How it all began.
The Story of Project: HOPE
I still remember the first time I walked into Freedom House Thrift Store in North Carolina.
It probably wasn’t the store itself as much as it was THE moment in time that I knew that I knew… God was up to something.
I could literally FEEL it.
We were at one of the lowest and hardest times in our life when we got there. Almost finished with foster care for our two babies that needed to be adopted, tangled in the appeal process for over a year, Little Buddy acting out so badly he was kicked out of one school, then suspended from another, in and out of Crisis Day Treatment programs, and we were living the nightmare of asking ourselves if our family could withstand the weight of this life for keeps.
The pressure and attack was so great we could FEEL it in our home. The weight, the shame, the grief… Tim and I had resorted to surviving this moment in time so we would not make a wrong decision… so that meant we could barely talk to each other if we were going to keep peace and make it through. It was so crazy-hard.
Then, while working a four day community event for our auto body business, at the end of the event, Tim started experiencing chest pains. Our teenagers were with him, and as it got worse while they were finishing, he texted to ask if I would want to take him to the Emergency Room when they got home. Tim had NEVER been to the ER, (okay once in his life years before), so for him to ask was an earth shaker.
I found myself driving through town with my flashers on at 11:30pm, and the stress of what we were already living in made this feel like another surreal added scene to it all.
They took him in immediately, and the signs and symptoms all pointed to cardiac. I texted a few close friends and our pastors asking for prayer, and as I watched this giant of a man lay there with what literally seemed like the weight of the world on his chest, I tried to decide if this was one of those moments where so much resistance meant “give up,” or “keep going.”
Well, prayer changes things, and four hours later they were drawing more bloodwork because they lost the original set somewhere in the lab. Really. Our nurse told us he took it there himself, and the lab called hours later because they couldn’t find it.
Those are the moments I sit up and pay attention and wonder what God is up to.
Two hours after that, our doctor says he has conferenced on the phone with the head of cardiology in the city hospital and they agree it is NOT a heart attack, but a virus around his heart. His blood work came clean and his pain was starting to come under control. They almost sent us to the city hospital to be admitted, but another hour of praying and believing behind the scenes, and they both agreed we just needed meds and rest and would make a full recovery if we rested at home.
“We” meaning Tim. And up until this point in our life, Tim didn’t really know how to rest.
What this episode did to our family was shaking to say the least. Our teenagers were knee-deep in it with us, and they were not okay with where we were at in the journey of foster care, because they saw the writing on the wall and the struggle we were facing just as much as Tim and I were living it. This ER trip was tipping the scales to fear, fast.
They watched us try to settle in at home, Tim still in so much pain he couldn’t have gone to work even if he wanted to, so much of the life just gone out of him as he slept and laid there for days. The more time went by, the more miserable he felt. Because we were already stuck, and now he was even more stuck.
I know that some of you know what I’m talking about.
One day towards the end of that week, Abby got our other two “daughters” to come home for lunch from work and they all pitched in together to give us a gift: Abby had booked a hotel in Greensboro and all three were juggling soccer, youth group, errands and church for the weekend. Our job was to go away and rest.
Under normal circumstances, I NEVER could have recieved such an extravagant gift, and I NEVER could have gone through with it.
In that moment, I was just so broken and empty, I knew I felt the Lord standing right there with those excited, smiling girls: He was nodding, “Yes, you will go.”
And we went.
We did rest, and eat, and sleep, for three days. Tim’s pain was really starting to subside, and the side effects from one medication he was taking were starting to fade as well, which was another kind of awful in itself, now gone.
We drove around the city just sight-seeing for quite some time, and “just so happened” to find this plaza and feel like walking around.
When we walked in to Freedom House Thrift Store there in the plaza, I instantly got that “Twilight Zone” feeling, the one when you know it is a pivotal change in time, that something is happening in the universe… that God is up to something.
Up on the far wall was a vinyl decal over the book section, Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
From the depths of my empty shell of a heart, I had enough faith left to know that this moment would be life changing for me.
So many of you walked with us as we found our way through the last months of foster care and adoption. Tim healed completely, though even his heart specialist explained that he could not fully agree with the diagnosis of the virus, yet he cleared all the scans and just stayed grateful that Tim was now healed.
Little Buddy calmed down and we all took a deep breath and tried to give Do-Overs and start telling our own triggered minds to do the same. It still is a process, but it starts over again each day we wake up and try again.
As we were wrapping up our time in foster care, I found myself in front of my desk a few hours more than normal. I “just so happened” to come across all the brochures and flyers from our moment in Freedom House, and that was the day I knew I needed to check it out.
I was not on the front page of the website, listening to the Founder’s testimony for sixty seconds before I had tears in my eyes. This was it. I could FEEL it. I had found my next thing. I knew that I knew that I knew it: we were going to try to KEEP families together if we could, instead of separate them to help them. We had already watched front row as our kids were ripped away from their biological family, and the grief it caused is something no one can ever undo. Now, choices were made and safe places were not created for our babies to be able to go home, but WHAT IF we could help the next family make a better choice?
I had realized several months before that with the number of children in my home coupled with their specific needs, I was never going to be able to have a “normal” job again. I was going to have to find something that I could do that would let me work odd hours, mostly from home for the first couple years at least, and also virtually with a team I could hand things off to as I headed in to uncharted territory as the project grew.
So we have forged ahead, ever-so-cautious but equal parts excited and overwhlemed, and we have found a tribe of community that supports the vision similar to that of Freedom House, and we have come together to launch our very own Project: HOPE, Healing, Opportunity, Purpose and Education, and we could not be more excited at the possibility of it all.
My favorite part of both Freedom House and Project: HOPE is that the retail/thrift/boutique store actually provides a revenue stream for the program. People donate, we set up and sell, people shop and that money fuels the program. The women in the program are actually part of the store staff, learning life skills and responsibility and consistency as they heal. Ours will have some type of coffee shop experience out of the gate, and the profits from that also go directly to fund Project: HOPE and what will also grow into Hope House, the group home for the women and children to live safely as they go through the program.
So when I was creating the t shirts for our family for Adoption Day Party (that we have since had to reschedule due to the pandemic shenanigans), I realized this was something I could do for anyone who wanted to be a part of Project: HOPE. In less time than it took to our family to drive to Great Wolf Lodge in Charlotte for an overnight Spring Break getaway, I had penciled in drafts for nine months of t shirts, complete with a verse to go along with the catch phrase.
Before I had even finished those, I had already drafted a template for a PDF Bible study template that would coordinate with the verse on the shirt. You could pull it up online, on your phone or iPad… or print it off as many times as you like to use it for the verse that month.
And what better way to soak in the verse of the month than in a sweet little picture frame that comes with your first order and lets you swap out the new one every month???
It all came together so easily, so quickly and so happily, the joy I got from creating this was something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. I caught myself smiling at the computer screen, getting up for work early to get a little more time in, and bringing the sketches home in order to work on them in pockets of time at home.
I couldn’t help but think of so many of you, looking for a like-minded tribe that wants to change the world when your hands are already full. And I see a glimpse of what God is doing in this shifting time in this world: shaking everything that can be shaken, and taking away our “yes-es” until all we have is time to re-evaluate which “yes-es” were us, and which ones were Him.
I imagine an entire group of us, growing every month, studying the same verses together, printing out the PDFs and talking about them. Some of us doing our makeup at the bathroom mirror with that verse in the frame right there, some of us drinking tea in bed with the verse right next to us on our nightstand… a mighty throng of women that is rising up to face this New Normal with grace, and strength… and marching orders directly from the throne of God.
The people that have come together to rally for this vision is incredible. It makes me feel like the sky is the limit. And when Tim took the Post-It note from one of our supporters that had the phone number for the direct line for filing for non-profit status and offered to make the calls and take that part over for me, I swear I fell in love with him all over again.
So we are on our way, friends. This is my story, this is my song. This is why we are launching the T-Shirt of the Month Club, so everyone who wants to be a part of Project: HOPE can do just that. 100% of the profits from the T-Shirt of the Month Club go directly to support Project: HOPE.
And for all of you mamas who are finding yourself in this new, strange phase of life in our world today, working virtually and also juggling your kids and home, what better way to add to your new work-at-home wardrobe than a cute t-shirt every month??? (Inserting all the winky face emojis and hearts here now…)
But seriously: when I cracked my devotions open this morning and saw one of the verses as Jeremiah 29:11, I just HAD to read the whole chapter again myself… and share with you our life-changing moment that has brought us here today.
And once again, THANK YOU for coming along with us and being a part of our tribe.
All my love,
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