$30 for 30

www.nbarrettphotography.comI love birthdays and celebrations and gift-giving. I love cake and Champagne toasts and treating myself to something sweet because it’s my special day. But as much as I love these things, I love giving back even more. I don’t like asking for anything, especially for gifts, but this year I am donating my birthday to Touch A Life, and I would be so honored if you would consider giving $30 to this amazing organization as a part of my birthday celebration. In this season of gratitude and in light of next week’s Giving Tuesday, you may be looking for a way to make a diffence, and I’d love it if you’d like to support Touch A Life. I hope to raise $3,000, allowing our organization to offset initial expenses for the amazing 25 new children who were just rescued from trafficking and placed into our care. If you feel compelled to give, you can donate here and select “Rachel’s 30th Birthday” in the donation drop-down menu.

I love the photo above so much. James & I have sponsored Baba for several years, and I was on his rescue from Lake Volta in August of 2009. Back then he was scrawny and suffering from malnutrition, so much so that his black hair had an eerie orange tint. He was sullen and depressed and silent. But Baba quickly transformed into the darling young man he is today – a hilarious, helpful, hardworking leader who has sprouted up several feet and now towers over me. Baba, like so many other children at the Touch A Life Care Center, is such an obvious representation of how well our organization’s methods are working. He is a tangible example that by providing rescued children with holistic care, the love of a family, and an opportunity to heal, we can make a huge difference. And by donating to support our efforts, so can you.

P.S. Take a peek at our brand new website! We have been working so hard on this revamp all year long and I am just so dang obsessed with how it turned out.

Image by Natalie Shelton

Flash Tattoos

5212015_180 5212015_141In December I threw a surprise 30th birthday party for James, and it was a total blast. As an added bonus, I picked up several sets of temporary tattoos (these manly ones for the guys and these gorgeous ones for the girls); I thought they would be fun favors. Little did I know, the tattoo station would be one of the biggest hits of the party (after the beverage cart, of course). Everyone had so much fun selecting their tattoos and adorning them for the rest of the party guests to see.

IMG_8859 IMG_8710 IMG_8872 IMG_8861I had a few of the glittery Flash Tattoos leftover so I packed them in my suitcase when I was getting to ready to go to Ghana in May. On a breezy afternoon during the trip, the older teenage girls and I decided to dig into the stash of tattoos, applying them to their arms and necks and fingers. The jewelry-like tats looked insanely gorgeous on the girls, their dark skin really making them pop, and as I watched them laugh and giggle as they added more glitter to their appendages, I was reminded that these girls – their hearts and stories and reclaimed youth – are worth so much more than gold.

5212015_182I am so excited that, as a result of our fun afternoon in Ghana back in May, Touch A Life and our fabulous teenage girls are featured on Flash Tattoo’s blog today! I was honored to get to write a guest post about the girls, their reaction to the fabulous tattoos, and the story behind our organization. The post turned out beautifully, as did the gorgeous photos by Nancy Borowick. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

With only two other staff members in our Dallas-based office, [co-founder Pam Cope and I] both wear a lot of hats. Pam serves as a visionary for the organization, sharing her story and meeting with like-minded crusaders to champion the cause. I love working with Touch A Life’s friends and supporters, reveling in the opportunity to connect them to the children they support by leading trips to Ghana and creating donor communication strategies. Most of all, we can both agree that the best part of our job is spending time with the children we support. We know that even though we have gotten to be a part of their healing in some small way, they have changed our lives more than we could ever change theirs.

Pop on over to Flash Tattoo’s blog to read the full post, and then head on over to the shop to snag some gorgeous tats for yourself!

Beauty Truths

5212015_177There are so many things I love about writing for Darling Magazine. The publication, both in print and online, serves as inspiration for so many readers, and being a small part of that is such a blessing. One of the things I love most about writing for Darling is my relationship with my online editor. She is a smart, sharp young woman who gives me the freedom to present her with pitches concerning a variety of topics, many of them personal to my own life and interests. Most recently, I got to write about beauty truths that I’ve learned from my trips to Ghana, lessons I’ve taken to heart about body image and self-worth and what’s really important in this world. It was an honor to get to share some sentiments that I’ve learned from my experiences working for Touch A Life. I love the picture above of three of our amazing girls, Patience, Janet & Forgive. They have taught me so much about gratitude and self-care and peace and happiness that comes from within, ideals I try to focus on instead of worrying about first world problems, like how my jeans fit. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

In Ghana I am reminded that good health is the utmost privilege, the most important and valuable aspect of anyone’s life. I am reminded that curves are gorgeous, that a smile is truly a window to the soul, and that everlasting beauty comes from within. I am aware that these are also lessons I could learn in the U.S.; they are embraced and exhibited by incredible women all around the country on a daily basis. But for me, I needed to be removed from the cultural influences that seep into my consciousness without my awareness in order to fully understand them. I needed to literally and figuratively step outside of my comfort zone in order to understand how greatly I had been impacted by messages from the media, and for how long.

Head on over to Darling’s site to read the post in its entirety, and let me know what you think!

Photo by Nancy Borowick 

Back Home

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I got home from Ghana on Friday and I feel like I am still figuring out how to adjust back to life in Dallas. Don’t get me wrong – I was more than ready to be home with James and our pups, to meet my friends for margaritas and catch up on a few weeks’ worth of happenings, and to sleep in my comfy bed. But this feeling inevitably arrives after every single trip to West Africa and even though this was my 12th journey, it doesn’t get any easier: every time I get home, I’m a little shaken up, a little pushed out of my comfort zone, a little out of sorts. And honestly, while that feeling can be uncomfortable, it can also be really good. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut and go-go-go of everyday life here in the States, and returning from Ghana always gives me a fresh perspective, one that brings me back to my roots. I’m reminded that it’s okay to balance out really productive days (as well as distinctly not-so-productive days) with a really good nap. It’s okay to want to be a little reclusive and reflective instead of hopping straight back into the social scene. It’s okay to follow a delicious meal of spinach salad & homemade vinaigrette with a serving or two of Ben & Jerry’s The Tonight Dough. It’s okay to wake up really early on a weekend to clean out the garage only to spend the rest of the day lounging in pajamas and reading novels. It’s okay to feel all the feels, to allow the aches and creaks and changes occur in both body and soul. The children in Touch A Life’s care in Ghana teach me so many things, but one of the resounding lessons I learn over and over again is that it’s okay, that rest is good, that stress can be a luxury, a concept embraced by first-world nations. I’m reminded that busyness should not be a commodity that determines our worth, that time with people we love is the best thing there is, that God created this big world for us to explore and enjoy. For these lessons and so many more, I’m grateful.

Ghana Bound

IMG_6857I’m heading to Ghana today, and I can’t wait to be back in West Africa. The climate of the region has calmed considerably since last summer’s heartwrenching Ebola outbreak, and I’m really ready to be back at the Touch A Life Care Center with the children and staff whom we love so much.

I never got around to posting photos from the last time I was in Ghana (way back in August of 2013, oh my gosh!), so I thought I’d share some with you now. I was so thrilled that I got to travel with two of my nearest & dearest friends, Lauren & Patrick Cone. We went to Ghana with a group of about 15 volunteers and we helped lay a mosaic installation in Seth’s Social Center; host tons of fun activities for the children while they were on summer vacation; and visit Lake Volta, the home to nearly 10,000 child slaves, brainstorming with our Ghanaian staff to determine the best way to make space for more children at our facility. Patrick shot this amazing video for Touch A Life on that trip, which I think is the most powerful & beautiful way to sum up what our organization does.

I can’t wait to share photos from this trip when I get back in a few weeks. I had high hopes of scheduling out posts while I’m gone but I didn’t quite get every item tackled on my to-do list, so this post will have to suffice. See you soon, friends!

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Touch A Life + Black Friday

TAL on Black FridayHow was your Thanksgiving? Ours was just as phenomenal as anticipated, filled with food and laughter and joy and togetherness. I’m so glad James and I will be in Chicago for a few more days! On the agenda – heading to the gun range at our country club (a first for our family!), hosting a pizza & wedding video outtakes viewing party, getting foot massages, and celebrating my birthday a few days early. I’m so happy!

In between all of our fun activities, I’m sure I’ll be checking out some awesome Black Friday deals, including the fabulous one that Touch A Life is offering. For a $50 donation, we will send you a signed copy of Pam Cope’s memoir, Jantsen’s Gift, along with a set of five beautiful Artifact Uprising prints of our children and Care Center in Ghana taken by photographer Nancy Borowick.  This is a limited edition item – only 16 sets are available!

For a $20 donation, we will send you a set of 10 Christmas cards with illustrations drawn by five Touch A Life children in Ghana. These are perfect to send to your family and friends as a Christmas greeting!

Visit Touch A Life’s website to make your donation and select the item that you’d like to receive. Your purchase will make a difference in the life of a child in Ghana – there’s not much better than that!

Week & End

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Three cheers for short work weeks! We are putting in lots of hours helping with the garage sale that my friend Jessica is hosting to benefit Touch A Life this weekend, so we’ll certainly be celebrating with some ice-cold cocktails after our hard work is done tomorrow evening. Our small group took a summer hiatus and we’ll be starting up again on Sunday, so I’m definitely looking forward to getting back into a routine of getting together after church for lunch and fellowship. Other than that, there’s not much else on the agenda! Do you have big plans? I hope your weekend is wonderful!

Just for fun, here are some great links from around the web:

This post and this post make me want to take a trip to Big Sur as soon as possible. Like, tomorrow? I’m craving some ocean air in a major way.

These fresh peach and yogurt biscuits look so delicious! They’d be perfect with a hot cup of coffee for breakfast or as an afternoon snack.

I love reading the blog Sugar & Cloth, so I am super obsessed with this tour of her studio space – it’s so gorgeous! This is totally the look I am going for in my own office at work, which you may get to see online soon and very soon…(teaser!).

I am stoked about the impending release of Camille Styles’s entertaining book! I’m also hoping she’ll come to Dallas during one of her book tour dates.

In the mood to do some Christmas shopping in September? We just posted our Christmas wish list for the Touch A Life children in Ghana! Visit our list on Amazon.com and select a gift to send to a child in West Africa. Your contribution will truly make a child’s Christmas a memorable one!

Image via Glitter Guide

The Science of Sleep

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What a whirlwind of a week it’s been. Due to the heart-wrenching Ebola outbreak in West Africa, our upcoming trip to Ghana has been cancelled. Touch A Life, in conjunction with our amazing Medical Advisory Board (comprised of five physicians and one pharmacist, all of whom are equipped with immense knowledge, wisdom, and international travel experience), has decided to cancel the trip for the protection of the children in our care and for the safety of our travelers. Though Ghana is currently not one of the affected areas, its proximity to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea prompted our staff and medical team to have concerns about volunteers traveling to the region. The Ebola virus has not spread to Ghana (so the children and staff at our Care Center are safe and healthy) but the Center for Disease Control recently placed Level 3 restrictions on the affected countries, asking travelers not to take any nonessential trips to those spots. After tons of prayer and deliberation, we agreed that it was unnecessary for our large team of volunteers to take this journey, less because we are worried about the disease itself (though we are still praying hard for those affected, as Ebola is very serious and scary) and more because we are concerned about the instability of the region and the high likelihood of travel delays, flight cancellations, and quarantines in the areas surrounding Ghana. You can learn more about Ebola and the impact of this outbreak, the largest recorded instance in history, from this excellent NPR podcast – this gave me so much additional context for exactly why this specific outbreak is threatening the stability of West Africa. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the people and communities who are fighting the spread of this disease, as well as to the brave medical personnel who are fighting alongside them.

On a (semi) lighter note, did anyone else have to read The Hot Zone in high school? The book, about Ebola and its horrifying ability to spread rapidly, was terrifying on its on but even more so when the subject matter actually came to the forefront of our lives last week. Though Ebola has been present in many regions in Africa since the 1970s, last week’s outbreak was extremely notable because the disease, normally contained to rural areas, hopped into urban areas and across country borders, exponentially increasing its ability to spiral out of control. As you can imagine, this shift led to many sleepless nights as our staff prayed fervently for friends in West Africa, for guidance about the decision to cancel the trip, and for the safety of the children in our care. It also brought back the hilarious nightmares I had while reading the book in high school, which were so vivid then that I can still remember them to this day (let’s just say they involved a blue tiger, my history teacher, and a few non-threatening dinosaurs). I like to read before bedtime, as it makes me so relaxed, but I normally stick to books that don’t make me scared to go to sleep, things like chick lit, faith-based books, and magazines. While reading my most recent issue of Real Simple last week, I came upon a fascinating article about sleep called “While You Were Sleeping.” The premise of the article was this:

“‘A lot of people think of sleep as an inert state, like a laptop switching off,’ says Jessica Payne, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Sleep, Stress, and Memory Lab at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana. ‘But during sleep, your mind and body are actually highly active with processes critical for your physical and mental health.” In fact, your body even performs certain tasks more efficiently and thoroughly when you’re at rest than when you’re alert.

This felt like a personal victory to me, as I’m one of those people who requires a good 10 hours of sleep per night and loves any article that justifies this behavior. I can (and do) go on less, but I know my optimal performance comes after a really restful night’s sleep, so I silently applauded the article’s author, Jennifer King Lindley, for penning such a great piece that didn’t just regurgitate everything we already know about sleep (including the things that we wouldn’t have to read about to know – like, duh, if we get a good night’s sleep, we know that we don’t feel tired the next day) but instead focused on some new, interesting points that illustrate how sleep makes us more efficient, thoughtful, diligent people. The main points of the piece emphasize that:

  1. Sleep heals.
  2. It enhances memory.
  3. Sleep boosts creativity.
  4. It keeps weight in check.
  5. Sleep helps conquer stress.

To those of you who think this topic is a little tired (badda bing), pick up a copy for yourself – this article is worth the read. And if you aren’t crazy about it? At least maybe it will put you to sleep.

Image via Modern Hepburn

A Portrait of Forgiveness

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Nancy Borowick, a dear friend of the Touch A Life Foundation (and me!), is currently at our Care Center in Ghana, West Africa. Prior to heading up to the facility to spend time with the children and shoot some gorgeous images of the property, she stayed in Accra, Ghana’s capital, where we have several teenage girls living communally and learning trades. Many of the girls are becoming seamstresses while one is learning to be a chef and Forgive, pictured above, is learning to be a hairdresser. I have known Forgive and the other girls since they were young, so this photo that Nancy sent me of her was particularly striking – she’s so beautiful, isn’t she? She’s really growing up.

Gosh, how I love this girl’s name: Forgive. I am so bad at offering forgiveness and grace, but Forgive tangibly reminds me of the power inherent in forgiving others and giving grace to those who need it (myself included). Forgive, like the other children in Touch A Life’s care, was exploited at the hands of an adult who stripped her of her identity and worth. In spite of the darkness she has lived through, Forgive is a light in her community and in the world. She is a hard worker who is determined to grow into a woman who can make a difference in her lifetime – and I know she can do it. She inspires me, and I hope that today Forgive inspires you, too.