Travel Photos: Bring Your Baby to neW{y}ORK Week

Last month, James and I had several work reasons to be in New York so we thought we’d see what would happen if we brought five-month-old Jude along with us. It’s certainly work to bring a baby in tow, but we had a lot of fun together as a family. Here are some photos of our 5-day trip…

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The perks of two parents being Platinum on Delta? “Free” floor space to kick around in. You’re welcome, Jude.2014-09-19 10.58.42

Early lunch in New Jersey at Van Gogh’s Ear Cafe. Cool vibe, yummy food. James & I recommend the Brie + Apple Pizza or the Foccacia Pizza Salad. 2014-09-19 12.55.25 (1)2014-09-19 13.17.392014-09-19 13.03.33

Jude recommends Sophie the Giraffe.

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We went on to Rockaway, NJ where Blood:Water and I presented at this year’s Collyde Summit. The theme was “Overcome.” I shared about what it looks like to stay with the commitment to justice even on days when you just don’t feel like it. (Jude hung in the back with James).

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Here’s my colleague, Michael, introducing our Give.Hope.Kits for churches to use this Christmas to help bring clean water through biosand filters.

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From there, we took the train into New York. Despite sticking to our carry-ons only policy, it was still cumbersome to get everything into the packed train and then cram our way through the subways…

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… but we eventually made it to our favorite little hotel just outside the city.

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Obligatory walk to our Venezuelan favorite, Arepas Cafe. Black beans, plantains, avocado, yum.

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Jude was spent. Note how he fell asleep mid-teething toy.

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The next morning, we went to James’ old church and then visited our Charity: Water friends, Scott & Vik Harrison, so we could meet each other’s babies.

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We swapped stories about adjustment into parenthood amidst high-demand & travel-heavy jobs. We marveled at how our baby boys have turned our priorities upside down, or right side up – in such a good way.

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James went on to some pre-meetings for the Clinton Global Initiative. Jude and I hung out at the hotel and cheered on the 49ers, despite losing to the Cardinals. (Colin Kaepernick is the one with the football; Jude is the one with the musical whale).

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Dinner with Uncle Milton and other members of the Lwala Community Alliance.

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The next morning, James and I dropped Jude off with a babysitter at a subway corner where they walked through the park and along the river. We ran off to attend the Social Good Summit hosted by Mashable, the UN Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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The main theme was focused on innovations and hopes for the world we envision for 2030. Several influencers spoke about their vision. Here are NY Times’ Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn sharing about how actions speak louder than hashtags. (Please note the irony in this photo).

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My BFF Melinda Gates was on stage discussing her Mothers & Babies initiative while TV show, Nashville’s Connie Britton finished speaking on women’s rights, as a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN. (Making us proud, Connie!).

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Here was my stated hope for #2030NOW.


James took meetings at the Clinton Global Initiative while Jude and I people-watched from the Sheraton lobby. The place was packed with heads of state, philanthropists, celebrities, NGO leaders and the press. It was a strange experience to be on the mommy/wife side of the equation.


Actually, it was a stressful experience because Jude needed to both nurse and be changed, and I had been needing to go to the bathroom for the last several hours, but didn’t know how to manage it all in a stall of a crowded bathroom, all on my own. (How do New York mamas do this?!?).

Enter my dear friend, Ruthie McGinn, an immediate answer to a hasty, “Lord, I can’t hold any of it any longer” kind of prayer. Ruthie is Special Assistant to (my mentor) Gary Haugen at International Justice Mission, and she was in the lobby waiting to prep Gary for his meeting. She kindly became Most Special Assistant to Stressed Mama and Crying Baby.

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Ruthie gave me the key to her hotel room, and in the madness of it all, Jude and I found a bathroom and a haven.

And an amazing view.

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The next day, James went on to more CGI meetings while I participated in a maternal & child health gathering hosted by Johnson & Johnson. (We met another babysitter, this time at a Barnes & Noble, where she played with Jude in the children’s book section).


Nobel Peace Prize Winner (and Vanderbilt grad), Dr. Muhammad Yunus: “It goes without saying, if you’re poor, you’re poor in health. If you’re a poor woman, it’s the worst.”


My new Nigerian hero, Toyin Saraki: “As a pregnant woman, you cannot reach out for the help you need if you don’t know what that help is. Midwives in Africa are the key to providing that education, to allowing a pregnant woman to have accurate info on what will keep her and her baby safe. Lack of access to this information is simply another form of poverty.”

I’m so inspired to continue to advocate for safe mamas and babies through our maternal and child health work at Blood:Water.

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I rushed off to meet the babysitter, but we both got stuck on opposite sides of a 10-minute “freeze.”

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Meaning, President Obama was about to pass through (he was attending the United Nations General Assembly), so no one was allowed to cross streets or drive through a blocked off radius. I stood stuck in a frustrated human traffic jam for ten minutes. (New Yorkers are not accustomed to standing around).

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Once cleared, Jude and I met up with James in Central Park between his meetings.

2014-09-23 15.39.34 And then Jude and I had a final date at Le Pain Quotidien before heading to the airport. We found a corner bench. Amazing avocado toast for me…

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…and, Sophie the Giraffe for Jude.

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It took extra coordination and energy to bring Jude along, but he was great company and he certainly added more joy and adventure to our traveling days.

Life is a Box.

My days, lately, have been swirling with early alarm clocks, half-eaten breakfasts, lost keys, dropped toys on the front porch, coffee in tumblers, hours full of emails, meetings, phone calls, attempts of squeezing long thoughts into short increments of time, spousal communication by way of texts, one precious hour of play and bath time before bedtime, and repeat dinners of pasta and sauce.

It’s been filled with stacks of junk mail and unpaid bills, watching missed NFL games in fast-forward mode, forgotten birthdays and anniversaries, unreturned messages from friends who miss us, short and incomplete phone conversations with family from afar, habitual sifting through dirty laundry to find something reusable for the next day, and falling dead asleep on the couch next to James before Jon Stewart even begins. (And those are on days when I don’t travel).

James and I asked our priest, Becca, how she and her family have been able to manage a life full of dual careers, three sons, significant mission responsibilities and community.

This is what she said:

Life is a box.

The things that fill your life are balloons.

Only so many balloons can fit into the box.

You can have a lot of little balloons. Or a few large balloons.

But the box stays the same size.

So, choose your balloons wisely.

Becca’s point is, the box doesn’t get bigger.

I thought that our box would be different. That it would have some trap door or special stretchy expansion. But our box is the same as everyone else’s.

As James and I rail against the limitation, and as our balloons lodge themselves against one other, we are forced to sort through the good and lasting lessons about what really matters in this season of our lives.

Otherwise, the balloons will pop.

We have put this truth up on our fridge as we consider how to live a sustainable and flourishing life together.

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My prayer is that all of us can find our way to a box with the right balloons (whether through inflation, deflation, or removal), and that those remaining balloons will have the space to float.

May we all choose our balloons wisely.

ps. I wrote about these challenges on a blog called Plywood People. You can read it here.


Ripple Effect

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Have you ever found yourself Googling or Facebook searching for someone from your past life? For someone you once knew, but as time as passed, you knew not where to find them?

Twelve years ago, I sat in a small room of my college commons and heard the personal stories of two individuals who were HIV positive. One was a man named Bill whose body continued to betray him from the intense regimens of medication (Ironically, the side effects of the medications were as unbearable as the symptoms themselves). And the other was a woman named Julie who shared what it was like to become HIV positive from a blood transfusion after the birth of her daughter.

At the time, I had been studying the effects of HIV on the immune system in my medical microbiology class, but this was the first time I had heard from people who were living through it.

Their stories were powerful to me. They were so human, so broken, so honest, so real. The science of the virus morphed into the stories of people. I remember, in particular, the audacity with which Julie spoke. She had said things like,

It doesn’t matter how I contracted HIV, even though people see my circumstance as more innocent than that of others. I don’t want to be treated differently. We are all in it together.” 


I had 3 children, and I was told I would only have five years to live. But I decided I wasn’t going to live like I was dying. I was going to live it fully. 

As a college student searching for purpose, Julie and Bill’s stories were the spark that sent me finding stories of other HIV positive people around the globe. It’s what led me to Blood:Water.

I have often wondered about Bill and Julie. I mostly wondered if they were still alive. And a year ago, instead of wondering, I did as most of us do when we wonder where in the world someone might be. I took my questions to Google. I grabbed my college notebook to find the last names of Bill and Julie (yes, I still have my college notebooks – ultimate nerdom, I know), and this is what I found:

Bill: The only thing that came up was that he was a member of the Spokane HIV/AIDS Speakers Bureau in Spokane. There was no clear date to ascertain whether or not he was still speaking, or still alive. My search ended there.

Julie: She was also listed in the Spokane HIV/AIDS Speakers Bureau. But different than Bill, there was another link with her name in it – an article from Spokane’s Inlander. It was confusing at first because the article was about a guy who was part of a Seattle-based hip hop duo called Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. (Before you all go judge me about not knowing who they were, this was before they had become a national sensation. Okay, you’re right. I probably still wouldn’t have known).

As I read through the story, it became clear that the Julie I was looking for was Ryan Lewis’ mom. And she was alive. And was continuing to relentlessly advocate for HIV/AIDS issues. In an act of serendipity, the article revealed that I already knew Julie’s husband, Scott, through our nonprofit circles. I found an old email from him, and I reached out.

Last week, I went to dinner with Julie and Scott in Seattle. I shared with Julie how the courage of her story more than a decade ago was a significant catalyst in my life. That her testimony compelled me to find the testimonies of others.

That the ripple effect meant more than 60,000 HIV positive Africans with a second chance at life and flourishing – and nearly a million people in AIDS-affected communities with clean water. That in the moments when you just don’t know if your story means anything past sympathy or inspiration, it can mean so much more.

Take the time to circle back to those who’ve inspired you – and thank them. And pay attention to the way your own life and story can have a ripple effect beyond your wildest imagination.

ps. When I showed Julie the notebook, I asked about Bill. He, too, is alive. I can’t wait to go meet him and thank him, too.


To learn more about Julie’s work, go here.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have partnered with Julie in the 30/30 Project.



Seattle Meets

In a 24-hour visit to Seattle, I had the opportunity to meet with great friends & supporters in some fun places around the city. All five restaurants were new to me.

Here’s a peek into some fun Seattle places to meet up.

Agua Verde [University District]



Amazing food AND kayak rentals! I only had time to partake in the food part, but I sure enjoyed sitting by the water in the sunshine.

Kakao: Chocolate + Coffee + Community [South Lake Union]



A coffee shop by week and church by weekend, Kakao + Chocolate is in the exciting neighborhood of South Lake Union. Sipping chocolate and Italian sodas. Need I say more?

Little Water Cantina [Eastlake/Lake Union]



Outdoor seating along the water with a stunning sunset. Margaritas, guacamole, empanadas, yum.

909 Coffee & Wine [Burien]



In the town of Burien, this little place calls itself a cozy, neighborhood gathering space. It truly is. Their breakfasts are fabulous. I had the scramble with black beans.

13 COINS [SeaTac]



A really random location unless you need a place to meet before a flight (which is exactly what we did). Standard bar food but better because it’s done PNW style. This place is open 24 hours.

So, there you have it. What other meet up places should I try next time?

Let Your Life Surprise You


This week, I received an email from one of my best friends, Autumn, who is living and working in South Sudan amidst one of today’s most pressing humanitarian crises. Refugee camps are overpopulated with men, women and children who lack clean water, sanitation, and sufficient nutrition – causing outbreaks of cholera, hepatitis and impending famine. And outside the camps, violence continues with killings in hospitals, churches and mass rape.

And my sweet, dear Autumn is on the front lines doing her part to address the immediate needs of our South Sudanese brothers and sisters, despite the horrific conditions.

This was her mode of transportation from a recent visit into the field.


But there’s something you should know about Autumn: Humanitarian work was not her original career path. It wasn’t even her secondary or tertiary path.

In our early twenties when we lived together, Autumn worked for a music label, a recording studio, and even as a makeup artist. While she gleaned great life experience, she continued to be dissatisfied with how she was spending her days.

This is us, with our other roommate Amy (whose incredible story I will tell you about later).


Autumn continued to ask the good and hard questions about vocation and calling. And then she took brave steps to actualize her convictions to be in proximity with the poor.

She left Nashville for a job with a social business in California, applied to grad school at London School of Economics, began internships with major NGOs in the UK and has found her way to coordinating emergency responses to water, sanitation and hygiene in South Sudan’s refugee camps.

Her most recent email stated:

Most days I feel completely inadequate to lead the response efforts in such a crucial way as this. Other days I feel blessed that I get to be here in this moment, and there is nowhere else I would rather be but be in the midst of all that is South Sudan. I feel like when I’m here I’m seeing a picture of love, suffering and life that most people don’t, and I’m so challenged and changed by it daily.” 

I am so proud of Autumn, for being courageous and persistent. For listening to her heart and following that calling. For serving in a moment in time even when the rest of the world’s tragedies have overshadowed the very real and horrific one that she is living in. And for choosing hope even when everything in her days tries to convince her otherwise.

As I remember our years together in our Nashville apartment filled with angst and uncertainty about calling and direction, I don’t think Autumn could have imagined that this is where she would be today.

Don’t count yourself out of the tugging convictions within. Listen to them, seek them out. And let your life surprise you.


(This is in one of the camps that have flooded. And because of open defecation and poor sanitation services, she’s literally knee deep in it. With a smile and all.)


More information about the organizations Autumn has been working for and how to help, go here and here.

(All photos courtesy of Autumn Petersen)

Time Out

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After compounded weeks of rushing out in the mornings, rushing home in the evenings, pumping between meetings and in taxi cabs and green rooms and public bathrooms and the back of airplanes, washing parts, storing milk, carrying coolers and ice packs, not sleeping through the night in 132 days (yes, I’m still counting), coordinating schedules/supplies/instructions for nannies and babysitters, dealing with Jude getting hand foot & mouth disease which he then generously shared with me, showing up in the office with fevers and chills, attending meetings and engagements in Boston, DC, and Atlanta, negotiating with James’ equally demanding work schedule, and continuing to press forward in our attempts to raise the money necessary to bring water to another million people in Africa, I kind of couldn’t take it anymore.

All I could think was, this is not working.

And, I need help.

I looked at James, and waved my proverbial white flag, wishing the world stop for a moment so we could catch our breath and look each other in the eye and ask what just happened to our life.

But we knew that the world wasn’t going to stop on our behalf. So, in a moment of clarity (and desperation), we deliberately stepped out of our world for a week and took a Time Out.

We hopped on a plane, and James’ parents graciously welcomed us into their San Diego home. His parents took care of Jude while I recovered from my fever; they took early morning shifts with him so James and I could sleep. We played with our baby and soaked in the sweet moments we miss when we are at work.

We dipped his toes in the water.

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And we handed him to his Lovey and Grandpap so James and I could walk, journal, read, float in the bay, eat real food, and take deep breaths of the Pacific air.

In all of this change since baby, I had no idea how much I would miss my husband. We are in all of it together, co-parenting and partnering together to get through our days, to care for our son.

But all of the moments of intimacy that make our marriage rich have disappeared in the demands of our new normal. James and I spent the week revisiting the values we set forth on our wedding day, that have been a compass for us in times such as these. Being the strategic executives that we are, we graphed venn diagrams of our values and tried to understand where we are and where we want to be.

We did not, of course, solve all of our problems in one week together, but we did get a chance to hit the reset button with fresh perspective, extra rest and a reminder for what matters most to us in our desire to take care of ourselves, love one another and love our neighbor. We affirmed the need to pace ourselves, to ask for help, to be willing to live differently when the status quo detours us on a path we ought not to take.

The world will not stop on our behalf, but taking moments of true rest from the hurry of life is vital. A recent New York Times article speaks to the importance of this reset. James and I recognize the privilege we have in mobility and access – but in whichever way possible to you to find rest, I hope you can make room for it, too.


The Clearing

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The Clearing

Do not try to serve
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is yours alone to sing
falls into your open cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to the world
so worthy of rescue.

– Martha Postlethwaite

African Leaders Summit


This week, our nation and president are hosting more than 40 African heads of state in Washington, DC. This is the largest summit of its kind, intended to strengthen ties between Africa and the US. There will be many discussions surrounding trade, energy, food security, and innovation.

To our surprise, Jars of Clay and I were invited to participate in the kick-off event for the summit, which was focused on the role of faith-based organizations working in Africa. Jars was asked to play music as part of the program; I was invited to sit on the panel to discuss the role of faith organizations working in Africa.

In a room full of members of Congress, US government officials and African ambassadors, nobody really knew much about us. In fact, I was a last-minute addition to the panel after much deliberation. I don’t blame them – the other panel members were established people like the South African Ambassador to the US, and the moderator was the Senior Director of the National Security Council. I’m sorry – Blood:Water who?

Washington isn’t used to having a band in their meetings or an unknown person on their stage. But I’m proud of what we contributed to the kick off of this historic gathering. The Jars of Clay guys picked a perfect set, and their song Oh My God stopped the room. The lyrics spoke to so many people there. The room paused before clapping. It had tapped something deep.


A lively discussion on the panel followed the band. I felt small sitting among such significant people. But I just tried to stay faithful and honest in my answers. And then at the close of the panel, the moderator looked over at me and said, “Jena, as a young leader, I think it’s appropriate that you be the one to provide the final remarks for our time together.”

I looked out at the room of important people. I think I forgot to breathe.

I don’t remember exactly what I said but it had to do with letting the young leaders of Africa be the champions. I know so many creative, hard working, compassionate individuals across Africa. I think it’s our job to believe in them, invest in them, raise them up and let them be the heroes of their communities. Let’s do our best in partnering with them, and then move to the sidelines and cheer them on along the way.

It struck a chord with people. Administrator Shah came over to thank me for what I said. (BTW, he’s a remarkable person – 41-years-old and running USAID’s $22 BILLION operation – dang!)

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As I think more about it, I am reminded that inspiration goes a long way. Stories, lyrics, ideals, moral imagination. That’s just as important as the grandiose; sometimes it’s most important.

Here’s to a special week of the African Leaders Summit. I am honored to have been a small part.

Schedule for the week
NPR story on the Summit

What It’s About

I greeted Saturday morning with a bad attitude.

My alarm went off at 5:15a, just 25 minutes after I had gone back to bed after nursing Jude. I threw my bags together and hustled out the door to join the Jars guys in a van with a trailer, headed for Atlanta.

We had a benefit concert that night, and I was slated to make the pitch from stage. Though I speak in front of people frequently, I still feel anxious and ill-prepared for such a task. It had been a long week, and I just wanted to spend my Saturday morning curled up on the couch with my baby and my husband.

The goal for the night was to raise $10,000 – enough money to provide a well for a community in Zambia. With an expected audience of 1000, I planned to ask each person to consider donating $10. It seemed a simple way to get there, not asking too much of anyone.

But when the opening act began, the auditorium was pretty empty.

Like awkward empty.


Like this was supposed to be the most happening place on a Saturday night, but you were duped because everyone apparently went somewhere else kind of empty.

I felt duped, too.

“We can’t ask for a well tonight,” I told my colleague Jake. We’d be asking for too much. Reluctantly, I walked on the stage and told the scattered crowd about a community called Koloko, in Zambia.

I pulled these photos up, for the audience to see. They were taken that day by our team in Zambia.

There’s Josh rolling the drum of water.

10530651_10152283707576319_7765098311618738722_oCommunity members use this to transport their water, over 2.5 miles away from their homes.

There’s Courtney, accompanying a mama and her child on the walk for water.

10572091_10152283708736319_6926089174012544903_oChildren under the age of 5 are dying unnecessarily from water-borne illnesses.

And here’s the dream, I told them: that walking miles for water would no longer be necessary, that preventable diseases and deaths would disappear. A well could help them do that.

10463721_10152283707621319_2462994752408671881_oDespite the fact that I knew we wouldn’t get the full $10,000 that we needed that night, I boldly asked the audience that we try.

So we passed the popcorn buckets through the aisles, and people placed dollar bills into the buckets. It was a beautiful sign of generosity.

But it wasn’t going to be enough.

Until a man pulled me aside and handed me a blank check to get us to the $10,000.

A blank check.

In ten years of asking for money on behalf of my friends in Africa, I have never been given a blank check. It was a shower of mercy for my doubtful heart. A lifetime of water for a community we love.

It’s moments like these where my narrow worldview continues to change because it’s not about the thousands or the crowds or being in the hippest place on a Saturday night. It’s not about demanding a guarantee of success before giving up a precious day for myself.

It’s about remembering that God is bigger than our wildest dreams. That sometimes you don’t need a thousand new supporters; but rather, just the faithful ones. It’s about the stories we tell. And the faithful actions we live out despite our unbelief.

I guess, too, it’s about being bold enough to ask, even when it feels foolish. And it’s about letting love surprise you – because when I went back on stage to announce the good news, my colleague Michael ran up to tell me that another person had just donated $10,000.

And just like that, this small but mighty crowd had done something extraordinary. Koloko was now bound up in us, and us in them. But we had to have the audacity to ask. My own doubtful heart turned upside down.