Category Archives: personal growth


Sell your crap

I found this quote on Pinterest, and it led me to Adam Baker’s website, Man vs. Debt, and his popular Ted Talk. What appeals to me about Baker’s quote, site, and Ted Talk is the absolute freedom of that mindset. Getting rid of debt and excess stuff allows you to be flexible, nimble, and agile. It just sounds so empowering.

I’m not a “stuff” person, meaning that I don’t have strong emotional attachments to things, and that’s weird for an historian. Most of my colleagues hold on to stuff, because physical objects are tangible pieces of our history. Items tell stories, and they connect us to the past. So it’s weird for an historian to be so anti-stuff. I blame my family’s regular moves when I was growing up; the more possessions you have the harder it is to move. Not that I live a spartan life, either. The longer I’ve lived in one place (15 years yesterday!), the more stuff has accumulated in the nooks and crannies of my life. And not just precious memorabilia, either. I have an abundance of papers, craft supplies I no longer use, and don’t even get me started on the wide variety of sizes and seasons of clothing I have stashed!

My lack of attachment to stuff, and the fact that my clothes seem to reproduce while I’m asleep leads to regular purging. My mom, sister and I have an annual garage sale, and unsold items get donated right away. But we follow the donation dropoff with an afternoon of shopping, so the cycle continues.

But I long for that freedom. I want to get to the point where my thesis no longer hangs over my head. I want to own my money instead of owing it. I want to consider possibilities and not have to say, “maybe someday.”

If you feel like I do, I challenge you to make a step in the direction of freedom. Toss some dead-weight junk, like papers and old, worn clothes. Sell some excess stuff that has value to someone else. Finish that project that’s hanging over your life (preaching to myself on that one…). Stop shopping for stuff you can live without (again, preaching to myself), and make progress on your debts. Get free. Reclaim your life. Do what you love.

I have a printable “clutter cutter challenge” for you to help you get started. And be sure to check out the Man vs. Debt website for great articles on successfully selling your stuff!

Clutter Cutter

My Hunger “Bucket List”

My Hunger Bucket List

Are you familiar with the concept of a “bucket list?” The idea is just a list of things you really want to accomplish before you “kick the bucket.” Some people have a literal checklist, but most of us just have general ideas. For example, my bucket list includes visiting Paris (I studied French in high school and college), to see the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa in person. Even if you’ve never heard of a bucket list, I’ll bet you’ve dreamed about things you want to do before you die.

I have a Food Shelf Friday bucket list as well – things I want to do or experience as I advocate for the world’s hungry. So today, I’m going to share those dreams with you.

  1. Meet my Compassion child: I’ve told you before about my friend Edouard, whom we sponsor through Compassion International. One of the great things about Compassion is that they can also arrange for you to meet your sponsored child if you visit his or her area. They even plan missions trips a couple times a year and take sponsors to different parts of the world to serve and meet their kids. They just went to Burkina Faso last year, and Edouard is pretty young yet, but I would really love to do this when he’s older and we have more history together.
  2. Build and maintain a revolving portfolio of microfinance loans: Microfinance is another topic I’ve covered previously. At the time when I first shared this revolutionary tool, I also made my first loan through Kiva. Loans pay back in five years, and the money can be reinvested in another loan at that time or cashed out. My plan is to make a new loan twice a year (December and April), until I have ten loans out there. At that point the first one will pay back and will fund the 11th. My investment, built during the first five years, will become a self-feeding revolving portfolio of investments. Of course, not all loans successfully pay back, but the occasional failed loan can be replaced by a new investment on my part. Now, that may sound like a lot of business mumbo jumbo, but it’s not as elaborate and complicated as it seems. Kiva does all the work for me; I just invest about $30 at a time and pick a project that I would like to fund. So far, my first two loans have been agricultural and seem to be loans that will yield long-term opportunity for the lenders.
  3. Transition my wardrobe from “fast fashion” to fair trade: Like microfinance, fair trade is a long-term, sustainable way to provide opportunity, and thus poverty and hunger relief, for people around the world. I am determined to care for my wardrobe, making things last as long as possible, and to replace things (when needed) with items that were made with fair employment practices that empower rather than imprison the workers.
  4. Continue to develop a personal reputation for serving others: When someone has a need for volunteers, I want them to think of me. Not because I want the recognition, but because I want more opportunities to love and serve. I want my life to be an offering to God, and for Him to put me to work loving and serving others the way Jesus did.
  5. Develop Food Shelf Friday’s reputation as a resource: Bloggers try really hard not to get caught up in the numbers, especially faith-based and non-profit blogs. We’re torn between wanting God to build His kingdom as He sees fit, and peeking at the stats to see if we’re doing a good job.
    It’s really not about the numbers, anyway. I would rather have a hundred people know about Food Shelf Friday if it blesses and informs their efforts and service than to have a million followers who don’t read the blog, or only come here for a laugh.
    And yet… I feel that this blog is something God has called me to do, and that the information I offer here is valuable. It does no good if I share it with an empty room, right?
    So as you can see, it’s a back-and-forth debate. In the end, I do care if people read my blog, and I work hard to build a social media following, find opportunities to write for other publications, and provide you with well-researched and interesting content. I really want Food Shelf Friday to succeed, and I want it to be a tool that you use as you make decisions about your lifestyle and plans to serve those in need. I repeat (as I often do) that I will NEVER use guilt and sad pictures to prod you into action. Your motivation should come from your own beliefs and the spirit’s convictions. Food Shelf Friday is just a tool to help you act on those convictions. You should never have cause to fear what you’ll see on this site or on my social media feeds.


Obviously I have a ways to go. Hopefully I’ll have many years to reach and refine, and I’m sure I’ll come up with many more dreams as well! Leave a comment with some of your bucket list dreams (personal or service-based), and/or topics you would like to see covered here on Food Shelf Friday. I welcome your feedback!

The Elimination Diet

Elimination DietFriends, I’m being tortured. After seven years with eczema and trying every medical and holistic treatment on the planet, we’ve moved into the realm of unholy torture. They put me on an elimination diet.

What is this torment, you ask? Well, let me tell you. I am allowed to eat virtually nothing for three weeks, then I reintroduce foods one at a time to see if they trigger the eczema symptoms. All I can eat is turkey, organic chicken, fish, brown rice, quinoa, and fruits and veggies (except for grapes, bananas, citrus, strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. Those are taboo as well). I’m half way through the 3 week phase, and next week I’m reintroducing beans and peas (other than soy). Some people don’t even eliminate those, and I have no reason to think they would be part of the problem, so they get in early.

I have two real fears about this process. First, of course, I fear that I will learn that one of my favorite things in life, like gluten or cheese, has to be permanently eliminated. I am seriously considering whether some things are worse than eczema… Second, I fear becoming one of those whiny crusaders who ruins every event by talking incessantly about their dietary issues (yet, ironically, here I am blogging about it. I promise it won’t become a regular occurrence). I resisted the elimination diet as long as I could because of these two things, yet here I am.

Once during the first week, when I was still reeling from the limited scope of my eating options, I decided to roast a turkey. I got the bird all thawed and ready to go, put it in the oven on time bake, and headed off to work. When I got home that night, I was instantly alarmed by the lack of turkey smell in my house. I ran up to the kitchen and found that the oven’s time bake and computer bits had frizzed out (that’s the technical term, I’m pretty sure). The turkey was raw, and it was time to eat. To add insult to injury, my microwave had bit the big one just the day before. I could eat nothing at restaurants, I could make nothing in the microwave, and my son had to get to church. I threw something together for my husband and son, and settled on a can of tuna, some sour kraut, and asparagus for me. That has to be the weirdest menu I have ever put together, but I just had to make it work. I posted the story in a group on Facebook, and one of my friends commented something like, “May I gently remind you that you advocate for the hungry?”

She’s right. An elimination diet is frustrating, and having things go wrong when you had a plan is also frustrating, but it’s nothing like what people face when they are truly hungry. I have options, though they’re fewer than usual and sometimes strange. The hungry have no options. If tonight is a disaster, I will eat again in the morning. The hungry probably won’t. While my microwave was down (the new one came today), I had my gas stove to cook on. In many parts of the world, making a hot meal requires foraging for sticks to burn. I still have a lot to be thankful for.

That dinner disaster, and my friend’s sweetly offered wisdom opened my eyes. I know that whatever I learn from this diet, it will not ruin my life. There are thousands of foods available to me. And this mindset, I believe, will help me to not become one of those diet-obsessed oversharers.

Edited July 16, 2016 to add: I survived! My eczema is doing better, and I discovered that my main trigger is eggs (not a surprise since my son was allergic to them too). Thank you to all my friends who supported me during the process 🙂

Nervous: Facing Need Head-on


About a million years ago, back when I first started my undergrad degree, I took a public speaking class. It was good for me. I went into it afraid, and came out far more confident in my ability to speak in front of a group. One of the things our professor taught was that you never tell the audience that you’re nervous. “If you’re nervous, they can already tell,” he would say. “And if they can’t tell, you should let them keep that illusion.” He pointed out that once you tell the audience about your nerves, they start to see your nervousness instead of your message.

Rules were made to be broken, right? I’m nervous writing this post. I’ve learned something about myself and I don’t like it. Worse than that, I’m afraid of the consequences of changing. I’m afraid that by telling you and admitting it to God, I’ll be held accountable to change.

You all know that I care deeply about the world’s hungry. I love service projects, volunteering, and supporting great organizations. But hands on, face to face with need, I’m terrified. I like my service projects, volunteering, and support to be clean. I like to pack meals at Feed My Starving Children. I actually enjoy serving in the kitchen during church events. I’m overjoyed to speak to the middle class and church people. I’m happiest doing research and writing about best practices and great organizations here at Food Shelf Friday. But making a small sacrifice here in my safe, clean home is one thing. Coming face to face with need on the streets and the uncertain mental and moral status of individuals feels dangerous and threatening.

We finally gave away our last “blessing bag” this week. J and I enjoyed planning out the bags, shopping for the supplies, and preparing the packages. But handing them out was unnerving. The first bag I handed out was on a busy urban street corner in broad daylight. I was alone. As I approached the intersection where a man stood with a cardboard sign, I realized he would be on my passenger side. I grabbed my purse and put it on my lap, grabbed the bag, and opened the window as I approached.  “Here are some things for you,” I said. He thanked me, and I waved as I pulled away, heart pounding. The second bag went to a man on a highway on-ramp. It was a public but less busy area. Again, I moved my purse away from the window, rolled it open, and handed out the bag. Again, the man thanked me, and again my heart pounded as I pulled away.

Several months passed after that encounter (Minnesota winters aren’t really conducive to street corner begging). I realized a flaw with the blessing bags – they were only helpful if I was in my car and if the people in need were somewhere I could reach from my lane. Most of the time I see people begging when I’m not in my car. After being approached on a light rail train, I realized that I needed something more portable. So I picked up a couple of $10 Subway gift cards. I chose Subway because they offer reasonably healthy food, and because they don’t sell alcohol. If someone wants to sell the gift card and use that cash for alcohol, I can’t stop that, but I feel like this gift card offers something truly useful. I won’t accidently spend the gift cards, as would likely happen with cash, and they’re so portable I can carry them in my phone case at all times.

This past weekend we saw our third blessing bag recipient. This time J was with me, so as I approached the intersection, I instructed him to grab the bag and open his window. He was immediately nervous and flustered. As he handed out the bag and settled back into his seat, I noticed two things. First, I wasn’t nervous. Either the recipient being female, the fact that I wasn’t alone, or the fact that I was the driver and not the hander-outer was apparently enough to keep me from getting nervous. The second thing I noticed is that J was worked up. “That was scary,” he said several times on the way home.

Ok. So apparently it’s not just me. Why do we get scared? I know one thing that worries me is the unknown mental state and motives of the stranger. One day when I was driving home from work, I was spending some time in prayer, and I offered God my willingness to do anything He might call me to do. “…except picking up hitchhikers. I’m sorry Lord, but the only way I will ever let a strange hitchhiker in my car is if he looks exactly like the Jesus of Renaissance art and holds up a sign that says, ‘Hey Karah, this is Jesus, give me a lift.’ And even then, Lord, I’m not sure I could do it.”

I’m afraid because as a woman I have heard stories my whole life (mostly fiction and Dateline-style news drama) about female joggers dragged into the woods and back alley assaults on women out after dark. Jacob Wetterling, Elizabeth Smart, Jacycee Dugard – their stories are part of our collective memory. They scrape away our faith in humanity, our personal security and confidence, and our willingness to “get our hands dirty.” We want the police and missionaries to handle it, and we’ll just take up an offering or hold a supply drive.

Sometimes that’s ok. I don’t want my sweet grandma to start working with bikers or even to answer the phone when scam artists call. I don’t want my teenage son rehabilitating reformed prostitutes (God forgive me for even saying that…). And offerings and supply drives make many amazing ministries possible. Some things are just not appropriate, and some situations need to be handled by people with special training.

But I do not want to be afraid of people. I want boldness and confidence in the God I serve. I want to bless others and not always hide and distance myself from need. I want to learn to love people because God loves them. I want to overcome my nerves because I know that I am called to serve and advocate on behalf of the hungry.

There, I said it.

Do you identify with this discomfort/anxiety? Have you overcome it? What worked for you? Share in the comments!

How I Became an Advocate for the Hungry

how I became an advocate

For about eighteen months I have been coming here every week to talk with you about hunger and poverty, and to provide knowledge and hope so we can make a difference. As time has passed, more and more of you have joined me on this journey. Thank you so much for that. Bringing hope to the hungry is going to take more than pastors and government programs; bringing hope and lasting change is going to take all of us working together. It is my promise that I will never use guilt and sad pictures on you, but will simply make you aware of hope and solutions. I have said this before and will say it over and over for the rest of my life: your guilt does not help anyone, nor does it trick God into thinking you’re humble. Guilt is a waste of time. If you recognize that you are not doing what you should, that’s conviction. If you act on that conviction to do better next time, it did it’s job. If that conviction just makes you feel bad, that’s shame, and shame helps no one, including you. If something I say hits a nerve with you, ask yourself if you need to do better next time.

So as we have been on this journey together, I have told you very little about myself and how I ended up creating Food Shelf Friday. So today, a little “get to know Karah” and “how did we get here?”

One Sunday morning in the spring of 1983, when I was 4, I asked Jesus to come into my heart and be my best friend. I vividly remember looking to my left, out a second story window, and seeing the sun shining on a budding tree (this is how I know it was spring), then looking down to my feet, which were dressed Sunday-style in ruffly socks and dress shoes, and which did not reach the floor. I raised my hand with the other kids and prayed along with the children’s church teacher.

That’s the heart of my testimony as a Christian. It seems boring compared to the dramatic stories of healing and deliverance that you hear from public speakers, but I like to think  it saved me from a lot of trouble over the years. And as a parent, I know that is the testimony we all want our kids to have!

When I was 9, my dad became a pastor, so obviously my world was the church world growing up. I took part in lots of outreaches, and did lots of work for the church. I’m not saying this to talk about how great I am, quite honestly most of my childhood volunteering was less than voluntary (#pklife). My point is that I tried lots of stuff. I gained experiences even if I didn’t really appreciate it at the time.

Skip ahead a few years and I found myself somewhere very new and unfamiliar. I was married (met my husband at church), and we were attending a really big church. It was a good church, but for a small town pastor’s kid, it was a whole new world. I found it really easy to come and go without digging in. When someone would make an announcement that they really needed help in this ministry or that, I would look around at the auditorium of people and think, “someone else will do it.” I became lazy hiding in the anonymity of a crowd.

Outside of church I dabbled in a few service projects with the MOMS Club chapter, but I was really wandering aimlessly. I was restless. I wanted a mission.

One Sunday we were sitting in the balcony, and a pastor spoke on finding your place in kingdom work. I was in a blah place, wandering the proverbial wilderness. The pastor said, “Your role in the kingdom will not surprise you. The gifts, talents, and interests you have are clues to what you are supposed to be doing. God gave you those gifts, they’re part of your calling.” I was grumpy and cynical at that point, and I dropped my head and prayed bitterly, “God, I make good cookies; what are you going to do with that?”

Every time I tell this story, I laugh at myself, and I imagine God chuckled too, because that day marked a new path for me, one I didn’t even realize I was on. I started to notice the hungry. Food drives at church or in the schools caught my eye. People begging on the side of the road tugged at my heart. Funeral lunches and meals for friends with new babies took on deeper significance. I don’t remember exactly when I realized it, but hunger became my heartbeat.

I didn’t jump right in and start doing something about it. I was busy caring for my family and finishing school (insert laugh here – I’m STILL trying to finish school…). I did just enough to appease my guilt. I didn’t get it. I needed a lifestyle makeover, not a one-and-done service project.

In the fall of 2014, our church (a smaller church we fell in love with a few years ago) participated in Hope for Dinner for Venture Expeditions. That practice, giving up regular meals for rice and beans, inspired me. I decided to get serious about a life dedicated to hunger relief. I started this blog, and I began to read and study hunger and solutions instead of hiding my head in the sand.

So that’s how we got on this journey together. I’m a long way from perfect: I still waste resources and step on toes now and then, but I’m learning and growing. And as Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. And when you know better, do better.” We don’t have to have it all figured out today. We just have to keep learning and keep responding to what we learn. Thank you for joining me on this journey!