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    Let Freedom Rise

    Red, White + Blue. Inner Tubes on the Lake. The American Flag on as many things as you can get it for the day – clothing, drink koozies, etc.. Grilling Out by the Pool. This is America. The 4th of July is our day. Let Freedom Rise!

    Except, what about those that aren’t free today? What about those that are suffering captive by their own minds, their own addictions and even by others? There are a lot of us captive by varying things. Today, most Americans will choose to focus on family and friends, fireworks, relaxing in their freedom and amazing grilled grub like that brisket above.

    Freedom. You know those who have gotten us here – our armed forces, our leadership at all stages, our ancestors and our past as a nation. But those who aren’t yet free are harder to put a face with. In fact, they’re the ones we ignore, the ones that we’d rather not put a face with. Ignoring them and their existence is a 1000 times easier than admitting slavery still exists, than admitting that it’s real and that this is a problem.

    The problem is that it is real though. Listen to these statistics that Love146 has collected: “In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that there are 20.9 million enslaved today. That’s an estimated 4.5 million in sexual exploitation, an estimated 14.2 million in forced labor and an estimated 2.2 million in state imposed labor… One child in Love146’s Survivor Care Program was sold by a trafficker to a brothel for $72. This price is quite typical.”

    You can read more about slavery – how it happens in today’s world as well as some of the stories of those Love146 has helped here. Seriously, click on it and educate yourself. Then come back here and pray with me.

    A Prayer to Let Freedom Rise

    God, you know what is going on in the world around us. You see the good and the bad. You see the downright atrocious. The thing that make my heart so sad and causes tears to flow freely from my face. I can’t even imagine with you being All Knowing how you so deeply feel about this. You see every single moment. I can only imagine the heinousness of it all.

    As we celebrate our freedoms in America today, may those who are not yet free know that they are loved and cared for even now. Allow us to be your hands and feet as we stretch them out to those who need it. To those who are deemed unworthy according to our society. To those who are “supposed” to be overlooked and forgotten. May we see them. May we remember them. May we play a part in their rescue, in your redemption story for their lives.

    You can move mountains with the slightest of whispers. We know that you can take the world of human trafficking and not only make it turn upside down, but change hardened hearts and eradicate that world for good. God, work your miracles. Rescue those who are trapped! 

    God, force us outside of ourselves. May we lay our selfishness of not wanting to upset our “perfect and busy” lives to help those who are hurting whether they’re your beloved children who are trapped in human trafficking or those we know are hurting but are hoping someone else will step up to help them so we don’t have to. Will you use us for you glory? Lord, we’re here. We’re ready. We’re waiting for your gentle, “Let’s Go.” before we launch out in obedience. Show us where we need to be obedient to you in this today. 

    Lord, may our partnership with you be a blessing to others right where they are. In Your Name, Amen. 

    Resources – Where to Start + How to Get Involved

    I hope your heart is stirred today. I hope at least you will learn more and remember those without the same freedoms as you and me. If you’re looking for more additional resources, I’d start here and then check out the organizations that I have put my own trust in below. I would strongly urge you to see if your church has a small group based on learning more about human trafficking and how we can prevent it. I joined one for a semester a few years ago. It was probably one of the heaviest small groups I’ve ever been in, but also one that challenged my stagnant faith in a “wake up, o sleeper” kind of way, especially to the plight of others around me.

    A great way to get a good glimpse of exposure into what is going on is through reading and seeing. While Netflix has several documentaries that highlight human trafficking in various ways, I would recommend steering clear of those initially. I’d instead recommend focusing initial documentary screenings regarding human trafficking to these ones that are provided online thanks to Elijah Rising. I haven’t watched them yet myself, but I’ve heard really good things about Nefarious from the leader of the small group I was in. I’d also recommend reading Renting Lacy. Get ready! This book tore up my heart over this issue when we delved into it as a small group. If you’re looking for even more, A 2nd Cup also has an amazing resource library here.

    Organization against human trafficking:
    Free the Captives // Love 146 // Redeemed Ministries // A21 Campaign // A 2nd Cup (Houston Coffee Shop) // Elijah Rising

    Houston Mac + Cheese Festival 2017: Was It Worth It?

    Did you see the Houston Mac and Cheese Festival event floating around Facebook back in January? I checked interested because who wouldn’t love taste testing a ton of macaroni and cheese? Spoiler: No one! I didn’t think anything about it and certainly wasn’t thinking that I’d end up going to the event itself. Luckily for my taste buds, my brother-in-law saw the event and suggested it as his birthday present from Rick and myself. Spoiler: This may be one of the best birthday presents ever.

    Here’s my pretty bad view from one of the edges of Silver Street. (Sorry, iphone pictures are hard. Also, a huge crowd formed right in front of here watching some dancers extremely soon after taking this.)

    There were a ton of vendors set up from around Houston all toting their best mac + cheese for us to taste. I was a little curious how we were going to carry mac + cheese but we got a special plate that held several tasting cups and a beverage along with several drink tickets along with a token to use to vote on our favorite. We got there when the festival first started and I am so glad we did. We had a bit to sprint around between vendor booths before the place filled. When it filled, it was so hard to walk around but a bunch of people came and left within an hour and it lightened up. Unfortunately, by the time it lightened up some vendors were out of mac + cheese and the orange goodpops for one of the signature cocktails were gone.

    Here’s the VIP section. it had all the comfy seating and places to put down food and drinks. The general admission had a couple of benches on the opposite end but nowhere near the amount of comfy inside seating shown here. There’s also a private bar in the back.

    Springing for the VIP Tickets – Yay or Nay?

    For us, it was a matter of money with the general admission tickets close to $50, there was no question for us which we would purchase. From what I saw of those who got the VIP tickets, other than access to the VIP section they got a tote bag with some goodies in it. We left right after they announced the overall Mac + Cheese Winner. I’m not sure if they had too many tote bags or what, but we walked away with 4 tote bags filled with goodies when we left even though we didn’t buy the correct tickets. For me, there wasn’t enough of a reason to shell out the extra $20-30 bucks. I’d definitely say nay to VIP and stick with the general admission tickets. The point is to eat all the mac + cheese anyway, right?

    Here’s my tasting plate at one point with several mac + cheese options. Unfortunately, none of these were particularly my favorites. There’s a mac + cheese eggroll, chipotle chicken mac + cheese, lobster mac + cheese, brisket mac + cheese and I’m not sure what the other one is.

    Was the Mac + Cheese Good?

    This question seems like it should be obvious. Duh, mac and cheese is almost always amazing. I didn’t get to taste all the mac + cheese options available because I got full. Of the ones I did taste, I was a little disappointed. A lot of the vendors seemed to throw a thick piece of bacon on top or crumbly bacon bits and that was it. Very few mac + cheeses seemed to go over the top which was most notably, the Oxtail Mac + Cheese from Houston This Is It’s Soul Food restaurant which was the #1 place winner. There was also a Spicy Crawfish Mac + Cheese from Hughies Tavern that Rick and D devoured and loved. For the most part, the mac + cheeses were good but not the phenomenal kind of good that I think I really expected going into the event. I also really liked a truffle one and a mac + cheese ball covered with a spicy marinara sauce.

    The #2 winner, Swift + Company, had the absolute best mac + cheese in my opinion. It’s called the Mac + Cheese Texas Tango and is a pulled pork mac + cheese with a mango tomatillo slaw. I was so in love with this weirdly somewhat sweet creation that I went back for 3 portions. Not only was it delicious, it was one of the more creative concoctions. I’ll definitely be trying to recreate this mac + cheese beauty at home.

    Was it Worth It Then?

    I believe that the 2017 Houston Mac + Cheese Festival was definitely worth a one time go. We did thoroughly enjoy our experience. For the admission price though, I doubt we’ll be going back in the future when it comes back next year. If we had a group of family or friends that wanted to go next year, I’d be down to go with them. I do think that it would make for an amazing date idea or birthday present experience.

    Enjoy some of your favorite mac + cheese soon! Also, feel free to check out my Mac + Cheese pinterest board for creative recipes.

    Ashley

    My Top 3 Family Owned Restaurants in the Houston Area

    It’s no secret. I love to eat, like I absolutely love it. I especially love when I can support a smaller family run business rather than a huge chain. These are my top 3 favorite family owned restaurants in the Houston area. There’s a chance that I may even run into you at one!

    1. El Dorado Mexican Restaurant
      I’ve been coming here since they first opened. They’ve never ceased to satisfy my Mexican cravings. The waitstaff is always friendly and accommodating, especially to special needs. I almost always get the Durango – a chile con queso puff, a guacamole taco, a cheese enchilada and a sour cream chicken enchilada with rice and beans. It can be quite a bit of food, but it’s too delicious to deviate to another meal. One of my other favorite meals is the  Also, their pina colada is absolutely phenomenal. This family has worked so hard. I’m so excited to say that they have opened a new location in League City. My family and I went right when it opened and we absolutely loved it. Well done, friends!
    2. Dumar’s Mediterranean Restaurant
      I’ve said before that this I recommend the couples plate. I wholeheartedly still urge you to order that. It allows you to try all the things possible on the menu. I have officially tried all the chicken shawarma options and have to say that there’s no way you can go wrong. There’s something so delectable about their chicken shawarma that keeps me coming back for it. Rick loves the lamb kebab. Next time, we’re trying the kenafeh!
    3. Marini’s Empanada House
      I got to know the Marini’s the summer after my senior year in high school when I first fell in love with Argentinean empanadas. My absolute favorite things on the menu are the Apple Gabriella (diced apples, dulce de leche, cream cheese, mozzarella cheese, and nuts), the Italian Marcello (Italian sausage, pizza sauce, mozzarella & provolone cheese) and the New Yorker (broccoli, cream sauce, mozzarella & provolone cheese). The best part is that each empanada is super customizable. I almost always add avocado to the New Yorker. It just makes it even better. Marini’s has been growing increasingly famous which is awesome as they are such a sweet, sweet family. They have their restaurant featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives this Friday night.

    I hope y’all spend the night out at one of these establishments. I have absolutely loved my time spent at all of them and hope you do too.

    Happy eating!
    Ashley