How RE + NEW + ALL came to be and the power of community: It's our annivesary!
A well-known Lao Tzu proverb says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Taking that step means you may not know where the path will lead, but with faith, trust, and a community of support, it will take you to where you were meant to be.
Today, September 2nd, 2020, marks the one-year anniversary of RE + NEW + ALL Candle. As we celebrate this major milestone, we can’t help but reflect back on the steps, the people, and the answered prayers that helped us get here.
Because the truth is no one journeys alone. So many have walked beside us, cheered us on, and blessed us along the way with whatever assistance they could offer, even long before we poured our first candle.
And while our story centers on RE + NEW + ALL’s founder Lee Howard, it’s really about all the angels on earth who have shown up just when they were needed. Because each one played a powerful role in bringing this beautiful social enterprise into being.
So, we invite you to light a candle (naturally!), pull up a chair, and allow us to take you on a trip through time to this moment. Because those first steps that laid the foundation of RE + NEW + ALL’s mission didn’t happen just one year ago; it was a divine plan set into motion many years ago...
Where it All Began
The first step came in the spring of 2012, long before the spark of RE + NEW + ALL Candle had been lit. Lee was a freshman in college on an athletic scholarship, and her life looked picture perfect. But she was unhappy; she knew she was denying a calling deep within her heart.
Invited to give a talk to the Fellowship for Christian Athletes at her former high school, she told the students, “As Christians, we pray and ask God what we should do with our lives. Then, when He shows us, if it’s not what we really want to do, we just say thanks, and keep going in the opposite direction.”
As soon as she spoke the words, she knew she was really talking about herself. She had long felt the pull to a life of ministry and mission work but hadn’t been willing to follow through. How could she tell these students to follow God’s guidance and not be doing the same?
So she took that first leap of faith. Within two days of her talk, she left her athletic scholarship behind, transferred to a Christian college with academic scholarships, and stepped onto a new path.
But four years after that momentous decision, Lee hit rock bottom. She found herself living a double life. She’d paint on a smile and pretend all was well going at her job as a children’s minister and in her college classes. But in truth, she was miserable. Broken by a series of painful experiences and stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship, her self-esteem was in tatters, her faith shaken, and her purpose far out of reach.
Feeling trapped and ashamed, Lee cried out to God for help. If she was to find her way back to her path of ministry and heal, she was going to need funds and a safe place to stay because at that moment she had neither.
Not long after, a man walked into the church where she worked. His 90-year-old parents had a 2-bedroom basement apartment nearby. “Does anyone need a place to live?” he asked. Not only was it safe, the couple felt called to offer it to Lee rent-free. Her prayer had been answered, and her personal healing journey began.
During the 18 months she lived there, this couple showered her with unconditional love and grace, and she began to tend to her wounded spirit. While she worked on healing emotionally, Lee was also able to start saving money for grad school to study trauma therapy. (Spoiler alert: This savings account would go on to play an even bigger role down the road.)
The Road to Recovery
Now in a new home, she decided it was time for a change of work too. Though on the road to recovery, guilt and shame continued to hound her. She questioned whether she was meant for ministry after all the mistakes she’d made. A part of her still believed she had fallen too far and was unworthy of being used for a greater purpose.
So, Lee left the church and took on a corporate job. Though the business she joined truly became her family, (she married the owner’s son), she quickly learned she did not like life in the corporate world. However, little did she know at the time that though she was running from ministry, she was learning crucial skills that would prepare her for an even bigger calling.
She stayed in this job for a year until she felt the pull to move on. With a mended heart and her faith restored, she knew it was time to take another big step. Lee gave 2-week’s notice at the company and, once again, prayed for direction. She didn’t feel her mission work was meant to be in a church, but she wasn’t sure where she belonged.
And once again, the right person appeared with an answer.
A Way Out
Attending a ministry breakfast, she met the executive director of A Way Out, a nonprofit that offers safe housing and a 2-year rehab and recovery program for trafficking survivors. It was the first time Lee had even heard about human trafficking, and, remarkably, it just so happened that a position had opened up with the organization.
Lee was hired as a counselor and event coordinator. She connected with the women of A Way Out on so many levels. Because of her own experiences, she knew how it felt to be rejected, to feel worthless, to be used and abused.
She understood that sometimes people make decisions that don’t always make sense, even when they come from good families or an educated background. She remembered what it was like to need a safe space in order to heal. And she was very familiar with the internal struggle each woman faced between wanting to heal and believing she didn’t deserve a better life.
Part of her work involved coming up with fun activities. Being a nonprofit, A Way Out had minimal funds, so finding interesting and stimulating things to do was often a challenge. However, her soon-to-be mother-in-law, Amy, had opened a maker’s studio. She happily let Lee bring the women there to make their own art and crafts.
Lee soon saw how being creative and working with their hands brought these survivors out of their shells. They began to open up and share their stories with one another. She also witnessed how the process of finishing each piece of art was helping them experience success in a way they hadn’t before.
Each completed project built their sense of self-worth. Lee recognized how important it was to give these women even more experiences of being successful so they would begin to believe in themselves rather than in the lies they’d been hearing for so long, the voices that told them they weren’t worthy of being rescued or that they’d always fail.
At one point, one of the women spoke up and shared how she wished she could make some money. She wanted to be able to buy things like her own personal hygiene products, birthday cards, and save for her future. And this, RE + NEW + ALL friends, was the match that lit the wick of our first candle!
RE+NEW+ALL Comes to Life
Initially, RE + NEW +ALL was run by Amy through her A Maker’s Studio. She hired the women to make the candles and brought in an amazing expert named Ash to train everyone in the process. Lee was on board to offer trauma support.
This was a crucial turning point. Lee felt God was showing her that the missing component of the recovery cycle, was safe and meaningful employment opportunities.
Safe houses are vital, but without the ability to recover financially as well as emotionally the women are still vulnerable when they finish the program. Without a path to full-time employment and burdened with prison records and debt, they’re left to fend for themselves and could easily revert back into old habits and unhealthy relationships. Lee had already seen that happen once, and she didn’t want it to happen again.
Equally important is the opportunity to process the emotional triggers that arise as they take on the responsibility of being an employee and work within the structure and standards that come with it. They need a safe place to learn how to manage their insecurities and self-doubt, handle constructive criticism, and keep any inner demons from sabotaging all their hard work.
Soon, the seed of a bigger vision was planted in Lee’s heart at the beginning of 2019. What if she took over RE + NEW + ALL and turned it into a social enterprise? A program where women could safely earn a living and save money, learn these vital employment skills, and be helped with that transition into full-time work?
For five months, her own doubts kept her from acting on the idea. How could she take over when she knew from past experience she didn’t like working in the business? Where would the funds come from to launch it? And would Amy be willing to release RE + NEW + ALL and put it into her hands?
Lee ignored the guidance she was getting until one day she came upon the passage from Philippians 2:3-4 about humility. Those words and remembering what she’d told those students years ago were a sign, and she couldn’t drown out that inner voice any longer. But first, she said a prayer asking for the right words that would allow Amy to entrust the candles to her care.
As it turned out, she didn’t need those words. Within hours of her prayer, Amy herself reached out and said she felt Lee was meant to take the business and turn it into a social enterprise. Once again, when help was needed the answer was provided. And each answer was confirmation she was on the right path.
There was one final step to take. Though Lee knew nothing about how to get a loan, she walked through the doors of the bank and asked the first person she saw for help. The woman she spoke with turned out to be the vice president who was eager to back this new venture.
As they worked through the loan process, they discovered there was one asset Lee could use as collateral for the loan. Remember that savings account Lee started when she began her own healing journey in the basement apartment? There was no way she could have known then how meaningful that account would turn out to be! With the loan in place, RE + NEW + ALL was ready for its debut.
When we officially launched in September, we took yet another big, brave step into the unknown. But there’s one lesson we’ve all learned very well at this point: For every leap of faith we’ve taken, a net has appeared.
Over this last year, people have continued to show up and give RE + NEW + ALL the ability to keep growing. We have a fantastic business consultant who offers advice on pro bono. We continue to develop wonderful collaborations with other businesses. We even survived a tornado hit and moved into a brand new studio space just a few months ago! (That’s another story we’ll definitely be sharing with you.)
And our beautiful and brilliant artisan candlemakers have also been successful in so many ways. Three have now moved on to full-time jobs they love. There have been joyful reconciliations with family. Two women just got accepted into college and another is one class shy of getting her GED. We are bursting with pride over all their accomplishments!!
But we are especially grateful for the RE + NEW + ALL community. Because without your support, none of this would be possible.
We are All in This Together
We want you to know that RE + NEW + ALL is about and for everyone. None of us are perfect. We’ve all faced periods of feeling broken and needed a helping hand. We’ve all been hurt; we’ve all struggled. And we can all be renewed and restored.
When you purchase one of our premium-grade, luxury candles for $38, you’re doing much, much more than buying a piece of decor.
You’re lighting the way for women who were lost so they can find their way back to themselves. You’re giving them the opportunity to figure out their purpose, so they can return to the community and care for others. Your encouragement and caring help them reclaim their self-worth.
When you participate in our Difference Maker fundraising campaigns, you’re giving us a chance to contribute to those who are also lifting others up out of the darkness. This year we’ve been able to celebrate healthcare heroes, feed the hungry, and we’ve got a new campaign coming up in September.
And when you receive your candle, we hope you feel personally connected to the women and the mission of RE + NEW + ALL. It’s why we sign each candle we send, so you know exactly who’s life you’re impacting.
You are such an integral part of our ongoing story. You’re not just buying a candle; you’re becoming part of our extended family. Wherever you are, we want you to know you matter to us. Our love and appreciation is poured into every candle we make.
Yes, the journey of a lifetime truly begins with one step...and then another and another. You likely won’t get there overnight. There will be ups and downs, trials, and triumphs.
But you never have to do it on your own.
No matter what obstacles may appear, by trusting your heart, taking a chance, and being open to the opportunities and people who come along to lend a hand, you’ll find yourself changed.
You’ll discover that every step, even the ones that feel like failures, are designed to better prepare you for a greater purpose up ahead.
Let our story encourage you to embrace each step because even the detours in life are leading you somewhere. In fact, sometimes it’s those detours that allow you to become a difference-maker in the lives of others in ways you may have never dreamed.
Today, we celebrate how far we’ve come, and we can’t wait to see where the RE + NEW + ALL journey leads us. We’ve got our walking shoes on and we’re ready to keep going and growing...one step at a time.