Light Gives Heat - Dave and Morgan Hansow

We are so excited to share with you this inspiring interview with the founders of Light Gives Heat (LGH), Dave and Morgan Hansow.  We were very blessed to have the opportunity to visit them in Grand Junction, Colorado a couple of weeks ago. Dave and Morgan have personally inspired me (Stephanie) much with their work in giving Ugandan people life-changing opportunities and connecting them with people all over the world, as well as their perspective that ordinary people can make huge waves of change. LGH’s message “is about finding beauty in risk through the pursuit of big, beautiful, and life-giving dreams.” For more information about LGH, please check out their website at:  Also, check out their amazing documentary called, Moving On.

I hope you enjoy!!

Now, the first question:

If you had to describe yourself as a breakfast cereal, which one would you be and why?

Morgan: There is the really yummy cereal I like called Raspberry Ginger by Peace Cereal.  I like it because it’s kind of zany and tangy and it’s different, and I like things that are kind of exotic and different not that everyone else likes, and it has a color combination so visually it’s also really appealing.

Dave: Grape Nuts are really boring and not many people like them, but they are really good for you and I actually really like them so that is what I’m going to choose, not that a lot of people don’t like me.

How did you come up with the name of your organization, Light Gives Heat?

Dave: So Light Gives Heat was the name of a song by Jars of Clay, like 7 years ago. I think it came out within the year that we had started we had this whole idea of LGH.  It’s a song about so often we go to places like Africa and allow our light to shine and not theirs. We can be not good listeners and really early on we realized that we didn’t know a whole lot, and still six years into this we are still learning a ton. We would never claim to have the way to help people, I mean I was just in Africa learning some really crucial things that I should have known six/seven years ago when we started, so anyway “Light Gives Heat” was a song by Jars of Clay and it kind of touched us and we decided we wanted to be really good listeners.

Morgan:  We really just asked them for their permission and their graces.

How did you guys think of making your documentary, “Moving On” and just being vulnerable about your story and everything?

Morgan: We had always wanted to do a movie. It was never supposed to be about our story or our lives necessarily, we wanted to do something that highlighted the people that we work with on the ground in Uganda. It was something we had been thinking about for a couple of years and then when the pieces fell in place with the right film crew, which is just an incredible story in itself, we were ready.  When we went over to Uganda for the first time for our first round of filming in March of 2010, as we put the cameras on our friends in Africa, they just started talking about us. We then realized in order for us to be vulnerable and talk about how much we’ve been changed in the process we had to include our story too. So we decided to tell our story and their stories and how we’ve changed and affected by each other.

Dave: One of the key things we wanted to make clear while doing the film was that the reason we were fairly vulnerable with our own story and about the messy behind the scenes, was this fear that people would somehow watch a film like this and hold us up like they can do this, but that means I can’t do it because of A, B, C, or D. I mean the reality is that we have kids, we have college debt, we have kids running around with barely enough time or money or energy on any given day and we live in a small town in Colorado. There is nothing sexy about our life and yet so often those are the reasons people give for not doing big things with their lives because they have this full list.  So we wanted to say well, if silly people like Dave and Morgan can do stuff like this then, oh crap, that means maybe I have to or I can, I don’t have a reason to not like maybe I thought I did. We wanted that point to really come across in the film, we weren’t some rock stars who had it all together, but we are messy people and we wanted our behind the scenes to be displayed in the film.

The tagline for this documentary is a “film about finding beauty in risk.” Can you explain what that means to you two?

Morgan: Since it tells the story of how LGH got started, I think it is the idea of stepping out and risking. This idea of feeling unsettled and feeling like you want to do something else with your life, but there’s so much that’s comfortable and predictable about where you are. Just like Dave said about having kids and owning a home, and just that decision to step out and take a risk. Even if we know that we may fail you know, we didn’t really know what we were jumping into, but just listening to your gut and your heart. Also realizing that life is short and we don’t know how long we’re going to be on this planet so we better do something that we’re passionate about and feel called to that makes us come alive. Because there are a lot of people who are living, but aren’t really alive, it’s just sad. This world just needs people who are alive. I just think about risking and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and enter the messy and the unknown, but there’s beauty in that.

Dave: Yeah, it’s about being willing to fail. I think that’s the big thing for us too, that still today this could all end next month, it really could, we’re not more than a month away from failing. However, there’s something beautiful about that risk, it wasn’t just a risk we took 6 years ago, it’s a risk we’re taking every day to continue in and continue on.  And if we don’t find beauty in that then we’re going to be always hoping that things are going to get easier and better one day. The reality is that this may be the good stuff. This may be the hard, the muck, this may be the good and it may be that we just need to change our eyes in the way we view this stuff.

Morgan: And it’s just been in this last season for us that it’s been really challenging, and there have been so many times over the last year that it’s felt like it was too much and we wanted to find something that was more predictable and you know, safer.  But just pressing in and realizing that there’s beauty also in the tension of living of the unknown.  That’s just a huge lesson that we’ve been learning over and over and it took us a long time to actually get.

Dave: And we’re actually still getting it.

Morgan:  Yeah it’s so much easier to just be in the pity party and be frustrated.

Stephanie: That’s great, just finding what it means to truly live.

What does the term Authenticity mean to you?

Dave: Authenticity. For one I would say it’s one of those gut checks for yourself to know, I think we all know. One of the film makers we had on the film, he always said, “in any decision in his life, in any big thing, or small thing he would always stress that your heart will condemn you.” Basically at the end of the day we all have these discussions about what’s right, what’s wrong, and what you should do with your life. He is this firm believer that your heart will condemn you, you know when things are right or when things are wrong. I think at the end of the day we all do know, it’s fear that allows us, to give us millions of reasons why not to do things or why to do things. At the end of the day we all know, so I think being authentic, not only being internally authentic, but also being really authentic, I think vulnerability comes along with authenticity. You can easily get tired of faking it and you’re kind of tired of living and acting like you’re more put together. The more authentic I am, the more I realize how not put together I am.  And yet, in that, we still get to be utilized, which is crazy. Silly people like us get to be used for big, crazy, beautiful things.  I think living authentically allows us to be more and more vulnerable, which in turn allows other people to know they can do the same.

Morgan:  I was going to say something similar. Authenticity to me means being true to who you are and just being real.  I think it’s just a slippery slope especially with the Internet, since it’s so easy to maintain an appearance that you’re more than you are. I think that so often with blogs and with Facebook, it’s really easy to compare what you know to be true about your behind the scenes and what everyone else just posts along with the perfect pictures. This is dangerous because we were never meant to live in that comparison. Also, when people are putting forward their best and in sense wearing masks this doesn’t do anybody any good or any good in the world either.  For us, just having that realness and line of thinking this past year when we’ve had some conversations with companies and organizations about how hard it has been for us and in turn, they share how hard it’s been for them. At these times we’re like, “oh my gosh, I thought we were so abnormal and we were the only ones struggling and to hear that we’re all in this together, there is this level of camaraderie and support that you can engage in because you are being authentic.

Stephanie:  That’s so great, it’s more comforting.

Dave:  I think living authentically gives people permission to also live authentically, but the more we pose the more permission we give people to pose as well because we’re all trying to one up. But as soon as somebody has the guts to just say, hey I’m messy and yet here I am, other people get to do that which is so amazing.

Share a time when you really felt like you were truly following your hearts?

Dave:  For the last 6 years and I would say honestly, it’s not to say, “yeah us,” but truthfully it has never been easy. We had a small season, maybe two or three years into it where things seemed easier and it was growing fast, but the reality is, it’s been a hard road for us to do this. So if we weren’t really passionate about this and risking a lot always, there is no way we would still be here.

Morgan:  I would say that we always have to go back to where our heart is.  It’s just easier to let our emotions cloud so much and it’s so easy to get into the emotions of the days, as well as in those moments where it is difficult, but to really go back to what was the last thing in our heart to be true of where we were called and what our mission was when we had clear vision. To make sure we are making decisions when we are at our best and not at our worst and going back to that truth we know of.

Dave: Everyday this would not be possible if we did not stay really passionate and excited and always dreaming, and always willing to stick it out even when it makes no sense at all.

Morgan: I think that’s the beauty of having a partnership that’s obviously business, but also of husband and wife. It’s not beautiful every day, but it’s a choice and I do not choose to have a good outlook every day, but luckily when one of us is down, the other one can shed light and bring truth, and vice versa.

Dave:  We laugh because it’s like the only thing. When she is down I’m helping her, and when I’m down she’s there. The reality is that is what it takes.

Stephanie:  That just keeps you going because you’re working together and you have your house together and your family.

Dave: It’s one thing to do something big with your life and everybody wants to do that. There’s not a single person who doesn’t want to do something big with their life, but that is very different than actually doing it. It is very different to do it one year or two, three, four, or even five years into it.  It’s not sexy, cool, and fun and it doesn’t make headlines and it’s a whole different thing to be willing to continue to really show up. Even when it may seem not fun anymore or doesn’t even seem worth it most days, we know that we’ve seen that it is worth it. Fortunately, this last trip that I just took was amazing. I was blown away, like I said before, it’s silly little people like us in silly little offices, in small towns in Colorado get to impact whole communities half way across the world. That doesn’t make any sense.  It blows me away when we all get to do stuff like that!

Morgan: But had we given in …

Dave: Yeah, then we’d have never seen this.

Morgan: I think the other part is also about having somebody by your side, so that you don’t feel so alone. You know how it feels when you’re trying to step out.  I feel that there are awesome people that we know, but not many that are actually in our lives or people, and that we’ve been connected with. There are definitely amazing people in this town; I’m not saying that, I’m just saying we haven’t connected with too many people who are like-minded, like-hearted, and who have the same vision.  It can get lonely and at times we feel heavy hearted and we know great people that are doing similar stuff, but they are in different pockets across the US.

Dave: Without their encouragement throughout the years we would be in trouble. These are people who also run organizations like ours and are trying to do big things with their lives. Yeah without their support, we probably would’ve been done a long time ago.

Stephanie: Yeah, challenging each other and being there for each other.

Dave:  Yeah it’s one thing to have friends who don’t understand a thing of what we’re doing to encourage us, and it’s a whole other thing to know CEO’s of other companies that are trying to do something amazing, who have been in it for years to say one little thing and you’re like, okay good, alright, that makes me understand that you’re in the same place.

How do you define success?

Dave: We would have defined it very differently years ago.  On our bad days we define it, when I’m feeling jealous or I’m feeling like other people are getting things that I wish we would get. Those are different.  I may not be able to answer this in the same way, but I think success for us is being able to enjoy what we do for the long haul and allowing that thing to be something that’s actually going to be changing people and ultimately a part of the world.

Morgan: I would say that having a contentedness with the mission and knowing that. Success in the world is one thing and it means making more money, bringing in more revenue, doing more projects, having more exposure, and getting more recognized along with celebrity backing, you know that kind of thing, and at one time that was what we wanted and I think in a way that God has protected us from that. He has taught us this and sometimes it’s been hard, but that isn’t what success is. What we’re getting to do, I mean what we GET to do, and that we can just show up and daily be in the grind, I think that especially with Dave’s last trip and getting to hear how amazing it is that 6 years into this we have relationships with these people that we would have never had if we didn’t stick it out. It’s not super sexy and glamorous and it’s not OOOHHH, it’s just showing up every week and offering an income to people. It’s not getting a lot of press, but I think that is success.  I think you’re right, Dave, we would have defined it differently early on and I think now we’re starting to realize that if LGH doesn’t grow, but stays at the same 120 artisans and producers that we work with, that’s enough.

Dave:  Yeah, if we’re doing this 20 years from now... I guess partly that the past couple of years financially it’s been really hard where every month, I mean we got paid a total of 3 months last year between Morgan and I, like we’re living so we’re okay, we’re here and it’s not like we’re starving or something, but it’s been a huge sacrifice. So at one point we had to say either we quit or we better really enjoy what we’re doing because this is not getting easier and it may not get better so we better enjoy it.  So, I think that’s what we would partly define success as being able to have that vision and perspective of what we’re doing is not only changing people, but we are actually enjoying it. That’s hugely successful. I mean that’s not our goal but that’s successful, we better enjoy this because it may not get easier.

Who inspires you?  Why?

Dave: Who inspires us?  Hmmm.  I mean I read a lot and I have people who inspire me in the way they do things, but I don’t know if I have one single person. I’ve had a lot of respect for Jason Russell this last year from Invisible Children. We’ve just had a couple of emails back and forth this past week before all of the new videos came out. I mean early on they inspired us, but to have the encouragement that a person’s behind the scenes can sometimes be as impactful as their highlight reel is huge, so that is one.  Hmmmm. Who else? I read a lot of Seth Gogen, if you know who he is.  He’s an entrepreneur, business guy.

I would also say, Johnny Cupcakes. Do you know who Johnny Cupcakes is?  He’ll be in Denver tomorrow night. So Johnny Cupcakes is a clothing brand and what is unique about what they do, I mean their shirts cost about fifty dollars, but it’s this very niche brand and he brings tons of fun and relationship through his brand. His name is Johnny and now there are stores in London, Boston – actually two in Boston, one in LA and an online store. Just the creativity that he brings into a brand, that kind of stuff is fun. I think anybody who understands the long term, even in an organization like ours, it would be easy to be about just the mission and that may be good today, but what we realize is what gets me excited are the fun things that we get to do. This includes the idea of building a brand that people can trust years from now. So every decision we make is not based on how we can get through this month, or not only what helps people in Africa most this month or this year, but the reality is weighing our decisions against whether we can still provide jobs five years from now or even ten years from now. We really desire to build a brand that people trust over the years is exciting and fun for me.  It’s not as glamorous at times.

Morgan:  My inspiration comes vicariously through Dave. I mean I don’t spend a ton of time on the Internet like you, Dave do with catching up on blogs and on people, so I feel like he gets inspired and he comes back and shares it with me and then I get to be inspired through him.

Dave: Someone else that inspires us is Bob Goff, we’ve had a lot of good interaction with him and through his recent book. He’s been really encouraging, so that’s cool. So he’s another guy.  Didn’t mean to cut you off, but he’s one that both of us especially this year have been inspired by.

Stephanie: Nice, I like the cover of his book with the balloons.

Morgan: I think personally I get inspired by people who take the time to contact us and let us know how Light Gives Heat has impacted them or, you know, just to share.

Dave: And that pushes us along as much as anything.

Morgan:  And it reminds us, gosh, it’s worth it, you know.

Dave:  I also think the people we work with. I don’t mean to keep making this a longer answer, but in this last trip a couple of weeks ago in Uganda, the people we work with, it’s been so funny, they have been learning the same things we have, where every time I try to apologize for not being able to do as much as we have hoped, but like every week we continue to show up and we’ve always offered jobs, but we always wish we could do more. And every time I tried to mention this, they always stopped me on this last trip at many different meetings and they say no, no, no and say what you guys are doing is a big thing and we’ve learned to live with a lot and we’ve learned to live with a little. We’re happy just to be here and we’re grateful. These are people who are barely able to feed their kids in any given week, let alone anything else and yet they’re not asking for more, they’re not putting a guilt trip on us. Instead they’re saying don’t feel bad for us, don’t tell the pity story, don’t tell the sob story of Africa.  Tell the story of women who are standing up saying, “I’m sending two of my kids to university!” While standing in 10’ x 10’ rooms with no electricity. They’re saying don’t you dare feel sorry for us.

Morgan: But that’s the same lesson we’ve been learning. To have been living on two incomes and then this last year we had to live with part of one income. It’s something we’ve just learned. It’s crazy that they’re inspiring to us and they are like family.

Where have you seen the power of connectedness in your life?

Dave: You mean like people connecting, is that what you mean?

Stephanie:  Yeah, people connecting and just in general, like realizing that we’re not competing against each other, but we’re a family of humans. It’s not about competition.

Morgan: I just think with maturity and in growing up a little, as like we were saying early on we were more in competitive mode and I mean it’s sad and not healthy to think that way. We wanted to be like other people until we finally came to that realization, it was like, we’re not trying to be Invisible Children, we’re not trying to be this, we just want to be a good Light Gives Heat and what does that look like? Part of that comes with talking about authenticity and realness, it’s learning to find that and know who you are and then live that out. And then I would just say in the last couple of years we’ve just really seen the power of collaboration and connectedness, as well as just realizing that we are all on the same team. Again, going back to the Internet, there is so much danger of so quickly being able to spout out a blog or post or response attacking other people and other groups and not realizing that we’re on the same team, like making a bunch of assumptions and building stories in your heads about people or groups. I just think that’s sad and I think we have a long way to go in harnessing the power of collaboration and the partnerships. But we are hopeful. In the past year we’ve seen some great potential and we’re working on trying to partner with a group in Ashville called Sole Hope. So for 2013 we’re working on how that will look and that will be on the ground in Uganda so we’re excited about that. Honestly, like probably only a year ago, I don’t know, we finally see that you could have two organizations with the same mission and vision come together to share and collaborate and not have it be threatening each other. I think that brings up a continual challenge to release and not hold tight.

Dave:  Yeah, when you realize it’s all a gift, like all that we get to do is a gift then you don’t have to hold on to it so tight since it’s just a gift to begin with. So even the hard work that we do is still considered a gift, including the stuff we do that calls sacrifice, it’s still a gift that we get to do this. When we can view it like that on our good days, which is the point where you get to see really beautiful things happen.  But when we’re holding onto things tightly and we act like they’re ours, we deserve it, and we’ve worked hard for it, that’s when it’s scary and you’re competing. It feels like you’re getting run over some days and it feels like you are getting ahead some days, and yet that’s why it’s okay as long as we remember it is all a gift.

What is one question you would love to ask people?  And why? Just a general question.

Dave:  Hmmm...just in general that I’m curious about?  I guess it would be what is your biggest fear? I don’t want to be negative with the question, but I think a lot of people know that they want to use their life for more, most people have a dream and it would be a quick, easy thing for them to spout it out, but often times I think people are help back from their dreams because of fear. No matter what that fear is and actually I think a lot of people don’t even know what their deep down fear is.  So yeah, what’s their biggest fear and what’s holding them back from using their life for more. I’d be interested to know that. For us in America a lot of times it is security. But letting people know that would be huge.

Morgan: My challenge would be for somebody to take time to travel and I think so much can happen in a person’s heart when they go away from comfort and safety and just step out of their box to see the rest of the world and how other people live. I think that just changes people’s lives so much and I think people would live differently and be more connected if we stepped out and had interactions with people. So I think mine would just be a kind of challenge to travel and my question would be a heart check.  Are you living a life in which you feel alive inside and if not, why? What do you have in your heart, what are you suppressing, what aren’t you listening to, what is calling you but you’re ignoring?

Stephanie:  Well thank you guys so much. Do you have anything else you want to share or impart?

Morgan:  I think it’s all a journey and I’m not there yet and that we can just keep learning as we go. I feel like some days are a few steps forward and sometimes a few steps back, but like Dave said, it is a gift and a journey that is refining and humbling. It is also life giving when we choose to view things this way because it really is a choice.

Dave: I think so often we don’t give ourselves much grace to know that we are messy people and we aren’t going to look like others and yet in that we get to do stuff, in that we get to keep moving, and in that we get to keep being a part of really cool things. People often count themselves out because they think they aren’t put together enough, but that is just a lie, a lie that we tell ourselves. And then, for those who are further along who are doing stuff, I would just say to continually remember that you are messy too and that you aren’t put together and yet we all need to start somewhere. It is really easy to count other people out or to act like we have something special or we are more put together than we really are. We are not better, we just typically are better at hiding. Yeah and I think that is it. We are just excited that crazy people like us get to do big stuff that we get the chance to do. If we can do it that means other people can do it too. That’s it; there is nothing special about us whatsoever.

Thank you for reading!