a life in step with God’s spirit, the smaller matter such as making time to nurture our bodies fall in to place. You might think as someone who leads a ministry I have this big rock figured out, but if I’m  honest with you I still struggle this basic, foundational spiritual discipline.

So this year my word for the year is RISE! Inspired by this old hymn:

In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus.

Not my iPhone, not Instagram, give me Jesus. Because I really believe, every area of my life will is better with His presence.

What one thing are you focusing on this year? What’s your word for 2016?

 

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Is Self-Objectification Making Us Sick?

The following is an article I originally wrote for Darling Magazine.

An obsession with the female form has existed for centuries across different cultures and geographic regions. An over-obsession with the female form without regard to personhood is self-objectification. Most of us are familiar with the idea of men seeing women as objects through behaviors such as catcalling or engaging in pornography, but what about women objectifying themselves, and even each other?

Two researchers define the matter as “regular exposure to objectifying experiences that socialize girls and women to engage in self-objectification, whereby they come to internalize this view of themselves as an object or collection of body parts” (Kroon & Perez).

In short, self-objectification is thinking of oneself as an object first and a person second.

Self-objectifying behaviors can include but are not limited to: Excessive mirror looking, frequent selfies, critiquing one’s appearance in the reflection and photographs, and comparing oneself to images in the media and other women. The danger with self-objectification is that compelling research has found that it is associated with a number of ills including body shame, appearance anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

 In short, self-objectification is thinking of oneself as an object first and a person second.

Westernized media chronically and pervasively displays images that portray women as objects. Because we learn from what we see, exposure to such images naturally teaches us to focus on appearance rather than character and the body rather than the person. However, it’s not just magazines, TV or movies that are the culprit, but social media has created another avenue through which women objectify themselves and one another.

In a study published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, performed by researchers from University of New South Wales in Australia and the University of the West of England in Bristol, U.K. found that young women who spend a lot of time on Facebook were more likely to compare their looks to other women and to “self-objectify” or as the authors define it, they “view themselves from an observer’s perspective and thus view their body as an object to be gazed upon.”

If I’m honest with you, I am still healing from self-objectifying behaviors that have shaped the way I see myself and without a doubt have played a part in my struggles with depression and food and body image issues. As a little girl, I would regularly thumb through the pages of my mom’s Vogue magazine and flip through Victoria Secret catalogs, aspiring to one-day look like the models I envied and even objectified. I didn’t know these women – I didn’t know their stories or personalities or dreams. I simply saw them as beautiful body parts, desirable in the eyes of men and who made me feel shameful about my own body. Not only was the media objectifying them, so was I.

 It is a beautiful unraveling, however, this process of losing one’s objectified self and discovering one’s true self.

Once a competitive athlete who flirted with the modeling world, I took pride in my looks while at the same time loathing them. Years later, I am finally coming face to face with some of my body image struggles and am forced to confront the wreckage that has come from objectifying myself and other women. It is a beautiful unraveling, however, this process of losing one’s objectified self and discovering one’s true self.

This is what I’m learning: We are more than our name. We are more than our pretty faces or the sum of our body parts. We are living, breathing stories with quirks, dreams and crazy amazing talents. We are masterpieces with the ability to love well and do a phenomenal amount of good in this world. Let us stop seeing ourselves and other women as body parts and instead as stories to be told. We are expansive subjects to be studied, not shiny objects to be desired.

 

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Dragon Skin and Being Set Free

I was opening up to a wise counselor about how I felt that this season in my life has been a humbling one, characterized by the stripping of things I hold dear and have prided myself in. A theme that has been recurrent throughout my life since the age of 18 when severe clinical depression stripped me everything I placed my value and worth in – my successes, my beauty, my dreams, my sanity. She asked me to translate this statement in to other words. “Okay, fine,” I said. “It’s like God is robbing me, continually taking away things I have put too much stock in.”

She asked me if I ever read the Chronicles of Narnia. No, I said. Never been a fan of fiction, I said.

My wise counselor proceeded to tell me about the story of Eustace, a rotten, selfish and stubborn boy in the book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The scene starts with Eustace finding a large treasure. He imagines his life with this fortune and falls asleep at the foot of the treasure only to awaken as a dragon, a manifestation of his greed and selfishness.

The bracelet Eustace put around his wrist was painfully tight due to the thick dragon skin he now found himself in. That pain mixed with the emotions from now being alone and isolated was to much to bear and he began weeping, big, ugly dragon tears.

Aslan the lion, who bears the image of Christ finds Eustace in his mess. Aslan leads Eustace to a mountain-top garden and then to a well.

“You will have to let me undress you,” says Aslan the Lion. Eustace was desperate and even his fear of the lion’s claws didn’t stop him from lying flat on his back. Here’s what Eustace experienced:

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. . . .

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off — just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt — and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me — I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . . .

After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me . . . in new clothes.

If we’re honest we all have some dragon in us. But underneath that dry, scaly skin is someone made in the image of God and wholly and dearly loved. We’re even loved in our dragon costumes — I say costumes because it’s not who we really are. Yes, we are all wretched apart from Christ but that’s not our new, true identity. We each need a rescuer, we cannot take off our false identity on our own. We might rip off a layer only for another to reappear. God approaches our mess in mercy and desires to set us free and make us new creations.

My wise counselor asked me a profound question: Do you see this experience, this season as God stripping you of things, or God desiring to set you free of strongholds? Sometimes, okay, oftentimes the removing process of our false identity hurts. I’m there in that season….God is trying to set me free and it is painful. But there is a glorious reality up ahead. My job is to trust the process and believe freedom is possible.

 

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A Guide to the Reflection {Original Darling Magazine Article}

As 21st century women there is no escaping our reflection. We live in a world of mirrors.   Discovered in Turkey, the oldest mirror dates back over 5,000 years ago. It was a hollowed piece of polished obsidian, or volcanic glass. By the Victorian era most middle-class and wealthy women had small mirrors in their dressing rooms. Before then the majority of women went their entire lives without seeing a reflection of their naked body. Imagine that. We are now inundated by self-reflection, not only through mirrors, but also through other reflective surfaces—photographs, social media and the constant comparison games we play with other women.

Widespread research indicates that eight out of ten women are dissatisfied with their reflection and more than half may see a distorted image of themselves. A study published in the journal “Behaviour Research and Therapy” found that British women look at themselves an average of 38 times every day, while men do so only 18 times a day. While statistics may vary among different countries, women must still face their reflection head on.

Excessive and lengthy periods of mirror-looking tends to breed self-objectification—thinking of oneself as an object first and a person second. Self-objectification can lead to low self-esteem, self-loathing and body image issues.

“Men look at themselves in mirrors. Women look for themselves,” said Elissa Melamed, author of “Mirror, Mirror.” We have made the mistake of allowing the mirror to tell us who we aren’t (thin, beautiful, attractive, etc.) instead of telling the mirror who we are (courageous, loving, intelligent, compassionate, etc.). Mirrors are a reflection, a picture of our outer selves, yet they don’t tell the whole story of who we are in one glance. As women, it’s imperative to our joy that we learn how to respond to our reflection in a way that supports, not threatens, our self-esteem. At some point we are forced to deal internally with what we see externally. Here are some tips for embracing the mirror as your ally:

Know Your Mirror Motives
Are you using mirrors as a means of affirmation or self-criticism? Is vanity or insecurity driving you to do a double- or triple-take in the looking glass? Put the mirror in its proper place in your life and use it for what it is—a tool for personal hygiene and self-presentation. Make sure your mirror motives are pure and reasonable next time you have a look.

Take a Mirror Fast
Looking in the mirror less can put self-image insecurities in a smaller place. If you can, try going a day or two looking at your reflection as little as possible. Taking a mirror-less challenge is a behavioral experiment worth trying in order to assess your relationship with your reflection. If this seems unreasonable, try avoiding unnecessary checks in the mirror such as when you see your reflection in a window or your friend’s sunglasses.

Transform Your Mirror
Transform your bathroom mirror into an affirmation tool. Fill it with Post-it notes of positive quotes and affirmations or use a dry erase marker to write encouraging mantras that remind you of your true value, beauty and purpose.

Tell the Mirror What to Say
We have to tell the mirror what to say to us. Know your weak spots — the things you always criticize and come up with an affirmative response to each criticism. For example, if you find yourself saying, “I hate my eyelids,” instead learn to say, “My eyelids protect my eyes are are beautiful just the way they are.” Don’t look into the mirror with just your eyes — look with your heart. Make a commitment to see yourself as a whole person, not just a reflection. Acknowledge your talents, qualities, and the things that make you irreplaceable.

Finally, know what the mirror doesn’t tell you. We are conditioned to believe our reflection determines our worth, but a mirror doesn’t tell you your character or how well you love the people in your life. Your reflection is a shallow, ill-fitted measuring stick when it comes to capturing the story of your life. You are more than your reflection.

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Transform Me

I had an a-ha moment the other night while I was surfing. I’ve been looking to outside things to change me, fix me, and perfect me, rather than allowing the power of Christ in me to transform me. This past week and half I’ve taken a huge step back on my HEAL Journey. After months of progress I slipped, but perhaps it wasn’t in vain. I’m realizing now what some of my triggers are and I’m committed to getting back on track – on track to progress, not perfection. Some days, if I’m honest I wonder if I’ll ever be free again. I’ve got a huge fight, a long journey ahead of me, but I’m not giving in. I’m choosing freedom over perfection. I thought I would share these song lyrics with you as they were an encouragement to me.

In Me by Casting Crowns

If you asked me to leap
Out of my boat on the crashing waves
If you ask me to go
Preach to a lost world that Jesus saves

I’ll go, but I cannot go alone
‘Cause I know I’m nothing on my own
But the power of Christ in me makes me strong
Makes me strong

‘Cause when I’m weak, You make me strong
When I’m blind you shine Your light on me
‘Cause I’ll never get by living on my own ability
How refreshing to know You don’t need me
How amazing to find that you want me
So I’ll stand on Your Truth, and I’ll fight with Your Strength
Until You bring the victory, by the power of Christ in me

If you ask me to run
And carry your light into foreign land
If you ask me to fight
Deliver your people from satan’s hand

I’ll go, but I cannot go alone
‘Cause I know I’m nothing on my own
But the power of Christ in me makes me strong
Makes me strong

‘Cause when I’m weak, You make me strong
When I’m blind you shine Your light on me
‘Cause I’ll never get by living on my own ability
How refreshing to know You don’t need me
How amazing to find that You want me
So I’ll stand on Your Truth, and I’ll fight with Your Strength
Until You bring the victory, by the power of Christ in me

To reach out with Your hands
To learn through Your eyes
To love with the love of a savior
To feel with Your heart
and to think with Your mind
I’d give my last breath for Your glory

‘Cause when I’m weak, You make me strong
When I’m blind you shine Your light on me
‘Cause I’ll never get by living on my own ability

when I’m weak, You make me strong
When I’m blind you shine Your light on me
‘Cause I’ll never get by living on my own ability
How refreshing to know You don’t need me
How amazing to find that You want me
So I’ll stand on Your Truth, and I’ll fight with Your Strength
Until You bring the victory, by the power of Christ in me
The power of Christ in me
The power of Christ in me

 

{Photo via Death to Stock}

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Conscious Consumerism: Ethical Fashion Brands

Lately, I’ve been becoming more and more passionate about ethical fashion and creating a conscious closet. I believe knowing where your clothes, accessories and shoes came from, how they were made and who made them is practicing good stewardship and social responsibility. There are more and more ethical fashion brands out there and I thought I would share a list of some of my favorites. If you know of others, please share in the comments. Happy shopping!

Everlane
Everlane sells minimalist basics—like T-shirts and sweaters, hoodies, and weekend bags—made with high-quality fabrics but sold at low prices. They value transparency and work closely with their factories.

Sudara
Sudara sells pujammis, t-shirts and more and while creating safe, sustainable jobs that are making a way for women to make their way out of the sex trade- and stay out

31 Bits
Beautiful handmade jewelry from bits of paper made by women in Uganda. 31 Bit’s artisans receive a sustainable income and holistic education, empowering them to rise above poverty.

Raven + Lily
Raven and Lily’s ethically made clothing, jewelry, bags and accessories all empower women by providing them with safe, sustainable jobs.

Sseko Designs
Sseko Designs is an ethical fashion brand that hires high potential women in Uganda to make sandals, shoes and accessories to enable them to earn money through dignified employment that will go directly towards their college educations and ensure they will continue pursuing their dreams.

Parker Clay
Parkery Clay sells premium leather goods made in Ethiopia. They work with the non-profit Women at Risk in giving back to help more women in Ethiopia realize their potential and to empower them with jobs and sustainable income as an alternative to prostitution.

Unikati
A consciously edited collection of ethically handcrafted goods from around the world.

Noonday Collection
Beautiful handmade jewelry and accessories. Noonday Collection uses fashion to create meaningful opportunities around the world.

Fortress of Inca
Beautiful, I mean beautiful, shoes handmade ethically in Peru.

Greenola
Through design and innovation, Greenola provides advancement opportunities to artisans in marginalized regions of the world.

Osborn Shoes
Based in Brooklyn, Osborn works collaboratively with fair trade weaving cooperatives globally to create fantastic artisan textiles. The team also closely oversees the production of their products to ensure that each pair made is a testament to their ethos of fair trade production and eco-friendly materials.

Kaaru
Kaaru employs artisans in rural Bangladesh to create its handwoven, 100 percent organic-cotton clothing. (“Kaaru” is the Bengali word for “artisan”.)

Azadi Project works with artisans in Bangladesh, as well as rural Pakistan and Uzbekistan, to provide “high-quality, contemporary, ethical fashion” while providing opportunities for the economically disadvantaged.

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{Good Read} Living Well, Spending Less by Ruth Soukup

Sometimes a quick glance at a book’s cover is enough to know it’s meant for you. I stumbled across Ruth Soukup’s book “Living Well, Spending Less” from a picture a friend posted. So I’m only a few chapters in, but she is speaking right to my soul! The past few years have been trying for me and if I’m honest, instead of going to God to heal and nourish me, I’ve been turning to material things and trivial pursuits. Clothes, window shopping, unnecessary spending, sometimes food — whatever my drug of choice might be for that particular day, instead of leaving me full and satisfied leaves me wanting more.

Every time my husband catches me buying a new shirt or a new item of jewelry, he gently reminds me that it’s not going to satisfy. I know he’s right, yet I hop online hours later to find my favorite store is having at 30% off sale, or my well-dress and put-together friend just Instagramed a picture of her new boots I want to rip them off her feet (when I already have five pairs).

These days I’m craving simplicity, I’m craving contentment. And contentment, as Ruth Soukup reminds us is a choice; a challenging choice in a consumer-driven culture. “Less stuff equals more joy,” she says, and she’s right though our culture daily tries to convince us otherwise.

I’m so excited to dive into the rest of this book and hope some of you will join me! Email me or leave a comment if you end up reading it so we can encourage each other along this journey to live more fully.

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Kindred Sister Spotlight: Shannon Keith with Sudara

I’m so excited to introduce you to one of my woman crushes/kindred sisters, Shannon Keith. Shannon is the Founder of Sudara. She is a devoted wife and proud mama, lover of Jesus, justice, food & wine. She is an abolitionist and nerd at heart. Her latest interest includes Kombucha brewing! Read this fascinating and inspiring interview with Shannon below.

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In 2005, you took a trip to India that opened yours eyes to a tragedy occurring daily to women and girls throughout the country. Can you tell us what you saw?

I saw women and children trapped in red lights areas with no hope for a different or better life.  Freedom was beyond their grasp.  All of the women and children are in this situation through exploration of their poverty and the caste system; some are tricked, others are forced and many are born into the sex trade- all perpetuating the cycle of generational sex slavery.   None willingly choose this life if they feel that there are other dignified options to support themselves and feed their children.

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What did you do once you returned home?

I gathered a few like minded friends, created a non profit, and did tons of research to confirm the flash of inspiration I received in India about the job creating solution that came to me via  PUNJAMMIES™ -the line of women’s pajamas and lounge wear.

What is your definition of social entrepreneurship?

It is a real profitable business model that has a social good metric baked into the DNA of the business.  Businesses that actually exist to help solve a social or environmental cause through their business model.

Your business was originally called The International Princess Project, but you’ve since change the name to Sudara. Tell us about the significance of this name and why you picked it.

Our former name [International Princess™ Project] has served us well and we will always cherish the meaning behind that name.  As we move into the next decade as a company, we deepen our commitment to find ways to generate even more jobs for women looking for a way out of sex slavery — that means we need to offer more great products to you, our current customers, and broaden our product lines so that we can welcome new customers, too. The name SUDARA allows us more room to grow into additional products that can appeal to many different kinds of people.

SUDARA is inspired by the Sanskrit word meaning ‘beautiful.’ As we considered a name that would carry us into the future, we were drawn to the idea of beauty and the many ways it is revealed. It is seen in the people we work with, in the products we work together to produce, in moments of vulnerability within the communities of women healing from sexual slavery, and most important, it is the ever-growing confidence in the voice of a woman who is living in Freedom. 

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What is Sudara’s social mission and how do you accomplish it?

To create pathways to freedom for women and their children who have escaped the sex trade in India.  We accomplish this through dignified job creation for women via the sewing of Sudara products.  Beyond the most important impact investment of providing dignified job creation we also have a non-profit arm that allows us to provide for those same women across their entire ecosystem.

What’s the best thing about being a ladyboss?

There are so many benefits… like locking arms with other professional women within Sudara and those women we partner with in India, bringing the female perspective on business and work life harmony, but personally the single best thing is that I have the privilege to model to my own 3 children [2 of which are girls] that women make fantastic leaders and we can and will have a greater voice within the business and entrepreneurial world in the future.  There is plenty of data out there showing that female led organizations are actually more profitable than those without females in top leadership positions… but that is a whole other topic for an interview!

What advice do you have for other world-changing women who want to start something bigger than themselves?

Go for it!  The world needs you, your unique talents, passions and perspectives are exactly what will change the world.  This is basically the exact topic of a TedX talk that I just gave this spring.  Please click the link (above) if you’re interested in listening to my talk.

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What are three practical ways people can support Sudara and help accomplish your mission?

1. Join our social media links and share with all of your friends/ networks across ALL of your social platforms [FB, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.] asking them to do the same. You are joining us in starting a MOVEMENT if you do!

2. Educate yourself about human sex trafficking issues in India and in the US, so that you are knowledgable and can speak to others about the issues from an informed position.

3.  Buy Sudara products often [sudara.org] for yourself and as gifts.  You vote for or against freedom with your pocketbook every time you shop.  With Sudara products you can trust the supply chain and when you wear them not only are they beautiful  and so comfortable, but you are wearing a statement of freedom and a conversation starter.

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